A Balanced Perspective on Reason and Faith
What is the role of reason in the life of the Christian? What role does reason play in the conversion process, and hence in our witness to others? What is the relationship between faith and reason? These are questions that will often receive a variety of answers from different people. Some say that reason and faith are antithetical, while others elevate reason over faith, and still others faith over reason. This article seeks to find a balanced perspective on the issue, showing how it is that reason and faith work together in the conversion experience, as well as in the lives of those already committed to Christ.
Faith and Reason in Conversion
Reason is a faculty of the mind, and its use is basic to human existence. We cannot function in life without it. It is what we use to evaluate whether something is right or wrong, good or bad, safe or unsafe, etc. When it comes to evaluating religious truth-claims reason must be employed as well. While reason is inescapable in the conversion process, we must not be deluded into believing that reason alone can prove the truthfulness of Christianity to a sinner, causing them to be converted. There is an element of faith that must be employed along with reason for one to experience salvation. It is impossible to absolutely prove Christianity. With the limitations of humanity, very little knowledge of any sort is provable beyond doubt. Our goal as Christian ambassadors is not to prove Christianity, but to give them sufficient evidence to demonstrate the validity of the Christian claims. We can give them every reason to believe, but we can never make them believe. Apologetics enlighten the mind, and the Holy Spirit enlightens the spirit, but the individual must align his will with both.
Even after being presented with the best evidence for Christianity some will still not believe because faith is not something that one can be entirely persuaded into. Faith in Jesus starts with knowledge (for one cannot have faith in someone they know nothing about, or sense the need for a savior if they do not recognize that they are a sinner, etc.), but after an objective mental persuasion there must be a subjective step of personal faith in Christ for salvation. We can never reason someone into salvation; we can only provide them sufficient evidence so they can have confidence that when they take that step of faith in Christ they are not stepping into the thin air of fairly-tale, but on the firm ground of reality and truth.
Some will be intellectually convinced of Christianity but will not take that step of faith because their heart is evil. For example, the Jews knew Christ rose from the dead but they still did not believe (Matthew 28:11-15). We should never be deluded into believing that someone can be converted simply through the rational faculties of the mind, but we can help those who have rejected Christianity because they believe Christianity is a blind leap of faith, or even against reason, and have been persuaded that other non-Christian philosophies have more evidence in favor of them than Christianity. To the person who rejects Christianity because Christianity teaches a Creator while they are convinced that science has proven that all things evolved by chance, we must give them the confidence they need to believe in a Creator by exposing the flaws of evolution and the evidence for intelligent design. While we recognize the limitations of reason, it does not detract from the role of reason in the conversion process, more for some people than others.
Faith and Reason for Committed Christians
As Christians we must ask ourselves the following questions: "Why should I believe what I believe? What is the basis for my faith? How do I know my faith corresponds to reality, rather than fiction?" To ask such questions is faith seeking understanding. Our experience with Christ is our subjective basis for believing; it is not objective. Seeing that faith has a content, and that faith involves persuasion (demonstrated by the fact that Paul reasoned with the sinners concerning the Gospel),1 we must also seek to be persuaded of the objective side of our faith. We are rational creatures. Truth does not bypass rationality, although at times it may not be fully comprehended or understood by our rationality. To know truth we do not simply believe (blind faith), but seek to know the foundation for the things we believe as true. What objective basis do I have for concluding that the Bible is God's Word, but the Koran is not? Why is abortion wrong? Homosexuality? After all, God did not just arbitrarily say some things are right and some wrong. There are reasons why these things are wrong. Our obedience to God surpasses a mere "God said it, that settles it." Yes God said it, but why did He say it? We are living in a world that questions everything, and wants reasons to believe this or that. They want to be persuaded. They do not view the Scripture as an authority as we do. It is no more authoritative than Lord of the Flies in their eyes. It's just a book. As Christians we have to find ways of demonstrating the validity of the Christian teachings before sinners will begin to see the book that they find their origin in as authoritative.
It is through examining our faith that we will grow stronger in our faith. Personally, I have spent a great deal of time examining philosophical and religious positions/arguments that are contrary to my beliefs. After examining and evaluating all the various claims I am absolutely convinced that Christianity is truth. No other position can more adequately explain the human experience, and can better withstand scrutiny. My faith is grounded in my subjective relationship with Christ (because serving Christ is not a "mind thing," but a "relationship thing"), but is further strengthened by my examination of that faith using the rational faculties given me by God. I am as convinced as I am about the truthfulness of Christianity, because having examined my faith in light of other positions I know that my faith is built on a solid foundation, verified by reason, which is that God-given faculty given to all men by God so that we could come to know Him, the ultimate truth. I know my faith is solid, not blind. I do not have to fear the philosophies of men because all of them crumble in light of truth.
Our God-given reason is to be used to demonstrate the truth of God to a world that has perverted it in the name of reason. Reason can only take us so far, but we definitely cannot get to our destination without it!
What is the Relationship of Reason to Revelation?
1. Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8-9; 20:7, 9; 24:12, 25; 28:23.
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