Faith and Reason: Friend or Foe?

Posted: March 14, 2013 in Apologetics, Christian Living, Christians & Culture, Theology

faith-and-reason

Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

In our culture, there seems to be a big misunderstanding about the relationship between faith and reason. What’s more, this is a misunderstanding held by the majority, regardless of worldview or religion. Atheists and skeptics often accuse Christians of being unreasonable, and since Christians emphasize having faith in Christ, the atheist somehow thinks this is contrary to sound thinking. But the Christian is often no better in his understanding, commonly justifying the claims of the atheist. Christians frequently proclaim one of two wrong views about faith and reason. First, they claim that faith is against reason. “If one has reason or evidence,” they say, “then there is no room for faith.” Reason, on this view, is often seen as the enemy of faith. The second view often held is that faith and reason are two separate aspects of our life. Religious matters utilize faith and everything else is subject to reason.

These popular notions, however catchy they may sound, are not correct, and they are certainly not in line with the Biblical understanding of faith. In order to show this, lets first look at the definition of faith and reason, then examine how they relate, and finally look at an example of this relationship in the Bible.

Faith can very simply be defined as trust. It is a confidence in someone or something. I have faith that an airplane will get me from Nashville to Las Vegas and I exercise my faith when I step on that plane. If I didn’t have faith, I would not get on the plane. Reason, on the other hand, can be defined as understanding of mind according to logical principles; or more simply, a rational basis for thinking that something is true. Going back to the airplane analogy, I can reason about the aerodynamics of the plane, the pilot’s ability to fly, the safety statistics of flying, etc. Rationally examining all of these things can help me determine whether or not a plane can get me from Nashville to Las Vegas and whether or not it is a safe method of travel. I reason through this – no faith involved.

Now the intersection of faith and reason should be very obvious. Reasoning about a particular thing happens first. Once we are certain of the person or thing in question, we are now in a position to place our faith or trust in that person or thing. Let’s now apply this to our airplane example. We reason about the flying process and then we place our faith in the plane by stepping aboard. Blind faith would be getting aboard something you know nothing about and hoping it will get you to Las Vegas. This would be an irrational faith, for it is not based on anything you know to be certain. So faith and reason are not at odds; in fact, they compliment one another. But does the Bible agree with this assessment?

Consider for a moment the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus demands faith and trust in him – this is what it means to be a Christian. But Jesus did not come onto the scene, say he was God, and then tell everyone to trust him. No! He came with many convincing proofs (Acts 1:3). He healed people, he performed miracles, and he even rose from the dead. He did these things to validate his claims to be God. He did not call his followers to a blind faith, but a reasonable one. For instance, when he forgave the paralytic of his sins (Mark 2), he was essentially claiming a right that God alone possesses. So look what he does to validate his claim. He says, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” and then he proceeds to heal the man. He healed the man in order to give reason for his listeners to believe his claims.

Let’s look at another example, Doubting Thomas. Thomas did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead (and who can blame him – nobody rises from the dead, right?). Jesus did not scoff at him and tell him to have more faith, or worse, reject him for his lack of faith. Instead, Jesus told him to touch the places were he had been wounded. Jesus basically said, “Look at the evidence and see that this is true.” Jesus was beckoning Thomas to believe that which was true, not to have blind faith.

So as Christians, we are not called to blind faith or wishful thinking. We are called to believe the truth. Jesus does not command that we turn from our reason and come to him; in fact, he does the opposite. He invites us to come, test, taste, explore, and see that he is real, that he is good, and that he is God. Do not turn off your minds; rather use them to grow in your faith, for faith can only be as strong as the confidence you posses that something is true. I implore you then; study, examine, and see that these things are true. Use your reason to grow in your faith. God did not create you with a mind only to have you abandon its use, rather he created you with a mind to know the truth, to know Him.

Jordan

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