There Is a Place for Healthy Scepticism

“There are plenty of things we should not believe, and that we should question, doubt and even call out. Having a healthy scepticism is always an important element of the Christian life.”

Some of you might be wondering if I am starting to lose it. ‘Praising disbelief? I thought you were a champion of belief and faith!’ Well, I certainly do stress the vital importance of a strong faith and solid belief. But that does not mean belief in anything. That does not mean brainless gullibility.

There are plenty of things we should not believe, and that we should question, doubt and even call out. Having a healthy scepticism is always an important element of the Christian life. The past few years have certainly made this clear even in secular areas.

Our elites and media bombarded us for several years with the blatantly false idea that we should simply ‘trust the science’ and do what we were told. That of course is and was a recipe for disaster. The hysterical fear-mongering and panic over Covid and the completely destructive government overreactions caused untold harm – and we are still reeling from the negative impact of all that today.

We all should ask hard questions about what we hear and what we are told. We should not only question our leaders and politicians, but those who claim to be coming to us in the name of science. As any real scientist knows, questioning things IS how the scientific method works. It does NOT work by forcing compliance and unquestioning subservience.

But all this is true in the Christian life as well. Every day – especially with social media – we read and hear things that are patently false and unbiblical. Yet far too many believers never question anything and are far too gullible and lacking in basic discernment.

The Apostle Paul told us to “test all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). And John exhorted us with these words: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1-2). Believers really ought to start obeying these sorts of commands.

With all this in mind, let me draw your attention to someone we all associate with strong faith and robust belief. We do not normally think of him as someone who would advocate disbelief. But he most certainly did. I refer to the great A. W. Tozer (1897-1963).

In 1955 his classic work The Root of the Righteous was published. The 46 brief chapters therein are all well worth reading and meditating upon. But I want to refer you to chapter 34, “In Praise of Disbelief”. Yes, you read that right. Let me quote much of this great piece here. He begins with these words:

In our constant struggle to believe we are likely to overlook the simple fact that a bit of healthy disbelief is sometimes as needful as faith to the welfare of our souls. I would go further and say that we would do well to cultivate a reverent skepticism. It will keep us out of a thousand bogs and quagmires where others who lack it sometimes find themselves. It is no sin to doubt some things, but it may be fatal to believe everything.

He speaks about faith and its importance, and then continues:

Faith never means gullibility. The man who believes everything is as far from God as the man who refuses to believe anything. Faith engages the Person and promises of God and rests upon them with perfect assurance. Whatever has behind it the character and word of the living God is accepted by faith as the last and final truth from which there must never be any appeal. Faith never asks questions when it has been established that God has spoken. “Yea, let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4)….

Credulity, on the other hand, never honors God, for it shows as great a readiness to believe anybody as believe God Himself. The credulous person will accept anything as long as it is unusual, and the more unusual it is the more ardently he will believe. Any testimony will be swallowed with a straight face if it only has about it some element of the eerie, the preternatural, the unearthly. The gullible mentality is like the ostrich, that will gulp down anything that looks interesting – an orange, a tennis ball, a pocketknife open or closed, a paperweight or a ripe apple. That he survives at all is a testimony not to his intelligence but to his tough constitution.

I have met Christians with no more discrimination than the ostrich. Because they must believe certain things, they feel that they must believe everything. Because they are called upon to accept the invisible they go right on to accept the incredible. God can and does work miracles; ergo, everything that passes for a miracle must be of God. God has spoken to men, therefore every man who claims to have had a revelation from God must be accepted as a prophet. Whatever is unearthly must be heavenly; whatever cannot be explained must be accepted as divine; the prophets were rejected; therefore everyone who is rejected is a prophet; the saints were misunderstood, so everyone who is misunderstood is a saint. This is the dangerous logic of the gullible Christian. And it can be as injurious as unbelief itself.

The healthy soul, like the healthy bloodstream, has its proper proportion of white and red blood cells. The red corpuscles are like faith: they carry the life giving oxygen to every part of the body. The white cells are like disbelief: they pounce upon dead and toxic matter and carry it out to the drain. Thus the two kinds of cells working together keep the tissues in good condition. In the healthy heart, there must be provision for keeping dead and poisonous matter out of the life stream. This the credulous person never suspects. He is all for faith. He accents the affirmative and cultivates religious optimism to a point where he can no longer tell when he is being imposed upon.

He closes by looking at things such as the occult and the esoteric as key examples of what we must have a healthy disbelief in. Of course, many more things could be mentioned. As I said, simply go on social media today and you will find all kinds of weird, bizarre and often just plain false teachings and practices being promoted by various believers.

Tozer was absolutely right: we must learn to discern, and sometimes the best thing we can do is question, challenge and disbelieve various things. That is the necessary flip side of a strong and biblical faith.

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