Five Questions with Barnabas Piper
Guest Blogger Week rolls on today with Barnabas Piper. Barnabas blogs at The Blazing Center, is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not The Enemy Of Faith, and co-hosts The Happy Rant podcast. Piper writes for WorldMag.com, contributes to numerous other websites, and speaks frequently at churches and conferences. Barnabas serves as the Brand Manager for the Leadership Development team at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville where he lives with his wife and two daughters.
I had the chance to interview Barnabas about his latest book, Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is Not the Enemy of Faith, which releases next week. Preorder that and then read on…
There are a lot of topics that you could have picked for your next book. Why Help My Unbelief? What was it about the subject of faith and doubt that turned this into a project?
I am a questioner, someone who leans cynical. In the Christian faith – at least in the conservative evangelical church – questioning is often viewed with suspicion. “Doubting Thomas” is a pejorative term for those who don’t easily believe what they’re told. That means that over the years I have felt friction between my natural way of learning and exploring and what is deemed acceptable or safe in a church context. The other significant piece is my own personal struggle to connect what I have been taught about God and the Bible with what I actually believe – that set of values and convictions that drives me.
Combined, these two experiences lit a fire in me to take on the big set of concepts that are faith and belief to see if I could offer something helpful. I wanted to draw the person who never questions into a confrontation with the big mysteries of God while also offering some peace for the soul of the person who perpetually questions.
In our post-everything society, it seems that the only thing we’re sure of is that there’s nothing we can be sure of. How would you talk to the pre-Christian skeptic about their doubts about Jesus?
I would respect their doubts. Questions are a means of learning and discovery, and isn’t that what we want for people, to discover Jesus? From there I don’t know where else to start but the Bible. I would point them to who Jesus says He is and the accounts of His life and work. I don’t think people are argued into faith; they come to that by meeting Jesus, an introduction made by the Holy Spirit. If the conversation turned philosophical or evidential I would draw on that aspect of God that fracture most philosophical arguments: his infinity. If God is infinite that means that we, by the very nature of being finite, cannot possibly expect to understand and know Him in full (or really even close to it). That means that much of God is shrouded in mystery and what we have to go on is exactly what He wanted us to have, the revelation of Himself in the Bible.
For a believer, it would seem if we don’t have belief, we don’t have anything (thus the name, believer). Is there really a place for doubt in the life of a Christian?
I completely agree, and yes. I see a distinction between doubt and unbelief. Doubt is being unsure, asking questions, wondering, not knowing. Unbelief is rejection. Doubt can easily turn to unbelief, but it can also be that which drives us deeper into truth. The difference is the heart behind the questions. Do we seek to know more of God and his truth or do we seek to undermine and disprove? Do we want to follow God or go our own way?
We also must realize that belief is not an all-or-nothing thing. We don’t have to believe perfectly to be saved. But a saved person will yearn for perfect belief even as he or she falls short of it. That’s where the prayer “I believe; help my unbelief” is birthed. It is an expression of sincerest faith and utter need at the same time. That’s where we should live.
As you were researching for this book, what evidences did you find where doubt actually strengthened someone’s walk with Christ?
Since I defined doubt as not knowing and being unsure, the evidence abounds. That kind of doubt, with a heart of longing, is the kind of thing drives people deeper into the word, into prayer, into asking questions that God answers through His people or His word. I have experienced that myself. I went through a time of questioning everything I had been taught growing up, not because I wanted to unravel it but because I wanted to discover the truth in it to change me. That was doubt. I was not certain. But I believed that I could ask and God would answer and those seeds of faith are what he is growing into a fuller, stronger, more mature faith.
When this book starts making money and your publisher cuts your first royalty check, will you use the phrase “It’s time to pay the Piper”? Please say yes.
Speaking of doubt, you mentioned this book making money . . .
BUT, should that ever happen I promise I will not only use the phrase I’ll dress up like Rowdy Roddy Piper to do it.