Faith Seeking Understanding (Anselm)

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed Bengt Hagglund’s History of Theology.  Here’s a section from chapter 17, specifically on Anselm.

“Anselm, like Augustine before him, represented that position with respect to faith and reason which was customarily characterized by the expression, ‘I believe in order that I may understand’ (credo ut intelligam).  Basing their opinion on the words found in Is. 7:9 (Vulgate), ‘If you do not believe, you will not understand,’  those who follow this line emphasize that faith is the presupposition of a rational insight into revealed truth.  As Augustine put it, understanding is the reward of faith.”

“Anselm developed this position in more detail, among other places, in his Proslogion.  It is clearly expressed, for example, in the following passage: ‘I do not attempt, Lord, to penetrate Thy depth, for by no means do I compare my intellect with it; but I desire to understand, to a degree, Thy truth, which my heart believes and loves.  For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order that I may understand’ (Ch. 1).”

“The credo ut intelligam concept presupposes that theology and philosophy can be harmonized.  That which forms the content of faith, and which man comprehends by faith, can also be understood by reason – at least to some extent.  Faith and the principles of reason are not antithetical.  It is the task of theology to present the content of faith in such a way that it can be understood and comprehended. …[Faith] has the primacy, for man does not come to faith through reason; but on the contrary understanding comes by faith.  The role of reason is simply to make clear, a posteriori, that the truths of faith are necessary even as seen from the point of view of logic and reason.  For it is only after one has grasped revealed truth in faith that he is able, through rational discussion and meditation, to perceive that that which he believes is also agreeable to reason.”

Good stuff.  In a day where values and feelings rule over truth and logic, it is good for Christians to remember that our faith is not irrational.  Many great theologians followed this Augustininan/Anselmian perspective.  For just one example, Herman Bavinck wrote Our Reasonable Faith, a nice summary of his longer Reformed Dogmatics. 

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

A Christian View of Knowledge (K. Samples)

One of my favorite books on apologetics and worldview is A World of Difference by Kenneth Samples.  I’ve mentioned it here on the blog from time to time; while I was recently flipping through it again, I re-read a helpful discussion of the Christian, biblical view of knowledge (Christian epistemology).  I’ll summarize it here:

1) Extreme skepticism is self-defeating.  Like the universal denial of truth, extreme skepticism with regard to knowledge is self-defeating and therefore false.  The skeptic’s reasoning (‘one cannot know’) backfires for surely he at least claims to know that he doesn’t know – an assertion which is self-referentially incoherent or absurd.

2) Knowledge is possible with God as its source and foundation.  The Bible indicates that human beings can attain genuine knowledge of God, the self, and the world (Ps. 19:1-4, Acts 17:27-28, Rom. 1:18-21).  The Creator sustains the universe and the mind and sensory organs of man in such a way that they correspond with each other and him.  Because man is created in God’s image, human beings can trust in the reliability of the basic process of knowing.

3) Knowledge is directly connected to God’s revelatory acts.  God’s general and special revelation make knowledge available.  In other words, people can come to ‘know’ through exercising their God-given rational capacities, through empirical observation.

4) Knowledge is properly justified true belief.  1) Knowledge involves belief.  It is a necessary part of knowing, for no one can know something unless he believes it. 2) A person can only know things that are true.  An individual can think she knows something to be true but, in fact, be wrong.  3) A person can believe something to be true, that is in fact true, but it wouldn’t constitute knowledge if it lacks proper justification.  Knowledge involves some form of confirmation or evidence.

5) Human knowledge is limited and affected by sin.  1) Human beings, though quite well-endowed intellectually by way of bearing God’s image, are nevertheless finite creatures by nature.  As a result, unlike God, they have limitations with regard to knowledge and rational comprehension in the essence of their being.  2) Human reason has been negatively affected by sin.  To some degree sin impairs human intelligence and rationality.  (However, sin does not effect the laws of logic or of correct reasoning.)

6) The Christian faith involves knowledge and is compatible with reason.  1) The Christian faith affirms that there is an objective source and foundation for knowledge, reason, and rationality; that basis is found in a personal and rational God.  2) Christian truth-claims – though they often transcend finite human comprehension – do not violate the basic laws or principles of reason.  3) The Bible encourages the attainment of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.  4) The truths of the Christian faith correspond to and are supported by things such as evidence, facts, and reason.  Biblical faith can be defined as confident trust in a reliable source (God or Christ).  Reason and faith function in a complementary fashion.

For the full discussion, including some more Scripture references, see pages 78-83 of A World of Difference.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Portions from Pascal

I’ve always appreciated Pascal’s Pensees; I also enjoy Peter Kreeft’s commentary on some of them.  Below are some of my favorites – random portions of Pascal’s Pensees found in Kreeft’s commentary (followed by his comments).

Pascal: “There are only two kinds of men: the righteous who think they are sinners and the sinners who think they are righteous.”

Kreeft: “The only choice, then, is between being sinners who know they are sinners and repent; or sinners who don’t.  Saints are not the opposite of sinners; saints are sorry sinners, saved sinners” (p. 158).

Pascal: “If we submit everything to reason our religion will be left with nothing mysterious or supernatural.  … If we offend the principles of reason our religion will be absurd and ridiculous.  … Two excesses: to exclude reason, to admit nothing but reason.”

