Monday, December 26, 2016

What Happens When We Divorce Faith from Reason?

Atheists, skeptics and critics attack Christianity saying that it is unreasonable. Faith, they say contradicts reason.  Many of us have heard their rhetoric, "Faith is a blind leap in the dark"; Faith requires one to check your brains at the door"; "Faith has been rendered meaningless in this age of science and reason."  Sadly more and more Christians sitting in our pews with doubts, week in and week out, have heard this rhetoric, and are slowly divorcing faith from reason.

This view is not consistent with historic Christianity, let alone biblical. The Early Church Fathers, the Medieval Scholars, and the Protestant Reformers believed that faith fits the biblical view of reason. In this posting, I want us to consider the reasonableness of faith, keeping in mind that our finite human intellect is not able to fully grasp infinite divine truth. At the same time, let us also bear in mind that something cannot be fully understood by reason does not mean that it is unreasonable. There are some things that we cannot comprehend, but with a little effort, that which is not fully understood can be apprehended.

That being said, let's consider four points about the relationship between faith and reason.

First, our reasoning capacity is part of the image of God in each and everyone of us. Human rationality reflects our Creator's rationality.  Using our mind is a God given, God glorifying endeavor, revealing in a semi-transcendent way, God's nature. The greatest commandment recorded in the Hebrew Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) and in Jesus' application of it in Matthew 22:37, it commands us to love God with all our heart, all of our soul, and all of our minds; ultimately with our whole being. We love God pursuing truth, reasoning well, and rejecting falsehood.

Second, faith is not unreasonable. Nothing is inherently irrational about believing Jesus Christ is God Son, who died to pay for our sins. Skeptical folks may call this foolish (1 Corinthians 1:18), but they cannot demonstrate their objection (1 Corinthians 1:25). The Protestant Reformers rationally explained the threefold nature saving faith: knowledge, belief, and trust.  They had a knowledge of the truth facts of the gospel. There was a belief or an assent to the truth of that gospel. And there was an act of the will to trust Christ alone for our justification. We are saved by faith, but the mind plays a significant role in that faith.  We hear, process and respond to the gospel by using our minds.  Faith and reason cannot be separated.

Third, the Christian faith is distinct from other kinds of faiths, which are not reasonable. For example, the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and those who embrace some kind of world religion have a type of faith, but none of them can hold up under serious scrutiny.  Biblical historical Christianity is able to survive the most rigorous scrutiny and strenuous investigation by standing on hard factual evidence which can be rationally judged, and verified. The God of the Bible exists; He sent His Son to this world to die and by believing in Jesus Christ a person may receive forgiveness and justification and eternal life. This is all supported by evidence. Faith is not a blind leap in the dark, but it is a head first dive into the deep end of the light of Christ.

Lastly, some Christian teachings are a mystery and are beyond finite understanding. Doctrines such as the Trinity (God's single essence yet threefold personhood) and the Incarnation of Jesus Christ (two natures, one fully divine and the other fully human, in one person) are profound mysteries.  Even though we cannot fully understand them, they are not contradictions. They violate no formal laws of logic.  We may not be able to fully comprehend them with our finite minds, but we can apprehend them by faith. This does not render the Christian faith irrational.

To summarize, faith and reason do not compete with each other as incompatible notions. Throughout the history of the Christian church, there has been a high view of the use of reason in the life of the redeemed. The Christian should use his or her mind to glorify God by diligently pursuing and knowing truth, by thinking clearly and properly and by rejecting falsehood. Christianity, unlike its competitors, is a reasonable faith and we should value reason as one of greatest gifts God has given us.

No comments: