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Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience (1 Peter 3:15b-16a ESV)

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12/10/2004

Faith and Reason, part 1: An Overview 

{This is part one of a multi-part series about Faith and Reason, and the various ways that Christians have tried to reconcile the two.}

There seems to be an attitude among many people today that Christianity -- especially modern Christianity -- is anti-Enlightenment, and anti-intellectual in general. In a recent article , the Asheville Citizen-Times talks about the evangelical Christian goal of repealing the Enlightenment.

Many of us remember the Age of Enlightenment for opening the way to science and technology. It did so by separating the realms of faith and reason and giving preference to reason where conflicts arose between the two.

I'm not sure that the Enlightenment did that, exactly. I think the Enlightenment started the trend toward replacing faith in God with faith in human reason. It was about finding something different to place faith in, rather than separating faith from reason. In fact, the Enlightenment often tried to bring reason INTO matters of faith -- especially when it came to Biblical interpretation methods. The Enlightenment gave rise to the "historical-critical" model of study, which led to the rise of religious liberalism throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

This isn't the place to critique historical-critical hermeneutics, or religious modernism (I'll do that later, though). The point is that the Enlightenment and religious faith were far more intertwined than most people want to admit.

Christians have historically believed that faith and reason went hand in hand. As far back as Tertullian, we've been trying to figure out exactly how they fit together, and we've wavered between saying that they didn't at all (Tertullian) to saying that they were essential to each other (Augustine). And we are still debating this among ourselves, so how can we even begin to think about explaining to others what we think about the subject?

The definition given above sounds a lot like what Francis Schaeffer talks about -- the idea that faith and reason are separate, and cannot tell us anything about each other. Science can tell us all baout how things work, and why things work the way they do, and how to make things work better, but it cannot tell us about God. Faith can tell us all about God, and the supernatural, but it can't tell us anything about the material world -- including how it came to be. I'd agree with Schaeffer that this idea is NOT a working worldview, for a LOT of reasons, which I will address later on in another section.

What I want to do in this series is look at the various ways we've tried to reconcile the two seemingly opposing forces -- faith and reason. In the end, I'll talk about why it's important, and how Christianity can be looked at as a rational worldview. In the next part, I'll take a look at the early Church, and how Tertullian tried to reconcile faith and reason -- and why so many Christians today would agree with him today.


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