Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Reason and Revelation

Jason Dulle:

Seeing that God has the ability to reason, and we are made in His image, it follows that God has intended for us to use our reasoning ability to discover and contemplate truth. Many truths, however, can only come via revelation. Revelation and reason cannot be separated from the life of the Christian. That we cannot divorce reason from our lives in favor of ‘revelation only’ is evident from the fact that those who hold to a ‘revelation only’ view must give logical and reasonable arguments for their position. They call upon our reasoning abilities to prove that their view is correct. On the flip-side, any attempt at pure rationalism divorced from revelation is also futile because not everything can be proved. Something is always presupposed or simply believed behind every provable belief. Justification, which comes by reason, must stop somewhere.

That reason is necessarily connected to revelation is evidenced by the fact that we are called upon to decide true revelation from false revelation (testing the spirits—I John 4:1-2). How can we do such discerning apart from reason, even if it is reasoning from the Scriptures? It must be remembered that there is a difference between reasoning to see whether something is revelation, or to determine what in the Bible is revelation. The former is a noble endeavor (Acts 17:11), while the latter is not. Belief is blind and unworthy unless it tests whether something is revelation or not. It is foolish to believe everything without applying reason to test its believability or truthfulness, but likewise it is arrogant to assume that everything must be accepted by our reason before it can be accepted as God’s Word, or truth.3

Part of the tension can be resolved by viewing the issue from two different perspectives: epistemologically (what we know) and ontologically (how we know). There is a difference between the way we know reality and what we know about reality. If God is the source of all truth, then truth must come from the "top down," and thus be known by revelation; however, epistemologically we start from the "bottom up" to determine whether or not God exists.4 In the epistemological sense, then, reason is prior to revelation, since reason must be used to evaluate whether or not the Bible is indeed revelation.

Reason precedes faith as a method of knowing the existence of God. One cannot believe in a God in whom they have no knowledge of, and cannot truly know something without reasoning about that which is to be known. A certain amount of knowledge (and thus reason) must be known of God if one is to have saving or experiential faith. One may have knowledge without faith, but one cannot have faith without knowledge.

Reason and revelation work together. God bestows faith simultaneously with our understanding. We do not have to crucify our intellect in order to believe. Faith may sometimes go beyond our ability to know something or understand it to the fullest extent, but faith is not illogical. Healings may seem illogical to some, but we know from God’s Word (revelation) that He heals, and therefore can believe (reason) that He will heal.

All other views besides ‘revelation and reason’ produce logical complications concerning salvation. The idea that one can move only from faith to understanding, and never from understanding to faith is lacking for reasonable support. Michael Bauman said it best:

Saving faith is not without its necessary prior theological content. To become a Christian requires one to come to at least some rudimentary conclusions about God, about Christ, about one’s own spiritual status and need. In other words, it requires (correct) theology…. … Adherents to such a view … do not seem to realize that their position actually eliminates the possibility of saving faith because it asserts that saving faith is the sine qua non of theology. The truth, however, is quite the opposite because correct theology of some sort (however primitive and unsophisticated it might be in the case of some new converts) is the sine qua non of saving faith.5

For the above reasons we conclude that both revelation and reason are gifts of God to men for the purpose of knowing and understanding truth, and subsequently knowing and understanding the God of all truth. By rejecting either revelation or reason, or under-emphasizing either aspect, we are discarding part of the equipment that God has endowed us with to know Him. As a result our understanding of God and the spiritual grow He intends for us be stunted. To dismiss one aspect or the other is like cutting with a pair of scissors having only one blade. To minimize one aspect over the other is like cutting with a pair of dull scissors. Only by emphasizing both revelation and reason can we cut the truth straight!

1 comment: