Thursday, July 9, 2020

Faith and Reason in Christianity

Much like the previous entry, I'm sharing some essays I've written for my classes. This is one that I wrote for an apologetics class.


The word “faith” has had a difficult run the past few years. What with so-called “New Atheists” and typical internet activist atheists battering and changing the word to mean what they want it to mean, namely, blind faith.[1] Christians need to shake off the anti-intellectualism that has taken root in the Church in order to meet those kinds of challenges.[2] The Christian faith is completely different than what its adversaries make it out to be. Unfortunately, many Christians also struggle to define faith properly, and with an inadequate understanding of faith there is no hope for the anti-intellectual Christian to properly balance faith with reason. Therefore, before discussing the role of reason and the balance of reason with faith in Christianity, one must first understand faith itself. Then, after a thorough understanding of faith then one can proceed to attempt a balance, and lastly, this discussion must turn to applying these ideas in local churches and around the world.

Defining Faith - Introduction

With so many wrong ideas out there on both sides, what really is Christian faith? In some ways trying to nail down a definition of faith, even among Christians, is difficult. What is particularly difficult about this is reading detractors of Christianity. Atheists, particularly Boghossian, and the like want to use one particular definition of faith.[3] Are these valid definitions? Should Christians allow the opponents of Christianity to define faith? The definition of Christian faith includes three facets: a cognitive component, how faith means to believe certain things about God; a relational component, how faith is a type of trust in God based on beliefs; and a behavioral component, the response in faith to God. These three components come together to defy how opponents of Christianity define faith. Though these three together are a much more reasonable understanding of how Christians have and exercise faith, it is the relational component, faith that is more akin to trust, is the most important of the three.

Defining Faith - Cognitive Component

The cognitive component of faith is probably what most non-Christians and non-philosophical Christians think of when they think of faith. It fits with Boghossian’s redefinition somewhat in that this is about epistemology.[4] This idea of faith could also be called the doxastic theory of faith.[5] That theory is defended in many places but do those positions truly represent the Christian faith fairly? Malcom and Scott’s critiques of non-doxastic views of faith, which this paper will support, all seem to fall flat.[6] Their critique of “the argument from doubt” seems to not take the position seriously. Their critique of “the argument from linguistic data” has the same problem. It does matter how people use the word. If one consistently uses the word faith to reference a sincere trust in something for which they have some, little, or no evidence for, does have an important bearing on the meaning of faith. Then when critiquing “the argument from pragmatic faith,” though they describe the idea fairly well, they straw-man the idea, offering a syllogism that seems like one that no supporter of non-doxastic faith views would support:

[1] Pragmatic faith is faith.

[2] Pragmatic faith is not constituted by belief.

[3] So, faith is not constituted by belief.[7]

Clearly, this is a viciously circular argument for pragmatic faith that no proponent of a pragmatic view of faith would support. The next critique offered relies on there being imposter faithful. But, what does the possibility of imposters have to do with those that claim to have faith that is more like trust? The possibility of imposters does not detract from the actual faithful. The possibility of imposters only effects our ability to distinguish truly faithful from the fakes, not the actual existence of faith based on something other than mere belief. Though Malcom and Scott claim to be supporting a “belief-plus” paradigm of faith, they treat every argument for the non-doxastic theory of faith as belief only. Also, the paper even admits that they are only concerned with “faith that” ideas, ignoring “faith in” ideas.[8] Craig uses a different phrasing, but the concept is similar. He uses the difference “. . . between knowing Christianity to be true and showing Christianity to be true.”[9] In knowing Christianity to be true we can trust (used somewhat ironically there) the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, by which, Craig here references but seems to agree with Plantinga that the witness improves upon the sensus divinitatis.[10] What then is the conclusion for this component? The key here is the word, “component.” The Christian faith is multi-faceted and this is only one part and not even the most important part.

