Faith and Reason

If we lived in the first generation of Christians we might have assumed that Jesus was coming back in our lifetime. The Thessalonian letters make it clear that some believers thought that way. If we thought that way we would not concern ourselves for long with some of the issues that would come up for Christians over time. But it came to pass that Christians, like the Hebrews of old, had to think about how their faith relates to culture, politics, philosophy, science and technology.

The tension between the natural and the supernatural has had concrete effects in the history of Christian faith. When the supernatural is emphasized to the exclusion of the natural, the rigors of asceticism and negative theology result. Some have called this belief in an “unnatural God.” The doctrine of an unnatural God led to the rigors of asceticism and monasticism via the negative way [see The Vision of God. Kirk 1931 lecture IV]. The historic reply to this excess was to show the natural God, but this too has its dangers. “No mere doctrine of a wholly natural God a God whose character and lineaments are to be seen indifferently in all the processes of nature or all the aspirations of the heart and mind is adequate either to the evidence of conscience, or to the spirit of Christ as revealed in the New Testament. If it be true that God is not far from any one of us (for in Him we live, and move, and have our being); it is true also that He dwells in light unapproachable. If He humbleth Himself to behold the things on earth, in His primal nature nevertheless He stands very high above them; if He finds a home with the contrite and humble yet His abiding dwelling is the high and holy place.” [K. E. Kirk 1931p304]. Kirk goes on to emphasize the admirable labours expended to weave together “into a single harmonious system” [Ibid]  the balance of the supernatural with the witness of nature and conscience. It should further be noted that the conscience, which is of great importance in this discussion, can be viewed as itself a part of nature.

         No one who reads the Bible can doubt that faith is basic to our relationship with God, but it is equally true that no one who lives in the world God made can doubt that we were made reasonable creatures and that reason plays a major role in our survival and progress in the world. It even plays a role in our worship and service to God. But so often reason and faith seems like they may be challenging each other, maybe even in conflict at times. So how do we find the balance?