Dealing with Doubt
William Lane Craig interview on Dealing with Christian Doubt
– December 31, 2005
A short interview with Dr. William Lane Craig, a leading Christian philosopher, about how college students should respond when they wrestle with doubts about the faith.
Interviewer: Dr. Craig, could you please introduce yourself?
Dr. Craig: Yes, I’m William Lane Craig. I’m a Research Professor at Talbot School of Theology, and I’m a Christian philosopher and theologian.
Interviewer: It’s the experience of many Christian students who attend university that they find their faith troubled, and they begin to have doubts.
Dr. Craig: Sure.
Interviewer: What advice would you give to someone who is experiencing serious doubts?
Dr. Craig: Well, there’s a number of things, I think, that I would say about that. First of all, I think that I would tell them that they need to understand the proper relationship between faith and reason. And my view here is that the way in which I know Christianity is true is first and foremost on the basis of the witness of the Holy Spirit in my heart, and that this gives me a self-authenticating means of knowing that Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence. And therefore, if in some historically contingent circumstances the evidence that I have available to me should turn against Christianity, I don’t think that that controverts the witness of the Holy Spirit.
In such a situation, I should regard that as simply a result of the contingent circumstances that I’m in, and that if I were to pursue this with due diligence and with time, I would discover that, in fact, the evidence—if I could get the correct picture—would support exactly what the witness of the Holy Spirit tells me. So, I think that it’s very important to get the relationship between faith and reason right. Otherwise, what that means is that our faith is dependent upon the shifting sands of evidence and argument, which change from person to person, place to place, and generation to generation. Whereas, the Holy Spirit and his testimony gives every generation and every person immediate access to a knowledge of God and the truth of Christianity that’s independent of the shifting sands of time and place and person and historical contingency.
The second thing I think I would say follows from that—what this means is that doubt is never simply an intellectual problem. There is always a spiritual dimension to doubt as well. There is an enemy of your souls, Satan, who hates you intensely, and who is bent on your destruction, and who will do everything in his power to see that your faith is destroyed. And therefore, when we have these intellectual doubts and problems, we should never look at them as something that is spiritually neutral, or divorce them from the spiritual conflict that we’re involved in. Rather, we need to take these doubts to God in prayer, to admit them honestly, to talk to our Christian friends about them, to not stuff them or hide them. We need to deal with them openly and honestly and talk to people about them and seek God’s help in dealing with them.
I think, frankly, no human being in this lifetime will ever have all of his questions answered. There’s always going to be a question bag on the shelf of unanswered questions that we haven’t had time to deal with in this lifetime. So the key to victory in the Christian life is not having all your questions answered. The key to victory is learning how to live with unanswered questions. That’s the real key. How do you allow unanswered questions not to become destructive doubts? And I think part of the secret of that will be by cultivating your spiritual life, engaging in spiritual disciplines like prayer, meaningful worship, Christian music, sharing your faith with other people, being involved in Christian service, so that you will foster the witness of the Holy Spirit in your life, be filled with the Holy Spirit so that when you come into the circumstances of doubt and the shifting sands of evidence and so forth you aren’t thrown into shipwreck because of that.
Finally, I would encourage you, whenever you get the opportunity, to take one of those questions out of the question bag and pursue it into the ground until you come to intellectual satisfaction with it. And I can say from my own personal experience that this is one of the most spiritually exhilarating and healthy things that you can do in your Christian life – to take some issue that has been a nagging doubt and make it the subject of a research project. Do a paper in your philosophy class on it, or something like that, and pursue it into the ground until you are intellectually satisfied with it. And it will free you from that ever being a source of doubt again in your life. And that is a wonderful experience.
I’ve done that with a number of questions that I have had, and it leaves you with the conviction that Christianity does indeed stand intellectually head and shoulders above every “ism” or philosophy that it might compete with. But of course, as I say, we’ll never empty the question bag completely. And so, while this is a healthy exercise, the more fundamental task that we need to do is to learn how to live with unanswered questions without allowing them to become destructive doubts.
Interviewer: Dr. Craig, thank you for your time.
Dr. Craig: You’re welcome.