Defining Faith - Relational Component

Having looked at the epistemological ideas behind what many think of as faith, it is important to turn to the relational component of faith, which is trusting in God based on what one believes. One thing that sits strongly in favor of the Christian view of faith as “trust” is that the online dictionary lists “belief and trust in and loyalty to God” (emphasis added) as one of the first definitions. In fact, if one consults the dictionary provided automatically (by Google) one sees it as even more supportive of this view, “complete trust or confidence in someone or something” as the first definition given.[11] Though it is encouraging to read articles like Buchak’s “Can it be Rational to Have Faith?” even there she admits too much of the epistemological side of faith, wherein she says that “. . . faith seems to involve going beyond the evidence in some way.”[12] Unlike the Malcom and Scott essay, Buchak at least allows for more than just belief. Also, unlike the Malcom and Scott’s essay where non-doxastic faith was circular and irrational, Buchak’s position is that faith can be rational. Faith, to be rational, must be “based on a large amount of evidence.”[13] To take it one step further down the route toward a non-doxastic view of faith, Katherine Dormandy’s paper presents faith as primarily evidence-seeking.[14] Dormandy’s analysis of the story of Job is particularly interesting because Job is often taken as an example of blind faith. However, Job does seek some support for his faith and he is driven to worship God because he rationally believes that God is good and just.[15] Dormandy’s article expertly dismantles a common theme with Christians as Christianity has gone down the road of anti-intellectualism.[16] More and more Christians are thinking less and feeling more. Seeing faith as seeking evidence is a great way turn the tide against anti-intellectualism. This component of faith, even taken alone, is the closest to seeing faith as a strong synonym to trust, which is really the way Christianity uses the word. It is still one component if it is the most important, so there is one more component to consider before closing.

Defining Faith - Behavioral Component

Faithfulness in one’s response to God is the final component, the behavioral component of faith. Daniel Howard-Snyder’s article about propositional faith defines this well, “Propositional faith is not a proposition, state of affairs, process, or journey; it's an attitude, an attitude that is not to be identified with knowledge or assent; it need not be based on authority or testimony, and it need not involve certainty, eagerness, generation by an act of will, or entrusting one's welfare to someone.”[17] This attitude of propositional faith, the behavioral component, is longstanding. It can face adversity and doubts.[18] Given one’s faith (that is, trust) in God, how does Howard-Snyder’s syllogism end if the proposition is “God exists”? (S = subject) If the subject believes that God exists, then, given the Subject’s goals, aversions, and other cognitive stances, the subject will tend to act in appropriate ways.[19] This component is one of attitude, not belief and not relational in nature. Of course, that does not mean that the Christian faith is one of these components at the expense of the other.

Defining Faith - Conclusions

The worst mistake one can make is pigeon-holing Christian faith into one of the components mentioned in this essay. The Christian faith is all of these components and more. One would do well to take a page out of Hegel’s dialectics and take these seemingly opposing components and synthesize them together.[20] Perhaps it would be easier to say what the Christian faith is not. It is not: the absence of doubt, mere belief (pure doxastic faith), merely relational, or merely behavioral. None of these components are sufficient on their own. They must be put together and lived out. False caricatures of faith like those presented by Boghossian and other opponents of Christianity.[21] This is only one side of the equation, next is reason.

Defining the Christians’ Use of Reason

On the one hand, reason is fairly easily defined as properly applying logic and right thinking.[22] Being reasonable is rightly applying logic and rational thought to various issues. One cannot think rationally without first studying logic and philosophy. The use of reason does not diminish one’s faith. Indeed, as one can see in the behavioral component of defining the Christian faith, faith is closer to trust than the epistemic concept of faith. Christian faith is truly non-doxastic. The Christian faith, is not merely belief, it is trust and obedience to Christ. Therefore, one must exercise one’s reason to have faith. Reason is an exercise that one must practice. It cannot simply be learned; it must be applied. There are many ways to learn and practice one’s reasoning skills. There are online courses available for free that teach the basics of philosophical thought and reason, and the best way to apply the lessons learned is to go out and meet with and dialogue with others about one’s thoughts, beliefs, and ideas.[23] Engaging others in dialogue is another important part of building and exercising one’s reason. That can also be done for free and through numerous online resources. The easiest of which is social media. Particularly, there is the high-quality Christian Apologetics Alliance Facebook page where one can meet with other reason-oriented Christian apologist and discuss defending the faith reasonably.[24] These are just some of the ways one can exercise one’s reason with regards to Christianity, but how does one balance just using reason and faith? That is where this paper turns next.

