“The man that feareth, Lord to doubt, In that fear doubteth thee.” -George MacDonald, The Disciple
“But as we are on this mission, we will no doubt need to face hard questions that we can no longer hide from or ignore.” -Dan Kimball, Foreword to Questions to All Your Answers
“A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it.” -Tim Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism
Every person of faith reaches a point where they begin to question the beliefs they hold. They inevitably come to question and explore the validity of their faith. For me that point in my journey came in high school. For Stu Clausen it came in his early fifties.
Stu and Norma Clausen are great friends of my family. Stu and I have chatted a number of times about the period five or six years ago when he questioned his faith and sought answers for his doubts. I always found it really interesting and encouraging. He was kind enough to allow me to interview him about that very personal journey.
(Note: I tried to be as faithful to Stu’s words as possible. However, I edited the interview for clarity and brevity.)
Marshall Sandoval: How would you describe or summarize the sort of “crisis of faith” period you went through?
Stu Clausen: Essentially, I’d characterize it that I was kind of letting it go and not investing in my faith and not keeping up reading or anything like that and I just kind of faded in my spiritual walk. I was in a place where I was essentially a shell still performing the functions but from a critical position. There was no life inside of it, I was just kind of going through the motions. Finally, I said, “I don’t even want to be doing this”. About that time I just kind of faded from going to church….
So at that point we started going to Westgate just on and off and every time I went to the service the music just seemed to be drilling down into my soul and speaking to me, I was in tears every Sunday from that worship experience.
That’s when I realized I needed to get this thing figured out either to go for or just give up on this whole spiritual thing and just don’t have any experience of God at that point or just didn’t really know if he really existed at that point….So I started on this journey that said I’m gonna walk through this. It’s gonna be kind of a make or break time when I get to the end of this. I’m gonna make a decision.
At that point I started. I talked with Steve. (Steve Clifford, senior pastor of Westgate) I talked with other people and gathered a number of books together and started with kind of asking, “Does God really exist?” “Is there a historical basis for what we’re believing in?” I had to go through that. I have to say that I seem to go in these cycles of five to ten year cycles where I kind of do this in my life. Possible because I’m not that disciplined of a person. (laughs) But I began reading and asking “Did Jesus really exist?”. I was going through all of that process.
MS: What was the breaking point with those doubts or questions? What was kind of the catalyst where you had to say I have to come out on the other end of this one way or the other?
SC: It was being at Westgate and seeing what could be. I was seeing the life and talking with other people about how strongly they believe. Knowing that I wanted to be in that position but also knowing that I, at that point, didn’t have that connection or that belief. It was just all shrouded with doubt. And so, I was saying, “God you need to show up or I’m out of here”. That was like my moniker for about six months. “God show up or I’m gonna just dump this whole thing”.
It wasn’t just a sharp breaking point. It wasn’t a crashing down and I made all kinds of moral mistakes or anything that crashed my world. It was just saying, “God either you’re here or you’re not and I need to come to grips with that.
MS: How did still holding these tensions and still being in community at Westgate affect that time?
SC: There’s a couple things there. One is that I knew I had had this before. I knew deep down that there was something about it. I knew I had been in this walk before. And there was this nagging thing of, “Could that all be just junk or is that real?” The other aspect was that, in the church environment there was something amazing about this worship experience that was speaking to my soul. God working in that. Talking through that. That was stirring things. Listening to the teaching had less of an impact at that time. The third thing is, there’s something about my personality or character that needs worship. That needs worship experience and I longed for being back in that environment of leading worship. But I knew I couldn’t get there unless. I couldn’t be in that mode unless it was real. Those where the motivators. But the real thing was to say, logically, with my conscious brain can I say, “Yes this is historically accurate, yes this really happened and therefore that’s the basis.” That Jesus actually did walk this earth, was God, died on the cross, and rose. That was the key that I was trying to get to. That whole basis of faith. “Can I buy into that?”
MS: What were some of the books that were impactful? What are some that you would recommend to someone who was wanting to look at the basis of this?
SC: The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, absolutely. Although that wasn’t, there are a lot of strengths in that. Scientifically there’s Hugh Ross. That dives into the feasibility of this happening on it’s own without a creator kind of concepts. And I had a number of them but I don’t remember right now.
