Is Faith Blind?

Category: Bible/Christian Worldview, Culture Wars/Popular Culture 60 0

One of the most common beliefs about religion in the modern world is that faith is blind. That is, faith is not based on scientific or rational thought, but is something that has to be accepted without any kind of evidence. Some even think that only unintelligent people will have faith in something. This way of thinking has led to a so-called war between faith and reason. This article will examine this “war” by showing that the Bible does not present faith as blind but as the opposite – a reasonable faith.

A Quick Overview of the Different Models of Faith and Reason

Before we briefly look at the different models that describe the relationship between faith and reason, we need to define what reason is. Philosopher J.P Moreland defines reason by saying, “By ‘reason’ I mean all our faculties relevant to gaining knowledge and justifying our beliefs about different things.”[1] W. Corduan defines reason as “The capacity of the human intellect to carry out organized mental activity such as the association of ideas, induction and deduction of inferences, or formulation of value judgments.”[2] We have already seen how most people define faith.

The most common perspective today is what can be called strong rationalism. This kind of rationalism teaches that for a religious system to be rationally accepted, it must be proved to be true.[3] This view is the opposite of fideism. Fideism is defined as the view “that religious belief systems are not subject to rational evaluation.”[4]

There is also the view referred to as critical rationalism. This can be defined “as the view that religious belief systems can and must be rationally criticized and evaluated, although conclusive proof of such a system is impossible.…critical rationalism tells us to use our rational capabilities to the greatest extent possible when we assess religious beliefs.”[5]

There are other models ranging from a more modern (or moderate) form of fideism to the Faith Seeking Understanding model (FSU) and the Thomistic Synthesis model (TS) all of which see faith and reason as compatible to different degrees. FSU is modeled after Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) and TS on Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274).

“The more modernist fideist sees the relationship between faith and reason as one of priority. It is not the case that reason has no part to play, but that it must be relegated to a secondary status…reason plays its role in service to faith.”[6] Concerning the TS model Craig Boyd says, “God has endowed human beings with rational capacities, and these capacities, can, and do, lead us to truth. However, these rational capacities do not, and cannot, by themselves offer us salvation.”[7] For a synthesists, reason “discovers basic moral truths and facilitates the understanding of the Christian faith.”[8]

TS is very close to the FSU position but whereas “FSU maintains that unregenerate reason only drives us deeper into sin…TS argues that the degree of truth and beauty available to reason’s natural powers is like a signpost that can point us in the direction of salvation and the deeper, spiritual truths available through special revelation. In other words, there is a synthesis of philosophy and theology in which natural reason acts as a ‘handmaiden’ to theology by preparing people to receive salvation.”[9]

We also have an extreme perspective within Christian circles. This can be explained by referencing Catalan Raimundus Sabundus (died 1436) who, in his The Book of Creatures (later called the Natural Theology), presents “an exceptional confidence in the power of reason to prove almost the whole of the Christian faith without reliance on the authority of the Bible or the Church.” The Book of Creatures was just as fully authoritative and infallible as the Bible according to this view.[10] Many Christians would not go as far as putting reason that far above faith.

Two Important Questions

When it comes to the relationship between faith and reason, two important questions should be asked. First, what kind of place does reason have, and should have, in connection with faith? Secondly, according to Michael Peterson and his co-authors, “The really controversial question is this: What role (if any) should reason play in the validation (or invalidation) of religious belief systems?”[11]

Throughout the rest of this article, these questions will be examined as a biblical model of faith and reason is developed. If Christians are to understand the debate about faith and reason properly, then they need to base their views on this subject on what Scripture teaches.

The common view of faith and reason.

A Biblical Model of Faith and Reason

When it comes to how faith and reason relate to each other, Christians must look to the Bible. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, most people view faith as being blind. When we believe in something with faith, we are accepting it without evidence. Someone who has faith is not using their minds. However, this is not the way the Bible defines faith.

What is biblical faith? The place to begin is Hebrews 11:1 which teaches that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (NIV). Moreland comments, “…biblically, faith is a power or skill to act in accordance with the nature of the kingdom of God, a trust in what we have reason to believe is true…faith is built on reason.”[12] He continues, “faith is relying on what you have reason to believe is true and trustworthy.”[13]

This definition of faith contradicts the common idea that faith has nothing to do with evidence. Craig Boyd says that “What we see is that there is ‘evidence for things not seen.’ If faith were a sheer act of choice, there would be no need for evidence.”[14] Michael Peterson and his co-authors note that a religious belief system “needs to be understood, at least to some degree – and it is hard to see how understanding it is not going to involve the use of reason.”[15]

Christians have come to understand faith in the same way that the modern, secular world sees it – as blind, and because of this, thinking about our faith is often looked down upon as being unspiritual and unfaithful. Many believers simply think that we need only to put our trust in the Lord and “just believe.” Alan Padgett looks at “faith as a kind of trust.”[16] The fact is that we are to trust (have faith) in the Lord. However, as Hebrews 11 points out, it is a reasonable trust.

There are a number of reasons why Christians should view reason in a positive light. First, Scripture teaches that we are created in the image of God, and he is shown in the Bible to be a God of reason. He is wise (Romans 16:27), knows everything that is both actual and possible (1 Samuel 23:11-13; Job 37:16; 1 John 3:20), and he invites humanity to come and reason with him (Isaiah 1:18). God is all-knowing and powerful. How could he not be reasonable?

Second, reason is required to be able to properly understand the Bible in its historical-literary context. Some Christians believe that the Holy Spirit will grant them the ability to know the meaning of Scripture without any hard work in studying. However, studying and interpreting the Bible is a rigorous exercise that requires the development of our minds. As we read and learn more about the world of the Bible and its authors, we will be able to appreciate it more as the Word of God.

Third, there are a number of passages which promote the use of reason. Romans 12:2 teaches us the importance of the Christian mind. It tells Christians to “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This is teaching “Christians…to adjust their way of thinking about everything in accordance with the ‘newness’ of their life in the Spirit (cf. 7:6).”[17] We cannot know and understand “what God’s will is without the renewing or transformation of our minds.”[18] This verse makes use of the word “mind.” “’Mind’ in Greek is nous and means ‘the intellect, reason, or the faculty of understanding.”[19] If Christians are to be mindless, then why did Paul tell believers to renew their intellect?

Another important use of reason in the Bible is that it commands us to use reason in defense of the faith. 1 Peter 3:15 is perhaps one of the most important verses in the faith and reason debate. It says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” “The original Greek word that is translated ‘answer’ is apologia, which means ‘a speech of defense.’ It’s from this that we get our term apologetics, which is a reasoned defense of our faith.”[20]

Moreland adds that apologia means ‘to defend something,’ for example, offering positive arguments for and responding to negative arguments against your position in a courtroom.”[21] The word “reason in this verse is a translation of the Greek logos which “means ‘evidence or argument which provides rational justification for some belief.’”[22] Peter is commanding Christians to be prepared to give a rational argument for the faith. (article continues below…)

Why do so many people believe that faith is blind?

This is an excellent question. According to Andreas Kostenberger, Darrell Bock, and Josh Chatraw, in their book Truth in a Culture of Doubt, blind faith “sits well in a culture that lauds personal preferences. If faith is not grounded in reason, logic, and historical realities, it is simply a personal preference. Faith is what works for certain kinds of people, and there is no need for evidence…The Bible, however, does not ask for blind faith. Instead, it calls for a reasoned faith, a faith that looks at the evidence. This kind of faith is honest about questions and even personal doubts and look for real answers. It seeks the best possible explanation and then commits to the truth. Reasoned faith is what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15 where he says that Jesus died, was buried, and then was raised from the grave (vv.3-4). These events either happened or they didn’t. If they didn’t, Christianity is nothing but a terrible hoax (1 Cor 15:17-19). However, if Jesus was raised from the dead, this calls for a change in the way we think and in the way we live. Paul doesn’t ask for blind faith but claims that more than 500 people saw the risen Jesus after his death. It’s one thing to say that 500 people saw the risen Jesus, but now those people are dead; it’s another to do what Paul does – publicly announce that most of these witnesses are still alive. It would have been easy to prove Paul wrong if these witnesses didn’t really exist. Paul has no fear of people following the evidence. In fact, he encourages historical investigation.”[23]

An excellent example of the use of reason in Scripture can be found in Matthew 22:23-33. In this passage, Jesus is approached by the Sadducees and is questioned about the resurrection. Their question concerned a woman who had seven husbands and how each one of them had died. They ask Christ, trying to catch him off guard, which husband would she be married to after the resurrection.

Jesus teaches that there will be no marriage after the resurrection. However, there is another important point to understand about Jesus’ response. He did something that all Christians should do as well: He answered the Sadducees with a reasonable response. Moreland summarizes it well when he says,

“Jesus revealed His intellectual skills in debate by: (1) showing His familiarity with His opponents’ point of view; (2) appealing to common ground (a text all the disputants accepted) instead of expressing a biblical text He accepted but they rejected (Daniel 12:2); and (3) deftly using the laws of logic to dissect His opponents’ argument and refute it powerfully.”[24]

This verse teaches Christians “at least part of what it means to love God intellectually: to be prepared to stand up for God’s truth and honor when they are challenged and to do so with carefully thought-out answers.”[25]

The Apostle Paul also uses reason in relationship to his faith. In Acts 17:17, Paul is seen reasoning with the Jews and God-fearing Greeks. Later in the chapter, he attempts to reason with the Areopagus. Paul commonly tried to persuade people to believe in the faith. “It is important to recognize that this is exactly how the apostle Paul did evangelism (Acts 14:15-17; 17:2, 4, 17-31; 18:4; 19:8). He persuaded people to become Christians by offering rational arguments on behalf of the truth of the gospel. He even cited approvingly two pagan philosophers, Epimenides and Aratus (Acts 17:28), as part of his case for the gospel.”[26]

Scripture also teaches Christians to “test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and Acts 17: 11 approves of this when the Bereans “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” The Bible does not teach “hey believe in this guy that rose from the dead. You do not need evidence. Just trust us. Just have faith.”

This is a biblical model for the relationship between faith and reason. Humanity is created in the image of God, so we have been given the gift of reason. Christians are commanded to use a reasonable defense. This requires our intellectual capacities. We are also required to use reason to defend the faith and “test everything,” including what the Apostles taught. Faith is not blind; it is a vital part of the life and worship of a Christian.

The Wisdom of the World

“What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?” This is a quote from the early Church father Tertullian (c. 160-225 AD). This is typically seen as evidence that Christians reject reasonable thought, and it is also grouped with a couple of passages in Scripture that are sometimes seen as evidence that the Bible rejects reason. However, as it will be argued, when these passages are examined they actually condone the use of reason.

The first verse is Colossians 2:8. This says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” The second group of verses are 1 Corinthians 1:20, 23, 25; 2:5. These say, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?…but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength…so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”

Some think that these verses are condemning all forms of philosophical and reasonable thought. However, there are some problems with this conclusion. First, Paul’s warnings concern a certain kind of reasoning, not reason itself. As mentioned earlier, Paul uses reason and arguments in his teachings about Christianity. If these verses are interpreted as an indictment against reason, then Paul would be contradicting his own methods and practices.[27] He even uses arguments and evidence in favor of the resurrection of Christ in 1 Corinthians 15.

