The Christian faith is a delight-filled, comprehensive view on all of life from beginning to end. It provides guidance, structure, truth, morality, and coherence to every part of our existence.
However, there are many who call Christianity illogical and incoherent. They put great emphasis on “faith” in the phrase “Christian faith,” claiming that everything we believe is mere whimsical wishing, or fantastical delusions meant to help us limp through life.
And yet, when we put the claims of Christianity to the test, we see that it is not a mere leap into nothingness, hoping for the best. Instead, one can look at Christianity and understand it as a “reasoned faith.” In other words, the biblical worldview does not call people to check their brains at the door, but invites them to see that, while we live by faith, reason is not opposed to this faith.
In this post, my aim is to define both reason and faith and show how they work together within the Christian worldview. What we will eventually see points us back in history to a key phrase: Christianity is “faith seeking understanding.” Or to say it another way, the rationality of the biblical worldview is embedded within an informed faith in the biblical God and how He has revealed himself to us.
What is reason?
Our reason (or “rationality”) can be a complex idea, but it comes down to a basic reality. In a generic sense, reason is the capacity for forming judgments and inferences (i.e., logical interpretations) that align with the way things truly are. Let’s break this definition down.
- Reason is a capacity. It is an ability within human beings, and a skill that can be honed.
- Reason is for forming judgments and inferences, or deductions. The capacity within us allows us to think logically and to make assessments about the world.
- Reason forms judgments that align with the way things really are.
In other words, reason allows us to make sense of what we observe in the world.
If that definition wasn’t totally clear, maybe some examples will help. If we have six slices of pizza and three people who want to eat, we can use our reason in the realm of mathematics to figure out how many slices we each get—or it may just come down to who is the fastest!
Another example might include our powers of observation. We have been told by our parents not to play with fire because it might hurt us. But then we also observe our sibling get burned by touching a hot stovetop. You could use reason to deduce that you should not touch that stovetop right after a dish is cooked, otherwise you would also get burned.
Or one could think of reason in the area of science, in particular the scientific method. As someone studies a certain subject in science, he makes hypotheses, performs tests, makes observations, and then modifies hypotheses based on reasoning through the data.
Examples of reason abound, but the point is that our reasoning capacities are used every day. It is a gift we possess as humans, and it is a gift that should be used for the best possible ends.
The role of reason in Christianity
As Christians, we can and should affirm the good of reason. From a Christian perspective, however, we should take the definition above and nuance it slightly: Reason is the God-given capacity for forming correct, biblical judgments and inferences that align with the way things truly are.
God is the God who has made all things, including humanity (Gen. 1:1-31). He has specifically made humans in his image with capacities to feel, do, and think in accordance with his ways (Gen. 1:26-28).
Reason is a God-given capacity, and one that we as Christians believe should be exercised on a daily basis.
Beyond being made in God’s image, God has revealed himself to us in a way that appeals to our reason. We are told that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1), and that humanity can see that God exists and that he is powerful through what he has made (Rom. 1:18-20). God also gives us consciences, which align with our reasoning capacities to make us aware of what is right and wrong (Rom. 2:14-16).
Thus, our reason is valuable as a gift from God since God has revealed himself to us in ways that our reason comprehends. And not only has God shown himself in the natural realm of creation, he has even more specifically shown us who he is in Scripture. This God–breathed Word is profitable for us from beginning to end, as it teaches, reproves, corrects, trains in righteousness, and equips us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
However, there is a problem. We were made in God’s image (Gen. 1), but almost directly after this the first humans, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God and brought sin and death into the world (Gen. 3:1-19).
As a result, the corruption of the fall has effects even in our reason. In our sinfulness, we take our reasoning capacities and we suppress the truth in creation and in Scripture. Not only that, we exchange the worship of the true God for worshipping idols made in our own image (Rom. 1:18-23). As such, in our sinful state, we cannot reason our way to God. Reason only takes us so far. We need something more, and that something more is faith.
What is faith?
Faith is another important term that needs to be carefully defined. In a biblical sense, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). But what are we hoping for, and what unseen things do we have conviction about? This passage requires greater context to make sense of this term. Put more specifically, faith refers to our turning to God, depending on and trusting in the person and work of Jesus Christ to provide forgiveness, righteousness, and eternal life.