MS: How would you describe the way that that’s still a work in progress? How do you still encounter those doubts?
SC: So part of this journey was, continuing to ask for God to show up. That was the key, that one day, I was praying and it was just this, almost audible, but not really: God saying, “I am”. Just knowing that “I am” was the words that became so strong in my mind.
I guess, those doubts will still come up because the world still presents, all the classic ideas of not necessarily atheism, but saying: “Why does it matter if there is a God there of not?”. Dealing with those on an ongoing basis happens. Whenever those things begin you go back to a journal saying, these are the thing I encountered. I have those things written. And OK, I remember I believed this and I still believe it and you move on. Keeping a notebook that keeps reinforcing, every time you come up with a new explanation a new understanding. Keeping in the Word. Keeping in community with other believers that are going through that same thing and you hash through, some of that as it comes up…So you can bring that up and be honest and just say this where I’m at again. Is anybody running through that? Anyone have answer for that?
We’re running through R.C. Sproul’s Foundations in a Bible study right now. That is also doing this other job of just showing all of those aspects of who God is and why God is and all of that. That’s a big one, doing that in Bible study right now.
MS: Do you think that experience has shaped how you receive teaching? Do you think you’re more willing to admit doubts? Has it shaped the way you process your faith at all?
SC: I still need this. I don’t think it’s ever a finished thing. Like you said, “It’s a work in progress”. I keep needing to build on that. There are certain aspects that I go, ya that’s decided. That’s done. I know the historical accuracy of the very early writings that then got later translated into our gospels. Things like that. Check that box. But every time you hear new information you add that to this background knowledge that says, “OK, that’s just bolstering that up”. Then that will also effect the next time I hear somebody saying, “It’s all a bunch of bull.” Then I can come back and say, although I hate to debate and argue, I can say no. “Here’s the reality of it. This is my basis of what I believe to be the reality of it.”
MS: What would you say to someone who’s sort of doubting or afraid of getting into that tangle of admitting they’re having a faith crisis? To someone who’s afraid of examining their doubts?
SC: Well, the biggest thing, I think, that I would say to someone like that is: As soon as you hear something that puts the doubt, through classes you’re taking or whatever there will be a lot of attacks on faith or just other beliefs presented and other thought processes, as you’re hearing the doubts, if you’re continuing to hear it and it kind of settles into your mind, then you hear another one and another one. All of a sudden you’ve got this whole cloud of information that kind of overwhelms the faith supporting information you had. The key is to kind of categorize that or to dive in as those come up. Keep a short account on those so that they don’t become this huge severe doubt that can derail you. It’s something you need to keep working on as you’re walking through that. The problem is, finding time to do that, because you’re obviously too busy studying something else. Just keep a journal on it and put those thoughts into that category and then make sure you come back and answer them as they’re coming up or as soon as you can so you don’t get overwhelmed by it. That would be one thought.
MS: Obviously it wasn’t the easiest process for you to reckon with. People can be scared to begin that.
SC: For me it took about six months of just crankin through a bunch of books as you can get to them, because you’re working or you’re busy with whatever. It was just a time in my life where I could do that. So, one way is to dig in and search for yourself another is to have sort of a mentor or someone you trust who you can throw those at and you can have a dialog. They can say, “OK, that’s a valid point” or you can say, “No that doesn’t really hold up. There’s an answer for that”. It’s either digging into that yourself or walking through it with your peers.
Stu’s story of journeying through doubt ended with being able to engage in service and community again with a genuine belief and a firm piece of mind. We also talked about the impact that walking away from his faith, at that age, would’ve had on his family and his adult children. In a number of ways, God provided the answers he sought and he went on to play bass and serve in small groups ministry at Westgate for four to five years. Stu and Norma are now in the process of moving from San Jose to split their time happily between Seattle and Santa Barbra to be with their children and grandchildren.
The questions we are engaging as a community in the Curious series are difficult questions that have been debated for years. Has this series been a helpful time for you in questioning and defending your faith? How can we be a community that allows for doubts and skepticism? How can we engage people, wherever they are, in questioning what we do or what we believe either as Christians or as Awakening Church?
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