“They who strive to build up firm faith in Scripture through disputation are doing things backwards… Since for unbelieving men religion seems to stand by opinion alone, they, in order not to believe anything foolishly or lightly, both wish and demand rational proof that Moses and the prophets spoke divinely.
But I reply: the testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. For as God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded.
By this power we are drawn and inflamed, knowingly and willingly, to obey him, yet also more vitally and more effectively than by mere human willing or knowing… I speak of nothing other than what each believer experiences within himself.”
(John Calvin, quoted in Iain Murray, Evangelicalism Divided, 157-158)
Why frame the answer as a battle between faith and reason? Is it not this school of thought that has made Christianity inaccessible to modern seculars?
Hey Dan 🙂
Calvin was certainly not one to despise reason (see his Institutes). But he would argue (like Augustine) that “we believe in order to know (credo ut intelligam)”, rather than knowing in order to believe. I think those of us who follow Christ know this instinctively. We gain much from examining the evidence for the resurrection using our faculties of reason, but ultimately, faith comes not from our own reasoning, but from God as a gift (2 Cor 4:6)
Calvin believed that no man is without the light of reason, and that reason is an excellent thing in its proper place. It’s not the master of faith, but an indispensable servant – and it has an essential role to play in the task of faith seeking understanding.
So he’s not pitting faith against reason, just getting them in their right place.
Thank you for posting this, it’s exactly where my brother is right now (after having a huge conversation with him yesterday); so it’s very helpful. Yet very frustrating. He is trying to ‘reason’ out faith and I hope it’s because it’s something he wants for himself (whether he truly knows it right now or not). He is trying to understand why people are Christians and is reading some books, but is getting annoyed with the ‘because scripture says so bit’ which is in all these books. This of course is not logical to a non Christian. I think you only ‘understand’ scripture through faith, so reading a thousand books will not help! Trying to explain that faith is a ‘gift from God’ which were exactly the words I used yesterday is just inexplicable, yet he wants me to articulate it so that he can ‘understand’ it. All I can hope for is that his heart has been opened a chink and that the Holy Spirit will come flooding in. I know my prayers will help (I hope!) but ultimately this gift is not in my hands to give. I almost can’t bear to wait for this to happen. It might not. Which leaves me the hanging question of why then is this gift given to some and not others? I know we have free will, but I feel he is seeking, he is on the edge of stepping forward; I just wish God would give him a great big shove 🙂
Brother, I strongly sympathise!
On the “because Scripture says so” argument… I think it’s possible for a non-Christian to acknowledge (if not like!) the logic. If God’s Word really is the only ultimately trustworthy authority, then the greatest testimony to the Bible’s trustworthiness is what it says about itself.
To come at it another way… if the greatest proof of the Bible’s authority were external sources (archaeology, say, or reason itself), then archaeology or reason necessarily become higher authorities than Scripture. They would stand in judgement on the Bible, rather than the other way round. If Paul had written, “All Scripture is God-breathed, because archaeology says so”, then logically archaeology would be granted more authority than the testimony of God himself.
Like I say, logical; but not necessarily likeable 🙂
And I think you’re dead right when you say Scripture only makes sense when God opens our eyes to see it (2 Cor 4:6). On the other hand, “faith comes through hearing”, so it’s great that your dear brother is reading God’s Word. I have a much loved sibling in the same place. Let’s keep praying! God loves them even better than we do.
I too worry about loved ones who have not yet found God. What is your interpretation of Acts 16:31 “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household”?
Hi Belinda. Yes, I take it that “you and your household” refers to the whole clause before it, i.e. Paul is saying, “If you and your household believe in the Lord Jesus, you will all be saved.” That seems to be backed up by the next verse which says, “And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.”