Why Evangelicals Lack Compassion for Doubters and Doubters Lack Compassion for Evangelicals


When my faith hit rock bottom at the end of seminary, I became spiritually despondent. I also became very, very angry that the religious practices and beliefs I’d been given let me down.

As I voiced my doubts and anger, I received some pretty strong pushback from evangelicals who had no tolerance for my doubts and felt personally attacked. On the other side of that time in my life, I can see with greater clarity some of the reasons why we struggled to show compassion to each other.

How Do You Grow Spiritually?

In evangelicalism, there generally isn’t very much language or conception of spiritual formation or practice. We have tended to focus on “saving” and then preserving the soul. You save your soul by making the proper profession of faith and then learning more biblical truth. You remain “in Christ” by safeguarding that truth.

If you look at the broader Christian tradition that stretches back to the early church and desert fathers, there was a greater emphasis on solitude and prayer. This tradition had been preserved by the monastic tradition, and its influence has increased and decreased over the years. As the church grew in power and influence, it’s not surprising to see those spiritual practices decrease.

As our access to monastic and desert father writings has increased, we can read that the three words that drove their spirituality were: “Flee, be silent, and pray,” as Nouwen writes in The Way of the Heart. Most importantly for our discussion about doubt and compassion, Nouwen notes that solitude (the fleeing and being silent parts) grow compassion in us as we encounter the love and mercy of God.

If we contrast the evangelical and the contemplative approaches to spirituality, we can see that one is focused on preservation while the other is focused on surrender. When I was trying to defend, preserve, or guard my spiritual life, I had little time or capacity for others unless they could help defend or teach the truth.

The surrender of solitude has forced me to face my darkest thoughts, resentments, and failures. When I resist solitude, it’s often because I’m resisting these dark sides of my life. I can only find relief and freedom by surrendering to God’s mercy, and that makes it significantly easier to show mercy to others.

Within the evangelical mindset, I learned to defend my faith from my own doubts and from those who would cast doubts on my faith. There was no room for failure. It was an all or nothing mindset. Without a more robust language of “spiritual practice” to provide an actual grounding for my faith, I had placed my confidence in study and orthodoxy. After immersing myself in study throughout my undergraduate and seminary years, while also going all in with everything the church asked of me, I saw just how fragile my faith had become, and I was angry.

I had invested years of my life into the study of scripture and defending particular viewpoints of the Bible. When those defenses fell apart and I realized that I was still just as far from God as when I started out, I had a “burn it all down” mindset toward theology and the church systems I’d given so much of myself to.

The hardest part of this is that the people in the systems of church and theology didn’t do anything malicious to me. They were just passing along the best things they could to me. We were all acting in good faith.

We all also lacked the very practices that could cultivate compassion in us. We were both trained in systems that valued conformity and checking particular boxes. As I left the conservative system, I just replaced it with a more progressive one but maintained the same mindset that lacked compassion or any kind of meaningful spiritual practice.

As I enter into completive prayer, I have to face my dark side and the only way out is to accept God’s mercy.

I am finally seeing the evangelical subculture with more compassion and grace because I can see how badly we both need the same mercy from God. I still have my insecurities. I have plenty of rage for the evangelical captivity to politics and cultural influence. But I at least can detect when I’m moving toward an unhealthy place.

When I sense myself moving toward my unhealthy stress points of anxiety and fear (hello, enneagram 9’s!), I now have spiritual practices I can turn toward with hope. Under the mercy of God, I have found the great equalizer of humanity, and that has helped me start to become kind to others, even the ones who would rather excommunicate me for my doubts.

Praise for A Christian Survival Guide in Publisher’s Weekly

A Christian Survival Guide a Lifeline to Faith and Growth

I hit a publishing milestone this week. We celebrated it with drinks on the front porch last evening. Before I share the details, let me give a little bit of background…

I started working on my latest book A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth several years ago, but I had a hard time pitching it. So I just left a summary of it in the “Other Ideas” section of my other book proposals.

After literally weeping my way through a pitch for a book about finding Christian community in 2012, the editor contacted me a few weeks later. “The church book could work in the future, but we’re really interested in that Survival Guide book in your proposal.”

No pitch needed.

