I had the amazing, incredible, unforgettable opportunity to interview author and speaker Barnabas Piper.
Two years ago, I read his book “Help My Unbelief”, and it caused a HUGE impression in me, because, as I’ve mentioned countless of times, I struggled a lot with doubts when I began my walk with God at the age of fourteen.
That book is exactly what I so desperately needed to read back then, and I’m thankful we have that great resource available to us now.
I love the fact that sons and daughters of famous preachers are raising their voices to say: “you know what? We learned from the most qualified people on this planet, and yet it took God to make us believe.”
Barnabas Piper is one of those people, and I’m glad he took the time to share his thoughts about doubt and unbelief.
You ready for that?
PART I: Random questions
1. Natacha Ramos: What was the last gift you gave someone?
Barnabas Piper: Let’s see… My daughter had a birthday. One of the things I gave her was one of those emoji pillows, the one with sunglasses.
- What a good dad!
2. NR: If you could be any athlete, who would you be?
BP: One of my favorites growing up was a baseball player called Kirby Puckett. He played center field for the Minnesota Twins. When I was younger, I was sort of short, kind of stout or chubby, as some
people may say; and he was short and chubby as well, and I loved him. So, growing up, he’d have been choice for sure.
However, if I could be any athlete now, I’d probably be Stephen Curry from the Golden State Warriors, because he’s an unbelievable basketball player.
3. NR: If you could sing one song on The Voice, what would it be?
BP: Let’s go with “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, because I think it’s one of the most random, weird, funny songs, and also, probably the most fun song I sing along in the car.
- That rating is going up after that, I’m sure!
4. NR: What’s your perfect pizza?
BP: Just sausage and green pepper, and NY-style.
5. NR: Best compliment you’ve ever received?
BP: The best compliment I’ve ever received is when people tell me that something that I wrote encouraged them or helped them in any given time.
It’s always encouraging, because, when you write, you are just hoping that it connects with people and that what you say is true, encouraging, and beneficial.
So, when people take the time to tell me that one of my books really helped them, to me that is incredibly encouraging, because it shows me that the thing I put effort into, that I feel like God has given me the ability to do, it’s something He’s using and that I’m doing it the right way.
- Yes! You’re doing this the right way! I promise!
PART II: This is the serious part (I hope)
NR: Could you share with me one of your most meaningful experiences with the Lord?
BP: The one that always comes back in my mind is sort of the tipping point for me. I was going through a significant faith crisis. I grew up in the Church, I knew the Lord from a really young age, and I was a believer, but a lot of it was kind of handed to me; it was something I grew up around. There was a lot of familiarity, but maybe not a lot of a personal relationship.
I got into my twenties, and that hollow faith began to tap some consequences. Some sin had crept into my life that pushed me in directions I shouldn’t go. I ended up getting myself into a fair amount of trouble. I ended up getting fired from a job, all of it because the sin began to define me more than a relationship with Christ did.
So, there was a man who was helping me through this process of figuring out what I believed. He pointed me to the Gospels, you know, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. He said: “why don’t you start reading through those and see if you can reintroduce yourself to Jesus and had him reintroduced to you?” And I did that. I made my way through Matthew, and I got to half-way through Mark, and I arrived in Mark 9.
In Mark 9 there is a story of a father, who brings his demon-possessed son to Jesus, and his father has no idea of what to do. Nobody has been able to help his son, and he says: “help me if you can.” And Jesus says: “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.”
And then the father says “I believe, help my unbelief.” And that phrase became something that began to shape my faith, because I realized that there is no such a thing as perfect faith, and there is no such a thing as a faith without doubts, and there is no such a thing as having all the answers, those are myths, they don’t exist.
That gave me the freedom to come to Jesus personally, like that father did, and say “help my unbelief,” and to admit the things I struggled to believe or the things I had questions about, or the doubts that I have; but then also to come with the commitment to believe, because the first half says “I believe,” so the father came and he said “I do believe. I do follow. I do trust”, but then he also said “I don’t believe, I struggle to believe.” I think both of those things are true for every Christian, and that became something that gave me the freedom to grow in faith in a way I had never experienced before.
2. NR: So, the thing that helped you in that season was to simply recognize that your faith didn’t have to be perfect?
BP: Right, and the fact that you can bring that directly to Jesus. One of the things that stood up to me most was that the man didn’t say it to his friend, in his journal, or on a blog post. He said it directly to the Son of God. He said “I believe,” and then he admitted his own doubts, and he experienced the freedom to know that Jesus doesn’t demand and expect perfect faith, he expects a commitment to faith.
3. NR: Did you ever reach a point where you thought “I don’t believe anymore”?
BP: I didn’t reach a point where I said “I’m done believing,” “I don’t believe in God” or something like that.
