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My fellow blogger Dana VanderLugt posted a thoughtful piece on Saturday titled “No Easy Answers.”   Her post received a number of appreciative comments but when I posted the link to her blog on Facebook, I received some pushback from a couple of people who worried Dana was throwing the whole of having a sure and certain faith under the bus of radical doubt.  Actually the piece makes clear that her primary focus on not always trying to claim radical certainty for our every view was not something like what we profess in the Apostles’ Creed.  Rather I thought it was clear she was pointing to other issues related to synodical pronouncements as well as a welter of issues we have been dealing with in recent years in the pandemic and such.

She also quoted a line from Richard Rohr—which set off heresy alarm bells for some—to the effect that if we make faith out to be complete certitude, then it’s not really faith anymore.  It’s fact.  It’s infallible knowledge.  I don’t know much about Rohr but have read some things he has written with which I quite thoroughly disagree (he met with Pope Francis last week—wonder how that went).  But even a gauzy Christian or possibly even a heretic—if such he is—can still get some things right and on this point Rohr is onto something (at least on a limited bandwidth).

One commentator on my Facebook posting of Dana’s blog quoted Hebrews 11:1 as a counterbalance to what he called Dana’s “disturbing” blog: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  And along with that I would quote from the Heidelberg Catechism from Lord’s Day 7:

True faith is

not only a sure knowledge by which I hold as true

all that God has revealed to us in Scripture;

it is also a wholehearted trust,

which the Holy Spirit creates in me by the gospel,

that God has freely granted,

not only to others but to me also,

forgiveness of sins,

eternal righteousness,

and salvation.

These are gifts of sheer grace,

granted solely by Christ’s merit.

Taken together Hebrews 11 and Q&A 21 set out some boundaries for us.  Faith is confidence but it is a confidence fraught with hope and involving things we cannot actually see.  That makes sense.  As Paul wrote in Romans 8, the hope produced by our faith is by its very nature something we do not at present possess or are able to see.  If we had the object of hope in hand, we would not still be hoping for it.  We’d have it.   If you hope your father’s heart bypass operation goes well and then it does, the next day you don’t have that hope anymore nor do you need it.  You have reality instead.  Hope disappears when you get what you hoped for (or even when you don’t).

The Catechism adds trust to the equation and trust is also something you need only when you cannot be 100% sure.  As Richard Mouw once illustrated it, if my son is accused of having done something bad around 10pm on a Friday night but he assures me he did not do so, then I trust him (provided his character and his past actions give me some warrant for this trust).  I don’t really know but I trust.  But if I myself had been with my son at 10pm on Friday, then I don’t have to trust he did not do the bad thing of which he is accused—I will know he didn’t and so no trust is needed.  Hope and trust are tinged with the possibility we could be wrong or something will never come to pass as we had hoped.

But the Catechism also uses the word “knowledge” in its definition of faith and that is important but again note two things: First, this knowledge comes as a sheer gift and not via something we achieved or proved or tumbled to on our own.  Second, note the scope of this knowledge as being what God reveals in Scripture (and then in particular things related to our salvation).  Now let’s stipulate that what is revealed in Scripture is a lot.  But let’s also stipulate that faith in what God reveals in the Bible does not mean we know just everything about life and the world and society and the issues of the day.  This faith-based knowledge does not get imported into every opinion or idea we hold as followers of Christ.  

And let’s admit that applying even the knowledge of Scripture is not always easy and that across its 2,000-year history, the church has done its level best to apply Scripture to various issues and ended up now and again getting it solidly and squarely wrong.

There are many things that do not encroach anywhere near the core of our Christian faith that we are right to hold lightly, that we are right to question and allow others to question, that we are right to allow a certain amount of doubt to enter the picture.

But in our culture right now almost everything is 100% this way or that way but there’s nothing in the middle.  What’s more, pausing long enough to scratch one’s head to wonder about something is seen as weakness.   In this age Christians who get caught up in all this turn to the Bible and try to force Scripture to yield iron-clad answers that can lead people to stake down a position on this or that issue with 100% certitude.

