In the late 18th century, Thomas Paine published The Age of Reason, a series of pamphlets that spoke against the church and faith. He suggested reason should replace special revelation, specifically scripture and the authority of the church. Though not an atheist himself, his position is quite similar to that of the modern atheist.
Reason and science, most atheists would proclaim, has the final say on truth. They have named the battleground for the debate, and Christians have met them there. In doing so I wonder if we have legitimatized reason as the foundation for all we believe. Have we endorsed the notion that Christianity must be based on rational arguments
This is not an anti-reason or anti-science piece. Reason is a necessary part of life and yes, even faith. Science is of great value. The more I learn from science, the greater my sense of wonder in the creator grows. But are our faith, beliefs and decisions to follow Jesus based solely on rational or scientific arguments? What percentage of faith and theology do you think is based on rational thought today? Fifty percent? Eighty? One hundred percent?
I firmly believe reason and the ability to think clearly and critically is invaluable. I just don’t think reason is a good basis for following Jesus. This is why I don’t like the modern day version of Pascal’s wager, daring non-believers to try following Jesus and see if it changes their lives. Becoming a disciple is not an experiment. You cannot dip your toe in the waters of following Jesus. You bear the cost and follow him completely or you do it not at all. Jesus was quite clear on this point
Reason alone is insufficient as an explanation for faith. Reason cannot explain love. Sure it can explain the bio-chemical reactions associated with love, the increased levels of serotonin and dopamine and increase activity in certain areas of the brain, but it can’t describe the anticipation of a first kiss, the feel of your beloved’s hand in yours or laying eyes on you child for the first time. Understanding love can only come from engaging and experiencing it in relationship.
This is true in theology as well. Again, rational thought is necessary in forming a systematic theology, but on its own it is insufficient. Reason alone forms a cold, methodical, and sanitized theology. Rational theology (even when it incorporates the special revelation of Scripture) robs us of the dynamic, transforming and relational presence of Jesus. We need to use reason in service of the kingdom, but God wants more than our rational agreement with his existence and principles. He wants us to follow him into an intimate, wild and sometimes messy relationship. Reason alone is not enough.
My thoughts on this topic were born in a couple podcasts involving Peter Boghossian. Boghossian recently published A Manual for Creating Atheists. He believes Christians use faith as an epistemology and defines it as “pretending to know things that you don’t know” or “belief without evidence.” Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales and What’s in the Bible, had Boghossian on his podcast to discuss this definition. What I appreciate about Vischer’s interaction is his insistence that faith is based on relational evidence.
This is taken further on Unbelievable?, the podcast of a radio show in the UK. Here Boghossian debated Tim McGrew who points out trust is an appropriate synonym for faith. He uses the analogy of skydiving. There is no guarantee you will reach the ground safely, but you jump because you place trust in the individual who packed you parachute.
You can check out Vischer’s podcast here and Unbelieveable? here. I highly recommend both of these podcasts as a whole, not just these individual episodes.