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Christian Faith and Reason

Updated on December 18, 2017
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Chris spent 50 years in the Evangelical world as a layman, as a student at a prominent Christian University, and as a missionary and pastor.

Science and Religion

Searching for a Reasonable Faith

I am attempting to take a stand between two philosophical worlds, each of which has played an important part in my intellectual and spiritual development. Faith and reason are often pitted against each other. In this world there are people of faith and people of reason. I believe that both faith and reason are compatible enough to be held simultaneously by a single individual. This has been referred to as a Reasonable Faith.

The Pew Research Poll which I have included in part below shows that the youth of America are opting for a life based primarily on reason. The fact that they are not religiously affiliated does not necessarily mean they have no concept of faith. But it does show a movement away from the faith based living of many older Americans. View the complete poll and results at Pew Research.

Poll Results (partial): What is your religious preference? Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Other, None

No Religious Affiliation
Millennials (Born 1981 or later)
Gen X (Born 1965-81)
Boomer (Born 1946-64)
Silent Gen (Born 1928-45)
Greatest Gen (Born before 1928)

Results taken from Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project

Francis Schaeffer on Faith and Reason

"Every generation of Christians has this problem of learning how to speak meaningfully to its own age. It cannot be solved without an understanding of the changing existential situation which it faces. If we are to communicate the Christian faith effectively, therefore, we must know and understand the thought forms of our own generation.

Philosopher/Theologian Francis Schaeffer, from his book, Escape From Reason.



Faith and Reason: We Need Both

Reason is often considered by Evangelical Christians to be the opposite of faith. At the mention of the word "Reason", many Christians become defensive and set up a false dichotomy between reason and faith.

Let's consider some questions about the process of choosing a particular religion. This should illustrate that all of us use reason when we choose what religion, if any, we will follow.

1. What are the characteristics of God which are acceptable to you? e.g. love, peace, anger, jealousy, justice, mercy, grace.

2. What kind of religion would you choose? e.g. introspection, informality, formality, liturgical, spontaneity.

3. What is the purpose of religion? e.g. theology, fellowship with God, humanitarianism, worship.

4. Is there one true religion, or are all religions legitimate routes to the divine?

5. Is the religion in the place you were raised the right religion?

If you answered these questions in any way at all, then you were using reason. Simply put, reason is thinking. Anyone who has ever become a Christian, has done so as a result of reason.


Faith and Reason are Inclusive, not Exclusive

Reason and faith really do not need to be compared and contrasted. That is like contrasting and comparing doors and door knobs. They are related, but they are designed to perform different functions. Faith was never meant to replace reason, nor reason, faith. They actually enhance and compliment each other. Faith focuses on trusting what has been proven. Reason focuses on knowledge as a basis for trust. A truly balanced life requires both.

I just returned from a vacation. Even though I thought and planned, I had no idea how the vacation would turn out. I put the car in gear and drove out of the driveway as an expression of faith that all would go well. And it did. Reason and faith were necessary for me to have a successful vacation. Reason determines where to go. Faith steps out to begin the journey.

I have already referred to the analogy of a door and doorknob. Reason is the door. Faith is the door knob. Reason shows us which is the correct door. Faith opens it and causes us to pass through.

When a person chooses what to believe, it is reason. When he actually does something practical with that knowledge, it is faith. Faith animates knowledge.

Faith is energy. It is action waiting to be released into a particular direction. A person sets out in faith after they have used reason to choose the direction.

Bill Moyers: On Faith & Reason-Sir John Houghton

The Practical Use of Faith and Reason

Here are several areas in our lives in which both Faith and Reason should play a role:

  • Personal finances. Christians speak of trusting God for their every need. That is faith. The Bible also says that the ant "stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest." Proverbs 6:6-8. This requires planning and reasoning.
  • Dating and marriage. It is appropriate to pray about dating relationships and marriage. But it is also prudent to consider compatibility. This requires thought. Thinking is reasoning.
  • Raising children. Christian parents pray for their children. But is this all that is required to be considered a good parent? Of course not. Raising a child to be a responsible adult requires a plan. Planning is reasoning.

Faith AND Reason, not Faith OR Reason

Faith and Reason are meant to be together, not pitted against one another. They are like peaches and cream, hammers and nails, Bonnie and Clyde. A hammer cannot be driven into a wall so that a picture frame can be hung on it. Neither can a nail drive the hammer into the wall. Each has its unique purpose. Faith and reason are not vying for the same position any more than the hammer is attempting to be a nail. They take their positions next to one another and accomplish many important human tasks.


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