At the 2022 January Series at Calvin University Dr. Sujin Pak delivered The Stob Lecture sponsored by Calvin Theological Seminary in honor of Dr. Henry Stob.  Pak is an expert in the history of biblical interpretation and noted that church history is punctuated by periods when there was a quest for utter certitude about everything.  In these times biblical exegesis tended to wrap itself into knots in an effort to make the Bible yield “the right answer” on a range of topics that had nothing to do with salvation, the identity of Christ, and other core matters.  But Pak sadly noted that those periods were the very same ones that led to violence, to pogroms, to Crusades, to Inquisitions, and just generally to a complete withering of the love and grace of Christ Jesus.

We teeter on such a time now.  Or perhaps we have already tipped into it.  Since the recently concluded Synod of the CRCNA, some of us are aware of social media posts and post-synodical debriefing videos that made it clear that having won what some see as a solid victory for orthodoxy, now is the time to plan next steps.  Now is the time to take all our right answers and all our certainty and use it to go after—as one pastor put it—“the rot” in CRCNA schools and institutions and agencies.

Because when we are absolutely certain about everything, perhaps we need not worry about the verse that says “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Scott Hoezee

Scott Hoezee is Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Amen to all of this, Scott. I think your clarification and expansion of some of the ideas I wrote about is exactly what I was getting at when I endorsed dialogue — coming together to process and weed through complicated issues and ideas. I wasn’t endorsing a lack of faith in God, but enough of it to allow the confidence and flexibility of questioning what it looks like to live a life reflective of that God. I remember, even as a very young person, wondering why, if people were so certain of particular ideas, they were unwilling to allow doubt and discussion. If certainty is so fragile it can’t withstand dialogue and debate, I’m not sure it’s a certainty at all.

  • Jim says:

    AMEN to both of your blogs!! Especially: “If certainty is so fragile it can’t withstand dialogue and debate, I’m not sure it’s a certainty at all.”

  • William Harris says:

    Hard lines promote a response of hard lines; certainty meets counter-certainty. It’s all so appealingly political.
    The challenge in this polarized age is to reject this appeal, this temptation, this all too easy hardening of the heart.

    I don’t think “dialogue” gets to this spiritual work.

    • Kathy says:

      I agree. What you write makes me think of Phil. 2:3. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” If we practiced this in the body of Christ, there wouldn’t be as much polarization. The outcome of synod may have been quite different if delegates had reminded each other regularly to practice this. It’s definitely not easy nor is it what we tend toward or want to do.

    • Jack Ridl says:


  • George Vink says:

    Thanks, Dana and Scott, for verbalizing some of the things that have been on my mind. Why are we CRC’rs so insecure that we can’t live with some doubt, some questioning of ourselves and our positions?

  • RZ says:

    I recall trying to teach catechism students the difference in context between the faith of Hebrews 11 and the faith of Ephesians 2: 8-9.
    Hebrews 11 treats faith as a persistence and trust, an overall conviction more than a confident feeling. But many, many Christians reference Ephesians 2 as though we are saved BY faith. In fact it reads it is BY grace we are saved THROUGH faith. Faith is the road traveled, slow, bumpy, and uncertain as it is. But it does get us there! Grace does the saving work and certainty is not a pre-condition. It might be helpful to consider what percentage of faith one needs in order to qualify as adequate faith for salvation: 51%? 75%? 99%? If we cannot or will not answer this question, perhaps more humility is in order as we defend our “assurances and convictions.”

    • Chris Slabbekoorn says:

      Thank you. I loved this response. Especially as someone doing her best to walk the “slow, bumpy, and uncertain road “

  • Scott VanderStoep says:

    I enjoy reading every morning as I start my work day. I occasionally like to print hem off for devotions in chairs’ meetings, for class, for Deans’ Council, and the like. My mundane question is: Does anyone else have trouble printing these blogs? My printer seems incapable of performing this task. Any earthly advice can be emailed to

  • Jeff Carpenter says:

    Is “cock-sureity” a word? I used it Sunday in post-service over coffee discussion of current events . . .

  • Valerie Van Kooten says:

    I am reminded of something I once read about certain sects of Hasidic Jews. When they are studying the Torah and come to something they don’t fully understand, they rejoice–by dancing and singing and yelling. This proves to them that Creator God is bigger than they are, and that their puny minds can’t be certain of everything. I like this approach. I’m even willing to try it this Sunday. 🙂

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Scott, for this article in which you attempt to explain the certainty of faith, what is certain and what is not certain. That seems to be a slippery slope within the Christian religion. Answers will come from a variety of directions, whether from a Reformed, Catholic, Pentecostal, or whatever vantage point one chooses within Christianity.

