Faith and Reason by Randy Hroziencik
Editor’s note: The notes below are from one of the speakers at our 2015 ICEC in York Nebraska June 19-21. Randy was gracious enough to let us post his article before the conference. There is still time to register. Contact Jan Oakes at firstname.lastname@example.org
FAITH & REASON
2015 International Christian Evidences Conference York College (York, Nebraska) June 19-20, 2015
Faith and Reason
As a seeker of spiritual truth in his mid-to-late twenties, the author encountered a number of people who held to diverse views regarding the relationship between faith and reason. One man in particular, a Pentecostal pastor with a heart for helping everyone in need, freely admitted to knowing absolutely nothing about Christian evidences; for this man, faith in Christ – and faith alone, quite apart from any rational evidences for Jesus’ divinity – was all that mattered regarding his relationship to God. On the other hand, another believer of acquaintance seemed quite convinced that his Christian faith was so well-grounded in reasoning that he seemed to possess every answer to every question that has troubled Christians for centuries. Still another person confused matters by stating that neither faith nor reason could be trusted; for this man, absolutely nothing could be known for certain, either by faith or by reason. To a young seeker of truth, none of these views seemed realistic. With so many diverse views regarding the relationship between faith and reason, how should one approach this vitally important issue?
Faith & Reason: An Unnecessary Conflict
Some Christians have the idea that faith and reason are in conflict, divided by an unbridgeable gap, while other Christians maintain that either faith alone or reason alone is sufficient in trusting one’s beliefs. In reality, both faith and reason work together seamlessly in order to help us know God, as well as our relationship to him. Therefore, faith and reason are not in a state of perpetual conflict, as both are necessary for a successful Christian walk.
Nonetheless, there are too many Christians who perceive a conflict between these two ways of knowing truth. On the one hand, we are supposed to have faith. The Apostle Paul clearly tells us that “the righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11), and we are supposed to trust God and not lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). It seems that we are supposed to trust God regardless of whether or not his words make perfect sense to us.
On the other hand, God tells us to use the intellectual gift of reason (i.e., Isaiah 1:18). We are to have good reasons for what we believe about God and spiritual matters, and we are to be ready at all times to share those reasons with other people (1 Peter 3:15). Therefore, we must attempt to show unbelievers that our belief in God, Scripture, and all things spiritual is reasonable, justified, and can be defended in a logical manner.
So, is it faith or reason that is the basis for our belief in God and the nature of reality? Are we supposed to rely upon our intellect, drawing rational conclusions from that which makes sense while rejecting those things which seem to be irrational? Or, are we to accept the teachings of Scripture without any regard to logic and reasoning?
This apparent conflict troubles many people, yet when both faith and reason are properly defined in their biblical context all perceived conflicts dissolve. As it turns out, we are to have good reasons for what we believe, and we are also to have faith.
Faith & Reason: Defining the Terms
Many people define faith as believing in things that do not seem real, or even believing in things that seem to go against logic and reason. Undoubtedly this is what many people – both believers and non-believers alike – have in mind when they think of the word faith. Unfortunately, some believers even go so far as to pride themselves in their beliefs which seem irrational to them, thinking that such faith is very pious. The author has had more than a few people confront him with the statement, “Forget about reasons to believe, just have faith and take every word of Scripture literally.” But is this what the Bible means by the word faith? No, for the Bible does not promote a belief in this type of “blind” faith.
A far better definition of faith – one that is much more palatable to the believer – is that faith is a firm belief in something for which there is no conclusive, irrefutable proof from science, logic, or history. This definition does not deny that science, logic, or history can offer solid evidence for the Christian faith, but rather it states that the evidences offered – no matter how convincing they may be – still fall short of being conclusive or irrefutable. After all, if the evidences from science, logic, and history were conclusive and irrefutable, there would be no debate regarding the existence of God and the veracity of Christian truth claims; everyone would be in the same worldview “camp.”
Reason, on the other hand, may be defined as the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by the process of logic. In modern society reason is generally considered to be more reliable – and far less subjective – than is faith. Only in the past few decades or so, with the rise of postmodern thinking, has reason itself been called into question. Nonetheless, most people still consider reason to be more reliable and objective than faith, which is widely considered to be open to any number of personal (emotional) interpretations.
Therefore, the question that professional and lay theologians alike struggle with is, “Which should we consider more reliable, faith or reason, when it comes to knowing truth?” Or is it possible that faith and reason are on a level playing field, more equal than many have previously considered? Perhaps faith and reason are two distinct, yet equally valid, ways to metaphysical knowledge. Throughout the centuries Christians have been divided on this matter, and various positions have arisen over time.
Faith & Reason: Four Views
There are four possibilities regarding the relationship between faith and reason:
Position #1: Faith – Reason = Fideism
Position #2: Reason – Faith = Rationalism
Position #3: No Faith + No Reason = Postmodernism
Position #4: Faith + Reason = Classical Approach of Biblical Christianity
Needless to say, within each of these positions there are degrees of commitment to each view: Not every fideist is completely opposed to logical evidences, and not every rationalist rejects faith in God completely. Likewise, some postmodernists are closer to modernism than others, and even within biblical Christianity there are some who elevate faith over reason or reason over faith, no matter how minimal that elevation may be. In other words, it is not always possible to pin every person nice and neatly into one of the four categories.
