Sean McDowell | December 12, 2022

Faith Amid Big Questions (Author Interview)

How can Christians best face doubt? Dr. Travis Dickinson has an excellent new book called Wandering Toward God. Travis earned his MA in Apologetics and his MA in Philosophy from Talbot School of Theology. Check out this quick interview and consider getting a copy of his excellent new book.

SEAN MCDOWELL: On all the topics you could research, why write a book on doubt?

TRAVIS DICKINSON: Thanks, Sean. Yeah, there is a profound exodus happening right under our noses in the church. Studies have shown that 60-80% of our Christian youth are walking away from the church in their college years and beyond! Now, I think, just like any big sociological issue, this phenomenon is complex with no one simple solution. However, one plausible reason kids are leaving the church in droves is because the church is often not a safe place to doubt faith. If we think about it, church should be the very first place we run when doubting.

But doubters who are willing to talk about it often run smack into a church culture that seems to require us to have (or, at least, act like we have) it all figured out. The problem this creates is that this is a generation with questions. They question everything and won’t accept pat answers. And so, we have a whole generation of kids with questions who aren’t finding answers at church. When it comes to unanswered questions, it can start to feel like there just are no answers. They go from questions to doubts to disbelief.

By contrast, questions and doubts, for me, have led to a far greater faith! Don’t get me wrong; the experiences were sometimes extremely difficult and profoundly unenjoyable. I didn’t know where I was going to land and that can sometimes be scary. However, rather than running away or ignoring my doubts, I leaned in and sought truth as honestly as I could. I HAD TO find answers no matter whether they were the Christian ones or not. And here’s the irony. I found that Christianity had lots and lots of compelling answers to my most pressing questions and my faith was strengthened. People avoid doubt because they fear it will hurt their faith whereas doubts, for me, motivated the discovery of important reasons to believe, which caused my faith to be made strong and mature.

So, it’s big on my professor/pastor’s heart (not to mention as a dad of teenagers and preteens!) to help people see that it’s not only ok to doubt but it can be extremely valuable as we lean in and find truth.

MCDOWELL: What is the most common misunderstanding Christians have about doubt? Where do you think it falls short?

DICKINSON: People tend to either avoid doubt at all costs or they overvalue doubt. In the book, I devote a whole chapter to how to ask the big questions. When we ask the big questions, we are almost always going to have some intellectual tension. We are going to have some doubts. But we should be balanced in how we approach things. As with all virtuous behavior, we need to avoid the vicious extremes. On one extreme, call it the vice of fundamentalism, we just ignore the honest questions we have. We focus on believing and avoid anything that draws our attention to our doubts. The problem with this is that we may be Christians, but we likely don’t believe because Christianity is true and grounded in good evidence. We just believe with no good reason.

The other extreme to avoid is the vice of skepticism and cynicism. Here the person may ask questions but he or she is never satisfied with the answers. I’m sure you’ve had this experience, Sean, where a skeptic asks you for evidence for your Christian beliefs and then, after you’ve laid out a variety of evidences, they say “if only there was a shred evidence.” It’s always a bit of a head scratcher. I would suggest this person may be in the grips of skepticism where there’s an a priori commitment against believing any answer that’s given.

The intellectual virtue is to adopt the posture of a truth seeker. If one is in a place of doubt or even deconstructing their faith, that’s all well and good, but the whole point should be to find truth…not simply to blow it all up.

MCDOWELL: What are the main reasons Christians come to doubt their faith? And how do you respond when you engage someone doubting?

DICKINSON: The main reason Christians come to doubt their faith is because they are human beings!! Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:12 that our view of God and reality is like looking at things through a dim mirror. That’s a striking passage. Given our limits, of course we are going to, along the way, intellectually struggle with understanding. I make a big deal in the first few pages of the book to say that if you are doubting your faith, then you are completely normal. It’s called being human.

Whenever I speak, especially when I have teenagers in the audience, I ALWAYS emphasize that, if you are doubting, there’s not something wrong with you and you are not somehow failing Jesus. In fact, it tells me you care about your faith. Why does it feel so lonely? Why aren’t people around you doubting like you are? It may be that you are more intellectually honest than those who are acting like they have it all figured out and that you have the courage to express those doubts. My hope is to take the pressure off. Doubting one’s faith can be highly pressurized. When things are all emotionally charged up, it is not easy to think carefully and reasonably about it. We become reactive and jumpy. I want people to know that they are normal and not alone so that they can take a breath and get a little emotional distance. Once they do, then I want them to doubt their doubts (to borrow a phrase from Dallas Willard). That is, I want them to investigate the reasons for their doubts and be guided by the evidence. Our emotions need to take second seat to the evidence.

MCDOWELL: Doubt has always been an issue. Is there anything unique about how, or why, people doubt today?

DICKINSON: In some ways the answer is no. Many of the intellectual questions of today are the very same for Christians of the ancient world. When we read something like Augustine’s Confessions, his intellectual struggles are surprisingly relatable. The difference of course is the availability of information today and our blindingly fast-paced world. We have so much good information available to us, but we sometimes can’t be bothered to do a little investigation to find it. We tend to want things right away Many of these issues just aren’t quick and easy. It takes hard work and deep reflection to understand how to think about things like the problem of evil or the hiddenness of God, for example. So while there are good answers (some of which I explore in the latter chapters of the book), there are no short cuts to digging into a deep study to find truth.

MCDOWELL: There are many good books on the topic of doubt. What makes yours unique?

DICKINSON: Well, one thing I would say is that it’s not a book completely focused on doubt. It addresses doubt but it’s as much a book about the importance of asking good questions of our faith as it is on doubt. I don’t want people to stay in a place of doubt. There are a lot of voices today who celebrate doubt and deconstruction as an end in itself. For me, doubt is not the destination. It’s an important stop on our journey, but we certainly shouldn’t overstay a season of doubt. As I’ve said, I think doubt is a very normal experience, when we ask the big questions, but its value is in finding truth and knowledge. There are not many books out there written to teach us how to ask the big questions. So, I try to put doubt in its place a bit and then focus on how to ask the big questions.

The final chapters of the book then attempt to model this with chapters on the reasons for Christianity and chapters asking about topics such as violence in the Old Testament, pain and suffering, and the so-called hiddenness of God. It’s basically the book I wish I had when I went through times of questioning and doubt when I was young.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell, TikTok, Instagram, and his blog: