A new semester is about to begin. Students are settling into dorms, professors are preparing syllabi, and all of us are about to embark on a journey of faith and reason. How should we think about this relationship between faith and reason? Here’s an attempt:
Faith should be enriched through learning, and reason should be chastened by faith.
First, faith is enriched through learning. We tend to assume this as a given in Christian higher education, and rightly so. From the creation mandate of Genesis 1:26-28 to the creation wisdom of Proverbs to the new creation vision of Isaiah, Revelation, and elsewhere, believers are invited to make creative and productive use of the resources of this world and the learning available to us.
Consider this new creation vision of work in Isaiah 65:21-23:
“They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit . . . My chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not toil in vain.”
The new creation will be characterized by creative, fruitful work, in fulfillment of the original creation mandate of Genesis 1. Beneficial work in this world connects us back to what we were created for and points us forward to the ultimate new creation that God is preparing.
Preparing for meaningful work requires thinking, creating, observing, learning, experimenting – things we do in higher education. For those who prepare well, there can be great opportunity: “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings” (Proverbs 22:29). A commitment to learning, curiosity, persistence, and excellence in our schooling equips us to bless people and make a difference in our world.
The book of Proverbs beckons us to gain insight both from knowledge shared by others (Prov 1:1-6) and from observations about the natural world (Prov 30:24-33). Attentiveness to the world around us enriches our appreciation for the order, beauty, and complexity of God’s creation and our place in it (Psalm 8:3-8).
Reason should be seen as one of God’s good gifts to us (1 Timothy 4:4, James 1:17), leading us to lives of wisdom, fruitfulness, and worship (Romans 11:33-36; James 3:13). This brings us to the second half of the equation – that reason should be chastened by faith. We will look at this second point later this week.