I recently ran across this post at debunkingchristianity (DC) which credits Martin Luther with a quote attacking reason:
Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but - more frequently than not - struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.
The gist of the post is that a young Christian had not really questioned his faith as he was growing up, but that once he did he saw all sorts of problems with it and abandoned it. There are no detailed substantive arguments, though the author alludes to atrocities in the Old Testament as conflicting with the kind God of the New and the creationist/evolutionist controversy.
I am not sure how this atheist autobiography approach to de-evangelism pans out among most readers, but it usually strikes me as ineffective and a poor substitute for discussion over the ideas that may have lead to a loss of faith. Yet this tactic is a mainstay of DC as its contributors often seem to think that the rest of us just have not gone through these struggles or squarely faced our doubts or reason, evidence, etc. Though I do not necessarily deny their sincerity, I have good reason to believe that this is untrue in the case for many if not all of my fellow CADRE members and know it is not the case with me.
When I was younger, I went through an extended period of questioning, tackling issues similar to those raised by the DC post and plenty more. Yes, I truly entertained and explored the idea that my faith was wrong. We all have different areas of doubt that are more personally relevant than others. Of particular concern to me were questions over the transmission and accuracy of the Bible and the ultimate issue of whether God even existed. I studied philosophy, history, and science, and really struggled. For an extended period of time, I felt completely cut off from God. For a young charismatic Christian whose movement emphasized enjoying the presence of God, this was yet another reason for doubt. My whole life I could turn to God and feel his presence, his guidance, his love. Where had that gone? This was also a heavy blow.
For many reasons, including reason, I came out of this time period with an adjusted but stronger faith. My exploration did convince me that parts of what had been my faith were simply wrong and had to be abandoned. The earth was much, much older than many Christians I knew believed. The concept of rigid inerrancy I had held was at odds with my reason and history. But my exploration also convinced me that core parts of my faith were true. The resurrection of Jesus did happen. The best explanation for that resurrection was a God involved in the creation and design of the material world. Christianity made more sense out of history, science, philosophy, my experiences, and reason than any of its competitors.
Not coincidentally, I think, during this time I was maturing as a young man in other areas of my life. That time period was not the end of my inquiry or the adjusting of my faith, but no evidence or argument since has provoked the kind of doubt and questioning I had then. I remain a convinced Christian. And, as a charismatic, I enjoy the presence of God as well as other aspects of my faith that needed development and maturing that would likely not have come but for my period of deep doubt.
So am I at cross purposes with Luther? Perhaps. But then again perhaps not. Luther was open to correction not only from the proof of scripture, but from reason. Indeed, it was at least in part his trust in reason that led him to defy his received faith and radically challenge the institutions in which he had been raised and taught to submit. As he famously declared, "I cannot submit my faith either to the Pope or to the Councils, because it is clear as day they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore, I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture and plain reason ... I cannot and will not recant ..." Martin Luther, April 16, 1521.
But Luther – however significant – is not the only Christian thinker to have commented on reason. More than a thousand years before Luther, the Church Father Tertullian wrote:
Reason is a thing of God, inasmuch as there is nothing which God the Maker of all has not provided, disposed, ordained by reason—nothing which He has not willed should be handled and understood by reason.
Around the same time, another Church Father, Clement of Alexandria, wrote:
Do not think that we say that these things are only to be received by faith, but also that they are to be asserted by reason. For indeed it is not safe to commit these things to bare faith without reason, since assuredly truth cannot be without reason.
More recently, Augustine – himself a substantial influence on Luther – wrote:
Heaven forbid that God should hate in us that by which he made us superior to the animals! Heaven forbid that we should believe in such a way as not to accept or seek reasons, since we could not even believe if we did not possess rational souls.
And even more recently, Christian philosopher and historian William L. Craig thinks enough of reason to title one of his most popular apologetic works and his website, Reasonable Faith.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that Christianity does believe that human reason has been affected, even clouded, by the separation of God from Mankind. This is not a denial of reason, but a recognition that man’s ability to engage in it can be corrupted, mistaken, or misguided. Whether stated as a theological concept such as original sin or a postmodern theory concerned about the impossibility of objectivity, this cautionary approach to reason, I believe, strengthens mankind’s rational endeavors. The difference being that whereas the postmodernist may deny that there is a truth destination that can be arrived at, the Christian will admit its existence and work all the harder to reason and verify. As stated by Rodney Stark, “scholastic theologians placed far greater faith in reason than most philosophers are willing to do today.” The Victory of Reason, page 8.
I do not assume my journey has been normative for all Christians. I hope that most Christians have a solid faith that was not challenged as mine was. But for those who face the kinds of questions the DC poster did, or that I did, please know that the outcome can be an increase, rather than a loss, of faith. Also know that the notion that Christianity is the enemy of reason would surprise a lot of top Christian thinkers.
(The Tertullian quote is from On Repentence, Ch. 1, Clement from Recognitions of Clement, 2:69, and Augustine from Summa Theologica 14:28, working from quotes cited in Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason, page 7).
Update: Coming from a very different background and arriving at a somewhat different destination, my friend Meta recounts his journey through atheism into faith in Christ. I especially appreciate how his story illustrates the potential danger of prematurely giving up the intellectual search.