Doubt Is Not Unbelief: Evangelicals and the Stigma of Doubt by Michael Hakmin Lee

The commitment of American evangelicals towards gospel propagation is evident from their dominant presence in Protestant mission (vast majority of U.S. based Protestant missionaries are evangelicals) and in the identities of their greatest heroes like Billy Graham.

Unfortunately, while evangelicals are understandably and justifiably preoccupied with bringing people through the front door of the church, too many seem relatively inattentive and uninformed as to HOW and WHY people are leaving though the back door.

In the past few decades, increased religious mobility, which includes leaving and switching, has been a notable trend in the shifting U.S. religious landscape (e.g., the rise of the religious nones).

This is in part what led me to undertake a research project that would understand leave-taking—the journey from evangelical minister and missionary (specifically those who a had formal theological and ministerial training and served in vocational ministry for at least two years) to the complete abandonment of the Christian faith, including any belief in the supernatural.

This research project, which included 31 in-depth interviews with such deconverts, was guided by the following questions:

What sort of religious experiences and influences did participants have in their early periods of social development (childhood and adolescence)?
In adulthood, how did participants remember their significant Christian experiences, including their ministerial experiences, and how did they make sense of their religious world when they identified as Christian?
How did the process of leaving unfold, and what was it like experientially?
What are the salient factors and reasons related to discarding the Christian faith?
What are the consequences of leaving the Christian faith, and what life changes accompany it?

Most people and groups I have spoken to about this project seem interested in the reasons given for leaving and the process of leaving. I may talk about them in a follow-up post if there is enough interest (let us know!), but in this post I want to jump straight to implications for the evangelical community—namely, the importance of recovering a “proper confidence” and the proper place of doubt within a growing faith.

Evangelicalism, especially its more conservative or fundamentalist incarnations, commonly fosters a rigidly constructed faith, with multiple layers of what we consider essential beliefs and values. On the one hand, certitude can be comforting and reassuring in a world filled with chaos and uncertainty. However, the danger of holding something to be essential to one’s faith is that when that essential belief is called into question, the whole edifice, not just that belief, begins to destabilize. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with confidence or certainty in one’s beliefs and convictions, there is potential harm when evangelical communities and leaders place an unwarranted level of confidence in their theological constructs and impose their certitude on others.

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Source: Christianity Today