Five Ways Historic Christianity Relates Faith to Reason

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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 AugustineAnselm, 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.

ReflectionsYour Turn

Which of the five points made above is the most helpful to you in thinking through the relationship between faith and reason?

Resources

  One thought on “Five Ways Historic Christianity Relates Faith to Reason

  1. September 19, 2017 at 7:37 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

    • September 19, 2017 at 10:09 am

      Thanks for the reblog, Vincent.

      Ken Samples

  2. September 19, 2017 at 7:45 am

    Reblogged this on Apologetics4all and commented:
    An excellent post by Ken Samples. Read it carefully. He makes some interesting points that are sure to make you think.

    • September 19, 2017 at 10:09 am

      Thanks for the reblog, Darren.

      Ken Samples

  3. Bob Sherfy
    September 19, 2017 at 11:32 am

    This is an excellent article and should be helpful in a conversation with a skeptic. However, how can this logic be applied to some of the Genesis account? For example, I know a skeptic who said he simply shut the Bible after reading about the long lives of Adam and those following in the generations up to Noah.

    • September 19, 2017 at 1:45 pm

      Thanks, Bob.

      Hugh Ross has a scientific proposal for trying to explain the long lifespans. You can access this on the reasons.org website.

      Ken Samples

  4. September 29, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    Ken, what comes to my mind in response to your question for reflection is not specifically one of these five ways being the most helpful, but overall how God’s Spirit in us progressively encourages us to seek more and more understanding and knowledge of God as we go through life on our path to sanctification.
    For example, the Bible shows and instructs us that God uses trials and adversity for good and righteous purposes that are often hidden from His people on the surface. But through faithful prayer and deeper study and patient contemplation encouraged by the Spirit, we find the reasons for our adversities, the lessons God wanted us to learn, the situations He wanted to prepare us for, or the benefits that come out of the struggle, which brings us closer to God with an even stronger faith.
    Of course, this perpetual reinforcing growth in understanding doesn’t have to be accomplished only through adversity, this is just one way God designed faith and reason to fuel each other, not conflict and compete.

    • October 1, 2017 at 8:34 am

      Thanks, MFD.

      Ken Samples

  5. jamcclure89
    October 13, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    The fourth example was most helpful to me. I have often found that many Christians think sin has rendered reason completely useless and, therefore, having no place in faith. It seems to me that the more biblical understanding of the effect of sin upon the human faculty of reason is that it is unable to cause salvation, but it does not necessarily mean it has no place in the life of the believer. Thanks for your intriguing thoughts!

    • October 15, 2017 at 11:09 am

      I appreciate your comments, JA.

      Best regards.

      Ken Samples

      • January 11, 2018 at 7:19 pm

        Kenneth,

        How have the different approaches to logical reasoning (abductive, deductive, and inductive) affected the views on faith and reason?

      • January 11, 2018 at 8:22 pm

        Hello, Jonathan.

        I think the types of reasoning have shown both the breadth and limits of reasoning. Thus I think generally they are compatible and supportive of the historic consensus concerning the relationship of faith and reason.

        Best regards.

        Ken Samples

      • Jonathan McClure
        January 13, 2018 at 11:48 am

        Ken,

        What literature would you recommend in order to have a basic understanding of the various types of reasoning (abductive, deductive, and inductive)? Would you advocate for a place for all three in the life of the mind as a Christian? I’m also curious about how the discussion of faith and reason tie into apologetics. What are your thoughts? My seminary studies have me reading much about apologetics, but from the presuppositional approach. I find the transcendental argument used by advocates of the approach to be lacking in some way, but I can’t figure out how. How would faith and reason link onto this? Thanks!

      • January 13, 2018 at 12:19 pm

        Jonathan:

        For the three types of reasoning, you can start with my book A World of Difference. This book has an extensive discussion of various aspects of the Christian worldview that relate to theology and apologetics.

        Best regards.

        Ken Samples

    • November 13, 2017 at 9:55 am

      Thanks for the link, Stephen.

      Ken Samples

  6. Larry J. Lorence
    December 30, 2017 at 10:06 am

    Hi Ken,

    Excellent article. I have an on going conversation with a fellow believer that Faith and Reason are married together. Jerry thinks that they’re separate. One book that helped me, Escape from Reason by Dr. Francis Schaeffer He nails it, the upper and lower story split. My plan is to give Jerry a copy of Escape from Reason. Hopefully a constructive conversation where I feel we’re in two different worlds.

  7. Larry J. Lorence
    December 30, 2017 at 10:07 am

    Hi Ken,

    Excellent article. I have an on going conversation with a fellow believer that Faith and Reason are married together. Jerry thinks that they’re separate. One book that helped me, Escape from Reason by Dr. Francis Schaeffer He nails it, the upper and lower story split. My plan is to give Jerry a copy of Escape from Reason. Hopefully a constructive conversation where I feel we’re not in two different worlds.

    • December 30, 2017 at 10:50 am

      Good topic for discussion, Larry.

  8. NICK TAVANI
    December 30, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    Excellent five points – all great reasons to believe too – but I especially appreciate # 4. Believing, knowing and understanding (#’s 1,2,3) all require reasonably healthy mental faculties, indeed are a function of a normal mind. But what of those with special needs who may lack this basic cognitive ability due to factors beyond their choice? Ah! Here is where #4 kicks for, as it turns out, we are all incapacitated at some point by the limitations of the human brain but can rest assured that God, in His infinite wisdom and love (all grounded in #5) can and does, somehow, extend His mercy to “even the least of these” (especially so?) without taking leave of His Reason. So #4 is sort of the Godel’s Theorem, or Euclid’s Fifth Postulate, of Theology…or, as I like to call it, The Bellybutton Proof (or Navel Nexus) for a cord connecting each of us to One beyond ourselves and outside our system. (Godel drove atheist Bertrand Russell nearly mad with it.)

    • December 31, 2017 at 9:52 am

      Hello, Nick.

      All of us have limitations and boundaries in relating faith to reason. Sin and brokenness interfere with the natural connection but grace restores. Since faith transcends reason God can connect to all minds and persons. In fact, God’s love seems especially attuned to the little ones with special needs and challenges.

      I’m thankful for agape.

      Best regards,

      Ken Samples

  9. January 1, 2018 at 9:41 am

    I think Luther’s statement “Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has” has been abused by many ignorant Christians that launched a wave of anti-intellectual emotionalism in the Church. “God said it. I believe it. That settles it” is the extent of their intellectual curiosity. But if God has a rational mind, we should expect that we, who were created in his image, also have rational minds. To refuse to use our rational minds because we think having evidence means we lack faith may actually be disobedience and demonstrate a lack of faith in God.

    • January 1, 2018 at 11:04 am

      Thanks for your comments, DogTags.

      Ken Samples

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