Craig Blomberg notes that 1 Corinthians 1:20b “makes it clear that Paul is not disparaging Christian wisdom, intelligence, scholarship, or philosophy; indeed 2:6-16 will expound the appropriate wisdom for believers.”[28] Essentially, Paul is teaching that Christians should only pursue wisdom if it is cross-centered (1:18-2:5 with 2:6-16) and that wisdom is good as long as it is subservient to the Gospel. Blomberg continues, “Because the wisdom Paul rails against is ‘of the world’ (v. 20), nothing in this paragraph may be taken as grounds for anti-intellectualism. Yet Paul surely stands staunchly against godless intellectualism.”[29] 1 Corinthians 1-2 “is more accurately seen as a condemnation of the false, prideful use of reason, not of reason itself.”[30]

Likewise, Colossians 2:8 is about “a certain sort of philosophy – hollow and deceptive philosophy. In the context of Colossians, Paul was warning the church not to form and base doctrinal views according to a philosophical system hostile to orthodoxy.”[31]

This brings us back to Romans 12:2. Christian thinking should resemble that of God’s. We are to think in a way that not only glorifies God but conforms to the way He views the world. Paul teaches in Romans 1 that mankind has rejected the Creator and has thus been given over to futile thinking. Moo says, “In [Romans] 1:28 Paul has pointed out that people’s rejection of God has resulted in God’s giving them over to a ‘worthless’ mind: one that is ‘unqualified’ (adokimos) in assessing the truth about God and the world he has made.”[32]

This is a major point that is vital to understand. Reason has been corrupted by sin. This does not mean that reason has been so corrupted that it cannot be used. This would contradict the use of reason by Scripture that was examined before. Although nature has been damaged by sin, “it still retains its created integrity” and “reflects the goodness of God.”[33] The depravity of mankind does not mean that reason is irrelevant in our lives. The mind must be renewed if it is to properly understand God and his creation.

The Rejection of Rational Autonomy

Colossians and 1 Corinthians present the conflict between faith and reason as a battle between a rational faith and rational autonomy (“the wisdom of the world”). What is rational autonomy? The Greek philosophers (whose ideas were the main philosophical system that Paul and the Apostles were up against) insisted on “the supremacy of human reason,” which John Frame calls rational autonomy (or autonomous reason).

This philosophy can be defined as the following: “Reason must be autonomous, self-authenticating, subject to no standards other than its own…To [the Greek philosophers], reason, not the fear of the Lord [Proverbs 1:7], was the beginning of wisdom. As such, for them, reason itself became something of a god, though they did not describe it as such: an object of ultimate allegiance, the ultimate standard of truth and falsity, of right and wrong.”[34]

This is what Scripture refers to as “hollow and deceptive philosophy.” This is what Athens stood for in Tertullian’s quote, and this is the meaning behind what Carl Raschke said, “Christian faith and philosophy for the most part have been in tension for most of the last two thousand years.”[35] This tension is between the wisdom of God (faith) and the wisdom of man (rational autonomy).

This should remind us of another worldview: scientism. Moreland and William Lane Craig define scientism as “the view that science is the very paradigm of truth and rationality.”[36] Elsewhere, Moreland says, “For many secularists, knowledge is obtained solely by means of the senses and science…knowledge is identical to scientific knowledge…Science is the measure of all things, and when a scientist speaks about something, he or she speaks ex cathedra.”[37]

It is clear that scientism and autonomous reason are technically the same worldviews. Scientific facts have to be interpreted, and these interpretations are formulated through a kind of lens. This means that in scientism it is the rational mind that is the starting point of all interpretations. Scientists who believe in scientism are thus followers, even if they do not know it, of rational autonomy.

The differences in worldviews (think about the differences between biblical faith and autonomous reason) is why you get different perspectives concerning the origin of life and many other subjects in the culture war. Those who hold to biblical faith will interpret the world (God’s creation) differently than someone who believes in rational thought alone (which requires a naturalistic view of the world). Rational autonomy is the lens in which the Greek philosophers, and modern philosophers, use to interpret the world.

Since we cannot scientifically prove things beyond direct observation (like everything in the creation-evolution debate and historical issues) then “any reliance on human reason requires an act of faith.”[38] Rational autonomy is just that – a faith in humanity to save himself. More than that, it is a faith in the reasoning powers of one particular group of people: philosophers who just so happen to be elitists. They are gods in their own eyes, whether they look at it like that or not, and nothing can contradict them, especially some supernatural being that deserves our total devotion.

