Reason vs. Revelation

Perhaps you can help me. I was discussing the nature of Christian belief – specifically knowledge – the other day with a good friend, and I felt like I hit a wall. This wall is certainly not one that is unique to my friend, but is common to most everyone. The wall is that of human reason and intellect.

It was my friend’s opinion that while they could clearly observe that Christianity is mostly internally coherent, there is still a large gap of belief and understanding preventing full acceptance. And my friend is not able to cross this gap for intellectual reasons. I know that given the truth of Christianity, there should be no true intellectual gap; and indeed, I have been able to defend Christianity on the occasional issue. But I also believe there is more to this gap than mere reason.

I suppose you could see the void in a number of ways. In one sense I suppose it’s about Christianity being externally coherent: i.e. matching up to our sense of reality. But I do not believe this is possible without revelation from God. This is true for two reasons: first, God’s plan for salvation appears to be foolish when judged by human reason alone (1 Corinthians 1:18-28); second, mankind actively suppresses the truth of God’s existence (Romans 1:18-23). So it takes a divine intervention for people’s eyes to be opened.

So think of it this way: proper intellectual acceptance of God is not purely intellectual, it has a moral dimension. It is this moral dimension that is affected supremely by our inherent sin; and thus our intellectual capabilities are suppressed.

I know that for most Christians, the above is quite obvious and well-understood (assuming I got it right). However, I struggle with the implications of this with regard to human reason. It is clear that human reason is subordinate to God’s truth; and that human reason, in its purest form, is a gift of God. But what about when reason doesn’t appear to lead to God? Of course, from the Christian’s point of view this is a result of incomplete reasoning. But I can’t always argue around that.

Sometimes I just have to say that I don’t know: or rely on the foolishness of man and the wisdom of God. But I must say I don’t like it very much! So, what do you think? Do you think I have fundamentally misunderstood something; or do you have any advice?

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7 Responses to Reason vs. Revelation

  1. Carolyn says:

    Matt,

    I think we may not always see “reason” prevail because Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in the spirit realm……and not within the physical realm which houses ‘reason.’
    Scriptures state that one can’t come to God unless ‘the spirit draws him’. And that God’s Spirit will not always strive with man…indicating there are spiritual encounters from God that convict of sin. If we are indeed ‘the temple of God’ then He is present as we read scripture and witness to the reality of Jesus. Belief in the supernatural existence of an invisible God can only come by supernatural experience by way of the Holy Spirit. “The battle is the Lord’s.” Give your friend to Him and He will send the person, event, or whatever is needed….to give your friend the opportunity to believe or reject.

    God Bless!

  2. Really nice job on the article, Matt–very well written. Though, on a personal note, I believe religion has caused more harm than anyone could ever imagine, I believe we each have a right to believe whatever we want. There is good and bad in every religion, but my position is that an all-powerful, all-knowing God would not be offended by anything that a mere human could do. Furthermore, I do not believe that such a higher being would place us in a world that operates by the laws of the universe and then tells us not to lean unto our own understanding.
    Religion asks us to suspend all logical thought and accept what our forefathers have proclaimed as the truth.
    Fortunately, we all don’t have to agree in order to make the world a better place. Again, really nice article!

  3. applyingmybeliefs says:

    I am going to attempt an answer to this. Let’s start in Isaiah, read Is 55:8-9.

    It says (and I’m paraphrasing) that we cannot understand things at the same level as God. Therefore human reason will never be able to rationally get to the point where it can accept that God is right. That is why we have to accept Christ, and all that comes with Him, based on God’s grace through faith. Which is what Paul says in Eph 2:8-9. Acceptance of God through faith means that there is something about coming to God that includes an element of the “unknown” about it. Something unknown can never be rationalized. Every person has to come to God by faith.

    One of the mistakes the two of you are making is equating belief and knowledge, they are the same or even similar. For example, I “know” that I exist today, but I can only “believe” I will exist tomorrow.

    Now let’s talk about “revelation”. It is instructive to look at what it says in 1 Cor 2:6-16, and again I’ll paraphrase. You can’t receive God’s revelation unless the Holy Spirit helps you, which means you have to be a Christian (who has the Holy Spirit within them). People who are not Christians may get messages delivered to them by the Spirit, but these are not revelations. no

    Our God is a God of reason, but earthly reason can only support God’s existence not reveal it.

