Help My Unbelief: An Interview With Barnabas Piper

Amid all the uncertainties of faith, one thing is certain: All of us will eventually have to deal with doubt, and some of us will even battle unbelief. So what do we do? Barnabas Piper provides a treatment for doubt and unbelief in his forthcoming book, Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not The Enemy of Faith. Recently, Piper was kind enough to stop by Gospel Relevance where I asked him questions about doubt, unbelief, and the new book:

David: Why don’t you start off by telling us the premise of the book, and why you decided to write it?

Barnabas: Doubt is something many believer struggle with. Most of us are uncomfortable with it because it seems wrong. We know we’re supposed to live by faith, and doubt seems antithetical to that. But is it really? In Mark 9 we see a father bring his demon-possessed son to Jesus for help. Jesus tells him “I can help you if you believe” and immediately the father responds “I believe; help my unbelief.” That is a statement of faith and doubt wrapped into one, but the man acted in faith too. That tension is what the book explores. I try to challenge the apathetic, comfortable Christians who never ask any questions and force them to see that faith without questions is lifeless. And I seek to draw the perpetual questioner, the one who is never satisfied to a place of comfort with mystery and peace with an infinite, unfathomable God.

David: I’ve read on your site that “I believe; help my unbelief” is your favorite phrase in Scripture. Why?

Barnabas: It captures so much of the Christian experience, that perpetual pursuit of holiness while also falling short. It is brutally honest and honestly humble. It portrays the “already, but not yet” aspect of the Christian life so well – I do believe, and I do need help because I am riddled with unbelief too.

David: With that said, what does “I believe; help my unbelief,” mean to you?

Barnabas: I had read these words dozens, maybe hundreds of times growing up and through my early twenties. But there was a time several years ago when I was in the midst of a distinct faith crisis, a time when I was very much torn between what I knew I ought to be and what I actually saw myself to be. Then I read this verse again and it exploded off the page. It was like morning coffee for my soul, soothing and enlivening all at once because I saw that, while belief and unbelief are at odds with one another, belief does not have to be perfect to be effective and connect us to God. That was a turning point for me in my relationship with God.

Help My Unbelief is set to release from David C. Cook on July 1st.
Help My Unbelief is set to release from David C. Cook on July 1st.

David: As a wordsmith, I noticed you used unbelief in the title, and doubt in the subtitle. They seem similar, but they’re actually different. From my Christian understanding, doubt is not a sin, but unbelief is a sin. Would you agree? What are some of the differences between doubt and unbelief and how are these differences manifested in the Christian life?

Barnabas: I agree with the distinction you made, though I would say that doubt can be sinful. In the book I draw a distinction between “unbelieving doubt” and “believing doubt.” The former is that kind of doubt that never finds any answers satisfying because it doesn’t actually want to find truth; it simply wants to undermine. It rejects truth, and that is the essence of unbelief. Believing doubt, on the other hand, is that doubt which is unsure but desires to know truth. It can’t see what will happen and can’t understand what is going on, but it trusts enough to press on. That’s what the father in mark 9 shows – believing doubt. He wasn’t sure Jesus could help, but he didn’t reject Jesus. Rather he took his doubts right to Him and said “help.”

David: Have you ever personally struggled with doubt or unbelief? How did you manage to get through it?

Barnabas: My struggles with unbelief have been defined by a gap between knowing and believing. Having grown up in a soundly biblical home I knew lots of truth and answers, but there was a gap for a long time between that mental assent and the sort of belief that transforms lives. That gap led me to ask a lot of questions about what I really believed, what was true, who Jesus was, and how I should respond. The asking was what God used to open my eyes. I think that’s because I asked desiring to know, not desiring to rebel.

David: What are some things that the church can do to help with Christians struggling through doubt and unbelief?

