Faith Has Its Reasons

Jason Dulle

How do we understand our faith? How do we evaluate whether a truth-claim corresponds to reality or is mere make-believe? How do we know that what we believe is true, as opposed to what others believe? Who's to say we are right and others wrong? How do we discern between competing truth-claims? We do so through reason and the art of apologetics.

Apologetics are targeted toward non-believers. While the Spirit is at work in all men to bring them to faith, some individuals have closed themselves off to the working of the Spirit in their lives because they do not believe Christianity is rationally credible, and thus are not open to consider it a valid faith option. Apologetics is designed to help remove intellectual obstacles that have hindered them from coming to faith, assuring them that if they place their faith in Christ they are not making a blind leap of unreasonable faith, but a reasoned judgment in reality. Once the non-believer comes to view Christianity as a viable intellectual position in the marketplace of ideas, he will be open to placing his trust in Christ.

Apologetics does not take the place of the working of the Spirit, but is a tool that can be used by the Spirit to bring the non-believer to the place where s/he will be open to the Spirit, as the Spirit woos the non-believer towards Christ. As Greg Koukl writes, "It doesn't follow that if God's Spirit plays a vital role [in conversion], then reason and persuasion play none. … Without God's work, nothing else works; but with God's work, many things work." (Greg Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009], 35-6]

While apologetics plays an integral part in some people's conversions, experience tells us this is not true of everyone. People come to faith in Christ in different ways. Some people come to faith simply because the Spirit bears witness with their spirit that Christianity is true, and faith is born. This faith is brought about, not by critical thinking and reflection, but by an internal witness of the Spirit. Are apologetics irrelevant to this group of people, then? Do they not need rational justification for their beliefs? No. All who possess faith have the responsibility to grow in their faith. Such growth comes through an exploration of the intellectual and rational foundations of their faith. Growth comes by asking questions such as, 'Why do I believe what I believe?', and 'Am I justified in believing it?' Answering these questions involves a process whereby we seek to discover the facts supporting our faith-facts that give our faith epistemic credibility. Apologetics meets this need, and thus apologetics is relevant to the believer and unbeliever alike.

Emphasizing the value of having reasons to support our faith should not lead us to question the legitimacy of those who came to faith based solely on the internal witness of the Spirit. Such faith is valid and valued, but not mature. God does not intend for anyone to stop at the internal-witness-stage of faith. We are commanded to grow in faith, which is a call to grow in our understanding of it. It could be said that Christian discipleship is simply the process whereby "faith seeks understanding." While we may already possess faith in Christ we never outgrow the need to better understand our faith, and to do so requires that we examine the evidence supporting our faith.

Indeed we must seek evidential support for our faith if we wish to avoid subjectivity. While the witness of the Spirit may be sufficient to bring one to faith, a faith void of reasons is not adequate in itself as a basis for defending the faith. The witness of the spirit is used by all sorts of religious groups to justify all sorts of truth-claims, many of which are contrary to the other. How can we demonstrate that our witness is valid and true? Something more is needed to be an arbiter between various theological or philosophical systems. Reason is that arbiter.

While many Christians are disparaging of reason, the fact of the matter is that it is our friend. The tools of thought that philosophy provides us with help us to argue for our position over and against competing views. Without philosophy, we would have no way of evaluating our own beliefs, or critiquing others'. We would remain in a quagmire of subjectivity. Philosophy gives us the ability to mediate the truth between competing religious claims in the marketplace of ideas. Only the tools of philosophy can guide us into choosing which religious claims are true and reasonable and which claims are not. This is where the art of apologetics comes in. Apologetics marry good philosophy with religious belief, both to support and convey one's own religious persuasions to outsiders, and to defend one's religious persuasions from the same.

A further inadequacy of an unexamined and rationally unsubstantiated faith is that it falls prey to instability. Faith is not a commitment of the will in the absence of reason, but a reasoned judgment in reality. If we lack sufficient reasons for believing as we do, then admittedly the source of our faith is experience, our circumstances, or our emotions, all of which are highly instable. When our faith is tied to such subjective things as experiences and circumstances, our faith is likely to change as our experiences and circumstances change. A faith with no basis in reason is a faith highly susceptible to being carried about by various winds of doctrine, because one's commitment to the content of faith is only as good as the experience or feeling they had when they came to believe it. To stabilize one in their faith, they must seek substantiating support for that faith. Again, the study of apologetics meets this need.

An unexamined faith is also incapable of replicating itself in others. While the witness of the Spirit may be sufficient to bring some to faith, it will not bring all to faith. Some people require more work! People believe things for reasons. We cannot expect non-believers to convert to Christianity just because we tell them it is true, no more than they could expect us to forsake our faith and convert to their faith merely on their assertion that Christianity is false and their religion is true. One must present evidence for their claims. Without knowledge of the evidence supporting one's faith, a Christian will have a difficult time persuading others to abandon their current belief system and convert to Christianity. While they may have personal faith in Christ, they cannot give anyone else any reason to join them in that faith. As William Lane Craig has observed, while the witness of the Spirit is sufficient to know Christianity is true, it is not sufficient to show it to be true to non-believers.

Those who feel no need to explore the reasons for their faith often do so because they see faith and reason as antithetical. Faith is understood as that which is necessary when no evidence is available (confidence without evidence); a commitment of the will in the absence of reason. This understanding of faith is not derived from Scripture. The opposite of faith is unbelief, not reason. Faith is a persuasion based on what we know to be true, based on the evidence. It is a reasoned judgment in reality, not wishful thinking. While there is a subjective element to faith, faith is not without its reasons. God has left us sufficient evidence to lead us to faith; evidence that we best not ignore.

In summary

Non-believers need apologetics because:
1. Some non-believers have intellectual barriers that prevent them from being open to the working of the Spirit in their lives.

Christians need apologetics because:
1. It strengthens our faith
2. It avoids subjectivity
3. It avoids instability
4. It allows us to duplicate our faith in others

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