Faith Has Its Reasons
by R.C. Sproul
Christians from every theological tradition have for centuries confessed their faith by reciting the Apostles’ Creed. Elsewhere I have taught on the actual content of this creed, but if there is one aspect of this confession that we often fail to reflect on, it is the creed’s opening words: I believe.
Here I want to consider faith in relation to what are often seen as its opposites—reason and sense perception. Epistemology is the division of philosophy that seeks to answer one question: How do we know what we know, or how do we know what is true? Reason, sense perception, or some combination of the two have been among the most common answers to this basic question.
Our minds function according to certain categories of rationality. We try to think in a logically coherent manner. Our judgments and deductions are not always correct and legitimate, but our minds always look for logical, intelligible patterns. Some people say that we find true knowledge exclusively within the mind. These “rationalists” stress the mind and reason as the sources of true knowledge.
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The mind processes information that we acquire with our five senses. Our minds act on what we see, hear, feel, smell, and taste. Perception is the experience of being in touch with the external world, and “empiricists” emphasize sense perception as the true basis for knowledge.
The scientific method combines sense perception and reason. In scientific experiments we gather facts with our senses. Our minds then draw conclusions, reasoning through what our five senses discover. Some want to oppose this way of learning to faith, but I don’t find in Scripture the idea that faith is irrational or anti-sense perception. According to God’s Word, reason and sense perception form the foundation of knowledge. Faith rests on this foundation but takes us beyond it.
We live in the most anti-intellectual age of history, and even many Christians believe we can compartmentalize faith as a way of knowing completely separate from sense perception and reason. Yet as Augustine told us centuries ago, how could we receive knowledge from God if it were not accessible to the human mind? Could we say that “Jesus is Lord” without some understanding of what the term Lord means, what the verb is indicates, and who the name Jesus refers to? We can’t believe the gospel without our minds understanding it…