He tells stories about clergy and laity who have given up prayer because they no longer believe God listens or cares or acts. He writes of his own struggles with doctrines of the Virgin Birth and the Trinity.
Stevens asks for our worship and ministry to embrace the doubters and disbelievers in our midst more, he says, honestly. He calls for clergy to share their own doubts and disbeliefs in the pulpit.
The great Enlightenment thinker (and deist) Voltaire contributes a quote for Stevens: “Doubt is not a pleasant state of mind, but certainty is absurd.”
While a charming quote, it strikes me as ridiculous. Certainty is not absurd in the least. It is – rather – greatly to be desired. In many areas of our life it may be impossible to attain. We cannot see the invisible or fathom the unfathomable. But certainty – in and of itself – is never absurd.
Stevens alludes to the famous (among Methodists) advice that Peter Bohler gave a young John Wesley: Preach faith until you have it. But it is instructive that John Wesley praised doubt in his own ministry after Aldersgate.
Indeed, he did not even think of his pre-Aldersgate coldness as doubt. It was, rather, the absence of faith. As he would write of himself later, when he looked back on his early ministry he realized not that he doubted the doctrines of the faith, but that he had no true faith itself. He had no more faith, he wrote, than a stone.
So, I wonder. With so much contemporary praise of doubt and disbelief, should we heed Stevens’ advice? Should preachers doubt openly?