Fideism: Faith without Reason
Fideism is derived from fides, which is Latin for faith. Fideism, or faith-ism, is that position which elevates faith far above reason, even to the point of holding reason in contempt in some cases. The fideist motto is, “I believe it, and that settles it.” For the fideist, religious belief systems are not subject to logic and reasoning; religious belief is a matter of faith and complete trust in authority, which for the Christian believer is the Bible. Although there are many well-known examples of Christian fideists throughout the past 2,000 years, the early Church Father Tertullian, the Reformation giant Martin Luther, the extraordinary French scholar Blaise Pascal, the Christian existentialist Soren Kierkegaard, and the neo-orthodox theologian Karl Barth are usually offered as being the five most prominent fideists in Christian history. The author would argue, however, that each of these men acknowledged that reason plays a role at times, albeit in a very limited manner for some of them.
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, or more simply Tertullian (160-220), is often referred to as the earliest proponent of the “pure faith” approach to knowing God. Tertullian said that what made Christianity so trustworthy for him is that it is not based upon reasoning, but rather it is based upon a supernatural worldview which in many ways runs counter to reason, echoing the vast chasm between the infinite God and finite people. For Tertullian, as for countless millions since his time, the truth of Christianity can only be explained by divine revelation, with human reasoning contributing a minor role. With that in mind, however, Tertullian was nonetheless very well-read and theologically astute, and he utilized logic and reasoning when necessary. We may say that, for Tertullian, faith trumped – but did not erase – logic and reasoning.
Although Tertullian was not opposed to using logic and reasoning when necessary – he was, after all, a lawyer by training who most certainly possessed critical thinking skills – he nonetheless rejected the idea that one could mix Christian doctrines with Greco-Roman philosophy, unlike his predecessor Justin. Tertullian feared that pagan philosophy, if used incorrectly, could distort the message of Christ. Along this line, he is perhaps best known for his declaration, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens, the Church with the Academy, the Christian with the heretic?” Tertullian was impressing upon his readers that there should be no attempt to integrate the doctrines of the Christian faith with the ideas of the pagan philosophers: Jerusalem, the home of revealed religion, can have no ideological relationship with Athens, the city known for giving rise to Greco-Roman philosophy, nor can the Church cooperate with Plato’s Academy, as the Christian and the “heretic” (non-believing pagan) are light years apart in their worldview. For Tertullian, Christianity and philosophy simply do not mix.
The approach of “faith far above reasoning” was given special attention by many of the key Protestant reformers. Both Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564) stressed faith over reason, with Luther being far more dedicated to the “faith only” approach than was Calvin, who unlike Luther combined faith with a few key reason-based evidences in his approach to religious epistemology. Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman, Jr. note that fideism is most deeply-rooted in Lutheranism, and this is directly related to Luther’s approach of faith over reason. Although Boa and Bowman do not go so far as to formally label Luther a fideist, they nonetheless stress that the modern roots of fideism may be found in Luther.
Luther maintained that the fallen nature of humanity was so severely debilitating that the mind was simply incapable of knowing anything with certainty about God and his will. This is not dissimilar from what Augustine taught, which is not surprising as Luther was trained in Augustinian thinking. Therefore, according to Luther all people must rely solely upon faith in God alone. Luther did, however, hold the belief that reason was sufficient for temporal affairs, what he termed “matters of the kingdom of earth” (natural phenomena), but when it came to eternal issues – or what he termed “matters of the kingdom of heaven” or supernatural phenomena – reasoning is absolutely incompetent. In fact, Luther took it a step further and proclaimed that reason is an enemy of God, for it is counter-productive in terms of knowing God and spiritual matters.
Luther was convinced that, other than establishing a very general form of theism, natural theology was quite useless as it offered no real knowledge concerning God’s will and plan of salvation. The plan of salvation is simply beyond reason, proclaimed Luther, and therefore reason is unable to guide a person to the necessary soteriological knowledge. The gospel message must be heard and accepted on faith alone. Further, Luther held that any attempt to defend the gospel message through logic and evidences would only succeed in subverting it: “Let us not be anxious: the Gospel needs not our help; it is sufficiently strong of itself. God alone commends it.” Luther clearly fit into the traditional (anti-intellectual) form of fideism.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), a devout Roman Catholic who was the most extraordinary French scholar of the seventeenth century, excelled in mathematics, physics, and philosophy. Pascal pointed out the inadequacy of the usual apologetic arguments, being convinced that the “infinitely incomprehensible being” cannot be known through finite, comprehensible arguments. The most that these philosophical arguments could do was to establish the existence of the so-called “god of the philosophers,” who is essentially the vague god of deism and certainly not the one true God revealed in Scripture. This is most extraordinary, since Pascal had been influenced by the rationalism of both Galileo Galilei and Rene Descartes. It has been said that Pascal cannot accurately be called a fideist, as he adhered to three sources of belief: Reason, custom, and inspiration. Being that reason was one of his major sources of religious epistemology, it seems that he was ecclectic enough in his approach to apologetics that he combined fideism with at least some use of evidential arguments.
