Is christianity reasonable? Only if human reason is properly related to faith.
I am quite aware that this statement may appear “unreasonable,” but I believe it lies at the very heart of the predicament of unregenerate man.
The “preaching of the Cross” is nothing but foolishness to those who do not believe. The offense of the Cross is its revealing both man’s utter helplessness and God’s way of redeeming him—through a Person and an act far transcending human experience and wisdom.
Revelation is solely from and by God. Reason is a human faculty given to man by God. By divine fiat man was granted the power to say yes and to say no. And he is held accountable for his choice. Wrong choices based on faulty reasoning carry grave penalties.
Years ago Pollock remarked that, for many persons, “reasoning” is the great obstacle to conversion. This is perhaps even more true of people today. Basic theological problems emerge when reason is given priority over faith.
One extreme is the “God is dead” philosophy, where human reason has become sterile rationalism: man becomes his own god, and God is ruled out of existence.
The Apostle Paul, preaching in Lystra against the idolatry of that city, told of God’s dealings with mankind from the time of the creation and said, “Yet he did not leave himself without witness” (Acts 14:17a, RSV). This witness is the revelation he has given us of himself and his truth.
The revelation of God in creation is continuing and universal. “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Ps. 19:1–4a).
The Apostle Paul speaks of the revelation of God’s works of creation as entailing man’s responsibility: “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
Because revelation is the foundation of Christianity, faith must be given precedence over mere human reason. In view of the implications of revelation, there obviously is much that man cannot understand this side of eternity. If it were otherwise, revelation would be unnecessary. There is much that must be accepted by faith, which often transcends human reason.
God also reveals himself and his truth in his acts of providence and control—in our personal lives, in current events, in history. This revelation must be believed even though we do not always understand God’s ways. By faith we see the operation of the divine and omnipotent hand that moves in such a mysterious way through our own lives and through history. The Apostle Paul was led to exclaim, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33). This was an affirmation of faith, not of human reason.
The abundance of God’s revelation to man is also seen in his Written Word. How limited our knowledge and understanding would be without the Bible! In it are found the answers to the wailings of the existentialist, the gropings of the philosopher, the inquiries of the scholar. There also is found the “historical Jesus” some seek.
Only in the Scriptures are revealed the eternal truths of Christ, who he was and what he did. It is not human reason that makes these things plain; rather, faith accepts them as revealed. God has revealed himself in the Person of his Son so that, seeing him, we know what God is like. Human reason can never account for Christ; only faith apprehends him.
To those who will see and hear, God also reveals himself through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. It is he who takes the things of Christ and through them speaks to our hearts and minds. To the unregenerate mind, the person and work of the Holy Spirit are incomprehensible.
Every revelation from God and of God must be accepted by faith. The great emphasis of the New Testament is on faith. It is to those who believe, not those who employ mere human reason, that Christ becomes a living Saviour. The foolishness of the Cross saves those who subordinate human intellectual concepts to God’s divine wisdom. To try to reason and rationalize the meaning of our Lord’s death on Calvary can lead only to folly. To accept it by faith is to bring the wisdom and understanding of God into one’s soul.
Of course reason has its place, but it is not enough in itself. It must be aided by revelation and enlightened by faith.
I see an apple by the side of the road, and reason tells me there is an apple tree somewhere. But only revelation tells me where the tree came from.
I read the morning paper with its stories of war and suffering, crime and lust, injustices and oppression. Reason tells me that there is something wrong with the world. Only revelation tells me that it is sin in the human heart and that sin is disobedience to God’s holy laws.
And revelation goes further. It tells of God’s remedy for man’s predicament. It tells me of the things that are seen and those that are not seen and of their comparative values.
Giving priority to revelation rather than to human reason takes humility, the “faith of a little child” of which our Lord spoke. This is not childishness but the subordination of human wisdom to the wisdom of God, so that our boast is not in man but in God.
Once the demand of revelation over human reason is recognized, faith itself becomes reasonable. Supernatural Christianity (e.g., the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth) becomes truly reasonable when received through the eye of faith. Until there is faith, all that is miraculous and supernatural is foolishness. Once a man recognizes that God in his dealings and manifestations transcends human reason and experience, he finds that faith itself commends as reasonable that about which the world knows nothing.
Many of the problems of theology and of the Church arise through a sophistication that is an enemy of Christianity. When reason divorced from faith is given top priority, faith shrivels. The Bible teaches that “no wisdom, no understanding, no counsel, can avail against the Lord” (Prov. 21:30). It is equally explicit in saying that because “the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21).
The gateway to eternal life lies not in human reason but in the divine revelation of Jesus Christ and all that is implied by his death and resurrection. The Gospel centers in these two historical facts.
Reasonable? Only to those who know by faith the truth of God’s revelation.
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