A good way to understand the difference between biblical faith and rational autonomy is the resurrection of Christ. Christians have argued for centuries that the resurrection best explains the known facts (i.e., no one could have stolen the body or the numerous problems with the appearances being hallucinations). Yet, most people continue not to believe. Gerd Ludemann says it well, “if you say that Jesus rose from the dead biologically, you would have to presuppose that a decaying corpse – which is already cold and without blood in the brain – could be made alive again. I think this is nonsense.”[39]

Anything that cannot conform to rational autonomy must be rejected. Since dead people do not typically get up and walk around “proves” that Jesus could not have resurrected. Only a redeemed mind can properly understand the evidence for the resurrection and the world that God created. Human reason cannot on its own come to a proper understanding of God and his creation. Faith is a filter that should be used to properly use reason. Christians should place, like the title of Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book says, Reason within the Bounds of Religion, not, as the title of Immanuel Kant’s book says, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone.

Conclusion

The battle between faith and reason is not what most people think it is. Biblical faith requires the use of rational thought since God created reason. However, reason has, like every other part of creation, fallen into sin. This has led to rational autonomy, the view that the human mind is supreme in all matters. In this way, reason has become an idol. It is only through faith in Christ that our minds can be redeemed and once again be used to glorify God and understand his creation once again.

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[1] J.P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2012), 44.

[2] W. Corduan, “Reason,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed., ed. by Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 990.

[3] Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger, Reason & Religious Belief (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013), 61.

[4] Ibid., 65.

[5] Ibid., 69.

[6] Craig A. Boyd, “The Synthesis of Reason and Faith.” In Faith and Reason: Three Views, edited by Steve Wilkens (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 145.

[7] Ibid., 133.

[8] Ibid., 148.

[9] Steve Wilkens, “Introduction.” In Faith and Reason: Three Views, edited by Steve Wilkens (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 27.

[10] Avery Cardinal Dulles, A History of Apologetics (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1999), 133-134.

[11] Peterson et al, 61.

[12] Moreland, 19.

[13] Ibid., 70.

[14] Boyd, 151.

[15] Peterson et al, 60.

[16] Alan G. Padgett, “Faith Seeking Understanding.” In Faith and Reason: Three Views, edited by Steve Wilkens, 85-115. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014.Padgett, 87.

[17] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 756.

[18] Moreland, 52.

[19] Ibid., 76.

[20] Mark Mittelberg, “An Apologetic for Apologetics,” in Reasons for Faith, ed. Norman L. Geisler and Chad V. Meister (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), 17.

[21] Moreland, 54.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Andreas Kostenberger, Darrell Bock, and Josh Chatraw, Truth in a Culture of Doubt (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2014), 7.

[24] Moreland, 53-54.

[25] Ibid., 54.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Roger Forster and Paul Marston say, “Reading Paul’s letters in the New Testament one is struck by the continual use of logical and rational argument. Paul’s whole approach is structured and logical.” They also note that Jesus and the apostles “argued logically about doctrines, expecting their teachings to make sense.” See Reason, Science and Faith (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999), 24-25.

[28] Craig L. Blomberg, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 52.

[29] Ibid., 56.

[30] Moreland, 68.

[31] Ibid., 68-69.

[32] Moo, 757.

[33] Boyd, 135.

[34] John Frame, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2015), 51.

[35] Carl A. Raschke, “Faith and Philosophy in Tension.” In Faith and Reason: Three Views, Ed. Steve Wilkens (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 35.

[36] J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003), 346.

[37] Moreland, 28.

[38] Forster and Martson, 15-16.

[39] Gerd Ludemann, “Opening Statement,” in Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? Ed. Paul Copan and Ronald Tacelli (Downers Grove, IVP Academic, 2000), 45.

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