However, Pascal was adamant that reason alone cannot determine the existence, or non-existence, of God. For Pascal, faith is rational even in the absence of “rational proof” in a practical sense, rather than an epistemic or more philosophical sense. In other words, for Pascal believing in God serves a practical purpose, whether or not there is solid rational evidence to back-up the claims of theism. “Pascal’s Wager” is the idea that in the absence of proof for God’s existence, it is better to side with God than with atheism, because the person who believes in God has everything to gain and nothing to lose. However, the person who chooses atheism has, if wrong, everything to lose and nothing to gain. Remaining agnostic, in Pascal’s opinion, was tantamount to choosing atheism, for not choosing to believe either way is equivalent to accepting atheism.
Although faith was of prime importance for Pascal, we may say that he exemplified a much more rational form of fideism, allowing a foot in the door for logic and critical thinking. His apologetic stressed faith, but not at the contempt of reason.
Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) is known to history for his proclamation that faith is characterized by a passionate commitment to God independent of reasoning, requiring a “leap of faith” as some have termed it. For Kierkegaard, any reliance upon reason was not only unnecessary, but more importantly it would ruin the almost mystical reliance on “faith in matters unseen.” For Kierkegaard, a truly genuine faith is not one that is established upon the basis of reason, but rather transcends reason and attempts to understand God purely through a commitment of the will.
Kierkegaard held that each person can choose one of three lifestyles: (1) the aesthetic life, which is the life of pleasure; (2) the ethical life, which is lived in accordance to duty, laws, and decision-making; (3) the religious life, which is lived in service to God. Kierkegaard taught that one must make an intellectual decision to leave behind the hedonism of the aesthetic life in order to progress to the socially-responsible ethical life; therefore, reason allows one to progress from the first stage to the second stage. However, one cannot progress to the religious life by mere thought or reflection, as was possible before; Kierkegaard’s famous “leap of faith” is necessary to get from the ethical to the religious life. As an illustration of the religious life, Kierkegaard used the example of Abraham. Although Abraham was a man of high moral standards who would not normally take an innocent life, he nonetheless went beyond his ethical life to a life of complete obedience to God’s commands; Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac required a passionate “leap of faith.” Until this event, Abraham, despite being a man of deep respect for God, had not truly progressed beyond the ethical life.
Kierkegaard is much closer to the pure fideism of Luther than to the integration of faith with limited reason as practiced by Tertullian and Pascal.
Karl Barth (1886-1968) is considered by many to have been the single most influential Christian theologian of the twentieth century, and along with Emil Brunner he was the driving force behind the development of neo-orthodox theology, which was popular during the middle portion of the last century. Barth stressed the revelation of God over against natural theology, the transcendence of God over against the immanence of God, and faith over against reasoning.
Earlier in his career Barth heavily promoted the position of “faith seeking understanding” in which a person who has already accepted the Christian faith then seeks to articulate a rational understanding of core doctrine. In other words, apologetics is predominately for the believer, not for the seeker or (especially) for the skeptic. For Barth, faith guided the intellect, and not vice-versa. Any attempt to begin with the intellect, as in natural theology, will never bring one to a true faith.
Boa and Bowman summarize the two foundational points of Barth’s approach to religious epistemology and apologetics, which are firstly that we know God only by faith in his revelation. By faith alone we know with certainty that God exists, and by faith alone we know how God has reconciled us to him through Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross. We cannot reason our way into this knowledge. Secondly, this revelation from God comes directly from Christ through the Holy Spirit, and only indirectly from Scripture itself. “Scripture mediates this knowledge of God by its witness to Jesus Christ, not by providing a rational philosophical or theological system.” Therefore, Christ, who is the Logos or Word (John 1:1), personally reveals himself to humanity rather than intellectually revealing himself through written words.
Unfortunately, Barth’s theology is marred by two key points. First, Barth leaned heavily toward universalism, which essentially makes apologetics an unnecessary endeavor, and secondly Barth had no real use for apologetics other than its use by believers for the encouragement of their spiritual growth. Therefore, apologetics played no significant role is his writings. Like Luther, Barth held to a very traditional view of fideism.
Critique of Fideism
Unfortunately for the traditional fideist position, faith without reason produces an unreasonable faith. Although it is true that reason does not produce faith, it does support faith – and sometimes that makes all the difference when it comes to both strengthening the faith of a believer as well as arming the believer with the necessary ammunition to address skeptical challenges. As believers, each of us must be ready to examine all things carefully and hold firmly to that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Since the fideist generally maintains an “I believe it, and that settles it” attitude, this may make examining doctrinal and apologetic issues more difficult for the fideist.
The emotionally-based appeal of fideism requires almost no apologetic preparation; all the fideist needs to do is focus on personal testimony, the reading or quoting of Scripture, and why the Christian faith has been a source of strength and hope. On the other hand, the evidence-based answers – which the fideist most often avoids – require doing some homework. Many people, both in the world today and throughout the past two millennia, have been unwilling to consider the existence of God and the deity of Christ until confronted by a challenge to examine the evidence for Christianity. Many people have converted to a saving faith in Christ not because they were seeking an emotional uplift, but because they were persuaded by the evidence. Jesus commands us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” People are easily able to love the Lord with all their heart and soul through the process of introspection, but they must examine and thoughtfully consider the evidences for the faith in order to love God with all of their minds. Fideists are generally not as prepared to supply answers to those seeking intellectual evidences which are required for belief. Just simply believing in Christ for the sake of believing is not an adequate incentive for many seekers.
Finally, since faith is oftentimes considered to require a “leap,” how do we know which faith to leap for? There are many faiths in the world today, such as the Jewish faith, the Muslim faith, the Hindu faith, the Mormon faith, and so on. It should be obvious that not all of these religious traditions can lead to God, as many of them completely contradict the others. We need reasons for why we are making the right choice regarding which faith to leap for, and those reasons must be reasonable. Therefore, reason is both significant and necessary.
Rationalism: Reason without Faith
Rationalism maintains that in order for a belief system to be accepted, it must be possible to prove that the belief system is true by means of evidence and reasoning. In other words, rational thinking is of supreme importance, and the ability to engage in logic and critical thinking is authoritative. The motto of rationalism is, “I understand in order that I might believe.” The rationalist W.K. Clifford even went so far as to state that, “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” This certainly opposes the fideist position that faith in and of itself is an adequate means of knowing truth.
Rationalism began in the so-called “Enlightenment” period of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries under the influence of many philosophers and scientists, most notably the Christian believers Rene Descartes and John Locke, although many others both before and after them – men such as Francis Bacon and Immanuel Kant – also played key roles in rationalist thinking, despite their professions in Christ as well. In a nutshell, the Enlightenment was that time in history when European culture first began to replace God’s Word with man’s ideas on a large scale. Although at first most of the Enlightenment thinkers maintained a general belief in the Creator – either through a general form of theism if not outright deism – the “Age of Reason” would eventually lead modern society to naturalism.
The Enlightenment Thinkers
The Enlightenment, that philosophical and cultural movement that elevated reason to the place of supreme authority for determining truth, gave rise to many interesting thinkers. Rene Descartes (1596–1650), the founder of rationalism, and John Locke (1632–1704), the founder of empiricism, sought to use reason to defend the Christian faith. Unfortunately, several others used reason to discard all forms of authority, especially scriptural and ecclesiastical authority. Ironically, these materialists often relied heavily on the writings of Descartes and Locke in order to do so.
During the Enlightenment a distinct philosophy arose in Europe called deism, and it quickly spread to the American colonies and eventually became influential among some of the key leaders in the Revolutionary War era. Deists emphasized logic and reasoning, to the point where there was little or even no place for faith. Although deists believe in God as the Creator only – not accepting the Trinity, the deity of Jesus, or the authority of the Bible – some deists, such as Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), combined the traditional views of deism with a strong appreciation for the moral teachings of Christ. Known as “Christian deists,” they were pure rationalists who maintained the belief that we know God only through reason. For them, Christ was merely a great moral teacher of the ancient world, not God-in-the-flesh who came to save the world. However, a few of the Christian deists were known to pray, something that a pure deist would never consider. Therefore, we may say that, although they were committed to reason over faith, the Christian deists may have retained an element of faith, albeit to a very limited degree.
Critique of Rationalism
The author of Hebrews makes it clear that without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Reason alone simply cannot produce faith; reason does support faith, but it cannot produce faith.
Secondly, there are some truths that are known only through God’s revelation in the written word. Perhaps the best example of this is God’s triune nature. Natural theology, which is God’s general revelation in and throughout the material universe, can point us in the direction of a Creator, but the intelligent design of this world cannot point us in the direction of God’s triune nature. For that, we need God’s self-revelation in Scripture.
Finally, rationalism fails to take into account the difference between the rational-thinking mind and the emotional-volitional will. There are many examples in our modern culture of people who have acknowledged the evidence for God in general and even Christianity in particular, but nonetheless they choose not to act positively upon that evidence and they instead remain comfortably set in their non-belief. Just because there may be good evidences for believing in something – and Christianity is a great example of a worldview with many credible (and incredible) evidences in its favor – that does not mean that everyone will choose to accept the evidences and embrace that belief.
Postmodernism: No Need for Faith or Reason
The term “postmodernism” is thrown about today in Christian circles, often without taking the time to define the term itself. As it turns out, the term can best be understood by relating it to modernism. Modernism, the precursor of postmodernism, began in the Enlightenment period of the seventeenth century and further developed in the nineteenth century in Western Europe as a means of elevating logic, progress, and the authority of reasoning. In short, modernism basically solidified the authority of human reasoning that was begun in the Enlightenment.
In Christian circles the term postmodernism generally refers to the tendency to accept different worldviews as all being of equal worth and validity. For a long time, the world has entertained many different “stories” regarding nature and ultimate reality. Naturalism has its story, pantheism a different story, Christianity a still different story, and so on. With postmodernism no one story can have any more credibility than any other; all stories are equally valid.
Postmodernism is not so much a rebellion against modernism, although some postmodernists do see it that way, but rather it is the movement which rejects the strict rationalism of modernism. Postmodernism is primarily defined by an attitude of subjectivity in moral, religious, and philosophical matters. Therefore, postmodernism is essentially synonymous with relativism.
