Fall never quite seems to leave the campus of Regent University. The browns and tans of the brick Colonial Revival architecture seem to lend their colors to the trees of the small campus, creating an eternal aura of autumn. Brick paths wind their ways around to the entrances of each stately building, carrying multitudes of students to their destinations.
The campus is quiet. More quiet than any I’ve walked before. But it’s quiet in the sense that a mind is quiet, its silence masking the tempest of thought within.
Faith and reason are often made out to be opposing sides in a cultural war—reason being the unassailable strength of the secular, and faith being the inarguable foundation of the religious. For years, I assumed this to be the truth, unaware that I was unthinkingly caught up in the presuppositions of the culture I was brought up in.
Those presuppositions would later be challenged and broken by a science professor at Regent University, in what was a life-defining moment for me—the moment when I realized that faith and reason are not at war. They are, in fact, inextricably intertwined, just as Regent’s crest symbolizes.
The professor who so affected me was a man with a doctorate in the sciences who had held various prestigious academic and scientific positions over the course of his life, loved looking for rare stones, and had a penchant for wearing bolo ties. He was also a man of unshakable faith.
He began a dialogue with us one day concerning how Christians should react to scientific discovery—specifically, how we would react if a discovery “proved” something in the Bible wrong.
After some deliberation amongst the students, the professor held up a hand for silence and said, “If you ever come up against a scientific discovery that seems to refute a portion of scripture, it means one of two things. The first is that the discovery was a mistake. The second? That you have misinterpreted scripture. God’s word does not contradict reality. God’s word is reality, and reality is God’s word.” That last sentence struck me.
There is a term that is oft cited in Christian academic circles—“All truth is God’s truth.” It is something I had merely heard in passing. But now, in that classroom, it clicked. What is true is of God—He owns it all. If I were to definitively discover that the Earth is a billion years old rather than ten thousand, that would be God’s truth. If I were to irrefutably discover it to be ten thousand years old, that would be God’s truth. God owns the truth of reality, and if my interpretation of scripture doesn’t line up with that reality, then my interpretation is likely wrong—the Bible is not. Reality is not.
The Bible confirms that faith and reason should always be united. God wants us to use the minds that He gave us. Isaiah 1:18 invites us to “Come now, and let us reason together,” with the Lord. Not only that, but we are to engage others with reason, as 1 Peter 3:15 says, we are to “be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” We are to humbly reason with others concerning our faith. Reason alone may not convince someone to turn their life over to the Lord, but it plants, deeply, a seed—a seed which God can later germinate.
We’re also called, at the same time, to have absolute faith. Proverbs 3:5 tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” Our own reason should never be our own ultimate standard, a replacement for God’s word. So which is it? Are we to rely on our reason, or on our faith? These verses may appear to be disparate, but, in reality, they fit together perfectly.
Paul defines hope as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” in Hebrews 11:1. Faith isn’t simply blind belief in something we have absolutely no evidence for. It’s confidence that’s well-founded. The Greek phrase used in this passage that is translated for us as “hoped for,” indicates not a wish for something that does not exist, but an informed expectation—the sort we might have when we have a well-founded reason to believe in something.
Biblical faith, then, means believing in “things not seen” for a good reason—not for no reason at all. We believe we’re saved because the Bible describes the process of salvation, and we have read it, interpreted it, and have understood it, for example. We’re given a mind so that we can read the Word of God and then draw conclusions. We can even look at nature, at things such as the placement of our planet that has allowed life to flourish, a placement that is unique, as far as we know, in all creation. We can look at the complexity of life, the patterns of human thought—God shows himself everywhere. There is no conflict between faith and reason—they’re both integral to our relationship with God.