You’ll find discussions about the role of reason in faith (particularly regarding Bible study) popping up quite often these days. Some objections against over-utilizing reason in studying the Bible are, “You can’t put God in a box,” and, “Don’t put reason over the Bible.” There are a couple points I want to make here because I think this issue needs to be resolved.
What is “Reason”?
This part of the definition on Wikipedia says it well:
“…Reason, like habit or intuition, is a means by which thinking comes from one idea to a related idea. But more specifically, it is the way rational beings propose and consider explanations concerning cause and effect, true and false, and what is good or bad.” (bold mine)
It is difficult to define “reason”, because that is like asking, “Why does 2 + 2 = 4?” It’s something which, while being “in opposition to ‘intuitive reason'” (see the Wikipedia page), can only be fully grasped by intuition.
Putting Reason “Above the Bible”
To start off, I want to say that I’m not sure what this statement “above the Bible” means. I think many Christians think of “reason” in the wrong way.
I do not think reason is a thing to be placed above something else. That is, it is not an object; it is a method of the mind. Reason is not a thing; rather, things are “reasonable” (that is, can be reasoned). Reason must be thought of as a tool and not what the tool is being used to achieve at a particular moment. Even so, reason is not a tool that you can ever put down. Without reason, the sentence you are reading means nothing.
One of my instructors has said that the problem with the modern/enlightenment era (roughly 1500-2000 AD, where reason and logic are said to have come to the forefront, as far as understanding the world is concerned) was that, though at first reason was in its proper place, it was eventually elevated above the Bible, so that men stopped believing in the Bible. They said it was “scientifically untenable”. Naturalism prevented faith from being an option, because everything that exists is physical. Therefore, the Bible is false, because it contains miraculous accounts.
I would argue that elevating reason was not the problem during the modern era. The reason (no pun intended) why the modern era produced atheists and why they discredited the Bible was because people abandoned reason. It is entirely unreasonable to hold to the theory of naturalism. When people in that era stated that faith is a myth, that religion only involves the physical, and that the miraculous cannot break into the physical laws of this world- at that moment when they believed this, reason, logic and wisdom died in them.
It was not logical for them to presuppose that the physical is the only reality. This makes studying the Bible impossible. This is why I say that when you study the Bible, utilize reason and logic to the fullest. Run your mind at 100% capacity.
But how does reason work with faith? I think all faith, if it is real, has a reason. If you believe, you believe for one of these reasons:
- The Word of God proved to be true in your heart, so you believed it.
- God miraculously spoke to you.
- You were convicted by the Spirit in one way or another.
- Conscience testified to the existence of God in your heart.
- Creation was adequate evidence for you to believe in God.
These are all great, scriptural reasons to believe in God. If you believe without a reason, I am not saying you are not a believer, but that this is “blind faith”. No one suddenly says one day, “I’m just going to believe in God”, unless they have a reason, whether that be conscience, creation, or a direct word from God. In fact, I would go so far to say that man by default has reasons to believe in God because God has put that into man, but man has chosen to suppress those reasons because of sin (Psalm 19, Rom 10:18).
I think what “don’t put God in a box” really means is that we should not categorize too strictly who God is by saying, “this is what God’s love is”, and, “this is everything about God’s justice,” with an extreme sense of confinement so that we can “determine” how God will act in every possible situation. I agree wholeheartedly that this is wrong, but not because reason is being put above the scriptures. Rather, reason is being abandoned.
Studying the Bible
How does having the Holy Spirit affect studying the Bible, in relation to reason? I wish I could say precisely what this means, but I can at least say the following.
I think it’s safe to say that it is not as if a non-believer cannot grasp the statements of truth in Scripture. That is, such a person can see logically what we mean by “Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins.” He can comprehend probably all of the logic of what Scripture is saying.
However, understanding is different than simply acknowledging the logic of the statement:
“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor 2:14, NIV)
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18, NIV)
I take this verse to mean that, even though people can grasp the concept of Christ’s sacrifice, without the Spirit of God it is simply silly. It just looks foolish (not illogical). I’ve heard this when talking to Muslims: “Why would God send his Son to die?” If the guy knew that much, he probably knew the answer: “to pay for sins.” Yet he was asking because it just made no sense. He could see that “a” caused “b” which results in “c”, but it meant nothing to him. This is as much as I can say.
Therefore, when you study Scripture, don’t think to yourself, “Ok. Now I’m going to lessen my use of reason and rely on the Spirit.” This structure of thought is entirely off the mark. The Holy Spirit and reason are not mutually exclusive when it comes to interpretation. Rather, the Holy Spirit will tell you that which is reasonable and true.
So rely on the Spirit to teach you the truths of God, and expect that these truths will never be contradictory.