Balancing Faith and Reason
by K. Neill Foster
The theme of this issue is an old one - The Sovereignty of God and the Free Will of Man. In this case, we are recasting it as The Sovereignty of God and Church Growth. The tension between these two ideas results from the application of logic and reason to the Scriptures.
The Western mind is enamored of reason. The Hebrews, on the other hand, were not slavish rationalists. Their block logic made room for antinomy, paradox and contradiction (Wilson 1989: 150). The early Christian theologians likewise came to conclude that God truly did exist in a Holy Trinity. Reason and logic in themselves could not force them to ignore what the Scriptures plainly taught.
Evangelicals today are not so sturdy. These days the Queen of the Sciences is frequently violated by vagabond reason. Theology is sometimes built upon carefully reasoned logical structures only. Authority is no longer derived from exegesis alone; now it may be "analogical." J.I. Packer has rightly observed that good theology has room for contradiction. The sovereignty of God and the free will of man are friends, not enemies (1961:35-36). Likewise, we are saying in this issue, Church Growth and the Sovereignty of God are sturdy companions in Christ's Church-building enterprise.
A.W. Tozer rightly observed that there are two kinds, two levels of logic (1992:148). And if I understand Tozer, one level is errant and undisciplined. The other level, submissive to revelation and biblical absolutes.
Martin Luther, blunt as always, called reason a harlot. Anything less provocative would long ago have been forgotten, so Luther should be allowed his bombast.
Still, he was right. Reason and logic fail us when we come upon scriptural ideas which appear mutually contradictory. The man of God knows better. The Church does indeed grow. It is intended to grow. At the very same time, some churches grow while others do not. Some even grow when they ought not to. Yet others ought to grow but never do. The inexplicable is always there. It is God's sovereign hand.
Our call is not for the repudiation of reason or logic; rather it is the insistence that in the end they too must be submissive to biblical revelation.
Western pragmatists that we are, we find this tremendously disconcerting. And troublesome. Reason and logic should be seen for what they are, God's gifts to the human race, a humanity stained with sin, that twists and distorts even the best of gifts. Reason and logic that are submissive to biblical revelation and open to the wonder and awe of God are never to be feared; but those same twins of rationalism (if they are not quickly brought under the discipline and rule of Scripture) will soon destroy the sturdiest of faiths.