The Benefit of Doubt

The following is an excerpt from the new book, Answering the Toughest Questions About God and the Bible by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz.

God isn’t surprised when people doubt him. It doesn’t even bother him. How do we know this? Because of the way Jesus treated one of his disciples, famously (or infamously) known as Doubting Thomas. Jesus had been crucified, was dead and buried. But he rose again and appeared to more then five hundred people, including his disciples—except for one.

It seems Thomas was missing when Jesus first appeared to his followers, and even though his colleagues told Thomas about the risen Lord, he refused to believe. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Talk about a tough sell!

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Answering the Toughest Questions About God and the Bible

I'm excited to tell you about the newest book from Bruce & Stan, Answering the Toughest Questions About God and the Bible. We don't pretend to have all the answers (never have, never will), but we do know how to wrestle with doubt. In this new book, we ask some of the most important questions people have about God and the Bible. Here's an excerpt to give you an idea of our approach.

The world is full of questions. Whether the topic is politics, race, relationships, the environment, or religion (especially religion), there seem to be more questions than answers. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s quite good. In past generations, asking questions was considered rude or disrespectful, especially when it came to God and the Bible. “God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me” was the response Christians were supposed to have. Anything more and you were labeled a Doubting Thomas. People were reluctant to ask questions about God out of concern they would be considered un-American (we’re not kidding).

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Preston Yancey Q and A (Part 2)

In Part 1 of his interview with Michael Summers, Preston Yancey talked about prayer, the intimacy of God, the importance of exploring your faith, and what it means to be a generous evangelical. In Part 2, Michael asks Preston four more questions that spark Preston to offer insights concerning the silence of God, the twin gifts of faith and doubt, God's patience, and the importance of reading widely. These themes and more are found in Yancey's exceptional new book, Tables in the Wilderness.

A major theme in your book is the motif of the silence of God. What has the silence of God taught you, and how do we continue to follow God in light of such silence?

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Surprising Signs of Life

For the last year, I’ve been swimming in a sea of doubt. Not my own doubt—I’ve been immersed in the doubt of others.

I suppose the experience became unavoidable the moment I set out to write a book about the disturbing numbers of young adults exiting the Christian faith. Of course understanding the trend meant reading up on the relevant scholarship. Yet the literature on deconversion—which is shockingly sparse—only takes you so far. Its surreal, detached tone is an odd fit for such an intimate issue. Scholars describe young people leaving the faith as if observing caribou migrate across the Alaskan tundra.

On the ground the phenomenon of deconversion is heartbreakingly human—a torrent of emotional pain, broken relationships, and identity crises. I knew I had to talk with real “leavers.” But after dozens of interviews, it seemed almost more than I could handle. It wasn’t a test of my faith, but it did tax my resolve. The interviews were heart-numbing.

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Avoiding the Doubt Dodge

The most important questions in life are the big ones. Is there a God? What does it mean to be human? How should we live? What is justice? Big questions tend to have equally big answers – that is, answers that, once understood and accepted, change our lives.

Big questions are not always easy to answer. Why should they be? Just because something is true doesn’t mean it has to be easy to find out or understand – just ask a mathematician or scientist who has sweated blood over figuring out the answer to a tough research problem. Sometimes truth is simple, and sometimes it is complex; like reality itself, at times it is simple on the surface but reveals increasing complexity when examined closely.

So, at times it is a hard slog to find the answers to these big questions – and sometimes the big questions have answers we don’t like, or that we fear we won’t like.

Pray Continually - Not With Pity and Doubt

There is one more story I’d like to share as I end the series on life lessons learned while living overseas. It’s another one from Russia but it’s a special one engrained in my heart.

The Russian town I lived in was small by Russian standards, only about 100,000 people. There was one small and very old hospital. The previous year I had an emergency appendectomy there and soon realized there is not much to do during the day. No televisions, no food service, nothing – just some radios that didn’t work that well. Visitors were greatly treasured.

A teammate and I began weekly visits with the patients in the women’s ward. The women on this ward were in the hospital for 4 weeks. Needless to say they were eager to talk with anyone who walked through the door.

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Who Do You Trust? Really

For your first week of reading, Why Trust Jesus? Here's several questions that I want you to ask yourself but also ask your friends in your community group/ book study group.  After you have read Norman Geisler's foreword and my introduction, consider these questions.  

1. What characteristics do you look for in someone else, before you can trust them?

2. What are the greatest barriers to trusting Christ daily in your own life? Is it intellectual, emotional, or self-sufficiency? Talk it out. 

 3. We have all probably been let down by Christians. Maybe a pastor or priest,  a father or mother, an ex-lover. In the midst of  disappointments or failures, why do you believe the Christian faith is most trustworthy? Or more specifically, why Jesus? 

4. What steps will you take this week to grow in trust?

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My dog and I learning life with Bruce Springsteen

He twists suddenly and I’m a step behind. Swiftly, he leaps to the right, off the trail and toward the buck. Muscles surge as he does what he was bred to do: Close in, go for the throat, and bring it down. Somehow, my voice breaks through. He pauses in mid-stride, trying to decide.

Sadiq loves to run trails right after I finish my Lucky Charms. He stares intently at me from across the sun-lit room, brown eyes calm, but ears perked forward in expectation, waiting for the last magic marshmallow to disappear. As I reach for my pungent New Balance jacket, the deal is sealed and he knows it. We dive off the porch together, plunging into the Palisades, footsteps from our home.

He’s one hundred and fifteen pounds of muscle and bone. A Rhodesian Ridgeback moving in fluid shades of Chai tea and silver, Sadiq was bred to hunt lions in east Africa. The dog books say he is “aloof,” but not to his family. We interviewed, provided three references, showed photos of our back yard - paid more than I had for my first blue Chevy truck – for the honor of taking him home.

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the spiritual peace my atheism provided...

After all these years it shouldn't surprise me--but it still does.  I'm honestly still a little perplexed by the image Theists sometimes have of Atheists as mentally-anquished individuals. Often I've been asked, "How could you live without believing there was a God? What was your purpose? What got you up each morning...?" 

So, it's been on my mind to try to convey the type of mental peace that Atheism as a belief system can create for socially-concerned question-askers. These musings are excerpted directly from chapter 43 of my book, Finding an Unseen God.

(Dear Publisher, hope that's okay...)

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The Nominations Are In - Who Got Snubbed?

In my goal to beat McCracken to it (you lose this time sir but you’ll always be a better writer than me) here are my thoughts on this morning’s Oscar nominations.

“The night is always darkest before the dawn.” A great line from a great film. This morning however, after the Oscar nominations were announced, I was hoping for a little more “Dark Knight” than I got.

We were all hoping 2009 would be the year a superhero movie was nominated for best picture… and rightfully so. Iron Man was sophisticated, mind-blowing, and fun. Christopher Nowlan’s Batman sequel didn’t stop at making its mark as an epic action flick. Rather, it undoubtedly shifted into the realm of  “excellent film,” inadvertent of its iconic protagonist. It was a piece that dueled with the relevant and the timeless, a piece that dared to ask such bold questions and discuss such profound dilemmas in ways only the medium of visual storytelling could accomplish. Sure, it’s no surprise Heath Ledger’s brilliant spin on the Joker landed a nod for best supporting actor, but when his competition includes Robert Downy Jr. for the sophomoric Tropic Thunder, it  would be blatant disrespect for the deceased to snub him.

Apart from that nonsensical addition, the lists for best actors and actresses both leading and supporting is surprisingly just. You’d be hard pressed to find someone unappreciative of Brad Pit’s unprecedented portrayal of Benjamin Button, and old man who gradually grows younger, or the magnetic, raw quality Mickey Rourke brought to The Wrestler. As I had hoped last month in my review of Button, the Academy acknowledged Taraji P. Henson’s arresting performance as Queenie, the most heroic and endearing of the film’s supporting cast. It puts me at ease to see the quartet from Doubt acknowledged for their efforts. Big shots like Adams, Hoffman, Streep, and the lesser-known Viola Davis possessed the teamwork and synergy it took to make Doubt’s leap from the stage to the big screen moving. Giving a nod to Richard Jenkins for his quirky, quiet portrayal as Walter Vale in the Visitor was an equally great move. The guy is a tremendous character actor, commanding and subtle all at the same time and his role in Burn After Reading was the only thing that kept me awake.

Wall-E and Slumdog Millionaire get what they deserve. They’re both innovative films with great music to back them up. While one could argue that Wall-E has a place alongside The Dark Knight in the best film category, there’s little doubt it will take home “best animated feature against Bolt and Kung-Fu Panda.

Oh, and where were these films?:
Gran Torino
Revolutionary Road
Synecdoche, New York


These three, ESPECIALLY Clint Eastwood’s compelling and beautiful Gran Torino (shame on the academy for not even giving him a nod), should have seen much more praise.

With the exception of those and a few other grave oversights, the 2009 Oscar nominations are an interesting and somewhat fair reflection of this past year in film. My hope is that Slumdog will come out victorious as best picture with David Fincher taking home Best Director for Benjamin Button. I’ve still yet to see Frost Nixon, The Reader, or Milk (which, correct me if I’m wrong, only seems to be getting hype because of its hyper-relevant, sensitive subject matter).

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