Why Have Faith in Jesus? Is It Reason vs. Revelation?

Awhile back, Gospel Coalition writer Jason Helopoulos wrote an article called Evangelism, Reason, and Fath. It illustrated an important problem with the modern Christian understanding of these topics.

Helopoulos set up the common (and false) dichotomy between reason and faith. His article revealed a mystical approach to what knowledge is and to why we have faith in Jesus.

At FTNCI, we believe in helping people value their own reason. We have to argue against Helopoulos on this topic.

This article will briefly note what is wrong with Helopoulos’ presuppositional approach to knowledge.

Helopoulos writes:

“We do not dismiss reason or experience, but clearly articulate that they are not the gateway to truth.”

Contrast that view with Peter’s in Acts 2:22:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.”

Here, Peter tells the crowd to believe in Jesus because they have experienced his miracles, and it is reasonable to believe his claim to deity. Experience and reason are treated as the gateway to truth.

But Helopoulos writes the following:

“Rationalism, not Christianity, believes that reason is the fundamental source for knowing and explaining the world.”

I challenge him to name the scriptural support for his claim. In fact, “Experiencing” and “reasoning” are the only possible means of knowing and explaining.

Helopoulos’ word choice of “source” is potentially confusing. We should carefully distinguish between a method of knowledge and a source of knowledge. Reasoning is the method of thinking.

Helopoulos writes:

“John Lock (sic), the famous empiricist, said, ‘I experience in order to believe.’ Both rationalism and empiricism have an overbearing optimism when it comes to reason. The only issue is whether reason is more important than experience or secondary to it. This runaway optimism in reason has no place for revelation. As Christians, we assert that revelation has the primary and principle place.”

Here, he has mis-characterized John Locke.

According to Karl Heussi’s Kompendium der Kirchengeschichte (1956), Locke believed in verbal inspiration of Scripture, and followed Scripture loyally.

In The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695), Locke agreed with the apostle Peter that we should trust in God because of the evidence of divine miracles. Locke, not Helopoulos, is in line with Christian tradition on this point.

Where does Helopoulos go wrong?

One error is setting reason against revelation, as if reason were not required in order to grasp revelation. In fact, the normal ways that people gain knowledge all involve applying reason and experience.

This point is true even when we read Scripture. To understand what we are reading, we need to have developed the ability to use concepts and apply them in normal life so that we can have an idea of what the concepts in Scripture are referring to.

Reason processes the material of all experience, including the material of the words of others. As God’s word, revelation comes to us as one kind of experience.

Locke did not intend to set his reason against revelation. He merely pointed out that, before one can believe a claim from a deity, he must have some reason to believe the claim is authoritative and not a hoax.

When Locke said “I experience in order to believe,” he was pointing out the non-optional need for experience to precede knowledge.

What is the alternative? It would be to affirm something like the following:

  • Without revelation there can, in fact, be no true and certain knowledge. -Reason won’t win the day.
  • -We know Christ… but we did not come to this knowledge by reason.
  • -I believe so that I may understand.

Those are all claims found in Helopoulous’ article.

Unfortunately, this is absurd. And it is mysticism.

To know means to know by reason.

While I would, perhaps, agree with Helopoulos on some issues, Epistemology is not one of them. In the anti-reason approach I see the “scandal of the evangelical mind” — lazy dogmatism.

I see fodder for our opponents.

That said, no Christian should disagree with Helopoulos as he quotes the following: “Anyone who comes to Him, comes to Him by faith.”

Helopoulos is right that people must choose to believe, and we cannot make them. Also, he is right that faith is ultimately a gift from God.

But we should think carefully about his disparagement of reason.

Acts 17:2 reports: “And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures.”

Like Paul, let us not merely assert Scripture: let us reason from it.

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