It is commonly held that modernism was concerned with the rational, evidence-based reasons for knowing truth with certainty, while postmodernism maintains that much of what we know is controlled by emotions and “hunches,” for lack of a better term. Interestingly enough, even many postmodern thinkers are suspicious about the validity of emotions as well. It seems that for many postmodern thinkers, neither faith nor reason offers a reliable means of knowing anything for sure.
Two of the most influential postmodernist thinkers were Jean-Francois Lyotard (1924-1998) and Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), although it is safe to say that modern society in general has embraced postmodern thinking to a large degree – and increasingly so, according to many Christian theologians and apologists. The motto of postmodernism is often summed up in the phrase, “True for you, but not true for me.”
Critique of Postmodernism
The major problem with postmodern relativism is this: If all things are relative, then there is nothing which can be said to be absolutely true between individuals. It then becomes impossible to adequately function as a society when no one is certain of anything. Also, if all moral views are equally valid, then do we really have the right to punish anyone? Our judicial system requires moral absolutes. In order to say that something is wrong, we must first have a standard by which we weigh right and wrong in order to make a judgment. If that standard of right and wrong is relative, then it is not a standard. In relativism, the standards of right and wrong are based upon social norms. Therefore, as society changes, the norms of right and wrong also change. This makes it impossible to consistently judge people for their supposed offenses against others.
The Law of Non-Contradiction is a major problem for postmodern thinking. The Law of Non-Contradiction states that two or more opposing statements cannot be simultaneously true. For example, Christ either is, or is not, God; both statements cannot be simultaneously true. One can say that, “Christ is God for you, but not God for me.” However, that statement is a matter of personal religious choice. What the person is really saying is, “I do not want Christ to be God for myself, but he can be whatever you want him to be.” Whether or not one accepts Christ as God is not the same as the fact of Christ’s deity: Personal opinion is not a rebuttal of the objective evidences which establish Christ’s deity.
A major claim of postmodern relativists is that people with varying viewpoints on a certain topic merely perceive different aspects of the same reality; in other words, they may only be aware of part of the reality, and not the reality in its entirety. The parable of the elephant and the six blind men of India may be used to illustrate this point. In this parable, the first blind man felt the elephant’s side, and came to the conclusion that the elephant was a wall. The second blind man felt the elephant’s tusk, and concluded that what he was feeling was a spear. The third blind man felt the trunk of the elephant, and decided that he was encountering a snake. The fourth blind man felt the leg of the elephant, and was certain that he was feeling a tree. The fifth blind man felt the elephant’s ear, and decided that he was handling a fan. Finally, the sixth blind man felt the tail of the elephant, and concluded that he was holding a rope in his hands. According to postmodern relativists, this parable is supposed to teach that our perception of reality is usually incomplete, and therefore we are unable to make absolute statements regarding the nature of ultimate reality. Absolutists, on the other hand, remind us that regardless of how any of the six blind men perceived the elephant, the fact remains that they were nonetheless encountering an elephant. In metaphysical terms relevant to the situation at hand, the lesson is this: God is God, regardless of how we perceive him. The Christian does not deny that we have an incomplete view of God, even in the face of God’s self-revelation in Scripture (Isaiah 55:8-9; 1 Corinthians 13:12). However, there is much that we can know about God through his self-revelation. Scripture may not tell us every detail about God, but it is more than sufficient for what we need to know.
Biblical Christianity: Faith & Reason Working Together
The classical approach in Christian thinking has always been to combine faith with reason. In Athens, Paul reasoned with the Greek philosophers in order to proclaim the gospel message to them (Acts 17:16-34), yet Paul was clearly a man of great faith (1 Timothy 1:12). The Greeks generally placed a very high emphasis upon reasoning, and Paul was able to meet them where they stood. Paul did not shy away from logic and reasoning, but rather he utilized it as a necessary tool for evangelism. Therefore, we can say that Paul combined great faith in Christ and his Word with the ability of the human mind to reason toward truth.
In the second century, Flavius Justinus – better known to the world as Justin Martyr (c. 100-165) – further developed the role of reasoning in order to both proclaim and defend the faith. Justin had converted to Christianity after a lengthy exploration of Greek philosophy, and even after his Christian conversion he remained rooted in philosophy – a touchy subject for some of his fellow believers, who viewed philosophy as being the enemy of divine revelation. Justin was convinced that the pagan philosophers had, at least in part, discovered some truths regarding the one true God of the universe, and this partial knowledge of God could serve as a connection point with Christianity. Justin was the first example outside of the New Testament of a dedicated Christian thinker who attempted to share the faith with non-believers by first establishing a common ground or connection point based in logic and reasoning. Despite his emphasis upon rational thought, however, Justin was a man of great faith who considered the Bible to be his authoritative source of knowledge about God and spiritual matters: “Our doctrines [Christian beliefs] are greater than all human teaching [Greco-Roman philosophy].” We may safely say that Justin continued the positive relationship between faith and reason that was begun earlier with the Apostle Paul.