Balancing Reason and Faith

The issue here is how can one balance reason and faith in one’s worship of God. Unfortunately, this is this not a regular practice and well understood throughout Christianity. It is not common in many Christian churches, at least not in the U.S. Midwest. In a typical church in the U.S. Midwest one will probably not hear anything about apologetics or the use of one’s reason in worship regularly if at all. How many churches recommend reading works like C. S. Lewis’ masterwork, Mere Christianity or Geisler and Turek’s I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist? This is not to say that every member of every church need be educated to the level of a Master’s of Divinity in Christian Apologetics. It is saddening that this kind of introductory apologetic education not a regular part of church education. Pastors and other church leaders do not (typically) discourage reason or apologetics, but there is generally little to no interest in apologetic teaching/learning. Churches can incorporate apologetics into both sermons and general church educational programs. But, so far, this is a huge failure of the Church today; apologetics should be an important part of every church’s educational programs, particularly for young people.

Christ’s admonishes all His followers to, “… love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, NASB)[25]. This is something that is sorely missing from the typical Western church today. So, not only has the Church failed in loving Christ with their minds and teaching they have failed to heed 1 Peter 3:15 and give a defense for the faith. On the one hand, one might understand some reticence to study or encourage the study of philosophy/apologetics. However, it seems like so many churches have overemphasized a misunderstanding of Colossians 2:8 and overemphasized an emotional response to Christ.

As Wolterstorff mentions the condemnation of Galileo and the Copernican view of the solar system as, “the most famous instance of the Church's scrutiny of the affairs of natural science.”[26] This wording could be improved and made stronger as this is the most infamous example of the Church’s insertion of itself into the affairs of natural science. In many ways the Church has never really recovered from this ignominy. Indeed, the age of the earth debate within the Church is the modern age’s Copernican model debate; Professor John Lennox’s text, Seven Days That Divide the World makes this very point.[27] Because the Church is suffering from anti-intellectualism it seems that the Church has backed itself into a corner over the issue of the age of the earth. People have even gone as far as to make this the only issue in science and philosophy worth engaging. The Church needs to be given an apologetic for learning and teaching apologetics. This can be the first, and most important step in balancing reason and faith. Of course, this is not the only way the Church can balance reason and faith, but it is most certainly the most important first part of a never-ending discussion within the Church about the relationship between faith and reason. Apologetics and philosophical study in general, can give us a way to balance critical thought and faith. It is also through such studies that one can increase in one’s faith because knowing Christianity is true can increase one’s trust in Christ, that is, one’s faith.

Conclusions and Application

How can we apply this balancing act? Well, my personal goal is directly related to how I want to use my MDiv degree. I and my classmates can be the change we want to see in churches everywhere. I personally want to be a chaplain in the armed forces and then a pastor who uses, teaches, preaches, and encourages philosophical inquiry, apologetics, and other ways to love God with our minds. I have started some of this as a layman in the church. To do this I have taught a book study on Koukl’s superb text, Tactics. It is such an important and practical text for Christian apologetics and evangelism that encourages questions and seeking the truth. It is so important that I recommend every church study and teach such a practical text about loving God with your mind and using your mind to reach the lost. There is also a need more books that teach and encourage Christians to use their minds to defend the faith and reach the lost with reason.


[1] Peter G. Boghossian, A Manual for Creating Atheists (Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2013), Chapter 2. Also clearly exhibited by atheist Aron Ra in this debate: The Bible and Beer Consortium, YouTube, June 28, 2019, accessed July 2, 2019,

[2] James Porter Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind the Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul (United States: Navigators, 2014).

