Many people view faith and reason as being at odds with one another. For example, some differentiate faith from reason by asserting that faith merely involves hoping something is true, whereas reason involves affirming something to be true based upon justifying evidence. According to this model, faith is equivalent to wishful thinking and is thus incompatible with reason. But historic Christianity’s view of faith and reason is very different from this popular stereotypical definition.
In defining the relationship between faith and reason, historic Christianity draws upon both Scripture and sustained logical analysis. Here are five ways that historic Christianity relates faith to reason:
1. Faith’s Definition Involves Reason
In a biblical context, having faith (Greek: the verb, pisteúō, “believe”; the noun, pístis, “faith”) means confident trust in a credible source (God, Christ, or the truth). So the root word for faith in the New Testament is “trust,” but that confidence must be placed in a credible (reasonable and/or reliable) source. Thus, faith’s very definition includes a necessary rational element.
2. Faith Involves Knowledge
In Scripture, faith often involves knowledge. For example, saving faith by necessity includes knowledge, for having faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior involves knowing certain historical facts about his life, death, and resurrection. So in historic Christianity, faith is connected to the rational knowing process.
3. Faith Is Compatible with Reason
The scholarly consensus of historic Christianity (reflected in such influential thinkers as Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas) is that faith should seek understanding. Thus, Christians should be interested in the rational foundations of their faith. And in conjunction, the Christian apologetics enterprise works to show that there are good reasons (facts, evidence, arguments) to believe in the truth claims of Christianity.
4. Faith Can’t Be Fully Comprehended by Reason, but Faith Does No Damage to Reason
Christian believers, as finite creatures, cannot fully fathom (exhaustively understand) the divine mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation, but those doctrines can be defined in ways that avoid being logical contradictions. For example, the Triune God’s oneness (essence) is in a different respect from his threeness (personhood), thus avoiding the violation of the law of noncontradiction (a thing, A, cannot equal both A and non-A).
5. God’s Rational Mind Grounds Human Reason
God’s rational mind, evident in the intelligent created order (Greek: nómos, “law”; lógos, “logic”), makes knowledge, reason, and truth possible. And humankind being created in the image of God guarantees that humans have the capacities to reason and discover truth.
So be ready to share these five points the next time a skeptic says faith and reason are incompatible.
Reflections: Your Turn
Which of the five points made above is the most helpful to you in thinking through the relationship between faith and reason?
- For more about faith and reason from a worldview standpoint, see my book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.
- For more about how historic Christian thinkers have viewed the relationship between faith and reason, see Ed. L. Miller, God and Reason: An Invitation to Philosophical Theology, 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995).