At least he was very polite about it.
A guy came to me some years back and told me that he and his wife wouldn’t be coming back to the class I was teaching. The reason? During a series on creation, I expressed the view that I wasn’t 100% certain how God created the universe.
He went on to say the Bible makes clear that God made everything we know in six 24 hour, literal days and that the universe was only thousands of years old. If I couldn’t accept that, he said, then he couldn’t sit under my teaching for anything else.
On the one hand, I get it. There are absolutely non-negotiables when it comes to the Christian faith. Further, we call someone a heretic when they claim to be a believer and yet depart from those core doctrines.
That said, as was in the case above, oftentimes it is not a doctrine itself being questioned but rather how God has practically gone about bringing that article of faith to life.
Of course God created the universe. But how exactly did He do it?
Of course we are saved through grace alone and Christ alone. But what’s really going on behind those salvific curtains?
Of course there is evil in the world. But how do we really square that with the existence of an all-good and powerful Creator?
Sometimes we’re given enough explicit content in God’s Word to make such determinations and get the answers we seek. But sometimes we don’t. And when that happens, we’re left in the somewhat uncomfortable position of having to live with God’s mysteries.
Avoiding two extremes
When we wade into these discussion waters, there are two extremes to avoid. One side is the “everything is a mystery” group, exemplified well by the Emergent Church movement, which we thankfully don’t hear about any longer.
Represented by names like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Tony Jones, etc., and rooted in postmodernism and deconstructionism, the Emergent Church held a deep distrust of sure doctrinal convictions. Its brain trust said all core theological beliefs and points of doctrine should be held with “humility” (i.e., “uncertainty”), and open to ongoing dialogue, in which all opinions and perspectives should be embraced and affirmed.
For example, speaking to Christianity Today, Rob and Kristen Bell said, “I grew up thinking that we’ve figured out the Bible, that we knew what it means. Now I have no idea what most of it means.”
The other extreme is thinking you’ve got everything in God’s Word figured out. The incarnation? You know exactly how that happened down to the smallest detail. The Trinity? No mystery to you.
In the past, I worked myself sick in my attempts to be a card-carrying member of the latter camp, and I became enormously kerfuffled when I couldn’t uncover every aspect of a doctrine. Today, I still find myself far away from those who claim you can’t know anything, but I also certainly don’t claim I know everything.
Years ago I was listening to a lengthy series of podcasts on creation from William Lane Craig, one of the top Christian apologists and theologians in the world. For days, while training at the gym, I listened to him carefully go through all the various young-earth / old-earth theories along with their pro’s and con’s.
At the end, Craig said: “Now I’m sure all of you want to know which theory I believe is correct.” “Here we go,” I thought, “I’m finally going to get the answer I’ve been waiting for.”
What was Craig’s response? “I have no idea.”
No doubt those working out around me must have thought I was nuts because I unconsciously yelled out, “Say what?!?!?”
Craig went on to explain which combination of theories he found credible and in union with Scripture, but maintained he still wasn’t 100% certain how God brought everything into being. That God created everything? Yes. Exactly how? No.
At the time, that annoyed me, but I’ve since become much more comfortable with such a stance.
How about another example. Let’s take Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross for you and me. With respect to that, we’re told, “… this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23).
The doctrine of Christ’s substitutionary death is not in dispute, but reconciling God’s predetermined plan with the freewill actions of those who murdered Jesus remains a mystery, no matter whether you are a Calvinist, Arminian, or Molinist.
How about resolving the existence of evil and God — something in theology that’s called a theodicy? Think you have that all figured out?
If so, remember that thorny book called Job in the Old Testament? Remember how it ends? It concludes with God asking Job and his friends some 60 plus questions and saying if you can’t figure those out, you’re not going to close the book on why He permits evil.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
No doubt some of you will misunderstand what I’m saying and claim I’m arguing that we can’t know God’s truth or plan. That’s not it at all.
What I am saying is, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8-9). Therefore, there will be times we can’t figure everything out where God is concerned.
So, get comfortable with that and remember such a thing is more than OK — it’s part of another fantastic doctrine called “faith.”
Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.