Some of the earliest memories I have are from growing up in the church. I am the grandson of a pastor and in God's providence have become a pastor myself. I remember Vacation Bible School. I remember Mrs. Carolyn’s Sunday school class. I remember Mrs. Mary’s children’s church services. I remember the videos and the flannel graphs. I am reminded of the memory verses and the songs. Growing up in the church, there are very few times I can remember questioning what I believed. Instead, most of my questions centered around why I believed what I did. I remember the words of a song we sang in children’s church, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” This seemed to be the answer I received to all my questions. Why do we believe what we believe? That’s an easy one... Because the Bible says so. Looking back, I can now see that I was often taught what to believe, but there was never any substantive discussion centered around why I believed the way I did, or how one could arrive at that belief.
There is certainly a need to know what to believe. This is where the heartbeat of our faith is formed. There is, however, an equally important need to know why we believe and how we arrived at that belief. For the cardiologist, one who is well-versed in all things related to the heart, it is not enough to simply know that the heart is beating. They must know why and how it beats and how that relates and applies to the other systems in the body. The same principle applies to Christians in relation to their faith. We should not be content with simply knowing what we believe. We should strive to be well-versed in all things regarding our faith. We must know why we believe, how we arrived at that belief, and how that applies to our interactions with the world around us.
When we travel back across the decades and centuries, we quickly discover that the primary battlefield where the enemy of our soul chooses to wage war is in the mind. When we view the creation account and the fall of Man, we see a question that the enemy plants in the mind. That question is, “Did God really mean what He said?” Philosophical attacks on the validity of Christianity over the past several hundred years have resulted in Christians asking and being asked similar questions. Questions that challenge the authority of scripture... like, “Did God REALLY mean what He said?” or “Can antiquated scripture really be applicable in the 21st century?” As a result, many who have felt intimidated by these types of challenging questions have retreated to an anti-intellectual fundamentalist approach to the Bible and have altogether withdrawn from the realms of reason.
For those who have withdrawn into the enclave of fundamentalism, intellect and reason are frequently seen as threats to the authority of scripture. These perceived threats have led many well-meaning believers to approach scripture in a hyper-literal sense. However, this approach can be dangerous as it invites the reader to interpret passages outside of their intended context and/or without regard to the genre of the book. Things can be taken at face value with little to no critical thinking involved. To be clear, I believe that the entire Word of God is sufficient for all things. It is the inerrant revelation of God’s word to humankind. With this in mind, it is important to understand our responsibility in how we interact with scripture. Our responsibility is to carefully examine scripture and apply it in our own lives. That doesn’t mean that we shape it into a mold suitable to us, or simply take it at face value. It means looking at contextual clues and the original audience. It means looking at how various scriptures fit into the framework of the redemptive message that is interwoven through the whole of the Bible from start to finish. It means we give careful thought to each passage and work to discern how it applies to Christians in the 21st century. Proverbs 14:15 (NIV) says, “A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.” While it may be easy to withdraw into the simplicity of an anti-intellectual fundamentalist approach, as Christ-followers, God intends for us to think critically. This can only be done by giving careful thought to our steps.
In order to combat the anti-intellectualism that runs rampant in the church, I believe we need to take a closer look at the relationship between faith and reason. The common definition applied to faith points us toward "blindly following". It paints the picture that we would put our belief in something that is independent of reason or that lacks the necessary evidence to definitively say it is true. However, when we look at the biblical definition of faith, the confidence in what we hope for and the assurance of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1, NIV), we discover that faith does not operate in the absence of reason or evidence. Instead, we encounter a different sort of faith... a faith that gives power to act in accordance with the nature of God’s kingdom and to trust in what we have reason to believe is true. Biblical faith isn't "blind". It requires evidence. It is therefore reasonable to expect someone considering conversion to Christianity to draw conclusions as to its validity before making a profession of faith. Faith and reason are not enemies. They should complement one another.
If this Biblical definition of faith is correct, then the solution is to teach Christians, both new and old, the “why” behind the “what.” That means we can confidently look at “why” we believe as validation for “what” we believe. When we understand the “why” it becomes much more reasonable to explain the “what.” This is where apologetics comes into play. Simply put, when we apply logic and reason to our faith, we give our mind the tools it needs to be able to comprehend and convey what our heart is taught to believe. Christianity is not meant to operate in the absence of reason. Romans 12:2 (NIV) tells us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Renewing our minds means moving away from anti-intellectualism. It means providing thoughtful, confident, articulate responses to life’s most pressing questions. It’s time to recapture the Christian mind. Simple people will believe anything. It is the wise who give careful thought to each of their steps. It is vitally important that we apply why and how we believe to what we believe as we prepare to defend the faith using the intellect, logic, and reason that God has given us.