The question is usually framed a little differently in apologetic or philosophical parlance. Is Christian belief rational? While many apologists would contend that such a question is best asked of the apologist, or the Christian philosopher, I think it’s best asked of the Christian theologian. Then again, I am a wee bit biased. The task of Christian theology never really ends. It never ends because it must constantly respond to old ideas packaged in new wrappings that continue their age-old objective of contradicting Christ. And the question before us today is no different. Some would say that I am being a bit sarcastic for framing the title the way I have and I suppose there might be a degree of truth in that.
In a recent debate between Sye Bruggencate and Eric Hernandez, Eric made the following claim: “Faith is a confidence based on knowledge.” Now, the debate concerns apologetic method, and in particular, evidentialist vs. presuppositional methodologies in Christian apologetics. To be sure, Eric’s description of faith is what I want to zero in on because I think it is here that most of our differences reside. Regarding Eric’s understanding of faith, and that of most evidentialists, this is exactly what Wolfhart Pannenberg would say about faith as well. Faith is limited to that historical evidence that is accessible to reason. Many of these modern apologists seem oblivious to the fact that their understanding of faith is informed by the enlightenment move rather than by Scripture. Rather than challenge the methods introduced by the historical-critical method, theologians retreated into mythology and bowed to the majesty of human reason. It all began with John Locke. Evangelicalism had accepted the scientific method without question and the historical critical model that she brought with her. Christianity bragged that science was her best friend and there was nothing to fear: science would only always join Christianity in lock-step (pun intended) and proclaim her undying loyalty. Everything was going just swimmingly until Robert and Susannah Darwin decided that four children were not enough. Enter their fifth child, Charles.
It was like a bad dream. The Christian family had an informant among them. It would be men like Charles Darwin who would redefine science, Christianity’s bedfellow, only to have that friendship shattered by the most brutal betrayal of all time. Since the theologians had built their theology upon the assumptions of the principle of inference and scientific method, they were impotent against the attacks that science would unleash against them. Human knowledge would come through the senses. The role of the human mind would be paramount in discovering truth, in attaining true knowledge, in achieving rational thought altogether. Since the Christian theologians were committed to the inductive principle, they reasoned that the truth of Christianity could be arrived at the same as any other truth. After all, all truth is God’s truth and if induction works everywhere else based on natural law, why shouldn’t it work here as well? Now, revelation must submit to reason for its rite of passage. Even the Christian canon, Scripture, would have to give way to the canons of human reason. The final authority for how faith would be defined and even what we believe about the nature of Scripture would have to pass the tests of autonomous human reason. And so it remains true today of evidential apologetics as Eric Hernandez so aptly demonstrates.
According to the evidentialist, the Christian faith is not a faith that serves as the necessary precondition for knowledge. The regenerate and unregenerate mind alike is of the same structure and capable of making the same evaluation of truth-claims. This is a faith that is limited by autonomous human reason. Our faith can go no further than our knowledge can take us. And since that knowledge can never attain certainty, and could be wrong at any point along the way, our faith is always subject to revision, perhaps even a radical revision depending on how human knowledge goes. And since we cannot gain certainty in this arena, then the theological concept of the certainty of faith collapses within the evidentialist scheme. The evidentialist way of defending the Christian faith actually reduces it to a naturalistic exercise and in the end, unwittingly destroys Christianity by destroying its most basic claims about the nature of human beings: without Christ, we are dead in trespasses and sins.
However, Henriette and Jan Fredik Kuijper would contribute to this conversation by way of their son, Abraham. It was Abraham Kuyper’s observations of the movements taking place within evangelicalism that should grab our attention. Kuyper rejected the speculations of rationalism and of enlightenment philosophy, holding fast to his reformed Dutch theology, and more specifically, to a distinctly biblical epistemology. Kuyper pointed out that it was devastating to the Christian faith to ignore the noetic effects of sin on the unregenerate mind. Nothing is more fundamental to Christianity than that we are utterly hopeless and helpless without the work of Christ. And that work must be supernaturally applied to our person, indeed, our minds, through the agency of the Holy Spirit. It is through that work alone that men come into the true knowledge of God, of Christ, of God’s revelation of Scripture. Kuyper argues that God as revealed in Scripture is known by us, not as a conclusion of an argument but as a primary truth immediately apprehended as the result of spiritual communication to the human consciousness. Kuyper saw knowledge as an entire noetic structure while the evidentialist take the inductivist approach. The evidentialists unwittingly place themselves in a no-win situation, supposing that such evidence and arguments constituted conclusive arguments for the truth of Christianity. [Faith and Rationality]
Is Christian belief rational? If by rational you mean, does it meet the rational criteria demanded by the unregenerate mind, the answer is no. For the pagans, blasphemers, God-haters, and the lawless, Christian belief is not rational. How do I know this? For the word 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) According to Paul, Christian belief is moria, or moronic, to those who are unregenerate. This raises the question, why are we attempting to make Christian belief rational to someone who’s very state does not possess the necessary structure to make it so? Why then do we engage the unbeliever at all? We engage because we love to obey God and God commands us to engage. So, doesn’t God use imperfect declarations of his truth, even poor arguments to win men to himself? I suppose he can and does. But that misses the point. When I engage the unbeliever, my goal should be to follow God’s method, to honor His truth, to stay true to His message, not to see results. So the idea that it works is no excuse to slack in this area. Christian belief is rational to the truly rational mind: the mind of God.