Neither Paul nor Justin shied away from using the logic and critical thinking skills associated with pagan (Greco-Roman) philosophy, but rather they utilized philosophical thinking skills as a way to forge a common point of interest with their non-believing acquaintances. For Paul and Justin, even the pagan world knew some truths about the one true God, however limited that knowledge may have been, and for them they took advantage of those truths and built upon them with the Christian worldview. Both recognized that all truth comes from God, and therefore the one true God may be recognized to some degree by all people (e.g., Acts 17:28; Romans 2:14-15).
Augustine & Anselm: Faith Seeking Understanding
Aurelius Augustinus, or more simply Augustine (354-430), is considered by many to be the greatest theologian of the first 1,000 years of the Church Age. Augustine always emphasized the ability of the mind to engage in logic and reasoning. Augustine was convinced that Christianity is a well-reasoned faith, and not just a matter of the “heart” or emotions: “Augustine was the sort of person who would not send his heart to a place where his head could not also go. In order for him to commit his life to Christianity, certain intellectual questions had to be resolved.” However, despite his emphasis upon reasoning, he was noted for his motto, “Believe, so that you may understand,” demonstrating his strong commitment to the role of faith. For Augustine, the fall of Adam had so profoundly affected the human intellect that, apart from the grace of God which changes both heart and mind, no one could begin to truly grasp the tenets of the Christian faith. Therefore, in order to understand the doctrines expounded in Scripture, one must first experience a true Christian conversion that allows for the renewal of the mind. Then, and only then, can one begin to understand the often difficult doctrines associated with the biblical worldview.
The Medieval era saw the rise of another great Christian thinker who thoroughly embraced Augustine’s position of faith seeking understanding. Despite his reason-heavy theology, Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) always stressed the great importance of faith. Like his hero Augustine, he is known for saying, “I believe so that I may understand,” sharing Augustine’s view that in order to truly grasp the concepts of spiritual truth one must first believe in order to possess the clarity of mind that allows for understanding. Needless to say, this position runs counter to modern thinking, which maintains that in order to believe one must first examine the evidence and then make an educated decision based upon what seems reasonable. For both Augustine and Anselm, proper reasoning concerning spiritual matters is an illusion unless one’s mind is first clarified through Christian conversion. Only at that point can the man or woman of faith begin to understand what God has revealed of himself and the created order in Scripture.
It should be noted that both Augustine and Anselm were highly intelligent and incredibly gifted scholars who exercised logic and reasoning in their examination of theological matters; despite their position of “faith seeking understanding” they were nowhere close to being traditional fideists who maintained faith in Christ and Scripture apart from rational evidences. For Augustine and Anselm, the prerequisite to knowing spiritual truth was the saving faith that clarified one’s thoughts, but that in no way removed reasoning from the picture.
Aquinas & Natural Theology
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is considered to be the champion of logic and reasoning in the Medieval era, being noted for his development of rational “arguments” or lines of evidence that demonstrate the existence of God. Aquinas held the view that in order to believe in God’s existence and to be able to obtain knowledge of natural phenomena, we must first understand – which is the common approach to epistemology today. However, it must be noted that Aquinas never held the view that reason alone could sustain Christian belief. Rather, he taught that although the reason-based proofs for God have a place in Christianity, they can never on their own produce an adequate knowledge of God. For Aquinas, Scripture and church tradition must be joined to logic and reasoning in order to have a truly robust, well-grounded faith.
Unlike Augustine, Aquinas believed that Adam’s fall did not alter the intellectual abilities of people; critical thinking skills were essentially unhampered by the fall of humanity. Therefore, in Aquinas’ view people could utilize logic and reasoning to great avail, but logic and reasoning applied only to natural matters – which, for Aquinas, also included a general belief in the existence of God (i.e., natural theology). When it came to distinctly Christian doctrines, as opposed to a general theism or natural theology, Aquinas was quick to admit that God’s special revelation was absolutely necessary in order to begin to understand the mysteries of Christian theism. For example, Aquinas would have been comfortable maintaining that God’s existence could be known through a critical analysis of the theistic arguments, but in order to know that God is triune in nature one must rely upon God’s revealed words in Scripture; reasoning about nature will never lead one to the certainty that God exists as a triune being. Therefore, we may say that the divide between Augustine and Aquinas was not as wide as many have maintained. As with the great theologians both before and after them, Augustine and Aquinas combined faith with reason in their pursuit of knowing God, although each had a different view of Adam’s fall as it pertained to the human intellect and the knowledge of all things natural and supernatural.
Faith & Reason: Balance is Key
Most Christian thinkers were careful to balance logic and reasoning with faith in Christ and the scriptures. Some, like Luther and Kierkegaard, may have emphasized faith well above reason, while others may have been reason-heavy in their approach to understanding God and the natural order (i.e., Christian deism), but nonetheless all of the great Christian thinkers knew that they needed the combination of reason, faith in Scripture, and faith in the risen Christ in order to truly know God and begin to understand all things spiritual. After the time of the Reformation, however, we began to see significant imbalances between faith and reason, with the overly rational approach of the Enlightenment thinkers and the “pure faith” approach of Luther, Kierkegaard, and Barth. To complicate matters further, today we have the attitude of postmodern skepticism, which calls into question the usefulness of both faith and reason. After examining the history of the debate between faith and reason, it is no wonder why many Christians today are confused about the proper relationship between these two concepts.
The Bible itself describes what faith is. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. So biblical faith is not “blind faith” but rather it is a strongly warranted confidence. The phrase “hoped for” does not imply a mere wishful thinking as in, “I sure hope there’s no more snow this winter.” Rather, the Greek word used indicates a confident expectation, the kind of confidence we have when we have a good reason to believe something.
Biblically, faith is having confidence in something you have not experienced with your senses. Biblical faith is not blind, and it is not the act of believing without a reason. In fact, just the opposite is the case: Biblical faith is the act of believing in something unseen for which we do have a good reason or reasons. For example, when we believe that God will keep a promise, this constitutes faith because we cannot “see” God keeping his promise, yet we have a good reason for this belief: God has demonstrated over and over that he keeps his promises.
Reason is a tool that God has given us that allows us to draw conclusions and inferences from other information, such as the information he has given us in Scripture. Reason is an essential part of Christianity: God tells us to reason (Isaiah 1:18), as the Apostle Paul did (e.g., Acts 17:17).
In fact, no one could directly know that they are saved apart from using reason. After all, the Bible nowhere says that “[Your name] is saved.” Instead, the Bible states that “if you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). If we have genuinely acknowledged that Jesus is Lord, and we believe that God raised him from the dead, then we are saved. We must use logical reasoning to draw this conclusion. This is the kind of reasoning God expects us to use, as we are reasoning from his Word.
Unfortunately, people misuse reason when they frame their worldview apart from Scripture. This can involve either treating reason as its own ultimate standard – in which case reason becomes a replacement for Scripture – or by tossing reason aside as being irrelevant to Christianity. Every sincere believer should recognize the inherent danger of relying solely on reason, as opposed to a healthy reliance upon God’s revelation. It is absolutely certain that there are some things that people can never understand by the intellect alone; God’s triune nature and Christ’s atoning sacrifice are but a few examples. However, Scripture is abundantly clear that reasoning – though possibly flawed to some degree through the effects of Adam’s fall – is nonetheless a proper means of knowing things. Both 1 Peter 3:15 and Isaiah 1:18 offer biblical support for this belief.
We are not to reject reason, of course. God is rational (Romans 16:27), and as creatures made in his image (Genesis 1:26-27) we should be rational as well (Ephesians 5:1). We are commanded to seek wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 4:5–7), as God wants us to use the mind he has given us, but he wants us to use our minds properly, for his glory.
There is a place in Christianity for believing by faith. In fact, we are commanded throughout Scripture to believe by faith (Job 13:15; Matthew 9:22; 15:28; 21:21-22; John 11:25-26; Acts 6:5; 11:22-24; 14:9-10; 15:8-9; Romans 1:16-17; 4:16-25; 2 Corinthians 5:6-7; Ephesians 2:8-9; 6:16; Colossians 1:5-6; 2 Timothy 1:12-14; Hebrews 10:35-39; 11:6, 24-27). However, we are also commanded to use reasoning. Paul tells us that no one may be excused for failing to believe in the existence of the Creator for the simple reason that God’s fingerprints are all over the creation: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Recognizing God’s power and glory requires us to use our God-given reasoning and senses.
Faith is Necessary for Reason
Biblical faith and biblical reasoning actually work very well together. In order to reason about anything, we must have faith that there are laws of logic which determine the correct chain of reasoning. Since laws of logic cannot be observed with the senses, our confidence in them is a type of faith. For the Christian, this is a reasonable – and justified – faith. The Christian would expect to find a standard of reasoning that reflects the thinking of the biblical God, and that is what the laws of logic are truly based upon. The unbeliever, however, cannot account for the laws of logic without the biblical worldview. For those who believe that there is no God and that evolution is responsible for guiding the development of life, our thoughts can be nothing more than random chemical reactions in the brain, so in that materialistic worldview we really should not trust our thoughts, no matter how logical they may seem to be, because ultimately there is nothing logical about random chemical reactions.
Since laws of logic are necessary for reasoning, and since the Christian faith is the only religious belief system that can make sense of them, it follows that the Christian faith provides the logical foundation for all reasoning (Proverbs 1:7; Colossians 2:2-3). This is not to say that non-Christians cannot reason; it is obvious that they can. Rather, it simply means they are borrowing from a worldview contrary to the one they profess.
Since reason would be impossible without the laws of logic, which stem from the biblical worldview, we have a very good reason for our faith: Without it we could not reason properly. Therefore, it turns out that both Augustine and Anselm were correct in their assertion that in order to truly begin to understand anything (natural or supernatural), we must first have the clarity of thought that comes through Christian belief, and Aquinas was correct as well in that knowing about spiritual matters beyond this earthly existence requires God’s insight and the renewal of the mind through Christian conversion. Much later in history Pascal would also maintain that in order to know God with our mind, we must first believe God with our heart and soul – a matter that the Apostle Matthew wrote about sixteen centuries earlier (Matthew 22:37).
