Faith and Reason (Part 2)

Posted: August 15, 2010 in Reasonable faith
Tags: , , , ,

by Dima Zhyvov

I promised in my first article on relationship between faith and reason to present to you what I believe to be a biblical concept of faith. In this article I intend to keep my promise. But before we delve into the topic, allow me to make some preliminary remarks. When I finished and published my first blog post on the matter I received a comment from Eric Hyde, who challenged me in my understanding and interpretation of Søren Kierkegaard (please read the comments following Faith and Reason Part 1 article to see the details of our discussion). Eric holds that in my article I have misrepresented Kierkegaard’s ideas and beliefs and misunderstood what Søren meant by his “leap of faith”.  Having been reading and studying Kierkegaard’s works for years, Eric has a deep appreciation for the man and a deep analysis of his thoughts. So let me encourage you to read Eric’s comments in full as he responds to my questions and clarifies many important issues pertaining Kierkegaard’s complex understanding of the relationship between faith and reason (also take the opportunity to read Eric’s blog where he tackles questions of faith and reason from a slightly different angle). After reading Eric’s input it became clear to me that I had, possibly, confused Kierkegaard’s original ideas with what various commentators understood him to say. I also, rather simplistically, mixed Søren’s beliefs together with philosophies of some existential thinkers, both Christian and secular, who, coming after Kierkegaard, developed his ideas further, to the point of total separation between faith and reason. It is to this latter idea of complete dichotomy between faith and reason that I wish to object in my articles! I am planning to read Kierkegaard’s Postscripts sometime soon to form a more accurate picture of what Kierkegaard actually taught and to see if I was indeed, as Eric suggested, mistaken in my previous article on this particular point. I will let you know of the result of my reading.

Also please bear in mind that what follows is a biblical answer to specific challenge raised by the idea that Christian faith is blind and separated from anything reasonable. Thus when I am writing about the biblical concept of faith here, I am looking at faith from a particular angle of how it relates to reason. Hopefully, this explains why I place so much emphasis on the mind when I describe Christian faith. Of course, biblical idea of faith is much more than a mental ascent in the mind, as some have suggested! For instance, much could be said about what it means practically to have faith in God or how, according to Hebraic understanding, knowing Him must be manifested in the life of the believer, in other words, must be lived out.  Surely these and other important aspects of Christian faith need to be talked about, but for the purposes of this post I will limit our discussion below to whether faith is blind as it relates to the mind of the believer.

Having said all of this, let us now look closely at the issue at hand.

PART 2

What is the biblical understanding of faith?

As I have noted in my previous article the Bible never speaks of faith in terms of blind obedience without any knowledge or understanding, but rather it speaks of faith, which is primarily based on the knowledge through revelation of the Person in whom one is placing his or her faith. In other words, faith as described in the Bible must be understood in the light of the relationship between God and man, which should be characterized by trust. This point is crucial to understanding many passages in Scriptures that talk about faith in God.

To illustrate this I will use two examples from Scripture, one from the New Testament and one from the Old Testament.

First let us take a look at the example from the New Testament.

What does the Bible mean when it calls all people to believe in Jesus?

It seems to me that the Christian faith according to the Bible involves at least three things or levels when speaking of people believing in Christ. Simply put, these levels include understanding of the gospel, ascending to its truth and, ultimately, placing one’s trust in the Person of Jesus Christ. Let us consider these “stages” separately.

1. Understanding the message

I wonder what would happen if an evangelist approached the unbeliever who had not so much as even heard of Jesus Christ before or of what the Bible speaks about Him and, without any further explanation, simply said to him or her, “Believe in Jesus and you will be saved!” Would such an evangelistic method work? Would this have any value or power or meaning without the person first understanding the basic truths about Christ? Certainly, in order for the gospel to make sense the person hearing it needs to have at least some knowledge of Christianity’s basics, such as that God exists; He created us to have a relationship with Him; we fell from his grace or rebelled against him and sinned; when we sinned we didn’t just offend God, but we violated His holy commandments that now demand due punishment from a perfect moral Lawgiver; we became so polluted with sin that we needed salvation, not just forgiveness but also help; God found a way out from our sickness (sin) and our moral guilt before Him by sending His Son to die and bear the punishment on our behalf, etc. Only after providing some explanations of the basic story of Christ’s redemption can we reasonably ask the person to believe in Him. Similarly, God in the Bible never requires of us to blindly believe the gospel without understanding what we are asked to believe in the first place.

Not only that, but New Testament passages suggest that biblical evangelism, among other things, often involves defending and explaining the propositional truths one is asked to believe. This might include for the evangelist, as St. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:15, to give “reasons for the hope within”. Otherwise, I would find it hard to understand, for instance, the passages in Acts where Paul deliberately takes time, sits down and in love reasons and argues with Jews, showing to them through the Scriptures that Jesus is the awaited Christ. To me Paul’s evangelistic approach does not look like an invitation for them to make a blind leap of faith and entrust their lives to Christ without having reasonable grounds for doing so (in this example, such grounds would include, among other things of course, objective propositional truths revealed in “the Law and the Prophets”, that we could reasonably and objectively, as opposed to only subjectively and experientially, understand with the help of the Holy Spirit).

Therefore, the first “level” of biblical believing in Christ involves understanding the very message one is asked to believe as well as reason for doing so.

2. Ascending to the truth of the message

The second stage of believing involves ascending to the truth of what one is asked to believe. In the case of believing in Jesus, this would mean, among other things, to agree in your mind that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, that you are a sinner and you need a Savior and that there is only one way out from the human predicament, in other words, to agree with God’s plan of salvation. Without a mental ascent to the truth of the gospel, there seems to be no further possibility of genuine acceptance and embracing of this very truth existentially, and hence no possibility of biblical faith in Christ.

3. Placing one’s trust in the Person of Jesus Christ

After understanding the Christian message and ascending to its truth there comes the last stage of believing in Christ, placing one’s trust in the Person of Jesus Christ. At this point, you are not merely understanding in your mind what you are asked to believe and agreeing in your head with the truth of what you are asked to believe, but now you are placing trust in someone, making a commitment to someone, depending on someone. This is what believing in Jesus ultimately means – trusting and relying on Him with one’s life. This is what the Bible means when it talks of the word faith – trust, relationship, commitment (faithfulness) and reliance.  Thus, biblically, faith in Christ does not stop at mere intellectual activity but ultimately moves beyond that unto entrusting oneself to Him.

I hope by now it is clear that the third level of believing (trust, faithfulness) cannot come without the first two!!! Thus it is wrong, unbiblical, misleading and even foolish to say that reason (mind, intellect, and understanding) is irrelevant to the Christian faith or believing.

Finally, let us turn to the Old Testament to see if the view of biblical faith being reasonable will stand. To do that I suggest re-examining the very example of Abraham and Isaac I mentioned in Part 1 of this series. Below is what I believe to be a more accurate interpretation of the story than that offered by the proponents of the blind faith concept, because it better takes into account the overall context of the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac.

Abraham had walked with God already for about 30 years before God asked him to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham already knew and witnessed how God cared for Him and provided for all of his needs. He saw and knew God to be faithful and loving in his life. Isaac himself was a miracle from the Lord as a strong witness to Abraham of God’s unfailing faithfulness to the covenant He made with him. Experiencing such incredible intimacy in his relationship with God, Abraham had learned to unmistakably recognize the voice of His Maker. It is to this man of faith who walked with God and knew God deeply, His character, power, love, etc. that God spoke with what, from a mere human point of view, looked like a strange and utterly  unreasonable command to sacrifice his own son. Indeed, without Abraham’s deep knowledge of who God is, of His power (such as the power to raise people from the dead), of His good intentions (such as His promises to bless Abraham’s offspring through Isaac) and His unfailing love, it would be nothing but foolishness to sacrifice your own son. Thankfully, the Bible makes it clear that when Abraham obeyed the Lord, he didn’t exercise blind faith! Having the knowledge of God, for Abraham to obey Him in that situation and context was the most REASONABLE thing in the world to do! Trusting the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God and obeying something He asks us to do, even if it looks foolish from our limited perspective, is always smart if it’s based on the deep knowledge of Him. God would never ask us to obey Him without us first having a chance to know Him, love Him and see how good He is.

I hope I have succeeded in showing both biblically and philosophically that the concept of blind faith fails.

God has provided for us a way to love Him and obey Him with all that we are, including our minds. As Christians we are not called to remove our mind, but rather, to renew it (Romans 12:2) as we grow in the knowledge of Him.

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