Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Faith and Reason

Here's another blog post which is quite insightful, by Kenneth Richard Samples from Reasons to Believe.

A few of my thoughts upon reading this:

1) Christian faith is NOT the same as Christian belief. Belief is inherent in all worldviews - including materialistic and 'scientific' ones. Faith, in Christianity, is a personal and emotional response to holding a particular worldview. Having Christian knowledge and belief does not equal 'faith'. Likewise, having a particular personal or emotional response to a worldview - without actually holding it - does not equal 'faith'.

2) Reason is complementary, not antagonistic, to belief. In fact they are intimately related, and thus faith is also intimately related to reason.

3) There are many aspects to our 'humanity' (including reason), which impact on which worldview we hold and how we emotionally respond to various worldviews and beliefs.'Reason' is the only method which can be involved in the pure pursuit of 'true knowledge'. HOWEVER, real faith (including reason) is good - regardless of what 'unreasonable' factors may have been implemented along the path leading to it. 'Un-reasonable' factors may precede 'reason' in many steps, but reason eventually catches up (or faith can never actually develop). Even from a purely 'knowledge-pursuit' perspective, ALL of these 'un-reasonable' factors can lead to the construction and improvement of competing worldviews. This is good (not necessarily for the person implementing these factors, but certainly for those who need competing worldviews for reason to act upon, in the pursuit of knowledge).

4) Thus none of the 'un-reasonable' aspects of our cognitive/emotional processes should be intrinsically despised. But they all need to be recognised for what they are, and brought into loving, Holy-Spirit empowered submission to our Lord Jesus Christ - just like everything else!

I hope to flesh these topics out in future philosophical posts :)

Here's the text, please let me know what you think about these issues!

HomeBlogsReflections Blog › Faith, Reason, and Personal Persuasion


Reflections - Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Recently a newspaper reporter asked me to respond to two provocative questions: (1) “Is it necessary to leave reason and move to faith in order to embrace Christianity?” and (2) “If there are strong arguments in support of Christianity’s actually being true, then why aren’t more people, particularly intelligent, well-educated people, persuaded as to its truth?”

As to the first question, historic Christianity doesn’t require believers or nonbelievers to choose between faith and reason, as though the two are unalterably separate spheres. Rather, Christianity is uniquely a reasonable faith (a trustworthy and reasonable belief system). The events that form the core of Christian belief—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth—are rooted in history. For 2,000 years Christian apologists have presented diverse evidences and arguments for embracing Christian truth-claims.

While specific doctrines such as God’s triune nature and the union of Christ’s two natures certainly transcend human comprehension, Christian belief never violates reason itself. In fact, Christian philosophers have argued that the God of the Bible uniquely provides the metaphysical foundation for logic and rationality.1 The consensus throughout church history is that faith and reason are compatible and complementary.

The New Testament word for “faith” or “belief” (Greek: pisteuo, the verb; pistis, the noun) is rich in meaning. To have biblical faith in Jesus Christ for salvation includes:

  1. a genuine (factual and historical) knowledge of the gospel events, namely, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection;
  2. a personal assent to the truth and importance of those events; and
  3. a confident trust in the object of that faith (the risen Lord Jesus Christ).

Faith, in a biblical context, is therefore not separated from authentic human knowledge of truth and reality.

As to the second question, it is true that some highly educated people are not persuaded of historic Christianity’s truth. However, many of the world’s leading intellectuals from various academic and professional fields doembrace historic Christianity as a rational and viable world-and-life view.2 Early twentieth century Christian apologist and writer G. K. Chesterton makes this comment about those who reject Christianity: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”3 When it comes to the “ultimate issues of life,” personal persuasion involves more than exposure to rational arguments typically presented via the public educational system, even higher education.

Christian philosopher Ronald H. Nash argues that it is important to distinguish between arguments and personal persuasion.4 People come to their beliefs about reality and truth based upon various factors, some rational and some nonrational. A good argument provides reasonable and truthful support for its claim. Just because a person is not persuaded by a given argument doesn’t necessarily mean that the argument is somehow logically defective. Nonrational factors such as ignorance, bias, self-interest, fear, or pride may stand in the way of a person genuinely understanding and feeling the full force of a powerful argument and thus being persuaded by it. A person’s noetic (belief-forming) faculties are seldom as neutral, detached, and coolly objective as many people—especially intellectuals—would like to think. This subjective, egocentric predicament is shared by all people, regardless of educational level.

Persuasion, then, seems to be “person-relative,”5 and no single argument will likely persuade everyone—especially when it comes to the big issues. And simply because some questions are hotly contested does not mean that all positions on them are equally valid and none superior; hence, the importance of the biblical imperative to put beliefs to the test (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1).

It would be fair to say that few people accept or reject Christianity based purely upon rational factors. After all, human beings are far from purely rational creatures. Scripture indicates that a person’s coming to (or conversion to) faith in Christ is never a solely intellectual decision (Acts 13:48; 1 Corinthians 12:3). God’s efficient grace works in remarkable ways to draw people to Himself (John 6:44, 65).

In conversation with nonbelievers, one might ask why they reject specific Christian truth-claims. Is their unbelief based upon rational or nonrational factors? Instead of a reasonable faith, it may be that nonbelievers have, in effect, an unreasonable lack of faith.

