Is the Christian faith a reasonable religion?
Some believers throughout church history have agreed with many nonbelievers in proclaiming that Christianity is not a reasonable religion. Nevertheless, a powerful theological-philosophical consensus within the history of the faith has argued that the historic Christian religion involves knowledge and is indeed compatible with reason. This historic agreement has often been expressed in the common statement: “faith seeking understanding.” Its most articulate and persuasive spokespersons through the centuries have been such distinguished Christian thinkers as Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas.1
Five Aspects of Christianity’s Reasonableness
Since the perception that the Christian faith is not a reasonable religion persists today, it is important to examine five ways that historic Christianity is reasonable.2
First, the Christian worldview offers a plausible explanation for affirming an objective source for knowledge, reason, and rationality. That basis is found in a personal and rational God. Infinitely wise and all-knowing, God created the universe to reflect a coherent order of nomos and logos(Gk., laws and logic), and he also created humankind in his image and endowed with rational capacities to discover that reasonable organization (Genesis 1:26–28). God, in effect, networked the comprehensible cosmos and rationally capable human beings together with himself to allow for a congruence of intelligibility. Thus, in Christianity, the rationality of the universe has a reliable metaphysical ground.
Second, Christian truth claims do not violate the basic laws or principles of reason. Christian faith, though it often transcends finite human comprehension, is not irrational or absurd. In other words, faith does not damage reason. Moreover, when skeptics have challenged the logical coherence of biblical teachings, Christian thinkers through the centuries have offered viable models for showing these ideas to be mysterious, but not actually incoherent.
Third, the Bible encourages the attainment of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding (Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7). Scripture also promotes such intellectual virtues as source-checking, discernment, testing, reflection, and intellectual renewal (Acts 17:11; 1 Corinthians 14:29; Romans 12:2; Colossians 2:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Fourth, the truths of the Christian faith correspond to and are supported by such things as evidence, facts, and reason. Biblical faith (Greek: pisteuō, the verb “believe”; pistis, the noun “faith”) can be defined as confident trust in a reasonable and reliable source (God or Christ). Faith (or belief) is a necessary component of knowledge because a person must believe something in order to know anything (in other words, knowledge means believing what is true with proper justification). And reason can be applied to evaluate, confirm, and buttress faith.
Fifth, historic Christianity has made great contributions in the rational fields of logic and science. Let’s consider both very briefly.
Christianity & Logic: Many of the advancements in the study of logic through the centuries have come from the work of Christian-oriented scholars. In his fine logic textbook, A Concise Introduction to Logic, contemporary logician Patrick Hurley lists ten “eminent logicians,” six of which have deep connections to historic Christianity. These Christian-oriented scholars are Peter Abelard, William of Ockham, Gottfried Leibniz, George Boole, John Venn, and Kurt Gödel.
Christianity & Science: The intellectual climate that gave rise to modern science (roughly three centuries ago) was shaped decisively by Christianity.3 Not only were most of its founding fathers themselves devout Christians (including Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Boyle, Pascal, etc.), but the biblical worldview provided a basis for modern science to both emerge and flourish. Christian theism affirmed that an infinite, eternal, and personal God created the world ex nihilo. The creation, reflecting the rational nature of the Creator, was therefore orderly and uniform. Furthermore, God created humankind in his image (Genesis 1:26–28), making humans uniquely capable of reasoning and of discovering the created order’s intelligibility. In effect, the Christian worldview supported the underlying principles that made scientific inquiry possible and desirable.
Reason & Faith
In historic Christianity reason and faith, 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 supports faith in innumerable ways. In summary, faith is foundational to reason (believing in order to know), while reason supports faith.
In the New Testament, descriptions of faith always focus on an object. And the trustworthy object of a person’s faith is God or the Lord Jesus Christ. Even the very faith that results in salvation involves knowledge (facts surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ) and discursive reasoning (as to what those facts really mean). Saving faith then includes knowledge of the gospel, assent to its truth, and confident reliance on the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It incorporates a human being’s full faculties—mind (knowledge), will (assent), and heart (trust).
So next time someone tells you that Christianity is not a reasonable religion, share these five powerful ways that the faith is indeed reasonable.
1. For a discussion of Augustine and Anselm’s expression of “faith seeking understanding” (Latin: fides quaerens intellectum) see Ed L. Miller, God and Reason, 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall), 134–37.
2. This article is expanded from a section I wrote in my book A World of Difference (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 82–83.
3. See Stanley Jaki, Science and Creation: From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe (Scottish Academic Press, 1974); R. Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972); and Eric V. Snow, “Christianity: A Cause of Modern Science?” last updated August 4, 1998, http://www.geocities.com.
Subjects: Faith, Faith & Reason, History of Christianity, Science & Faith, Uncategorized