Faith and Reason: Friends or Foes?

 

Engrained in American culture is a particular meaning/conception of the word “faith.”  Here are a just a few ways in which this concept is expressed:

1

The same concept is also expressed in this way:

2

Those quotes are from polar opposites culturally speaking, as the first quote is from retired Oxford evolutionary biologist and outspoken critic of religion Richard Dawkins while the second is from the pastor of the largest church in America, Joel Osteen.  Given this definition of faith (where faith and facts do not mix) adhered to by people at both ends of the religious spectrum, from atheists to pastors, we must ask ourselves, “Where does this leave reason?” Reasoning, the tool used to arrive at truth, would then be the enemy of faith, right? Think of how devastating this would be to anyone who holds to a creed or statement of faith who simultaneously wants to say that what they believe in that regard is actually true! If we arrive at truth through reasoning to a conclusion based on established facts, then faith and reason are surely foes!  Or are they?…..

Faith, Reason and Christianity

Given the conception of faith above, how does one avoid the following dilemma?  If one adheres to facts and evidence, then one must forego faith.  If one adheres to faith one has foregone facts and evidence.  This would be troubling to those who we mentioned above that want to hold to a religious tradition or creed yet also want to claim that what they believe is true, but there is at least one way out, namely Christianity.  On the Judeo-Christian worldview the concept of faith is never blind or opposed to facts: quite the opposite, faith is actually founded on reason.  This is important because the alleged dilemma evaporates.

Faith as a concept derived from the Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament as well as the Greek concept derived from the New Testament never means a blind leap, or believing something in spite of the evidence.  Rather those concepts from those languages translated as “faith” or “belief,” etc. are better understood in English by the concept of “a reasoned trust.” Many people (Christians and non-Christians alike) have taken the English word faith and read the popular definition of that English word into the biblical text.  The Greek and Hebrew words did not have such a semantic range as the English word faith does.  So we need to fully reject a popular cultural definition of an English word when we read the Bible, rather we need to ask what did the word originally used in the text mean and how can I best understand that concept in English.  This makes a huge difference!

Trust in Statements, Trust In Persons

When one reads the Biblical text it will become apparent that the word/concept of “faith” can be used in a variety ways depending upon the context (In Acts 17:31 the Greek word translated as “faith” or “belief” is even translated as “proof”).  I want to help us understand the difference between trusting/having faith in two different types of things by distinguishing between “belief in” or “trust in” the truth of a statement vs. “belief in” or “trust in” a person.  Some refer to it as the “belief that” vs. “belief in” distinction.3  What I mean is that one believes that a statement or proposition is true such as “the earth is round.” However, when one states “I believe in (put any person’s name here),” what we mean is we trust them.

This is how the New Testament writers distinguished between the two.  One believes/trusts that “God raised Jesus from the dead,” but when it says to “believe in Jesus,” it means to trust in Him as a person.  Notice both of these are built on reason.  One should have good reasons for believing that a proposition is true and likewise have good reasons for believing/trusting in a person.  One can even believe that Christianity is true or that God raised Jesus from the dead and still not be a Christian.  The reasons for that is because believing in the truth value of a statement/proposition is different from trusting in a person.  Saving faith not only requires a prerequisite of believing that those statements are true, but also ultimately hinges on us placing all of our trust/confidence in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Here are two scriptural examples of what I mean where one refers to belief in a statement of fact the other to faith/trust in God personally:

“You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” (James 2:19)

In the above verse we see that even the demons are confident and trust that God is one, yet they aren’t saved because they do not trust/have faith in God personally.  The following verses from Romans chapter 4 seem to me to illustrate the biblical concept of “saving faith,” namely the faith/trust through which God will grant us salvation freely as a gift.  I quote them at length for context and then I will comment on them below.

Here it states that Abraham had faith and that because of it he was credited justification/righteousness:

For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3)

Below are verses that to me indicate the difference in Abraham’s faith and the faith/trust of the demons from James 2:19 above:

19And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb;
20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God,
21 and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform.
22 Therefore also it was reckoned to him as righteousness.
23 Now not for his sake only was it written, that it was reckoned to him,
24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be reckoned, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead,
25 He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
(Romans 4:19-25)

The verses tell us that Abraham had a specific type of faith, what it was, as well as that not only was Abraham saved by it, but so is anyone who places that type of trust/faith in God and His promises through Christ.  It is the object of that faith/trust that grants us salvation, namely Christ.  So the demons even believe truths about God, but saving faith requires the faith of Abraham which is “being fully assured that what He (God) had promised, He (God) was able also to perform.”  Also, notice that the context of the passage is that Abraham believed in the Gospel/resurrection!  Abraham believed God could bring life from death, namely the dead womb of Sarah as well as Abrahams body as being dead.  So saving faith is trusting God fully confident that He will do what He says He will do and that He is who He says He is.  My point is that blind faith should never stir that type of confidence, as it is by its nature opposed to facts.  However, facts undergird and support and even lead to saving faith as well as trust/faith in statements of fact.

Damaging Effects

I do think strongly that this pseudo-notion of faith has crippling effects on the church at large.  This also wreaks havoc on evangelism, doctrine, growing in holiness, as well as apologetics to support all of those things and more.  All of those things I just mentioned and more are foundational to living the Christian life.  This is why many do not take Christian evidences seriously, nor do they think making a serious case for the truth of Christianity is important.  This is extremely unbiblical, as the Scriptures constantly confirm that we are to seek wisdom, knowledge and understanding.  We are also commanded to give good reasons to anyone who asks us for the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15).  Paul instructs us to demolish false arguments and anything that sets itself in opposition to the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:3-5). Jesus even mentioned loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:28-31).  How can we do any of those things in any meaningful way if faith is blind and opposed to the facts?  I would offer the same as what the biblical text offers, namely that we understand faith in its true sense in regard to Christianity: namely an active, confident trust in what we have good reasons to think is true.

Conclusion

The quicker we train our minds to understand that faith (in a Christian context) means an active, confident trust in what we have good reasons to think is true, the quicker our churches will grow in the very things scripture commends us to grow in!  This will also help us tremendously in evangelism, as we can then learn how to show Christianity to be true through arguments and evidences.  The Holy Spirit is foundational for conversion, but He uses arguments4 and evidences as a means to accomplish His saving purposes.  Remember as you read the biblical text to replace the word faith/belief with “a reasoned trust.”  This will go a long way in helping us to be more obedient in our evangelism, in our study of Christian truth and doctrine, etc.  I pray this helps you see the importance of faith and reason and that they have a close working relationship!

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *