Crossroad: Where faith meets its reason

This post is prompted by a lot of thoughts and a lot of posts that have been posted along the way. It is a series of blog posts that list down and consolidated my thoughts towards faith and particularly against the pain in the ass philosophy known as fideism. I chose to target fideism because firstly, the philosophy offers me a good case study to think deeper what faith really is and secondly, it is the first philosophy worldview that stumped me, due to its pro-Christian outlook. But the main thing to talk about here is faith, and yet, I have to start off first with fideism, depending a lot on Norman Giesler's work in the first part of my critique.

Several philosophers have advocated fideism as a worldview towards truth and revelation. Out of these philosophers included Cornelius Van Til, Karl Barth, Blaise Pascal and Soren Kierkegaard. While each of them would advocate different version of fideism, their fideism commonly stresses that:

  1. Faith alone is the way to God and the only way to the truth about God is through faith. God cannot be attained by human reason which often hinders or obscures the knowledge of God.
  2. Truth is not found in the purely rational or objective realm, if it is there at all. Religious truth does not have an objective basis or character. Truth is subjective and personal, not objective or propositional. 
  3. Evidence and reason do not point definitively in the direction of God. On the contrary, one is left by reason in a state of equipollence or even paradox. 
  4. The tests for truth are existential, not rational. It is tested personally in one's life by submitting to God. 
  5. Not only God's revelation but his grace is the source of all truth. Truth comes from top down. If man could know by natural reason, God's grace would be negated and human works would be established as a means of knowing God. 
There are certainly positive contributions of fideism to our thinking about God. Otherwise, people would not have found fideism attractive as a Christian worldview. Some of the positive contributions include:
  1. Fideism's anti-rationalistic emphasis helps us to realise that man can neither rationally comprehend nor logically demonstrate the existence of the transcendent God. Rationalistic method alone is gruesomely insufficient. Think about it, our dear Spinoza was able to reach the conclusion of pantheism through rationalistic reasoning. This alone demonstrate rational reasoning does not help us to get a certain knowledge of God. 
  2. Fideists are right that neither evidence nor reason is the basis for one's commitment to God. A believer cannot love God on the basis of objective evidence, which alone cannot induce a religious response. 
  3. Fideism is also right in establishing that faith is volitional and more than intellectual. When one believes in God, he does not only commit his own mind, but his very being, the whole person. 
Though there are more, I shall move on to my main critique of fideism and then go on to examine how we should approach this topic of faith. In spite of the many important insights that fideist philosophers have offered to the Christian worldview, the nail in the coffin flaw about this worldview is that it is almost as unbiblical as rationalism and empiricism. Fideists confuse epistemology and ontology altogether and fail to distinguish the order of knowing and the order of being. Their philosophy begs the question how they know that there is a God. God may indeed have revealed Himself, but how do they know that the bible is the Word of God and not the Vedas, not the Koran, not the Talmud? In this, they fail to establish a case to determine their truth from error. Indeed, as Norman Giesler pointed out, if there is a God and all truth comes from him, it should follow that the very criteria for determining truth from error will be God-given. 

Secondly, it also fails to distinguish belief in and belief that there is a God. One must certainly have some form of evidence to warrant his belief that God exists and the Christian God is the one to commit to if he is to make an existential commitment. It's just like taking a leap of faith to embrace someone's wife thinking that she is your own wife without even ascertaining the facts first. The only reason why the early Christians were able to be martyred and remained faithful to Christ is because they saw the living Christ and that was the warrant they needed for assurance that the other things Jesus said in His lifetime about His Second Coming will come to pass. Without that warrant, I would say Christianity would never have lasted.

Thirdly, fideism does not distinguish between the basis of belief and the warrant for the belief. It is true that evidence and reason should not be the basis for our faith and belief, but it doesn't mean that these cannot act as a warrant for our belief. More on this later as I talk about the basis for our faith. 

Fourthly, I don't think the propositional and the personal are that mutually exclusive. When the authors of the bible wrote the books, they were offering propositional truth about God and His Kingdom that must be experienced personally. 

Finally, either fideism makes a truth claim or it does not. Any truth claim must have a truth test, which fideism does not have. But if fideism does not make a truth claim, we can jolly well toss the worldview out of the window because it would be meaningless to make a non-truth claim about truth and God. This is a dilemma for fideists, because either they make justification to cement their truth claim, in which case they will contradict themselves, or they make no justification, which makes them look pathetic. As implied earlier, a true defense of any truth claim must deal with the evidences that challenge or contradict it. Truth is not only a matter of offense, in that it makes certain assertions, but also a matter of defense, in that it must be able to make a cogent and sensible response to the counterpoint that are raised. This is precisely why Christianity and Jesus are so unique. The truth claims of Jesus and His teachings can be subjected to the test of truth, by all definitions for test of truth. 

So where do we go from here? I have roughly outlined Norman Giesler's argument about fideism. But this serves as a useful prelude (as well as a good time of philosophical bashing) to move myself deeper into this topic of faith. Again, here I stand at the shoulder of giants who have walked before me and paved the way for my own understanding how faith should be approached. In fact, at this point perhaps, it would be a summation of the thoughts that I posted in related posts so far. 

We often say and remind each other to have faith. This is something that MLM people are particularly good at. But faith in what? Before that question is answered, we need to know what faith is. Previously, I have stated that faith is the commitment to Jesus Christ. The faith mentioned in the bible is not antithetical to reason. It is not just a will to believe and not a redisposition to force every piece of information to fit into the mold of one's desire. Faith in the biblical sense is substantive. Indeed, as Ravi Zacharias put it beautifully, faith is the confidence in the person of Jesus Christ and in His powers, so that even when His power does not serve my end, my confidence in Him remains because of who He is. 

The book of Hebrews, perhaps one of the few books that talk about faith (and cause a lot of misunderstanding for those who don't read carefully enough), says it best here:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess - Hebrews 4:14
Now what is faith based in? Faith is not just volitionally believing in God without reason. Hebrews tell us that faith is the commitment to Jesus Christ, our confidence in Him. That's why the author of Hebrews can say later that faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance of what we do not see. Because the Person, Jesus, forms the base of it, without which that statement would never have made any sense. And I have people quoting me Hebrews 11:1 without the earlier reference to Hebrews 4:14 as if the two verses are completely unrelated to one another.

Now there are implications to this understanding. This means to me that our faith must be based on the Person and the character of Jesus Christ, and not our circumstances and feelings, an unmentioned danger point in fideistic philosophy (for the reason that it has no anchor for which the worldview can anchor itself on). It also means to me that reason is permissible as part of the process of finding and establishing this faith, because I am dealing with a Person, not a concept or a feeling. True, it does not start with reason and does not end with reason, but reason at some point must come in if I am to put my trust in the Person of Jesus Christ.

In actual fact, the names in Hebrews 11, these people all had evidence and reason for their belief and perpetual trust in God. To name a few, Abraham could trust God partly because of the promise fulfilled in Issac, even to the point of sacrificing Issac on the altar. Moses could trust God because He saw the miracles of the Ten Plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the Manna and Quail. Rahab trusted God because she heard how God blessed Israel (please read the whole bible to get the context and not just Hebrews alone).

In fact, may I suggest that in most of these cases, the point of contention is not in God's existence but in Yahweh's character. Let me explain, if one is to read through the whole bible, one would be amazed that the supernatural is a given in the world of the OT and the NT. People worship God and gods all over the place. Therefore, the struggle today of atheism vs theism is not the struggle of the day. Their struggle was in the character of Yahweh their God, especially when things did not go their way apparently. And this is indeed something that still happens today. When things do not go our way, we begin to doubt God and start turning away from Him. Peter then would ask a very good question in John 6:68 when he replied Jesus' question, "to whom shall we go?" Turning away from God and abandoning our faith in Him means turning towards other things in life.

Our problem, therefore, is not the lack of evidence that God exists or the lack of evidence of His character. Our problem becomes a volitional one (which then agrees with fideism in part), for the book of Romans clearly says that we "suppress the truth by our wickedness". In Romans 1, it says that God's invisible qualities can clearly be seen in His creations. We have no excuse in natural revelation that we do not know the existence of God. There are evidence for us to know that. It then boils down to our heart, if we want to believe in God and trust in His character. Intent precedes contents. Didn't Jesus also say that seek and you will find? So how can those who do not seek find?

It was as Jesus said:
To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: "We play the flute for you and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry" For John the Bapist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, "he has a demon". The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, "Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners". But wisdom is proved right by all her children. - Luke 7:31-35
So faith is our confidence in the Person of Jesus Christ. It does not materialise out of nowhere. It cannot be based solely on reason, cannot be based solely on volition and cannot be based solely on circumstances. But because of this, reason can come into play. Because of this, our feeling can come into play. Because of this, our circumstances can come into play. All because of the Person of Christ. Because Jesus is the basis of our faith, history, science, philosophy, and other disciplines can come together to establish a case for Him. It is at the Cross Road where faith meets its reason.

When the psalmist wrote, "come and taste that the LORD is good", he means come and experience it for yourself. It can be proven like how you taste honey and bread. But the step of wanting to taste it must first be taken.

It is the step of faith.


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