[3] Boghossian defines faith in his own special way as, “Belief without evidence” and “Pretending to know things you don’t know.” Boghossian, A Manual for Creating Atheists, Chapter 2.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Finlay Malcolm and Michael Scott, "Faith, Belief and Fictionalism," Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 98 (2016): , doi:10.1111/papq.12169.

[6] Finlay Malcolm and Michael Scott, "Faith, Belief and Fictionalism."

[7] Ibid., 267.

[8] Ibid., 271. This is in note #1. It seems very odd that they would chose to write and even admit this. Basically the paper ignores what many consider the more important concept of “faith,” that is, faith in something/someone rather that faith that something will happen or someone will do or is such-and-such.

[9] William Lane. Craig, Reasonable Faith - Christian Truth and Apologetics (Intervarsity Press, 2008), 43.

[10] Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith, 42 and James Porter Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2017), 141-155. The whole chapter is a study on religious epistemology and includes Plantinga’s use of sensus divinitatis.

[11] "Faith," Merriam-Webster, accessed June 8, 2019, And "Faith," Google Search, accessed June 8, 2019,

[12] Lara Buchak, "Can It Be Rational to Have Faith?" Probability in the Philosophy of Religion, 2019, 227, doi:10.1002/9781119420828.ch8.

[13] Ibid., 246.

[14] Katherine Dormandy, "Evidence-Seeking as an Expression of Faith," American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 92, no. 3 (2018): doi:10.5840/acpq2018514154.

[15] Ibid., 416.

[16] James Porter Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind the Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul (United States: Navigators, 2014).

[17] Daniel Howard-Snyder, "Propositional Faith: What It Is and What It Is Not," American Philosophical Quarterly 50, no. 4 (2013): 359.

[18] Ibid., 358.

[19] Taken from Daniel Howard-Snyder, "Propositional Faith . . .” 359; altered to fit the proposition that God exists.

[20] Julie E. Maybee, "Hegel's Dialectics," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, June 03, 2016, accessed June 8, 2019,

[21] Boghossian, A Manual for Creating Atheists.

[22] My own definition combined from various places.

[23] Some quality resources would be on and numerous philosophical and educational YouTube channels. There are numerous other free resources online, one only need to search for them.

[24] The link to that group: in order to join one must answer some questions about one’s faith and assent to following the group guidelines.

[25] Unless otherwise noted, Scripture references will be taken from the New American Standard Bible.

[26] Wolterstorff, Nicolas (2018). Reason within the Bounds of Religion (p. 16). Wordsearch. Retrieved from

[27] John C. Lennox, Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).


Boghossian, Peter G. A Manual for Creating Atheists. Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2013.

Buchak, Lara. “Can It Be Rational to Have Faith?” Probability in the Philosophy of Religion, 2012, doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199604760.003.0012.

Consortium, The Bible and Beer. YouTube. June 28, 2019. Accessed July 2, 2019.

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith - Christian Truth and Apologetics. Intervarsity Press, 2008.

Dormandy, Katherine. "Evidence-Seeking as an Expression of Faith." American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 92, no. 3 (2018): 409-28. doi:10.5840/acpq2018514154.

"Faith." Google Search. Accessed July 2, 2019.

"Faith." Merriam-Webster. Accessed July 2, 2019.

Howard-Snyder, Daniel. "Propositional Faith: What It Is and What It Is Not." American Philosophical Quarterly 50, no. 4 (2013): 357-72.

Lennox, John C. Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Malcolm, Finlay., and Scott, Michael. (2017) Faith, Belief and Fictionalism. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 98: 257– 274. doi: 10.1111/papq.12169.

Maybee, Julie E. "Hegel's Dialectics." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. July 2, 2016. Accessed June 8, 2019.

Moreland, J. P. Love Your God with All Your Mind the Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. United States: Navigators, 2014.

Moreland, J. P., and William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2017.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Reason within the Bounds of Religion. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009.