Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ” (Acts 17:1-3).
Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there (Acts 17:16-17).
Welcome to my blog, Thinking Through Faith. My goal is to follow the example of the apostle Paul by using reason and Scripture to establish a coherent basis for faith. But since many people don’t think that reason, Scripture, and faith are consistent with each other, let me take a moment to discuss the way in which I think they intersect.
I have heard Christians and non-Christians claim that faith and reason are mutually exclusive. A dear Christian friend of mine once told me, “Faith and facts can’t exist in my mind at the same time.” And a recurring mantra of atheist provocateur Richard Dawkins is that faith is “believing something for which there is no evidence.” Many pious believers and many skeptical unbelievers feel the same way.
But this is to misunderstand the nature of faith. In Scripture, faith is never presented as belief without evidence. To the contrary, faith is trust in God based on evidence – evidence drawn from Scripture, from eyewitness testimony, or from the natural order. That’s how Paul reasoned with Jews in the synagogue and Gentiles in the marketplace about the claims of Christianity.
Perhaps some Christians are leery about the use of reason because of the warnings in Scripture about trust in man’s wisdom (such as in 1 Corinthians 1:18-21). And I share such concerns. But the Bible also warns about the misuse of Scripture (2 Peter 3:16-17). Should we therefore never try to use the Bible? Of course not – it just means that we have to be careful in how we use Scripture, and the same is true with reason.
So what are the proper uses of reason for a believer? I can think of three valuable purposes. First, there are some truths we can apprehend by the application of logic to our observations of the natural order. Paul does this in Acts 14:17 when he explains to the pagans of Lystra that God has borne witness to himself through the orderly cycles of nature. To be sure, there are many truths that we can only know through the supernatural revelation of Scripture, but reason can help us obtain the knowledge of God found in the general revelation of creation.
In this way reason can help us make the affirmative case for Christianity, but it has a second important purpose – to make the negative case against unbelief. We can use the tools of logic to show the incoherence of atheism (such as its faith in the powers of human reason despite its contention that the mind is the random product of the blind processes of nature). A lot of the unbelievers I know who are enamored with the New Atheist evangelists like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris are totally unaware of the elementary philosophical mistakes these writers make, and we can deploy reason to draw attention to these blunders.
Reason and faith go hand in hand in making the case for belief and in refuting the case against belief. But there is a third purpose for reason, one that directly intersects with Scripture itself. We can use reason to draw out truth from Scripture, and to show how these truths are consistent with each other. The gospels are filled with examples of Jesus engaged in logical argumentation from the Scriptures (such as his brilliant deductive argument for the resurrection from Exodus 3 in Matthew 22). Of course, we must be humble about the inferences we draw, always willing to test our assumptions and modify our conclusions. But judiciously used, reason helps us grasp the truth of God’s word.
At the beginning of his classic work, the Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas lamented that many followers of Jesus had been hampered in their efforts to grow in the faith because some writings “brought weariness and confusion to the minds of readers.” I’ll try to avoid creating such weariness and confusion! And you can help with your comments and questions.
I look forward to meeting you often at the intersection of faith, reason, and Scripture.