Sunday, September 30, 2007

Faith vs. Reason? Charles Stanley's Big Mistake

Dr. Charles Stanley has thoroughly misrepresented reason in a Sept. 19th radio broadcast episode called "Faith vs. Reason". Stanley falsely implies that reason (and logic, for that matter) is never of God and is always a futile attempt. In polarizing his faulty definitions of both faith and reason, he is dangerously pushing Christians deeper into a state of anti-intellectual ignorance, thus enabling them to sink further into evangelistic ineptitude (that is, Christians are perpetuating the non-Christian belief that Christians have defective mental faculties).

He is attempting to make the point that we must rely on God for guidance and not on our finite human faculties alone, which I agree with. However, in suggesting that using any understanding or reason means not trusting in the Lord, Stanley throws the baby out with the bathwater. As it says in Proverbs 3:5-6 (NET translation):

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding.
Acknowledge Him in all your ways and He will make your paths straight.

The key here is that when the verse says "do not rely on your own understanding"*, it implies that self-reliance is the problem, not understanding. Trust in the Lord does not mutually exclude any and all understanding. This stance would promote a purely blind faith (not Biblical faith). Furthermore, if we are to "Acknowledge Him in all our ways", does that mean that the Bible is telling us to actually throw out understanding (which is one of our ways) and actually means acknowledge Him in SOME of our ways? Absolutely not!

It saddens me that he professes this malignant misconception, as many Christians listen to him and respect his messages.

_______________________________

* The emphasis here is mine

11 comments:

Doug Groothuis said...

Sarah:

Your bovine excrement detector is working well once again. These sad homiletical commentaries perpetuate anti-intellectualism if not outright misology. The atheists love it and eat it up with relish.

These verses call us to trust God beyond what we can figure out. But there is nothing in it to exclude reasons for the basic, initial trust in the biblical God (and not in an ersatz deity).

Moreover, I trust my doctor because I have reason to believe she knows medicine. However, the details of her medical knowledge are beyond me. But that does not make it irrational to trust in her medical advise. The same hold true, mutatis mutandis (and a fortiori!) for God.

Because Christianity is a rationally well-supported worldview, I can trust God when things do not make sense, since the God I trust has infinite wisdom.

If I only trust when I, as a finite being, can figure it all out, I am not trusting in God's overarching power and goodness. As the old saying goes, "Don't doubt in the dark what you have seen in the light."

The Stanleyian alternative is mind-numbing: "Trust in something you know not what, for no reason, no matter what. Period." Well...

Luke said...

I'm surprised that such a well-known speaker delivered this message. I suppose I shouldn't be though. This is a sad reflection of the beliefs of many Evangelicals.

Kyle said...

Using reason means trusting our reasoning abilities and not God, therefore we should never use them. Oh, wait...

Kyle said...

I just listened to the actual message (or mostly listened, I was trying to take a nap at the same time), but I don't think he ever said that reason was never from God and always futile (well, he kinda said the second). I think mostly he was skirting the edge of this error and using some muddled definitions (I think unprovable is what he often meant when he said unreasonable). In at least one point he said something like, "the 'I'll be good enough people' say, 'the cross is unreasonable and illogical,' but really their view is the unreasonably and illogical one." There at least he is defending the logicality and reasonableness of Christianity and I can only assume he was just using muddled definitions later when he said things about the unreasonableness of the cross.

Also, he attacked logic and reason pretty strongly as a means to find salvation (I am not sure if he was talking about discovering God's plan of salvation using reason or getting saved through reason). Here again I think he was unclear and may or may not have been in error.

One last thing, he also mentioned some things of God being outside of reason. I think I agree with this in a sense. I know of no answer to the question "why does God love?" and I think that is a question beyond the scope of logic. It isn't illogical for Him to love, but it isn't a logical conclusion that that's the way He has to be, so I would call that fact a-logical. Same goes for the existence of God or any other attribute of God.

So basically, I don't think he is directly against reason as much as he isn't careful with his definitions and thus slipped into that error occasionally.

Aaron Snell said...

Paul Scott Pruett put it well this way:

"If we reject reason in relation to biblical revelation, then the very words of God become nothing but unprocessed photons striking the retina."

Sarah Scott said...

Kyle,

I agree with much of what you said! However, regardless of what Stanley actually believes, my beef is with what was communicated (unintentionally or otherwise)to general undiscerning audiences. At the end, he states that Christianity is, in fact reasonable, but the damage of sloppy definitions and false dichotomies has already been done. This will lead to a confused general audience who, most likely, will take away that the pursuit of the intellect is entirely bad. Therefore, the anti-intellectualization of Christendom continues.

Kyle said...

I think we are in agreement now. After your description in the post I was expecting him to be more solidly against reason rather than having a kinda muddled stance against reason. Perhaps the muddled case is the more dangerous because more people may accept it without realizing it, while if he said "reason and logic are always bad" people would be more likely to challenge it. Either way it is certainly one of the problematic trends that shows up at times among modern Christians.

Daniel said...

He apparently neglected that important part of the Greatest Commandment to also love God with all of our MINDS.

Tim said...

Muddled thinking on this issue is so common among today's Christian leaders that I have nearly despaired of any leadership from them.

One of the great pleasures of reading some of the greatest Christian minds of bygone days is that they are often crystal clear on this point. I could cite lovely examples from Jenkin, Butler, Campbell, Paley, Whately, Chalmers, ...

Tim said...

Reason is natural revelation, whereby the eternal Father of light and fountain of all knowledge, communicates to mankind that portion of truth which he has laid within the reach of their natural faculties: revelation is natural reason enlarged by a new set of discoveries communicated by God immediately; which reason vouches the truth of, by the testimony and proofs it gives that they come from God. So that he that takes away reason to make way for revelation, puts out the light of both, and does much what the same as if he would persuade a man to put out his eyes, the better to receive the remote light of an invisible star by a telescope.


John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding IV 19.4

Sarah Scott said...

Thanks, Tim! That is a great quote.