Again, a breakdown of this definition would prove helpful.
- Faith is a turning, first away from sin (also known as “repentance”) and then toward God as the only source of life (Acts 17:25).
- Faith is a rock-solid conviction and belief, which initiates the Christian life (often referred to as “salvation” or “conversion”).
- Faith is a constant mark of the Christian throughout their lives.
We turn to God in dependence and trust because nothing in ourselves could ever get us into right standing with God (Rom. 3:10-18). And our dependence and trust is in Jesus, specifically, who he is (fully God and fully man) and what he has done (pay the price for our sins so we can be in right relationship with God the Father). We look to him with active belief and reliance as our Savior (John 3:16), Lord (Rom. 10:9-10), and Treasure (John 6:35), satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.
True faith in the living God is what allows us to reason correctly, recognizing the greatness of who God is, and how the universe is ordered under him.
Faith seeking understanding
Everyone is trying to make sense of the world, attempting to put all the puzzle pieces together. Some people will say there is no God, that all that exists is the universe, what we experience with our senses. Those who adopt this worldview may attack the notion of God because they have never seen or heard him, and so they discount his existence. This is a common view in American culture today as people operate from a culture of skepticism and self-reliance.
Other people may affirm that there is a divine being out there, but they would also say there is no way to know who he really is, so the idea of religion is a pointless pursuit. Some will say that there is a divine power and that he made everything, but he is totally uninvolved in our lives today.
Certain individuals will insist that god is everything and everything is divine in some sense. Still others would affirm there are many gods and we need to fulfill certain rituals to please each one and live a fulfilling life.
In contrast to all of these views, Christians would affirm and believe in the living God as described in the Bible. And our active love of and faith in God continually seeks a deeper knowledge of God and his world. Some theologians in history have dubbed that last sentence as “faith seeking understanding.”
We recognize God created all things good, including us. We were made in His image, possessing capacities to be in right relationship with God and live in accordance with his ways, and one capacity He gave us is reason. However, when humanity rebels against God, sin and death come to all of humanity. We are conceived in sin (Ps. 51:5), and our capacities to reason, feel, and do are all affected and influenced by this reality. And because of sin, our reason is bent in a self-centered direction, constantly suppressing God–given truth about who He is and what He has made.
Faith in Christ changes us in profound ways, including the way we reason. Through faith we recognize the work of the Spirit through the person and work of Christ, pointing us to the glory of God the Father (Eph. 1:3-14). In conversion, the spiritual blindness that plagued us is removed and we see clearly the light of the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4, 6).
This view of faith allows us to make sense of life as it really is. And as we continue to pursue greater faith in God, this leads to a more insightful knowledge of God and His ways in the world. Specifically, we begin to see that God is before all things, and that in Him all things, in every area of life, hold together (Col. 1:17).
Faith in Christ allows us to be renewed in knowledge after the image of our creator (Col. 3:10). In other words, the Christian faith best makes sense of life in a logical and empirical sense. We believe and we understand that God is real, active in our world, and that all things come from him, are accomplished through him, and are done for him, so that he would get all the glory (Rom. 11:36).
Questions abound regarding the truthfulness and reliability of the Christian worldview. These questions include whether or not God exists, the trustworthiness of the Scripture, and inquiries about Jesus’ virgin birth, atoning death, and resurrection. The wonderful thing about Christianity is that we live not by blind faith, but by a reasonable faith.
The evidences and presupposed beliefs stack up in such a way to demonstrate that the Christian faith is true. And this is so not only because we are really wishing that it were true, but because the truth Christianity conveys is the most plausible of all explanations for the realities we see in the universe. Humanity, therefore, is called not to rebel against these truths, but to embrace them by faith, and this provides the pathway for greatest understanding of all of life.
This post is taken from Standing for Truth: A Student’s Guide to Apologetics. Standing for Truth introduces students to arguments for the Bible’s reliability and God’s existence while providing outlines of how to engage the culture. Standing for Truth is published by Crossings Camps in Louisville, Kentucky. Visit gocrossings.org to learn more about Crossings Gospel-intensive camps that are packed with unforgettable fun.
Published March 18, 2019