---Kenneth Richard Samples

1. Kenneth Richard Samples, Without a Doubt (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), see chapters 1 and 2.
2. See, for example, Kelly James Clark, ed. Philosophers Who Believe (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1993); and Eric C. Barrett and David Fisher, Scientists Who Believe (Chicago: Moody, 1984).
3. G. K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (Charleston, SC: Forgotten Books, 2010) 39. www.chesterton.org/acs/quotes.htm; accessed July 14, 2004.
4. Ronald H. Nash, Faith and Reason (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 108–10.
5. Nash, 109.

This article originally appeared in RTB publication Connections 6, no. 3, 2004.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Excellent article by Kenneth and a good write up FG.
    I would agree that faith is both belief with reason, not either or.

    Although not too sure about what you mean by "ANYTHING"
    HOWEVER, from a faith perspective, ANYTHING which is part of a path leading, ultimately, to faith (which includes reason) is good.

    I suppose you don't mean "absolutely" good but more a "general" good?
    For example: It is good that Joe Bloe is testing for evidence for what he believes, even though what he belives may not be on the most accurate road to truth which is the absolute good.


  3. The statement that 'ANYTHING that is part of a path that leads to faith is good' can be interpreted multiple ways. I had hoped it was obvious how I meant this, but I can clarify it here :) Perhaps a better wording would be "Faith is good, regardless of the steps taken on the path leading to it".

    I believe any 'appropriate response' to 'true knowledge' is 'good'. I hold to a particular belief-knowledge paradigm (Christianity), and the appropriate response to this is 'faith'. Therefore, by definition (if the Christian paradigm is indeed true), faith is 'good'. It must be emphasises that the 'good' faith I am describing is a personal response to a paradigm which is held based upon 'reason' - However the appropriate personal emotional response may certainly extend beyond the function of mere 'reason'. This is something I hope to discuss in future posts :)

    This 'goodness' of faith can be further expounded both from a Christian paradigm's perspective (faith pleases God, delights the believer, and is the means God often chooses to work in this world) and a pure knowledge-pursuit paradigm's perspective (faith is a personal response to holding a paradigm as true - it must be based upon various implementations of 'reason')

    The steps in the path to 'faith' (as a 'good' outcome, incorporating reason) may or may not be intrinsically 'good'. The end does not 'justify the means', but neither do the means 'justify the end' - each is justified intrinsically on their own merits. However, there is a sense in which one can say that PARTICULAR instances of a generally 'evil' phenomenon, may also be considered to share the 'goodness' of the outcome. The death of innocent people in famine may not be generally or intrinsically 'good' (in the Christian paradigm, God expects humans to recognise the imperfection such events demonstrate, and to battle them). But specific instances of this may be considered 'good' in another sense, if they are a necessary link in a chain of events leading to a better outcome elsewhere. A complete understanding of the goodness of specific events requires holding both perspectives in harmony.

    Christians believe that God can work 'evil' events for a 'good' outcome. Although we personally only aim for 'intrinsically good' events, we recognise that other events - while they are to be battled and brought under the Lordship of Christ - are not necessarily to be despised as 'wrong/evil/worthless' in the hands of God. He can use 'un-reasonable' mechanisms to initiate a path leading to faith (which by definition means that reason must follow these events eventually).

  4. I have edited the post with better wording, to reflect what I actually mean :) Thanks for the feedback guys!

  5. I hold to a particular belief-knowledge paradigm (Christianity), and the appropriate response to this is 'faith'.

    I would have thought that the fact you "hold to" the belief-knowledge paradigm of Christianity you would have faith any way instad of needing to then respond in faith?

    The only thing that makes Christianity different to believing that cars are made, is that Christianity involves a Person, involves relationship.

    But I am also in a way personally involved in believing that cars a made because "I" personally believe they were made.

    semantics ay?

    Oh and thanks for clearing up the the "anything". I agree with much of what you have said. I especially like your last paragraph about evil.

  6. Thanks DP :)

    I am quite passionate about making a distinction between merely 'holding to a paradigm' (belief) and actually holding to it in such a way that you consider it to be the best correlation to reality that is available (i.e. 'reasonable' - in pursuit of knowledge).

    But more than that, I am passionate about the distinction between a 'reasonable belief-knowledge paradigm' and 'faith'. faith goes beyond this by including, like you say, a personal-emotional response to the paradigm you hold to.

    The difference between believing cars exist and Christianity, is the 'faith' component. An appropriate personal-emotional response to a paradigm that believes cars exist, might be some MILD joy, also some caution when crossing roads, etc…

    However, an appropriate personal-emotional response to a paradigm that believes the Christian God exists, is WAY different - and this is what we describe as Christian faith:
    An exuberant and trusting delight which goes beyond anything else in our lives, such that it empowers a deep-seated joy and risk taking love in the face of all the challenges life throws at us, and a pursuit of holiness for God that would otherwise be foolishness (because of the pain and effort required for very little apparent gain in this life).

  7. I suppose Jesus distinguishes between faith and belief for us. He said that even the demons "believe" that He is the Son of God when others didn't, but they did not accept Him and trust in Him for themselves which is more like faith. Hebrews also talks about faith in regards to "Hope" for things unseen or similar.