Home > Theology > Faith vs. Reason: Are You Fighting On the Wrong Side?

Faith vs. Reason: Are You Fighting On the Wrong Side?

War. What is it good for?There is a war going in the Christian Church at the moment.

In one camp are the warriors of Faith. They take the Bible seriously. They hold tent revivals and give altar calls. They’re about making sure that the Christian faith stays Christian.

They’re so concerned with resisting compromise that they shut their minds off to anything that might challenge them. They talk about a “leap of faith,” even to the point of saying that evidence detracts from one’s faith.

In the other camp are the warriors of Reason. They are the courageous soldiers who follow truth wherever it may lead. They are not afraid of rejecting a doctrine that does not conform to the standards of logic. When the evidence conflicts with their own desires, they ruthlessly follow the evidence.

Their commitment to rationality sometimes causes them to cut out large chunks of the faith. In reworking Christianity to defend it against its cultured despisers, they create something which some say has stopped being Christian altogether.

A simple Christian pilgrim can easily get caught in the crossfire.

War is hell

For the most part these two groups never talk to each other. Except to launch theological grenades at one another before running back to the safety of their own familiar camp.

Occasionally someone will defect. A person from the Faith camp will get fed up that the difficult questions are all swept under the rug and go join the camp of Reason. Then someone from the Reason camp will get frustrated with the moral decline around them and move over to the Faith camp.

When this happens, the convert is held up by the new camp to show everyone why their side is really the right side and the other side has got it all wrong.

Can you make it out alive?

I was personally wounded in this battle. It nearly killed my faith. One of the reasons I started this blog was to help me work through my own doubts.

I took a few years and become a theological draft-dodger. Slowly I have been making my way back. Now I believe there is a better way.

How to survive

The problem is that the warriors of Reason have actually embraced two different ideas and rolled them into one. On one hand, they are firmly committed to embracing logic and weighing all the evidence. On the other hand, often what passes for “evidence” in the Reason camp is just one’s own thinly-veiled cultural biases.

So miracles are rejected, not on the grounds that they are logically impossible, but on the grounds that they are incredible to modern sensibilities. Sexual ethics are rejected not on the grounds that they are logically contradictory, but on the grounds that we don’t like them.

We need to separate the principles of the Reason camp into its two components: reason and culture. From the Faith camp, the important principle is their high view of scripture. Therefore, if we’re going to sort out this mess, we need to figure out how reason, culture, and scripture relate.

I contend that the best way to relate these three principles is like this:

Scripture trumps culture.
Reason trumps scripture.

This way of cutting things up allows for a more robust doctrine without compromising the character of our Christian faith.

What does it all mean?

1. If the Bible really is the Word of God, we would expect the scriptures to conflict with our culture at various points. Most of the critiques of scripture from the reason camp have turned out on closer examination to be an arbitrary elevation of culture over scripture. In contrast, when we say “scripture trumps culture,” we allow ourselves to be critiqued by the scriptures.

2. “Reason trumps scripture,” means that we do not shut our eyes to the evidence. We resist attempts by either the defenders of scripture (or the defenders of culture) to “cook up the evidence.”

3. The principle that “reason trumps scripture” applies equally to other religions. I would hope that a Mormon, a Muslim, or anyone else would subject their holy book to the bar of reason. I can only expect that we would do the same.

4. “Reason trumps scripture,” means that there are conditions upon which I would reject scripture. If I found that the Bible commanded me to commit genocide or to slay my neighbor, I will not blindly follow it.

5. Some will object that saying, “reason trumps scripture,” means that we are elevating ourselves above God. They would argue that scripture alone should trump everything else. But if I ask why, they will inevitably give me reasons, which implicitly acknowledges that scripture ought to accepted on the basis of reason. In practice, we use reason to evaluate everything we come into contact with. All I am advocating is that we remain consistent in our use or reason to also evaluate our faith.

6. Some will object that reason is itself culturally-bound. Even my examples above are culturally influenced. I can only agree. However it is still the most objective standard we have. Some things will be obviously more culture-specific than other things, and we can use reason to decide between them. What I mean by submitting to reason is that we follow the rules of logic and we do our best to admit all the relevant evidence.

7. Some will object that I have left no place for the Holy Spirit. I would say that the guidance of the Holy Spirit would fall under my commitment to scripture. After all, I believe in the Holy Spirit because I believe in Scripture. And because our encounters with the Holy Spirit are always mediated by experience, these experiences are subject to all sorts of interpretations. Our personal experiences of God must especially be subject to reason.

8. In saying, “reason trumps scripture,” we are actually strengthening the conditions upon which we can accept scripture. If we find that reason is not in conflict with scripture, we have stronger grounds to accept it. Rather than fearing what reason might do to our belief in scripture, we can embrace it.

9. Contrary to popular belief, reason does not detract from faith. The faith that the Bible advocates is not believing that God exists (James 2.19), but rather trusting that God will do what he has promised. Trust is built on the basis of evidence, not in spite of it.

10. In saying, “reason trumps scripture,” we acknowledge that some things in the Bible sit in tension with our best reasoning. I don’t understand Joshua’s conquest of Canaan or Abraham nearly sacrificing his son Isaac. I would say they count as evidence against the Bible. I think the evidence in favor of the Bible is a lot stronger, but I refuse to let my belief blind me to the fact that these are difficult stories – stories that make me mad when I read them.

So there you have it. Could there be an end to the war between the camps of Faith and Reason? I doubt it, at least in my lifetime. But maybe we can save some of our friends who are being caught in the cross-fire.

What do you think? Are you comfortable with my formulation that “scripture trumps culture and reason trumps scripture”?

photo by jeffeaton

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Categories: Theology Tags: , , ,
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