Faith and Reason

FAITH AND REASON[1]

The discussion of faith and reason within the disciplined study of theology necessarily presupposes numerous truths. The first is God himself. The second is creation, specifically the creation of man, and man as made in God’s own image. Thirdly, man’s sinfulness and fall from divine favor. And lastly, but not nearly least in importance, God’s revelation of himself to man.

The anthropological constitution of created man is unitary. His will, intellect, and emotions are one, and should not be seen as distinct faculties within him. They are rather indivisible parts of his whole person. As a unitary individual, man’s giftedness to trust and reason cannot be neatly separated. When created man does one, he does so with all that it means for him to be a divinely created man, i.e., with his whole being inclusive of the will, the intellect, and the emotions, all together. This does not mean that trusting and knowing are the same acts, only that, within his unitary constitution, man cannot do one without necessarily involving the other. Already on the grounds of anthropology it becomes apparent that a contrast or antithesis between faith and reason will certainly lead to conflict, since a man may not trust in something he thinks not true.

Faith and Reason

Within evangelical theology, the approach to understanding truth has always been one of faith seeking understanding, which necessarily observes a complimentary view of faith and reason. Faith seeking understanding was how Anselm began his Proslogion, forming a significant doxological context for his famous ontological argument, a point that natural theologies often neglect in their hurried treatment of the work’s treasured proof. Augustine, Calvin, and Luther also upheld the evangelical view of faith and reason together. Calvin held to a natural sense of the divine within every man, i.e., his sensus divinitatis, and saw no need to separate faith and reason in order to discover the truths of God as his scholastic predecessors had done. God implants the truth of himself within the conscience of every man.

The New Testament teaches that faith is the evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1). Faith is trusting in God’s promises. A person can be cognitively assured of God’s dependability to make good on his promises (i.e., reason) but this is not the same as having faith until the volition or will of the person is exercised by placing faith in God. That man can in fact place faith in God would obviously require knowledge of Him. So there is no dichotomy between faith and reason in the evangelical view.

While faith and reason are complementary, they are not entirely identical, and the question of how much of reason overlaps with faith is a difficult one to answer. Faith should always welcome the use of reason, since this is none other than being a good person by functioning according to God’s design and purpose.

Reason without Faith

Natural theology, as presented by Descartes and Locke, would be a form of (a) reason without faith. The problem with natural theology is it’s grounding of reason’s foundations in man’s own independent cognitive faculties. This exchange in foundations, however, fails to account for the truth that man is already made in God’s image, and while the image has been marred as a result of sin, it has not been lost, since the very essence of what it means to be made in God’s image includes both reason and volition. During the modern era, the rationalism of Descartes and Locke[2] became paradigmatic for thinkers championing reason over faith and dispensing with divine revelation. Descartes and Locke both, though in different ways, established a method of rationalism entirely dependent upon man’s own innate ability to think, and from this innatist position proceeded to ground faith upon the natural arguments of their predecessors, the famed proofs of the medieval ages. This displaced theology entirely from the realm of divine revelation and made it answerable to the innatist rationalism of man’s own mind. The Enlightenment was largely an anthropocentric turn as the realities of God and revelation were jettisoned. Alexander Pope crystallized man’s coming of age during the Enlightenment quite well with his words “Know then thyself, presume God not to scan The proper study of Mankind is man.” Much of the purpose for establishing this rationalistic foundation, at least for Locke was the desire to arbitrate between competing truth claims, specifically religious opinions, as Locke referred to them. Kant (who forms the subjective pivot in the history of philosophy), Hegel, and others could also be placed within the reason without faith category.

Faith without Reason

Tertullian (“what has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”), Lessing’s ditch, as well as much of Protestant Liberalism (e.g., the religious feeling/consciousness of Schleiermacher; the existentialism of Bultmann, who followed Kierkegaard’s incipient existentialism in the form of his great leap of faith theology; and, to a degree, neoorthdox theologians such as Barth, though Barth surprisingly speaks of rationalism often in his Church Dogmatics), these would each be good examples of faith without reason. Among these thinkers, except for Tertullian and Lessing, theology becomes a kind of existential encounter, though not one deserving of the pejorative label of mysticism. Their work at a holistic level clearly betrays a faith without reason approach. God is not to be known cognitively but encountered. God is known only in faith, and faith must be expressed in the form of a leap across a big ditch or comparable means exclusive of reason.