Barnabas: I think if the struggle is doubt then the response is to encourage the questions and walk with the questioner to find answers. Often the answer will be “we don’t know” because so many things about God’s will and plan are beyond our minds. But that is important to acknowledge because it reveals something of God’s bigness and omnipotence which, when balanced with what the Bible reveals of His character, is beautiful. More churches need doctrinal statements that say “we don’t know” about certain things and instead point people to the character and acts of God revealed in scripture. If the struggle is unbelief the response is more complex because unbelief is ultimately overcome by the Holy Spirit opening eyes and softening hearts. Arguments won’t usually do that. Evidence and “proof” won’t either. But the Holy Spirit does use believers to lead people to the truth. Above all this means reflect Jesus and talk about who He is and what he has done in scripture and in their lives.

David: What is the #1 takeaway you are hoping Christians get out of reading your book?

Barnabas: I’m going to cheat and give three.

For those Christians who have never asked a question, never wondered, never been shaken in their faith I hope this book causes cracks in their comfort. They need to ask and confront the big, mind-blowing realities about God and the world because if they don’t one day those things will spring on them and results could be disastrous. For those Christians who can’t seem to stop questioning and are eaten up by doubt I want them to come to a place of comfort in God’s mysteries and realize their questions can lead them deeper into faith not just erode it. For those in the middle I want to help them be free of guilt for their questions. Child-like faith is a questioning faith. And just like children ask out of a place of trust because they know their parents, so we must be with God.

Thanks, Barnabas! Looking forward to your book releasing on July 1st. 

Want an unbiased opinion of the book? Read Dr. John Frame’s book review on The Gospel Coalition. You can do that here. 

Also, you can pre-order the book Amazon here.

Barnabas Piper is a Christian writer exploring the connections between ideas, faith, and people. Piper lives in the Nashville area with his wife and two daughters. He writes weekly for WorldMag.com, The Blazing Center, and is also a regular contributor to the hilarious podcast, The Happy Rant. Finally, he is also a self-proclaimed overly-committed Minnesota sports fan. 

You can follow Barnabas on Twitter  and Facebook. Also, check out his website at barnabaspiper.com. 

Questions and Comments: What are some practical things that we can do to help other Christians who are struggling with doubt, or battling unbelief? Post your comments below.

Advertisements

14 thoughts on “Help My Unbelief: An Interview With Barnabas Piper

  1. Doubts and unbelief go hand in hand to the spiritual maturity of the believer… Our God given peace and the joy God wants for us come from the fullness of Christ in our hearts, minds and soul…

    I am reminded of John 15:11… These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. (NKJV)

    I went through a period of time, after God graced me with salvation, where I struggled with a lack of peace and joy… I have shared it so much, I have kept a copy to post here, that I pray will help others, and give God the glory for His power presence in my life !!

    All Christians can backslide, if they are not living for the Lord… I did for 7 years and 2 days after I was saved. My peace and my joy I once had were gone, after I somehow took back control from the Holy Spirit… I believe it was after listening to CH.Spurgeon’s preaching on “Grieving the Holy Spirit”, that I finally got down on my knees and prayed to the Lord that I wanted to start living for Him again…

    My God given peace and a joy that only living for Christ will bring into your life (John 15:11…&…Colossians 1:11), flooded back into my heart, mind and soul… The Holy Spirit was sitting back waiting for me to give Him back the control of my life !!I

    It is a combination of wearing God’s WHOLE set of armor (Ephesians 6:10-20), and total submission to the Lord (James 4:7-8), that will keep the Christian who keeps a short leash on committed sins by praying 1 John 1:9, EVERY time they find themselves sinning…

    Walking with the Lord as a Spirit filled Christian (Ephesians 5:18-20) is sweet fellowship that will be broken by unconfessed sin. We must listen and understand what the writer of Hebrews 12:4-11 tells us about God’s discipline…and hopefully regain the peaceable fruit of righteousness that will be obtained by those trained by God’s chastising…

    Hebrews 4:11… Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (NKJV)

    Hope this helps someone who has fear, or anxiety, or doubts about their salvation, as Satan will use his bag of tricks to pull the Christian down. The power of the Holy Spirit will quench Satan’s attempts every time we step back and allow Him to take TOTAL charge of our lives !!

