Faith and Reason
Skeptics often charge Christians with “blind faith.”
And at times even believers have spoken of faith in less-than-rational terms. However, historic Christianity affirms a necessary and proper relationship between faith and reason. There has been a broad measure of agreement in Christian history that the two are indeed compatible. The Christian faith is reasonable in four distinct ways.
First, the Christian faith affirms that there is an objective source and foundation for knowledge, reason, and rationality. That source and foundation is found in a personal and rational God who is infinitely wise and all-knowing. This God created the universe to reflect a coherent order, and he made man in his image (with rational capacities) to discover that intelligible organization. Logic and rationality are then expected features in the Christian theistic worldview.
Second, Christian truth-claims do not violate the basic laws or principles of reason. Christian faith and doctrines (for example, the Trinity and the Incarnation), though they often transcend our finite human comprehension, are not irrational or absurd.
Third, the Bible itself encourages the attainment of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding (Job 28:28; Prov. 1:7) and promotes such intellectual virtues as discernment, testing, and reflection (Acts 17:11; Col. 2:8; 1 Thess. 5:21).
Fourth, the truths of the Christian faith correspond to, and are supported by, such things as evidence, facts, and reasons. Biblical faith (Greek: pisteuō, the verb “believe,” and pistis, the noun “faith”) can be defined as confident trust in a reliable, reasonable, and viable source (God or Christ). Faith (or belief) is a necessary component of knowledge and reason since a person must believe something in order to know it. Yet reason can be properly used to evaluate, confirm, and buttress faith. Faith and reason therefore function in a complementary fashion. While reason in and of itself, apart from God’s special grace, cannot cause faith, the use of reason is normally a part of a person’s coming to faith, and serves to support faith in innumerable ways. In summary, faith is foundational to reason and reason can serve to evaluate or confirm faith.
In the New Testament, faith is always focused upon an object. And the trustworthy object of a person’s faith, according to Scripture, is God or the Lord Jesus Christ. Even the very faith that results in salvation involves knowledge (of the facts surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ) and discursive reasoning (as to what the facts about Jesus Christ really mean). Saving faith then includes knowledge (of the gospel), assent (to its truth and importance), and confident trust and reliance (upon the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ). Such faith engages all the human faculties: mind (knowledge), will (assent), and heart (trust).
Christian faith and reason can also be connected in another important way. The Christian life should be marked by what the Apostle Paul calls the renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2). This involves the use of our cognitive faculties to their fullest extent in our devotion to God. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430) called this indispensable intellectual and spiritual activity “faith seeking understanding.” Believers should strongly endeavor to use God-given reason to explore the depths of their faith and to discover its doctrinal truth. Stretching mental and spiritual muscles to apprehend (yet never fully to comprehend) such doctrines as the Triune nature of God and the Incarnation of Jesus Christ moves one from an initial stage of faith to a deeper stage of reflection and a greater sense of God’s majesty. Loving God with the mind is part of fulfilling the overarching commandment to love and honor God with our entire being (Matt. 22:37).
Thus, Christian faith, far from being arbitrary and blind, is grounded in knowledge and reason. It is the believer’s task to represent this historic faith graciously and accurately in an age of hardened skepticism.
Historic Christian View of Faith and Reason
There exists a diversity of views in Christian church history regarding the proper relationship between faith and reason, but the views have much in common.
|Original statement (Latin)||Translation||Source||Further explanation|
|Crede ut intelligas
Fides quaerens intellectum
|“Believe in order that you may understand.”
“Faith seeking understanding” (“For faith is understanding’s step; and understanding faith’s attainment.”)
|Augustine (354-430)||Relationship of belief and authority to reason
For Augustine, faith and reason have an interdependent relationship and both are uniquely enabled by divine grace.
|Credo ut intelligam||“I believe in order that I might understand.”||Anselm (1033-1109)||Anselm was an Augustinian and laid emphasis upon faith being prior to reason and understanding.|
|Intelligo et credo||“I understand and I believe.”
“Grace presupposes nature and perfects it.”
|Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)||Aquinas was also an Augustinian and believed that some truths are discovered through both faith and reason, whereas other truths are known exclusively through faith (special revelation). Nevertheless, human reason is finite and negatively impacted by sin so grace buttresses both.|
|Credo quia absurdum est||“I believe because it is absurd.”||Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)||Kierkegaard emphasized that the gospel message (God becoming a man to atone for human sin) is an affront to human reason, but his views need not imply an outright rejection of reason or that Christianity is actually absurd.|
These approaches to faith and reason are explored and explained in Ed L. Miller, God and Reason: An Invitation to Philosophical Theology, 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995), 129-53, and in Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman Jr., Faith has Its Reasons: Integrative Approaches to Defending Christian Faith, 2nd ed. (Waynesboro, GA: Authentic Media; Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2006).
See Avery Dulles, A History of Apologetics, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2005).
For a defense of the Trinity and the Incarnation, see Kenneth Richard Samples, Without a Doubt (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 63-76; 120-33.
Saving faith is the gift of God (Acts 13:48; 1 Cor. 12:3; Eph. 2:8-9; Heb. 12:2). For a helpful biblical discussion of how faith is a sovereign gift of God, see Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 143-45.
For a discussion of Augustine’s expression of “faith seeking understanding,” see Ed L. Miller, God and Reason: An Invitation to Philosophical Theology, 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995), 134-37.