The Reasonable, Evidential Nature of Christian Faith
Skeptics sometimes portray Christians as both “unreasonable” and “unreasoning”. The Christian culture only exacerbates the problem when it advocates for a definition of “faith” removed from evidence. Is true faith blind? How are true believers to respond to doubt? What is the relationship between faith and reason? Richard Dawkins once said:
“Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that.”
This view of Christian belief is common among skeptics and believers alike. Critics think Christians accept truth claims without any evidential support and many Christians embrace the claims of Christianity unaware of the strong evidence supporting our worldview. Dawkins is correct when he argues against forming beliefs without evidence. People who accept truth claims without any examination or need for evidence are prone to believing myths and making bad decisions.
Christians Are Called to A Reasonable Faith
Christians, however, are not called to make decisions without good evidence. The God of the Bible does not call his children to obey blindly. The Gospels are themselves an important form of direct evidence; the testimony of eyewitnesses who observed the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s why the scriptures repeatedly call us to have a reasoned belief in Christ, and not to resort to the behavior of unreasoning animals:
Jude 4, 10
For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ…But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.
The Bible uses this word for “unreasoning” in a pejorative manner; to be unreasoning is to act like a brute animal. God clearly wants more from beings created in His image.
Christians Are Called to An Examined Faith
In fact, God wants us to examine all the evidence at our disposal and to study the things of God with great intensity. When we do this, we truly begin to worship Him with our mind:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment.”
This kind of faith is unafraid of challenges. In fact, Christians are encouraged to examine what they believe critically so they can be fully convinced:
1 Thessalonians 5:19-21
Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good…
1 John 4:1
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.
2 Timothy 3:14
You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them…
Christians Are Called to An Evidential Faith
Critical examination requires us to investigate the evidence, and God holds evidence in high regard. He wants us to be convinced after we examine the facts. Jesus valued evidence and continually provided evidence to make his case:
“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”
Jesus continued to provide evidence to the disciples, even after the Resurrection:
…until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.
The earliest Christians understood the connection between reason, evidence and faith, and they did not see these concepts as mutually exclusive. In fact, Paul often used direct evidence to make his case for Christianity:
“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead
Christians Are Called to A Case-Making Faith
When believers use their minds, investigate the evidence and become convinced, something wonderful happens: We have the courage to defend what we believe using the same evidence, logic and reasoning power we used to come to faith in the first place:
1 Peter 3:15
…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence…
Christians in all disciplines of inquiry and discovery have used their reasoning power to investigate the evidence. Christians are not irrational, and Christian faith is not blind. The rich intellectual history of Christianity calls each of us to have a reasonable, examined, evidential, case-making faith. This kind of faith honors God and withstands skeptical criticism and personal doubt.
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