    The Apostle John tells us this, in…1John 4:18… There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. (NKJV) Torment comes from Satan…and The Lord’s perfect love “casts out fear” as we allow His power to fight our battles…

    May these words bring praise and glory to the King of kings and the Lord of lords !!

    Blessings in Christ, bruce

    P.S. Every Christian should read this… http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0278.htm

    1. Agreed. Preparing our hearts and minds through the Word and prayer for trials is a must. Also encouraged by Piper’s willingness to engage and be honest. It’s a good combo.

  2. I”m so excited about this book. I love the interview and I’m glad other people are taking a second look at doubt and unbelief. As for you ending question, one think we can do to help ourselves and our brothers and sisters in the faith deal with doubt is to destigmatize it, as this book is attempting to do. Paul Tillich said that “doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” What he means is that there is no true faith without opposition. If believers can be reassured that God is not going to look down on them because of their doubt, then they can be honest with Him about it, and he can strengthen them and help their unbelief. He can’t help our unbelief if we never acknowledge it to him.

    1. Pensive Ponderings, I would like to share my personal testimony about my loss of peace and joy… It has everything to do with doubts and unbelief… May God be glorified by His presence through the power of the Holy Spirit in my life… It is copied and pasted, because I share it often for Christians that are not walking in the Spirit by the FULL power of the Holy Spirit’s direction…

      Blessings in Christ, bruce

      All Christians can backslide, if they are not living for the Lord… I did for 7 years and 2 days after I was saved. My peace and my joy I once had were gone, after I somehow took back control from the Holy Spirit… I believe it was after listening to CH.Spurgeon’s preaching on “Grieving the Holy Spirit”, that I finally got down on my knees and prayed to the Lord that I wanted to start living for Him again…

      My God given peace and a joy that only living for Christ will bring into your life (John 15:11…&…Colossians 1:11), flooded back into my heart, mind and soul… The Holy Spirit was sitting back waiting for me to give Him back the control of my life !!I

      It is a combination of wearing God’s WHOLE set of armor (Ephesians 6:10-20), and total submission to the Lord (James 4:7-8) that will keep the Christian who keeps a short leash on committed sins by praying 1 John 1:9, EVERY time they find themselves sinning…

      Walking with the Lord as a Spirit filled Christian (Ephesians 5:18-20) is sweet fellowship that will be broken by unconfessed sin. We must listen and understand what the writer of Hebrews 12:4-11 tells us about God’s discipline…and hopefully regain the peaceable fruit of righteousness that will be obtained by those trained by God’s chastising…

      Hebrews 4:11… Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (NKJV)

      Hope this helps someone who has fear, or anxiety, or doubts about their salvation, as Satan will use his bag of tricks to pull the Christian down. The power of the Holy Spirit will quench Satan’s attempts every time we step back and allow Him to take TOTAL charge of our lives !!

      The Apostle John tells us this, in…1John 4:18… There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. (NKJV) Torment comes from Satan…and The Lord’s perfect love “casts out fear” as we allow His power to fight our battles…

      May these words bring praise and glory to the King of kings and the Lord of lords !!

      Blessings in Christ, bruce

      P.S. Every Christian should read this… http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0278.htm

      1. Godsmanforever, as much as I appreciate your testimony, which you kindly shared earlier, I am not sure how pertinent it was to anything I had to say. Please don’t copy and paste things like this en mass and out of context because it lessens the effect of the testimony and begins to feel cliche, .

  3. Since faith is the gift of God, when I encounter doubt I ask God to build up my faith. We are commanded by God through Jude to build ourselves up on our most holy faith, which is the opposite of being misled by false teachers, by remembering, so we have to know, the words of the apostles of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (the Holy Scriptures), keeping ourselves in the love of God, by obeying Him, praying in the Holy Spirit and looking forward to the mercy of Jesus Christ to eternal life. Living a life of faith, trust, love and obedience by the power of the Holy Spirit will overcome any attacks of doubt and unbelief. God bless us.

    But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit. But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. Jude 1:17-21

Please leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s