    In an objective attempt to determine what is certain of Christianity, it’s obvious that the whole of the Christian religion is based on intangibles, just as other religions are also based on that which is not tangible. Is Jesus both fully God and fully human at the same time? Was he God come down to earth taking on human form as Christians claim? Did he perform the many miracles that the Bible claims? Did he really ascend into heaven to rule over earth and the church? Is God really a three person being? None of this is tangible or historic. So the certainties of Christianity are pretty much made up, just as are the so-called facts of other religions, but which their Scriptures claim to be absolutely true.

    So your appeal to Hebrews 11 or to the catechism, in regard to the certainties of faith, is pretty weak. And then to use these intangibles of Christianity to direct us as to religious or political matters is the reason that religion or Christianity can take so many different directions. So I agree that it is a mistake to force Scripture to yield to our iron clad answers for anything we want to comment on. Thanks, Scott.

  • Chris Slabbekoorn says:

    Thank you for this – I enjoy your writing and found this very interesting. I will humbly and gently tell you I did have to cringe just a bit as I read, in the midst of your very eloquent warnings against the danger of certitude, your description of Richard Rohr – a fellow traveler you admit you don’t know much about – as “a gauzy Christian”, “possibly a heretic” and at the very least “operating on a very limited bandwidth”. It’s pretty tricky in today’s world to avoid the pull of certitude and polarity, isn’t it? I think this skill is one of the most difficult for us in the church to learn. (I’m definitely speaking to myself here.)

  • Jack Ridl says:

    Yeah. Poor Richard. Here’s this stupid guy who, as a heretic, has given his life to loving some Jesus he’s all wrong or at least gauzy about. And you would know since you know so little about him. Where’s Bonhoeffer when we need him?

    • Scott Hoezee says:

      My apologies for a lack of clarity. I did not mean to imply I believe Rohr is gauzy or a heretic–as I indicated, I have never read much of him so I have no basis for assessment–but I was throwing a bone to those who think he is thus and so and stating my claim that even IF that were true of Rohr, that doesn’t mean he was wrong on the quote Dana VanderLugt had in her blog from Saturday. It’s too easy to reject everything a given person says or writes based on one’s assessment of this or that and I was trying to cut through that. Obviously I was not clear enough.

      • Pat Vanderkooy says:

        It’s important to not write about people if you don’t know them – the Internet has a way of coming back to us when we wish we hadn’t written or said something!
        I’ve read a lot of Richard Rohr and invited guests at CAC and it’s been refreshing and thoughtful and challenging for me. Rohr dares to look beyond and invites many individuals from many faiths and perspectives to contribute.
        Thank you for your clarification. And also for your thoughts!

  • Rodger Rice says:

    Me thinks we should read more by Richard Rohr, with an open mind. What helps him with the uncertainty of faith is personal, spiritual experience as counter balance. Perhaps our CRC problem is being too “heady.” Rohr’s appreciation of historic mysticism perhaps could teach us how to ease back from over hardiness.

    • Rodger Rice says:

      Oops! I didn’t mean to write “hardiness.” My computer self-corrected. I meant “headiness.” Thanks to Jack and Pat for right-on responses. And, Scott, I forgive you. I won’t assess you on the basis of a few unclear statements. To me, as long as I’ve known you, you’ve been very clear. You will always be my “GRACE” theologican/preacher. I love you. (Rohr is my “LOVE” theologian.}

  • LENA says:

    Dana mentioned having room for debate and discussion. I would like to add to the discussion a concern that I haven’t seen mentioned yet: What about “straight” kids? If the 3- 7% of middle and high school kids identifying as LGBTQ+ are struggling with acceptance, what about the other 95 percent? I am a teacher in a public middle/high school and these kids are mixed up about sexuality. Many are followers and are now following the LGBTQ+ group because they don’t want to be non-affirming and homophobic. Many are buying into the idea that all these identities are equally good and enlightening to explore all these identities. Where is this going to lead? Why do we have to be reluctant to explain to 10 year olds (or older) in our own homes and in our churches that the Bible only affirms a male and female identity and that intimacy belongs in a committed marriage is between a married male and female? This is the duty of the church and its leaders to do this. What the kids do with this Biblical teaching, is up to the Holy Spirit.

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