Can someone with faith be a skeptic?
That depends on how you understand skepticism. Some people use the words “skepticism” and “cynicism” interchangeably. That doesn’t work for us. We believe a certain amount of skepticism is good. Cynicism, however, is more like poison. Even a small amount can make you sick—if it doesn’t kill you.
Cynics don’t have room for doubt; they are committed to not believing. Skepticism, in contrast, is an attitude of closely examining something with the hope of believing. In fact, the dictionary defines skepticism as “a questioning attitude that believes inquiry must be a process of doubting in order to acquire approximate or relative certainty.”3 A skeptic may start from a point of doubt, but his or her objective is to examine the evidence thoroughly in search of truth. A skeptic may initially be unconvinced but still actively seeking truth. It’s not that skeptics don’t want to believe; in fact, they do. This is why you’ll sometimes hear the phrase “healthy skepticism,” but never “healthy cynicism.”
We, too, want to believe, but we need good reasons and we like to use good reason. We also believe that when it comes to living a life of authentic faith, holy skepticism needs to be anchored in something beyond one’s own experiences, which are restricted to a limited location at a particular point in time.
The Christian faith, while relevant to our context of time and space, is part of a much bigger story—a story that spans thousands of years and is filled with the written experiences of countless men and women from all over the world and from every era in history. When we consider how our story intersects with their stories, we’re better able to connect with the story of God.
The Bible and the history of the Christian faith reveal the many facets of that story. But for this particular segment of the journey of faith, we have chosen to anchor our thoughts in the Apostles’ Creed.
“Why the Apostles’ Creed?” you might ask. At first glance it doesn’t get us terribly excited either. As children, we both attended churches where the Apostles’ Creed was read weekly. And while the words still come back when prompted—sort of like the spontaneous finishing of the first few words of a familiar jingle from childhood—in our early encounters with the Creed the words seemed to lack any significance or relevance to real life.
So why are we suggesting that you bind the next several days of your life to this old and antiquated confession?
While some churches have trivialized the Apostles’ Creed to a level of empty or rote dogma, that is certainly not the attitude of those who initially penned or used it. That early band of Christ followers back in the first century lived amidst a plethora of differing and competing ideologies that offered a precarious basis upon which to build a life of authentic faith. In other words, they had a lot in common with those of us who desire to better know and serve God in the twenty-first century.
No doubt those early church leaders found it somewhat frustrating that Jesus had seemingly given little thought to organizational structure. Nor did He condense the heart of His teaching into any single concise verbal formula for His followers to build upon. We, like those followers of old, would probably prefer more concrete instructions on what to do in individual situations. Instead we’re left with the eternal riddles of whether Jesus would drive an SUV, eat meat, put His kids in public schools . . . the list goes on.
The Apostles’ Creed doesn’t get that specific, but its writers did outline a set of fundamental beliefs to help govern the actions of all who would choose to follow the teachings of Christianity while walking in a world of competing values and ideals. For emerging generations who lacked the first-hand encounter with Jesus and the launching of His church, the Creed provided a broad yet concise understanding of the essence of Christ—what He was about and what it means to throw one’s faith on Him.
In a nutshell, the Apostles’ Creed is the most succinct, most universal, and most ancient celebration of faith in the church today. And we believe you will find that rather than being a distant document, it actually hits quite close to where you live. It was born in the hearts and minds of men and women who loved their families, worked hard and desired a life of meaning and purpose—just as you do. They feared disease, divorce and depression. But they feared in faith. And this Creed outlines the bedrock of their faith.
In many ways the Creed has become the story of our faith too. We can’t say that we understand it all. We can’t say that it answers every question we have about life, about God, or even about ourselves. But it has become a story that makes a difference on the Monday morning commute, when we’re answering e-mails and voice mails, and when we’re reading bedtime stories to our children.
The reason? Rather than something we simply mumble in unison with our fellow skeptics, the Apostles’ Creed contains real-life answers to real-life questions. It helps us begin to wrap our head and heart around the God who is our Father, our Creator, our friend, master, teacher, advocate, lover, judge and coworker.
Of course, to succeed in the search for unshakeable faith, we need the rest of Scripture as well as the companionship of fellow journeyers and the reflection of all that we’ve experienced in life. But like those early followers of Jesus, the Creed helps us skeptics to organize the right questions.
Ultimately the path we will tread together for the next several days is a journey toward faith. Whether faith seems to you a nebulous concept or a lifeline you’d desperately like to grab hold of, we encourage you to continue on, with both your skeptical questions and your desire to believe at the ready.
You can trust the words of Jesus when He said, “Ask and you’ll get; Seek and you’ll find; Knock and the door will open. Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in.”4
Jesus has declared that God wants to be found, that He wants us to experience a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Him. He’s even promised that we will find Him, if we look. The ball’s in our court.
—SL & CM
Dear God, sometimes I’m not altogether sure what I believe or why I believe it. But I do want to know you. I want to find you. I thank you that you’re walking with me on this journey, even though it often doesn’t feel like it. I invite you to play an even bigger role: Guide me, lead me, help me, God. I want to rest in you. I want to work with you.
Would you consider yourself primarily a cynic or a skeptic? Explain your answer.
Write out and post these questions somewhere to reflect on today: Do I really want to find God? and Where am I looking? Allow these questions to prompt you to consider the posture of your mind and heart as you face different ideas and thoughts in your search.
An interesting series of letters between a son and his agnostic father regarding issues of faith can be found in Gregory and Edward Boyd’s Letters from a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with His Father’s Questions About Christianity (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1994).
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting, Amen.5