In my last post, I promised that I would be discussing why what I’ve said so far matters. After all, the Bible never uses the phrases “disconfirmation bias” or “intellectual dishonesty” or “engaging the opposition.” The number of times the word “reason” is used in the NIV – at least in this context – can be counted on one hand. At the same time, faith is what justifies us before the Lord and enables us to receive his great gift of eternal life. So why am I making such a big deal out of this silly little thing called reason? Well, there are two main categories of purpose: one is external and one is internal. This post, I’ll focus on the external purposes: evangelism and pastoral obligation.
In 1 Corinthians 9:22, Paul says, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” If we are to become all things to all men, and some men use reason, then we must learn to use reason. It’s that simple. Although God is certainly not restricted from moving the hearts of men, there are many people who will not be converted without evidence and rational arguments. Paul clearly understood this; in Acts 17 and 18, “he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.” We see that Paul used his reason to bring more people to his faith. For Paul, the two were not opposed, but complement each other.
This is not the attitude that most modern people have; most would say, as Steven Pinker did, that “faith is believing something without a good reason to believe it.” If we hope to reach out to lovers of reason like Pinker, we cannot deride reason and preach faith. We must use reason to justify our faith. We must show them that following the path of reason will lead to faith. If we are correct in our beliefs, surely the Author of the universe who designed logic itself made it to lead to him.
If someone asks us what compels us to believe in something as miraculous as God sending his Son to redeem our souls, “faith” is not a sufficient answer. “Faith” will not persuade them. Reason will. Reason is one of the tools we use for promoting our faith, for spreading the truth about salvation. This is why we are told, in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
Yet reason is not only a tool to bring the lost into the fold, but to keep Christians faithful. One of my friends struggled with doubts about Christianity when she was in the eighth grade, and the response of those in her church was to have faith, to not think about it, to not try to be God. Rather than recognizing her need for reasons for belief, rather than encouraging her to use the mind that God has given her, rather than acknowledging the role that reason should play in religion, her pastors stifled her questions and demanded that she hold fast to her faith without offering real evidence or logic to support it. Needless to say, she is no longer a Christian.
If she had been encouraged to pursue these questions and seek their answers, if she had not been stifled and reprimanded for doubts, if she had been told that God loved her mind and wanted her to use it, she might still be a Christian today. Rather than recognizing that she has been blessed with the gift of doubt, the pastors in her church tried to transform her into another part of the body. Her former church has lost a valuable part and an amazingly talented contributor to the community.
As Christians, we must develop our logic and refine our reasons for our faith in order to lovingly help our more skeptical siblings in Christ. James 5:19-20 tells us, “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” So long as we hope to save all of our brothers and sisters from death, we sometimes must rely on reason to ground our faith. We must use reason to help keep the church faithful.