Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Age of Reason

This past Sunday I had a conversation that seriously provoked my spirit. Now, I don't use phrases like "provoked my spirit" very often, nor do I use them lightly. A student approached me after my lesson and challenged something I had said. Working through 1 John 2:18-27, I had taught essentially that our faith is a revealed religion. While it is reasonable, you cannot attain faith through reason alone. It requires a work of the Spirit. This student insisted that it can be attained by reason alone, and that he had done so. He has arrived at this view by studying, among other things, Aquinas' Summa Theologica and the five proofs for God contained therein. His simple logic was this: If it is reasonable, then reason can get us there. I tried to respond with logic and point out the many consequences of such a view. I pointed to church history and the essential semi-pelagian quality of his view. I opened the Word and showed him 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:16 [Read this now by clicking on it if you are not familiar with it]. It turns out, he doesn't think much of the Word. How ironic! In his zeal to defend the reasonableness of the gospel, he has essentially lost the message of the gospel.

Christian, do not ever for a moment become so full of hubris, so enamored of your own mind, that you lose sight of the fact that you have been graciously saved by a God who condescended into His creation and revealed Himself supernaturally to us, "while we were yet sinners." Our faith is reasonable. But reason cannot generate faith. Understanding? Yes. Assent? Certainly. But personal trust? Never. Salvation is a work of God alone.


Mike said...

Wow Matt. I sometimes allow myself to engage in debates for the purpose of winning the debate rather than seeking the Truth. It is really a pitfall for me.

But there are so many things that I don't understand about God that it keeps me from thinking that anyone could reason themselves to faith without the intervening work of God.

Thanks for the e-mails Matt! Hope things are slowing down for you for a bit.


Matthew Bradley said...

Yes, Mike. Humility is the appropriate posture in all our service to God. Augustine said, "Believe in order to understand." I think this is what many mean when they speak of "faith seeking understanding."

Glad to help you think through some things in the emails. They've been helpful for me as well. I've still got one in the cue that I'll try to get to soon.

M. Jay Bennett said...

"There is something in humility that strangely exalts the heart."-- St. Augustine.

Great post Matt! How tempting it is to commit the sin of thinking we found God on our own and exalt ourselves in our inflated self-perceptions.

Scripture says we can't find God, not only because we are totally depraved, but because in order to find something you must first not have it. But Scripture teaches that all mankind knows God, since he has revealed himself clearly through his creation (Rom. 1:20). We don't need to discover a pathway to God; we need a heart change via the Spirit and the Word so that, by Christ, we will walk the path we are born knowing.

Mike said...

By the way, I don't even remember what the e-mail you haven't answered yet is even about. *lol*


Thom said...

Matt, thank you so much for posting this, and for the obviously patient and grounded reply you gave to this young man. His story, with your response, is a helpful word to any of us who, in seeking the truth, have perhaps read a little too much. For myself, the older I get and the more I learn, the more I see that if some kind of arrived point of knowledge were a requirement, then all of us would be damned, for there is always the next question, the hidden assumption which must be checked, the historical context which must be understood, the historical responses that were made, and that elusive point where the argument is today. Google is, in this sense, an icon that proves to us that it is impossible to truly know anything, and foolish to risk our very selves upon the sum of such an equation. And the more I see that faith is the proper response of the creature. It is not inappropriate, but perfectly appropriate. What we know is creature knowledge, after all. That is what Google tells us. Thank God that our election is God-breathed (Gen. 1.1), for that means it is merciful. And thank God it is a salvation by inheritance--by relationship and to relationship--because it means that our hope encompasses much more than our minds, but our bodies, our emotions, our passions, our hopes, and all that make us more than computer chips. I've lost my way a bit in this response, but I hope that this young man will come to realize he is more than a computer, and that salvation casts a net wide enough to encompass trees and stones that don't have letters or numbers written on them. His soteriology is cramped by his own anemic anthropology. Perhaps when he knows more of the spectrum of human experience, he will come to see that it has all been assumed so that it may all be glorified.

Matthew Bradley said...

Thanks for your thoughts Thom. I've just sent you a quick email. I hope we can get together in April...very much looking forward to catching up!