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Faith and Reason, part 2

Photo: Synagogues such as this one in Chorazin on the Sea of Galilee functioned as places of faith and learning for the Jews.

Faith should be enriched through learning, and reason should be chastened by faith. We looked at the first half of this statement in the last blog post. Today, we’ll look at the second half.

Reason should be chastened by faith. Higher institutions of learning often miss the mark on this one, which becomes obvious when we take note of the many universities that began with a Christian mission but have long since drifted from those moorings. In an academic environment, there is always a danger of allowing reason to run roughshod over faith.

Proverbs 9:10 (and 1:7) reminds us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Jeremiah 9:23-24: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom . . . but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.”

1 Corinthians 1:25: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

Throughout church history, theologians such as Augustine and Anselm have reiterated the commitment to “faith seeking understanding.”

All of the above excerpts communicate the idea that reason operates best when it is solidly within the context of a robust devotion to God. We integrate all other learning into a worshipful life with God and a commitment to following Christ over the course of our entire lives. We make sure reason is chastened by faith because when reason functions independently, it can lead us astray, especially in our conclusions about God and his workings (theologians talk about the noetic effects of sin, or the negative influence of sin on our minds and thinking).

We begin a new semester with the desire to finish with a stronger, more enriched faith than before. This requires intentional preparation and ongoing focus. Regular involvement in a healthy local church is essential along the way, since a church by design places its priorities of worship and faith at the front and center. As faith leads the way and learning is done with excellence and humility, may we reach the goal of greater intimacy with God and greater confidence in him.


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Faith and Reason, part 1

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.

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