Conclusion

From this brief taxonomy it can be seen that not only is reason without faith capable of placing the truths of Christian faith within an escapist realm which is secure from the canons of modern, anti-supernatural criticisms (e.g., the religious moralism of Kant), but faith without reason can do the same as well (e.g., the religious consciousness of Schleiermacher). Only the evangelical view of faith and reason together accounts for a faith that is at once trusting but also capable of expressing itself rationally in the form of creeds, such as the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Chalcedonian Creed. Christianity is an intellectual faith. Its beauty is unparalleled as captured by its teachings on atonement and faith, and its reason outmatched, as demonstrated by a rich, evangelical tradition of creeds.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Clark, Gordon Haddon. The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark. Edited by John W. Robbins. Volume 4 of Christian Philosophy. Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 2004.

ENDNOTES

[1]The reader will recognize the author’s indebtedness to the philosophy of Gordon Haddon Clark concerning the relationship between faith and reason. See Clark, The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark, ed. by John W. Robbins, vol. 4 of Christian Philosophy (Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 2004), see esp. the section on “Faith and Reason,” pp. 126-81. This collection of Clark’s work includes the book by Clark, Religion, Reason, and Revelation (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1961; reprint 1995).

[2]Though Locke is primarily an empiricist, he is also a rationalist.

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Some New Announcements

Hello readers of Jesus and Paul and the New Testament blog! I have three exciting updates.

(1) To begin with the most exciting news: A new author is joining the blog — Robert Wiesner! I have known Robert a long time, almost ten years. While our studies have taken us in different directions, we have maintained steady contact since first meeting in 2008. I still remember meeting him at my regular Starbucks, where I studied weekly throughout all of Bible college. I was with a friend discussing New Testament theology, specifically Pauline theology. Robert overheard and introduced himself as a Bible college student in the area with knowledge of Greek.

Robert completed his undergraduate degree at Dallas Christian College with a major in Biblical Studies and a minor in Biblical Languages. He has also completed a soon to be awarded Master of Theology in New Testament Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. The title of his thesis was: “Chosen from the Beginning: Paul’s Predestinarian Theology of Election in the Context of Second Temple Judaism.”

Robert knows his way around the entire Greek New Testament, but is especially a student of Paul, which his thesis title reveals. And his doctoral research will take him even deeper into Pauline research and the world of Second Temple Judaism. He provides, therefore, an excellent balance to the aims of this blog. He also shares an appreciation for Reformed doctrine, but I’ve informed him that I lean more toward Lutheran theology than Reformed.

While I have steadily focused on Jesus studies since 2012, Robert has done the same for perhaps longer with Paul. His knowledge of Paul eclipses my own and he will be a valuable voice in the blogosphere.

(2) Secondly, I am beginning year two of doctoral studies at the University of Aberdeen. My focus is the historical Jesus and the Last Supper, with a dual emphasis on methodology and the Last Supper event. I had a very successful first year and look forward to all that year two will provide!

(3) Third and lastly: With the support of my doctoral supervisor and others, I have a forthcoming publication in the works. I am not going to reveal details here for several reasons, but mostly because it is my first publication and I do not know how much I can share without being frowned upon. I will say that it is a contributory essay in an important book on Jesus studies hopefully coming next year.

That is all that I have for now. I look forward to sharing more details with you on both (2) and (3) as they progress. I hope you enjoy Robert’s blogging as well.

-Michael

Codex Bezae

I have been studying Maurice Casey on the Last Supper in his books Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel and Jesus of Nazareth. His interest in the Semitisms (Aramaisms) of Codex Bezae prompted me to look further into this codex. Because of Casey’s many appeals to the witness of Codex Bezae, I searched online for the Greek text. I learned that Logos presently has the Greek transcription of the codex compiled by the International Greek New Testament Project and Cambridge University Press — for free! Logos has added many helpful aids for interested researchers as well. (Note also that Logos has Codex Sinaiticus for free download.)

https://www.logos.com/product/35581/codex-sinaiticus

Lessing’s Ditch versus the Questers (comical)

Historical Jesus studies in a nutshell, with Lessing’s famous ditch as a rubric: (1) First questers both realize and attempt to cross the ditch, but get hung-up on their reflections in the streams below, midway across the bridge. They like what they see more than getting across. (2) No questers looked across the ditch to the man Jesus and considered it unnecessary to cross, since they had the kerygmatic Gospels and could encounter Jesus… without Jesus…(?!) (3) New questers attempted to bridge the ditch through newer criteria. Initial analysis demonstrated significant advances, and all indications were positive. It was only a question of the right criteria. And still more criteria. Hundreds of criteria! Some even practiced the criteria! (4) Third questers contextualized the ditch, rather to the ditch’s confusion and bewilderment! But they were somehow able to rescue Jesus’ ministry from across the ditch. Just not Jesus’ passion. Efforts are still ongoing… (5) Post-modernist historians, despite regarding ditch-crossing as an impossibility, and though seemingly unaware of the discipline of history and its ability to bridge to something beyond epistemology, beyond itself — these questers, rather curiously, are most likely to succeed in crossing the ditch, since at the rate they write, the ditch may soon be filled!