I have discussed three attacks on “thinking Christianly” that resulted in dividing faith from reason. So how did believers respond? We responded in three different ways–two wrong ways and one right.
The first wrong response was “Surrender.” Some believers simply accepted these three criticisms and changed their understanding of biblical “truth” to fit. For instance, if Science has told us that there are no objective moral values, then they concluded their values were just private, subjective ideas, just “true for me” but not True. (This is the posture of the Christian “Cheerleader” I write more about here.)
Or they accepted that we cannot have evidence to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, thereby proving his claim to be God incarnate. So we must just accept that Jesus is God “by faith” (now meaning “apart from evidence, proof or reason”). This view has dominated liberal theology for a century.
We see this idea work its way out in countless ways. For instance, in the public square (public discussions of values and laws to promote the “common good”) it is now assumed that one’s theological or “religious” views have no place in these discussions, because they are simply private, subjective opinions, not facts that are relevant to the topic. The results of removing biblical truth from public conversations about the common good have been disastrous!
The second wrong response was “Retreat.” In the face of these challenges believers withdrew from the discussion (in universities and in the public square) and simply abandoned the intellectual life. They said, “If reason leads to denying our faith, who needs reason?” (This is the posture of the Christian “Demolition Expert” I write more about here.)
No longer were most Christians studying and discussing the (abundant) evidences for God’s existence, the deity of Christ, the truth of Scripture, and so on. Rather, as a famous hymn written in this period put it, “You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart!” In other words, “I can’t give you reasons for why I believe. My proof is my personal experience with Jesus. You can’t argue with that!” This view is known as “fideism” and is still prevalent in many Protestant denominations today.
In Retreat believers also bought into the division of faith and reason, but instead of elevating reason over faith as the secularists and surrendering believers did, they elevated faith over reason. “I simply believe what I believe—don’t confuse me with all that mumbo-jumbo!”
This second response was equally disastrous, yet in different ways. One effect was Christians abandoning the public university, the most powerful social institution in our culture. Believers were no longer encouraged to serve Christ in our great universities, “thinking God’s thoughts after Him” and integrating biblical truth with all academic disciplines.
As a result, today most students can complete four years at a public university without ever reading one meaningful contribution to any issue by a Christian scholar articulating a biblical view of the matter. We withdrew, the vacuum was filled, and now Christians and biblical truth are marginalized in our great universities. Of course, these universities produce many of the leaders for all other sectors of our society—business, media, law, politics, the arts—and so this secularization has extended to all other facets of our culture.
Yet there is a way forward, shown to us by the valiant believers who did not surrender or retreat. I’ll introduce a few of them to you next week.
Until then, grace and peace.