Walking Away from Faith? Walking Away From Faith, Unraveling the Mystery of Belief and Unbelief

Walking Away from Faith is a book I have been intending to review and bring to your attention since reading it. Ruth Tucker is another author I enjoy reading. She is the assistant professor of missiology at Calvin College. Her famous and award winning book, From Jerusalem to Irian Jara, was a delight to read.

Walking Away from Faith is a challenging and sobering book. It deals with situations that will cause you to think, pray, examine the word, and discuss it with other believers. While we have emphasized the biblical doctrine “perseverance of the saints,” most people translate that to mean “once saved always saved.” Tucker writes about those who “lost their faith.” She writes about those who have struggled with faith but she does not avoid the hard questions.

She states that “All of us in our faith fall somewhere on the vast, subjective spectrum that ranges from absolute certainty to unrestrained skepticism. Some profess a confident belief in God that is never questioned; others cling to a belief riddled with doubts, only a millimeter shy of unbelief.” How do we explain, she asks, the one who ministers faithfully in the church for many years only to finally walk away from the faith? She calls this a paradox that we usually try to avoid rather than confront. She also states that while the matter of one’s salvation is in the hands of the sovereign God, we need to listen to their stories, give them an honest hearing, dialogue with them, and reach in love to them.

She states that the most common “walk-away” is the one brought up in a Christian home, who makes a profession of faith as a young person, but drifts away during adolescence or young adulthood. She continues to state that they display more apathy than anger and rarely make any profession of atheism or agnosticism.

In the beginning of the book, she tells of relating the death of her mother in 1969 to her struggle with faith to a college class. She said, “when I finished sharing my story; the students began to open up more that ever.” It seemed that God either had no answers to the questions regarding doubt and losing one’s faith or he simply chose to be silent. You sense this attitude in many of the Psalms.

The book is filled with stories of people who once professed to be Christians but who later abandoned the faith. I’ll use one story from the book regarding Chuck Templeton. The chapter is entitled “A Tale of Two Evangelists”-Templeton and his close friend Billy Graham. Templeton finally identified himself as an agnostic, not an atheist, not a theist, not a skeptic, and certainly not indifferent. He was a pastor and evangelist from Toronto who started out with Billy Graham in the 1940s in the Youth for Christ movement. At the first rally, Billy leaned over to Templeton and said, “Pray for me Chuck, I’m scared to death.”

Templeton’s life began to become riddled with doubt and he eventually left the faith. He continued to admire Graham, though he could no longer walk with him in the faith. He wrote a book in 1996 entitled Farewell to God. He died three years later of Alzheimer’s disease. Billy Graham said of Templeton, “I love Chuck to this very day. He’s one of the few men I have ever loved in my life. He and I had been so close. But then all of a sudden, our paths were parting. He began to be a little cool to me then. I think…that Chuck felt sorry for me.”

In an interview with Lee Strobel before his death, Strobel asked whether he would like to believe, and Chuck responded, “of course! If I could, I would. I’m eighty-three years old. I’ve got Alzheimer’s. I’m dying, for goodness sake.” Though he maintained his fondness of Graham and said in the end, “I miss him,” but he could not return to the faith.

If you have never struggled with doubt and uncertainty you will probably not appreciate this book. However, if you have struggled with doubt or attempted to minister to someone who has, you will find encouragement, hope, and insights on how to live within that “paradox,” as Tucker calls it. In the conclusion she quotes the famous verse, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” She says, “Without the Lord’s help, my belief is utterly insufficient.” She acknowledges that our belief does not rest on our ability to believe. And with a stunning call to faith, she closes with the words of the Apostles’ Creed.

Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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