Like Button

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Wrong Way to Reason

Many people think that faith and reason are opposed. "Faith is believing something blindly," they argue. Jesus, on the other hand, had no aversion to blending faith and reason. He insisted that salvation comes from believing in Him (John 3:16) and encouraged reason. When the Pharisees, for instance, demanded a sign from Jesus, He told them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' And in the morning, 'There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?" (Matt 16:2-3) That is, "Think!" Jesus favored it.

Interesting, then, when Jesus asked them to reason through a question.
They came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to Him, and began saying to Him, "By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?" And Jesus said to them, "I will ask you one question, and you answer Me, and then I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men? Answer Me." (Mark 11:27-30)
Simple question. "What do you think?" He simply asked them to tell Him if John's teaching was from God or not. Easy.

Now, notice their line of reasoning.
They began reasoning among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Then why did you not believe him?' "But shall we say, 'From men'?"—they were afraid of the people, for everyone considered John to have been a real prophet. Answering Jesus, they said, "We do not know." And Jesus said to them, "Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things." (Mark 11:31-33)
Notice that they were careful in their reasoning. "If we say" precedes both options. They carefully weighed the potential outcomes. They thought it through and gave the answer that would avoid an unpleasant end. "We do not know."

Not once did these men consider the question. The truth was not at issue here. The issue here was "How will this come out for us? What are the ramifications of our answer?" Not "What is the truth?"

You know this is common thinking. "If I say that the Bible is right about this, I won't be popular." "If I agree with God on that topic, I won't be able to do what I want." "If I admit that the Bible is quite clear on this, I'll be on 'the wrong side of history'." So they invent the dodge. "Oh, we can't say for sure." "It's only a matter of opinion." "True humility requires that we don't take a hard stance." "You must see that there are a multitude of possible ways to understand this. Maybe it's legend or myth. Maybe it's an allegory or a parable. It's hard to take a firm position here." All of this not because the question at hand is unclear. They do all this because they don't like the outcome if they come to the obvious conclusion. Sadly, the more they practice this method of reasoning, the easier it becomes and the farther they get from the truth. In the case of the Pharisees asking for a sign, they were already aware that Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead, "but let's not get bogged down with truth here ... give us a sign."

Brothers, these things ought not be. Truth does not rely on you to believe it; truth is true. On the other hand, Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." (John 14:6) In other words, receiving Christ as the Truth (with a capital "T") requires you to believe it if it is going to be to your benefit. Truth is not hurt by your examination, but you are hurt if you refuse the truth. Don't reason like the Pharisees, starting with the outcome and answering from there. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matt 22:37) The truth, regardless of the outcome, is always better.


Craig said...

It seems like too many people reason from their prior commitments even if that means excluding data. Instead we should reason toward the truth, or follow the data where it leads.

As long as you exclude certain things before you reason, you will always reach a faulty conclusion even though it's most likely the conclusion you wanted to reach.

Stan said...

I do think that Christians are just as prone to this as the rest. We'll diligently read the Bible, for instance, come across a passage, and say, "Hey, wait a minute! If that means what it seems to mean, then some of what I've believed until now is wrong." So we'll reject the clear meaning in favor of what we've believed until now rather than let the Word reconfigure our thinking. Something we need to watch out for in ourselves.

Craig said...

I agree that there is a degree of that on all sides. However if one looks at much of science, progressive theology, and sociology, there is an active effort to stack the deck in favor of ones preconceptions by excluding anything that might challenge those preconceptions. (The commitment to naturalism is probably the best example. Although the relega

Craig said...

Relegation of much of the OT to myth is another)

I see the difference being that what your talking about is more on an individual level and more likely to be changed, whereas the other side of more on a worldview level and potentially has larger implications.

Stan said...

Surely the world systems opposed to Christ ("science, progressive theology, and sociology", etc.) will have a harder time conforming to the Truth ... because they are exactly thinking about outcome rather than information. Just want to be careful that we (individuals) don't think "they" are the problem and "we" are immune.

Stan said...

On a related note, Christianity Today has an article about what people avoid most. "Shame," they say. Not guilt. That is, they're concerned about outcome rather than truth. Not "Am I guilty?" but "Will I lose reputation?" Exactly the Pharisees' reasoning in the story.

Craig said...

No argument about being aware of falling into us/them.

The CT article sounds interesting, and is exactly your point.