I started dreaming of the Survival Guide book in 2008 and 2009 as I spoke to one young adult after another about all of the issues and questions that made it hard to be a Christian. Some were really struggling to follow Jesus, while others were on their way out of the faith. They were people at book events, childhood friends, colleagues, and family members.

So many people felt stuck, often stymied by doubts or unsatisfying answers from their churches. I could relate. I had many of the same questions and struggles.

  • Prayer wasn’t working.
  • Hell, evil, and the genocide passages in the Bible were disturbing.
  • The Bible was often used as a weapon against them.
  • The Bible could have errors… and then what?

The list went on.

What if I wrote a book that explored the range of Christian responses to each issue?

I didn’t want to give pat answers. I just wanted to dive into these topics in short, conversational chapters that provided just enough information to help readers get their bearings and then encourage them to dig deeper.

There are heavy chapters about the problem of evil and lighter moments where I offer up parodies of biblical interpretation such as the Papyrus Driven Church—Paul’s definitive guide to church planting via letters. It’s the closest I could come to capturing a real life conversation on the typed page—at least, a real life conversation with me.

This makes the Survival Guide a strange book to pitch. “It’s about everything that threatens our faith AND it uses humor.”

Still, my wife who is no fan of Christian nonfiction encouraged me to keep at it. She always enjoyed the chapters, and if I can win her over, I like to think that I can win anyone over. My pastor said that the chapter on hell was one of the best treatments he’s read on the topic.

Even a few of my writer friends gave endorsements:

“With grace and humor, Ed Cyzewski provides tools and suggestions for surviving the dips and crises that are an inevitability of the Christian life. If you’re feeling stuck in your faith and aren’t sure how to proceed, Ed’s gentle challenges might be just what you need.”

– Addie Zierman, author of When We Were on Fire

Coming to the faith is just the beginning. We also have to survive it. The Christian Survival Guide book doesn’t try to dismiss life’s hardships or faith’s doubts, but it instead walks through them honestly, clinging to both God and authenticity the whole way.

What do you do with the Bible’s most disturbing stories? What about those nights that doubt eats away at your insides? Ed Cyzewski’s new Christian Survival Guide book bravely and honestly delves into questions that each of us face at some point in our faith journey, but may not have the courage to ask. 

– Sarah Raymond Cunningham, author of The Well-Balanced World Changer

I also gave out some early copies at the Festival of Faith and Writing this past April, and Mary Beth Pavlik wrote an email a few days later about the Survival Guide:

“I am starting to think that perhaps you wrote it for me. I’m still in the early chapters but wanted to say thanks… I’ve been needing it.”

However, you can always dismiss the praise of your wife or your friends. They could be biased. It could still be a pretty terrible book, right? I was still waiting for the first critical review.

Then yesterday I learned that Publisher’s Weekly had reviewed A Christian Survival Guide.  The review gave a nice summary of the book, praised it for covering so much ground in such a small space, and then praised the book quite a bit:

“Cyzewski approaches each topic with candor, sharing stories that make it easy to relate to the topic at hand. While many of the topics are complex, he provides a point of entry into each and raises thoughtful questions about how much importance Christians can assign to aspects of the discussion…. What emerges… is an accessible and thoughtful work that is well suited to those new to Christian faith and practice.”

The ellipsis you see is the reviewer’s one critique of my book. Why hide it?

The reviewer wrote that the one thing this book really needed was a list of “suggested books for further reading” at the end of each chapter. Here’s the thing, I provided exactly that, but the entire list is at the end of the book, sorted by chapter. The reading list was the last thing we added, so perhaps it was there in time for the review.

Reading list aside, it has been immensely gratifying to know that early readers and reviewers found the book so helpful. While the PW review focused on new Christians as the book’s primary audience, it was originally written for Christians who have unresolved questions or ongoing struggles with their faith. It just turns out that new Christians will relate to many of these questions and struggles, giving the book two very different audiences who are searching for many of the same answers.

You can learn more about the book, including a preview of the first chapter and table of contents at the Kregel Publishing website. You can also pre-order the book there or visit Amazon to pre-order. We expect it to release in late July.

Order a Christian Survival Guide


How to Get a Review Copy

Do you review books on your blog?

You can receive a print copy this summer by signing up for blog tours at Kregel.com. (sign up by June 1st)

The blog tour is scheduled for August 18th.