I definitely reached the point where I said “I don’t know what I believe.” I couldn’t tell the difference between the things that I had been taught and the things that I actually wanted to devote my life to.
I think that, as a Christian, belief is commitment to live life a certain way. If you believe something, it will affect how you live: “I’m going to follow Jesus,” it doesn’t mean I believe that Jesus exists, it means “I’m going to follow Jesus.” So I reached the point where I said “all of the things I grew up with, all this theology, all this biblical knowledge, all the mission trips I had been on… I don’t know what they mean”. So, I needed to figure out “what is it that defines me?” “Who am I in light of Jesus Christ?”
I could have gone the other direction; it could have gone “I don’t believe any of this;” but it was the moment when God’s grace pulled me toward Jesus as opposed to me walking away from Him.
4. NR: Usually, people who were raised in Christian homes feel like they’ve been provided with answers even before they had questions. One way or another they’ve heard this statement: “it’s ok if you’re curious, but we have the answers, and you can’t go beyond them.” Sometimes, that’s hard to accept. What could you say to those struggling with that frustration right now?
BP: I think that’s not true. I think we have to ask questions, and I think that if you’re stuck in a context where questions are not allowed, you should do your best to find a context where they’re encouraged.
Now, asking questions is a healthy thing, but there needs to be a heart that is seeking truth, not casting doubts.
You can ask questions in one of two ways. You can a question to challenge authority, sort of undermining authority. You can ask the same question: “why do we do that?” And you can ask that because you really want to learn, or you can ask a question to ultimately say “that was stupid, and I disagree with it.” And we ask the same kinds of questions of God.
Are your questions driving you closer to God, or further away from Him? And the other thing I think we need to remember is that questions are built into faith.
Think about Hebrews 11, it says “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen,” the phrases hoped for and not seen mean that we’re not sure about those things, questions will arise. Faith, by definition, means that we’re not certain of something. It means that we’re committed to something; it means we believe in something, but it means that there is this area, this thing that we do not know, and that happens because God is huge and infinite and beyond us, we’re finite. So, we’re going to have questions, and that’s good, that’s how our faith grows.
The other thing I’d say is that, if you never ask a question in your faith, your faith will dry up and die; or, when you encounter a really hard thing in life, you will not be prepared for it; when suffering happens, when betrayal happens, when tragedy happens, you need to have asked a lot of hard questions, so that you know you can trust in God.
So, I think, for people in that situation, they need to be encouraged to ask questions with the aim of knowing more about God and knowing him better.
If the people around them are telling them they can’t ask a question, that’s unacceptable, they probably need to find another context where those questions can be encouraged and explored.5. NR: Doubts and atheism seem to be the challenge of our generation. Therefore, we, as Christian, have been trying to give evidence of our faith, so we can help others see the truth; but sometimes it feels like knowledge is not enough for that purpose. Why is that?
I don’t think that a person can be argued into believing in God, so if someone says that they don’t believe that God exists –whether they’re atheist or agnostic, wherever they fall in that scale– I don’t believe that arguments or evidence will be the thing that will tip them into believing, into following Jesus.
I think evidence is valuable and a useful thing, but there is a Holy-Spirit-revelation to the heart that moves somebody from spiritually dead to spiritually alive, and that’s why knowledge is not enough.
There are people who are biblical experts who don’t follow Jesus with their lives. They’re not believers in Christ at all, and yet they know the Bible better than you do, better than I do, better than most pastors do. They know the original languages, they know the ancient culture, they know all of those things, and they don’t follow Jesus… because knowledge is not enough.
It is the living-, breathing-relationship between my soul and Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit that makes somebody alive, and that’s part of the reason why the rise of atheism and just sort of a general disbelief in God doesn’t bother me very much, relatively speaking.
I live in the southern part of the USA, which is what we call the Bible Belt, it’s where Christianity is sort of a cultural norm; most people attend church on Sunday, most people grew up around church, and there is a general belief in God, but there is not a higher rate of people following Jesus here. There are a lot of people who think they’re Christians because they believe in God and they go to church in that generalized way.
It would me much easier in some ways if they just said “no, I don’t believe,” but it’s hard to convince somebody that they don’t believe in God before they do believe in God, you know what I mean?
So, it doesn’t bother me that people are bold about saying “I don’t believe that stuff,” because, fine, now I get to introduce you to the Jesus who changed my life, to the relationship I have with Jesus, and I’ll try to get evidence about how this changed my life, and the work He’s done in the world, His creative power, and those kinds of things.
But, people having a generalized sense of believing in God doesn’t change their lives, a relationship with Jesus does that.
Barnabas Piper is releasing a new book called “The Curious Christian.” We’re expecting its publication on March, 1st.
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See you guys soon!