Reasonable Christianity

Posted: June 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

faith-reasonThere seems to be this idea with some people that faith is somehow incompatible with reason. And yet, according to scripture, this simply is not the case. The truth is that we are called to believe, based on the evidence… based on the reliability of certain eye witness accounts. And so, as Albert Einstein himself would argue, “the path to genuine belief does not lie through the fear of life, or the fear of death, or blind faith, but through striving after knowledge.”

God has given us minds, He has given us the ability to reason in order that we engage the truth and to think critically. So that as we examine the truth, as we study the evidence from the gospels and books like Acts, we should be lead to believe and to have a deeper faith. In fact, this is exactly what John was trying to accomplish in his gospel. He is saying, here are the facts, this is my eye witness account… these miracles are written so that you may believe… they are recorded to provide evidence for our faith.

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” – John 20:30-31 (ESV)

And so, being a Christian does not mean that our faith needs to be blind. It does not mean that we need to check our brains at the church door. On the contrary, as James Montgomery Boice argues, “Faith is believing in something/someone on the basis of evidence and then acting upon it.”

Listen to the way this is expressed in a series entitled Faith Has Its Reasons

There is no substantive conflict between faith and reason. The Christian worldview is a reasonable faith, a step into the light of reason and truth rather than a leap into the darkness of irrationality and subjectivity. To show this reasonableness, classical apologists stress the need to compare and evaluate conflicting worldviews by means of certain epistemological criteria, chief among which is logical consistency or rationality. This does not mean that classical apologists are pure rationalists in their epistemology. All would be quick to acknowledge that rationalism per se (according to which, reason is the sole test of truth) is an inadequate approach to religious knowledge. Rationalism wrongly elevates human reason to the level of an ultimate arbiter of truth. Moreover, because God transcends the universe, the human mind cannot arrive on its own at substantive knowledge about God.

Norman Geisler’s treatment of rationalism is representative of the classical approach. The strength of rationalism, he argues, lies in its stress on the inescapability of the law of noncontradiction, its recognition of the a priori categories of knowledge, and its emphasis on the intelligibility of reality. In spite of these positive features, Geisler maintains that the standard forms of rationalism are deficient because they fail to demonstrate that their first principles are rationally necessary. Logic is an indispensable and excellent negative test for truth—it is very useful in disproving truth claims—but it is insufficient alone as a positive test for truth.1 This does not mean that Geisler does not view logic as a test for truth, but only that logic cannot discover truth alone. He explains why he is not a rationalist as follows:

“A rationalist tries to determine all truth by human reason. A reasonable Christian merely uses reason to discover truth that God has revealed, either by general revelation or by special revelation in the Bible.”

BB Warfield argued that rationalism erred in insisting that every doctrine of Christianity had to be tested and proved before the bar of reason before any of it could be believed. Reason may examine the truth claims of the Christian religion as a whole, he agreed, but it would be unreasonable to deny that some truths about the transcendent God and his relationship to mankind might be beyond our capacity to prove rationally.

“It certainly is not the business of apologetics to take up each tenet of Christianity in turn and seek to establish its truth by a direct appeal to reason. Any attempt to do this, no matter on what philosophical basis the work of demonstration be begun or by what methods it be pursued, would transfer us at once into the atmosphere and betray us into the devious devices of the old vulgar rationalism, the primary fault of which was that it asked for a direct rational demonstration of the truth of each Christian teaching in turn.”

Such comments about the limits of rationality alone should not obscure the primary role that logic or reason plays in classical apologetics. According to Geisler, logic “is the basis of all thought about God.” In a statement he was to make repeatedly in his writings, Warfield asserted that “we believe in Christ because it is rational to believe in Him, not even though it be irrational.” Indeed, Warfield contends, there cannot be true faith that is not rationally grounded in evidence. The purpose of apologetics is to elucidate these rational grounds. This does not at all mean that people must be able to demonstrate the truth of Christianity in order to be Christians. In fact, people may have faith and be completely at a loss to analyze or explain the grounds of their faith. Yet such rationally explicable grounds must exist, according to classical apologists.

“The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” – Acts 5:30-32 (ESV)

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