The Reasonableness of Historic Christian Faith

A World of DifferenceEveryday, it seems I hear & read statements from people that assert or imply that Christianity is “unreasonable”, “irrational”, “illogical”, etc. These words, while related, all have different shades of meaning and can vary depending on who’s talking, but the gist is the same. It’s true that many Christians act unreasonably, irrationally, or illogically — either on occasion or on a regular basis, unfortunately. But, so what? The same can be said for many non-Christians. I maintain that Christianity itself, as a carefully thought out, theistic worldview, is wholly reasonable, rational, and logical. So, I want to draw attention to one response to this general claim of unreasonableness that may help your understanding on this issue, as it did me.

I was thumbing through the book A World of Difference by philosopher/theologian Kenneth R. Samples, which has a section in one chapter entitled “A Christian View of Knowledge”. After a brief look at the ancient Hebrew and Greek words for “knowledge” and their connotations, Samples points out that knowledge in Scripture is sometimes “personal and experiential” and sometimes “propositional”. He continues:

“Though no one strict approach to the question of knowledge finds complete agreement within Christianity, several universally accepted points represent a consensus among Christians.”

He proceeds then to list and discuss six “universally accepted points”, but it is the final one that I would like to reproduce for your consideration:

“6. The Christian faith involves knowledge and is compatible with reason.

While a variety of positions have been represented throughout church history regarding the proper relationship between faith and reason, a broad measure of agreement shows that they are indeed compatible.

Historic Christianity is reasonable in four distinct ways:

First, the Christian faith affirms that there is an objective source and foundation for knowledge, reason, and rationality. That basis is found in a personal and rational God. This infinitely wise and all-knowing God created the universe to reflect a coherent order, and in his image he made man with rational capacities to discover that logical organization.

Second, Christian truth-claims do not violate the basic laws or principles of reason. Christian faith and doctrine, though they often transcend finite human comprehension, are not irrational and absurd.

Third, the Bible encourages the attainment of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, and promotes such intellectual virtues as discernment, testing, and reflection.

Fourth, the truths of the Christian faith correspond to and are supported by such things as evidence, facts, and reason. Biblical faith (Greek: pisteuo, the verb “believe”; pistis, the noun “faith”) can be defined as confident trust in a reliable source (God or Christ). Faith (or belief) is a necessary component of knowledge and reason because, as explained previously, a person must believe something in order to know it. Yet reason can be used to evaluate, confirm, and buttress faith.

Reason and faith therefore function in a complementary fashion. While reason in and of itself — apart from God’s special grace — cannot cause faith, the use of reason is normally a part of a person’s coming to faith and supports faith in innumerable ways. Faith is foundational to reason, and reason can evaluate or confirm faith.

In the New Testament, descriptions of faith always focus upon an object. And the trustworthy object of a person’s faith is God or [specifically the Person of] the Lord Jesus Christ. Even the very faith that results in salvation involves knowledge (concerning the facts surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ) and discursive reasoning (as to what those facts really mean). Saving faith then includes knowledge of the gospel, assent to its truth, and confident reliance upon the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It involves the full faculties of a human being — mind (knowledge), will (assent), and heart (trust).

Christian faith and reason also connect in the renewing of the mind. This important transformation involves individuals using their cognitive faculties to the fullest extent in devotion to God. Christian philosopher and theologian Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430) called this indispensable intellectual and spiritual activity ‘faith seeking understanding.’

glasses on BibleBelievers should use their God-given reason to explore the depths of their faith. They should strongly endeavor to discover the Bible’s truths — stretching mental and spiritual muscles, so to speak, to apprehend (yet never fully comprehend) such doctrines as the Triune nature of God and the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Such exercise moves a person from the initial stage of faith to the deeper stage of reflective understanding and a greater sense of God’s infinite and eternal majesty. Loving God with a person’s mind is part of fulfilling the overarching commandment to love and honor God with one’s entire being. (Matt. 22:37)”

You may not be a Christian believer, or even a theist. If not, you likely don’t accept some of the precepts or assumptions involved in the above. That’s fine. (Well, not really, but that’s another discussion.) If you are a Christian believer, that’s GREAT! Either way, I hope this post helps to assure you of the consistency within the historic Christian worldview on the complete compatibility of reason and faith.

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