Both faith and reason are vital elements in knowing God and recognizing the authority of Scripture. These two means of spiritual knowledge are complimentary, not contradictory – we need faith in order to properly employ reason, and we need reason in order to make sense of our faith in key areas. Whether or not one believes that Adam’s fall thoroughly corrupted human reasoning, we can say with certainty that regarding spiritually-oriented (supernatural) matters – such as God’s triune nature or Christ’s hypostatic union – we must rely on God’s direct revelation in Scripture, while the things of the natural world seem to be discernible through rational thought alone (Romans 1:20). Although the debate regarding the relationship between faith and reason, as well as the usefulness and role of natural theology, has persisted throughout the centuries, we can say that both faith in God’s special revelation and Christ’s divinity must be joined to logic and reasoning in order to provide one with the faith of a mature believer who is equipped to take the message of Christ to a fallen world.
This paper is dedicated to two people, both of whom have recently passed away. Firstly is the Reverend Kirk Kendall (March 14, 1950-May 8, 2015), my pastor, mentor, and friend. I had so much more to learn from him, but I thank God for what he taught me in our time spent together in ministry endeavors. Although he is sadly missed here on the earth, Heaven has gained a great soul.
Secondly is my father, Robert Hroziencik (November 27, 1931-June 5, 2015), who taught me the value of hard work and caring for others. He never knew a stranger, and he treated everyone the same. He overcame a lot of adversity in his early life, and is well-loved and greatly missed by all who knew him. Heaven has gained another great soul.
For Further Study
Tim Garrett, “Faith and Reason: Friends or Foes?” Probe Ministries International. http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/faithrea.html This article explores how Tertullian, Augustine, and Aquinas differed in their approach to the relationship between faith and reason, in the context of Indiana Jones’ “leap of faith” during the final scenes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In the movie, Indy must pass a final test in order to enter the room where the Holy Grail is being housed, which consists of the ability to “leap out in faith” and trust in God. Garrett addresses how Tertullian, Augustine, and Aquinas would likely have approached this test of faith for themselves.
Art Lindsley, C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005). This is a book-length treatment of the faith-reason debate, demonstrating how C.S. Lewis was able to combine great faith in God with a commitment to rational thinking.
Jason Lisle, “Faith vs. Reason.” Answers in Genesis Ministries. http://www.answersingenesis.org/apologetics/faith-vs-reason The author relied heavily upon Dr. Lisle’s examination of the faith-reason debate in the construction of this paper.
Kenneth R. Samples, “Faith and Reason.” Reasons to Believe Ministries. http://www.reasons.org/articles/faith-and-reason This article is a short, but excellent, examination of the relationship between faith and reason, outlining the various Latin creeds that formed over time with Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and even Kierkegaard.
Lael Weinberger, “The Fall and the Inspiration for Science.” Creation Ministries International. http://www.creation.com/the-fall-inspiration-for-science This article explores how Augustine and Aquinas differed in their view of the effects of Adam’s fall upon the intellect, and how the fallen nature relates to scientific epistemology.
 Tertullian, The Prescriptions Against the Heretics. Chapter 7: “Pagan Philosophy – The Parent of Heresies.”
 Kenneth D. Boa & Robert M. Bowman, Jr., Faith Has Its Reasons (Colorado Springs, CO: Paternoster, 2005), 340.
 Ibid., 342.
 Lew Weider, “Pascal, Blaise” in The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 390.
 It should be noted that Kierkegaard himself may never have used the phrase “leap of faith.” Nonetheless, the phrase does properly express Kierkegaard’s attitude regarding faith above reason.
 R.C. Sproul, The Consequences of Ideas (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), 152.
 Boa & Bowman, 357-358.
 Ibid., 358.
 Mark 12:30, NIV (emphasis mine).
 Rationalism is the belief that opinions and actions should be based on reason and verifiable knowledge, rather than on faith and emotions. For the rationalist, the reasoning mind is the supreme source of epistemic authority.
 Empiricism is the belief that all knowledge is derived completely or primarily from sensory experience. Empiricism emphasizes the role of experience and evidence, for some even to the contempt of a priori, or innate, beliefs and spiritual traditions. For the empiricist, sensory experience and the evidences that are derived from them is the supreme source of epistemic authority.
 Justin Martyr, Second Apology. Chapter 10: “Christ Compared with Socrates.”
 Steve Wilkens, Good Ideas from Questionable Christians and Outright Pagans (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 118.
 Anselm is credited with developing the ontological argument for God’s existence.
 Aquinas’ “five proofs” are (1) the proof from motion; (2) the proof from efficient cause; (3) the proof from necessary being; (4) the proof from degrees of perfection; (5) the proof from order in the universe. In the proof from motion, Aquinas taught that whatever is moved must be moved by some prior actuality, but without an infinite regress. Therefore, a “Prime Mover” must exist. God is the eternal, uncaused Prime Mover who set everything in motion. The proof from efficient cause is the cosmological argument. The proof from necessary being is, with some modification, the same as the ontological argument first proposed by Anselm. The proof from degrees of perfection readily lends itself to the moral argument. Borrowing heavily from Augustine for this proof, Aquinas argued that it is impossible to have a relative comparison of anything without an absolute with which it can be compared, and that absolute is the perfection found only in God. Finally, the proof from order in the universe is essentially the same as the teleological argument.