by Dr. James D. Bales
Because Christianity speaks of faith, there are those who assume that it is contrary to reason. They divide the world into those who walk by faith and those who walk by reason. Those who walk by faith belong to the “age of faith” which has been discredited and replaced by the “age of reason.” The freedom of the mind is all important; therefore, they discredit Christianity because they think that it fetters thought.
As a matter of fact, the world is not divided into those who walk by sight and those who walk by faith. All have some faith and all use reason to some extent. Even the atheist believes. He believes that matter is eternal, that the universe is self-contained and self-explained, that dead matter created life, that non-thinking matter created man with his power of thought, that non-moral matter created man who is often even tormented by the accusing cry of a guilty conscience when he fails to respond to the call of duty, and that non-religious matter created man with his religious aspirations which are so much a part of him that when he denies God he usually turns, sooner or later, to some substitute for God. On the other hand, the Christian who is a believer uses reason; as we shall shortly emphasize.
Christianity Does Not Fetter Thought
Some friends of Christianity, as well as some of its enemies, have overlooked the fact that God has called on man to love and serve Him with all one’s heart, soul, strength, and mind (Matt. 22:37). Faith, as set forth in the Bible is the friend, not the enemy, of reason. Faith goes beyond reason, and it is my conviction that it is reasonable that it should do so, but faith is not an irrational leap which is taken without reason and contrary to reason. The Christian uses reason, in relationship to his faith, in at least three different areas. First, reason is used in evaluating the credentials of Christ. Men were never called on, by the apostles and prophets, to accept Christ for no reason at all. For example, on Pentecost the apostles gave men at least four of the credentials of Christ. (a) The fulfillment of prophecy. (b) His miracles which they had witnessed (Acts 2:22). (c) The resurrection of Jesus Christ, whereof the apostles were reliable witnesses (Acts 2:32). (d) The miracles which took place on the very day, before the very eyes and ears of the assembled multitude (Acts 2:34,1-4). To what conclusion did these credentials lead? “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified” (Acts 2:36). The apostles not only gave a reasoned defense of the faith, but they also called on Christians to be ready to give answer — to make a reasoned defense — of their faith (1 Pet. 3:15). In other words we are to use our minds in the area of Christian Evidences. We not only are to evaluate the credentials of Christ, but we are also to examine the various attacks which are made on Christ and the faith.
Second, we must use our minds in order to study the teaching of Jesus Christ. We do not get it by direct inspiration, but by perspiration as we study the word of God. Since we shall be judged by Him and His word, we should study and live by faith in Him and reliance on, and obedience to, His word. How are we to grow in knowledge of His word, as we are commanded to do, if we do not study? (2 Pet. 3:18).
Third, we are to use our minds in order to know how to apply the principles of Christ. The golden rule is rather easy to commit to memory but it is not as easy to commit to life. We speak not only of the difficulty at times of doing what we know to be right, but also of the difficulty in deciding in some conditions just what course one must follow in order to follow the golden rule in that particular situation. There are situations where the golden rule would say that the best thing we can do for a particular person is to give him some justice. Sometimes we would give to the one who asked us, while in other cases the golden rule would say that if a man will not work neither should he eat.
Since the mind is to be used in at least these three areas, it is foolish — yea, it is unreasonable — to say that Christianity discredits the use of the mind. Faith is involved, and we are to believe through when we cannot see through, but reason is not discredited when the evidence shows that we must transcend reason.
Although it would take a great deal of time and study to probe into the matter, it can be shown that where Christianity and its principles flourish science itself makes increasing progress. Science would be impossible in a thoroughly animistic society for such a society views all things as under the control of arbitrary spirits. The Biblical concept of God and His law-abiding universe furnishes an environment in which science is encouraged.
There are many men who have believed, and who do believe, in God and the Bible, and who have made great contributions to science: What scientific investigation, unless it leads one to violate moral law, does the Bible keep one from being involved in? In fact, the type of mind which the Bible teaches is essential for the reception of the word of truth of the gospel is also the type which is receptive to the word of truth in other realms. These include the willingness to listen, the honest heart which seeks to prove all things without being misled by passions, pride and prejudice. (Matt. 13:15-16; Luke 8:15; 2 Tim. 4:3-4; 1 Thess. 2:10-12; 5:21)
Unbelief Fetters Thought
The philosophy of materialism leaves no room for rational thought. If man is but matter in motion his thinking is simply a material reaction to other motions of matter. One thinks as he thinks because of his internal and external physical conditions. He who says “I think” is saying the same thing as he who says “I itch.” In both cases, a physical sensation, physically produced, is being described. No one could know that any thought was a rational insight into reality. All thoughts would be equally true for all would be the inevitable results of the particular physical pressures which cause them. When rationality is denied, it is impossible to speak of the freedom of thought. Unless the scientist, as a rational being, exists science is impossible. Materialism, and not the Biblical position that man is a rational being created in God’s image, fetters thought.
Some philosophies and psychologies which try to get away from crass materialism, may yet affirm some form of strict determinism. If the philosophies and psychologies of determinism are true, thought is bound indeed.
There are other philosophies which maintain that our thoughts are but the inevitable reflection of our class standing in society, while others say that all thinking is but a rationalization of our selfish interests or of our fantasies. Again unbelief, not faith in Christ, fetters thought.
Moral relativism, when followed consistently, keeps one from thinking on moral problems, and yet this is a vital area in which the mind ought to be used. Epistemological relativism destroys thought at its very roots, and such a relativist is in no position to cry out that Christianity fetters thought. He wouldn’t know what Christianity is in the first place, nor whether it fetters thought in the second place, nor whether, in the third place, he was sure that he has claimed that Christianity fetters thought.
Atheism fetters thought, for it tries to keep men from thinking about God, about man’s moral and spiritual nature, about man’s duty, about man’s glorious destiny in Christ, and his wretchedness apart from Christ.
Christians ought not to be arrogant, but when we consider the irrational positions of many unbelievers, we have no reason to go around with our heads bowed in shame because we are believers in Christ and because they claim to be men who walk by reason. Through loving God with all of our mind, as well as with the rest of our being, let us demonstrate that Christianity does not fetter thought but that it frees the mind and spirit of man so that man can grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and in his understanding of the world around him as well as the vast realm of reality within man.