    Let me know if this makes sense to you. BTW I suggest reading “Mere Christianity” to all intellectuals.

    http://www.applyingmybeliefs.wordpress.com

  4. étrangère says:

    Human reason in its purest form leads to God – yes. But where do we see human reason in its purest form, since we refuse the knowledge of our Creator and the Logos in whose image we are made? Only in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the Logos of the universe and the only man who had reason in its purest form. (And yes – he exclusively leads to the Father! :)) Our reason is given us in God’s image, but in our perversity we refuse knowledge of God, so suppress the Truth – the reality of the universe. As you said, for moral reasons, our rational ability is perverted and actually becomes irrational – out of sync with the reality, the Logos of the universe, which is Christ. Apparently sound reasoning that leads to something not true of God must not be taking into account some truth. (To anyone reading who isn’t sure of Christ, that will sound rather block-headed, but this all comes from a position of being convinced that the man Jesus was the only one to reveal God to us, and bring us to know Him. We all have presuppositions: might as well acknowledge them.) John Frame is good on this (probably Calvin is too, but I haven’t got there yet in the Institutes) – his Apologetics to the Glory of God you may have read; The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God is v. good – borrow it for the chapter 1C on the Unbeliever’s Knowledge, at least. (I confess it’s still on my to read list!)

  5. mattsj says:

    Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments. Although I don’t want to turn this blog into a forum (the format isn’t conducive), I can’t resist the opportunity to reply. Therefore, I will write my replies just once. But you are welcome to comment as much as you want, and have the last word, as it were. And I leave open the possibility of posting more thoughts on a particular issue that comes to the fore.

    Carolyn
    You describe an interesting concept, one I have not come across yet. Would you mind explaining to me your idea that reason is limited to the physical realm? At the moment, I am of the opinion that reason is transcendent in that respect: independent of physical reality (and thus physical reality is subject to reason). In this regard, reason is much like love (as God is love). But I agree with your final sentiment: intervention by the Holy Spirit is required for someone to accept the Christian God fully. So you are right, I should be praying earnestly.

    Lifeovercoming
    Your frustration with religion is understandable to some degree: it has indeed been the cause of much strife. But speaking from a philosopher’s perspective, I have to insist that the actions of supposed adherents to a philosophy or religion can’t validate or invalidate said philosophy/religion. It still might be true.

    But if we lay that aside for now, I would like to know why you assume that an all-powerful God etc shouldn’t be offended by the actions of people.

    On the subject of reason, I disagree most vehemently. It is obvious to me (and is clear in the Bible) that a Christian should not accept blindly and without reason or intellect. That would be not only incomplete faith, but no faith at all. How could we have confidence in what we believe without reason?

    If God is the origin of all reason (if reason is an aspect of God) then to dismiss, or not use, reason is to worship a God with bits missing: which may be idolatry. It would be like Christianity without love, or holiness.

    Applyingmybeliefs
    I agree with you: our understanding will always be incomplete. But I do believe that this is a human-unique condition, not necessarily true. Mainly: given all pertinent knowledge, belief in the Christian God is rational. And I also believe that it is possible to show even now (sometimes) that belief in God is more rational than many alternatives.

    You raise an interesting point about knowledge versus belief. I struggle with this topic quite often: how to avoid solipsism (how can we know something at all). At the moment, I have reached a stage where all I can say is that the possibility of knowledge is a presupposition.

    Etrangere
    Thanks for that. I like the way you use the nature of Jesus in direct Biblical terms as the foundation for reason. I was in brief contact with John Frame’s book, and I will certainly get it again if I can. I also recently read Bahnsen’s debate with Stein on the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God (Bahnsen and Frame have similar views); you might be interested.

  6. applyingmybeliefs says:

    Matt:

    I am in the middle of writing a book, and in it I discuss what the human soul is, and its functional characteristics and how they affect us. My research suggests that taking Romnas 10:9-10 exactly as in is written in the original Greek will lead one to understand, without doubting, that a belief is located in the “heart”. Add to that the quite devasting statement from God in Job 38:2, “who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge”, which reminds us by omission that belief is not necessary for knowledge to be present. God would have linked the two if they were the same! In fact the whole of this section of Scripture omits belief as an issue. (Knowledge is a functional characteristic of the mind)

    Bottom line, knowledge and belief are completely different.

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