Second Look: Faith and Reason
photo credit Laura Evans
For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel.
Galatians 1:11 ESV
Dear ICB family,
In Galatians 1 Paul labored to defend the authenticity of the gospel that he had presented to the Galatians. He was not asking them to just take his word. He offered them evidence that, upon examination, should have helped them (and us today) reach the conclusion that the way he spoke of the gospel was true and the way that others were speaking of the gospel was no gospel at all.
This led me to consider the following questions: Why do the biblical authors build their cases using logical reasoning? What is the relationship between faith and reason? To what extent are we to simply believe, even in the face of seeming contradictory evidence, and to what extent are we to seek out logical and rational reasons that can serve to bolster or undergird our faith?
To what extent are we to simply believe..., and to what extent are we to seek our logical and rational reasons that can serve to bolster or undergird our faith?
History provides us with some options and their implications.
Rene Descartes (1596–1650) believed that human reason alone, when rightly exercised, was enough to reach truth regarding God and everything else in the universe. If a person simply thought logically enough, that person would eventually arrive at the truth, including truth about God. Consider the implications then: If a person doesn't believe in God, the principle problem must be faulty logic. In the case of Galatians 1, the Galatians simply weren't thinking rationally enough, and if they could correct that, they would for sure believe Paul's argument that his gospel was the true one.
Over 500 years earlier, Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109) took a different perspective. He used the two following phrases when speaking of the connection between faith and reason: fides quaerens intellectum (meaning "faith seeking understanding) and credo ut intellegam (meaning "I believe in order that I may understand"). Alister McGrath (2016)comments, "[Anselm's] basic insight was that, while faith comes before understanding, the content of that faith is nevertheless rational. These definitive formulae established both the priority of faith over reason and the entire reasonableness of faith. Nevertheless, Anselm was no rationalist – he knew that reason has its limits!" (34). This would imply that a person who already believes is able to apply logical reasoning and find that his faith is reasonable; however, reason alone is not enough to bring a person to faith. In the case of the Galatians, faith in the true gospel preceded their ability to logically arrive at its truthfulness.
Does the Bible shed any light as to which of these two competing views of the connection between faith and reason is correct? I think it does. Romans 1:18–24 runs humanity through with this piercing indictment:
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor his as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity."
We as human beings should take one look at the world around us and fall on our faces in worship and praise of the living God. The testimony of God's power as Creator is "clearly perceived." At least it should be if our eyes and ears and brains and logic are all working as they should work. Instead of reaching that conclusion, however, our nature inclines us to "suppress the truth." That is, in direct violation of reason, we bury the truth from ourselves because, as Jesus put it, we love darkness rather than the light (John 3:19–21).
In other words, No, Mr. Descartes, human reason alone cannot get us to God. Our powers of reason, corrupted by the fall just like everything else in this world, will work against us and lead us to our own destruction. Only when Jesus knocks each one of us off our horses (whether literal or metaphorical!) and pulls back the veil that the devil has used to blind the minds of unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:3–4) and we finally see the truth of the gospel in all its beauty and we love it, will any logical argumentations for the truth and beauty of the gospel hold any meaningful sway.
In direct violation of reason, we bury the truth from ourselves because, as Jesus put it, we love darkness rather than the light (John 3:19–21).
The reasonable testimonies of Paul (Galatians 1:11–24), Peter (2 Peter 2:16–21), John (1 John 1:1–4), and Jesus himself (John 10:37–38) will not prove ultimately persuasive to a person's logic until such a time as that person has come to love the light more than darkness. Only then will coming to the light seem like the most logical, most reasonable thing in the world. Until a person has that kind of faith, no argumentation will ultimately do.
That doesn't mean we don't appeal to people using logical reasoning to defend the truth. Paul, Peter, John, and Jesus himself all gave reasonable explanations as to why their words were true. I'm very thankful they did, and I've been very helped by them. However, what we don't do is assume that our great powers of logic are ultimately decisive. Instead, we speak and write and debate with tears in our eyes and fire in our hearts in order to fan into flame the spark of faith that the Holy Spirit alone is capable of creating within a person's heart.
And exactly like we see in Paul's case, God loves knocking people off their high horses. May that be true in your case and in mine.
Grace and peace,
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