Kreeft: “This is neither fideistic religion, rationalistic religion, fideistic irreligion, nor rationalistic irreligion – the four miserable alternatives, all irrational, that we see sprawled around on every side while the truth stands erect and serene in the middle” (p. 236-7).

Pascal: “The Christian’s hope of possessing and infinite good is mingled with actual enjoyment….  Christians hope for holiness, and to be freed from unrighteousness, and some part of this is already theirs.”

Kreeft: “The Wager thus is not wholly a leap in the dark but is partially testable and confirmable experientially in this life” (p. 307).

Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans (San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 1993).

shane lems

Christianity: Intellectual Suicide? (Groothuis)

 

 

 

 

 

“Some [people] refuse to give Christianity the time of day because they deem it anti-intellectual – a religion that values ignorance and credulity far above critical intelligence.  In his satirical book, “The Devil’s Dictionary” (1911), Ambrose Bierce defined faith as, ‘Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.’  In a book on how to leave one’s religion behind, Marlene Winell writes of a young man named Sandy who was in her ‘religious recovery support group,’ who lost his faith in college through an encounter with an anti-intellectual pastor.  The young man was experiencing doubts as a result of what he was exposed to in college.  Instead of addressing these questions head-on, the pastor kept changing the subject.  One day, when pressed by the young man, the pastor replied, ‘Sandy, it’s about time we call this what it is – sin.’  The young man left the church and Christianity, being unwilling to follow ‘a religion that made thinking a sin.’”

“No one should be willing to follow a religion that decapitates critical thinking.  Anti-intellectualism has quite a grip in many aspects of American culture, not only in the Christian church.  The reasons for the irrational faith shown in some aspects of American Christianity are numerous and will not concern us here except to say that none of the reasons flow from the Bible itself or from the best and truest elements of the Christian tradition.  While some have pitted faith against reason, the Bible does not endorse blind leaps of faith in the dark but rather speaks of the knowledge of God gained through various rational means.  Instead of a ‘leap’ of faith, it commends a well-informed and volitional ‘step’ of faith. …We find then that Christianity should encourage a robust life of the mind and that many philosophers today are owning and defending Christianity philosophically.  There is therefore no reason to refuse to consider Christianity on the (false) basis that in demands intellectual suicide” (p. 95-96, 98).

Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers’ Grove, IVP, 2011).

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

Anselm: Faith and Reason

Product Details  (This is a repost from November 2009)

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed Bengt Hagglund’s History of Theology.  Here’s a section from chapter 17 where Hagglund talks about Anselm (d. 1109).

“Anselm, like Augustine before him, represented that position with respect to faith and reason which was customarily characterized by the expression, ‘I believe in order that I may understand’ (credo ut intelligam).  Basing their opinion on the words found in Is. 7:9 (Vulgate), ‘If you do not believe, you will not understand,’  those who follow this line emphasize that faith is the presupposition of a rational insight into revealed truth.  As Augustine put it, understanding is the reward of faith.”

“Anselm developed this position in more detail, among other places, in his Proslogion.  It is clearly expressed, for example, in the following passage: ‘I do not attempt, Lord, to penetrate Thy depth, for by no means do I compare my intellect with it; but I desire to understand, to a degree, Thy truth, which my heart believes and loves.  For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order that I may understand’ (Ch. 1).”

“The credo ut intelligam concept presupposes that theology and philosophy can be harmonized.  That which forms the content of faith, and which man comprehends by faith, can also be understood by reason – at least to some extent.  Faith and the principles of reason are not antithetical.  It is the task of theology to present the content of faith in such a way that it can be understood and comprehended. …[Faith] has the primacy, for man does not come to faith through reason; but on the contrary understanding comes by faith.  The role of reason is simply to make clear, a posteriori, that the truths of faith are necessary even as seen from the point of view of logic and reason.  For it is only after one has grasped revealed truth in faith that he is able, through rational discussion and meditation, to perceive that that which he believes is also agreeable to reason.”

Good stuff.  In a day where values and feelings rule over truth and logic, it is good for Christians to remember that our faith is not irrational.  Many great theologians followed this Augustininan/Anselmian perspective.  For just one example, Herman Bavinck wrote Our Reasonable Faith, a masterpiece of theology.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Feelings, Faith, Emotions, Doubt, and Assurance

If you’ve been following this blog for a few years now, you’ll recognize this book (and probably remember how much I appreciate it): God in the Dark by Os Guinness.  It’s a book that takes your hand and walks you through doubts – what they are, what the Bible says about them, and how to fight them and grow in assurance of faith.  One of the many helpful points Guinness makes in this book is that sometimes unruly emotions cause us to doubt the truth of the Christian faith or some aspects of it.  Sometimes in the Christian life, emotions take the throne and reason is cast by the wayside.  This can lead to unbiblical hyper-spirituality (i.e. “I feel the Spirit’s presence so much that I have goose bumps!”) , but probably more often it leads to doubt (i.e. “I’ve sinned again; I feel like such a failure – how could God ever love me?).  Here’s Guinness’ great approach to emotions and reason in the the Christian faith.

“Subjective elements play their part in the decision to believe.  But if faith is not to be make-believe, objective considerations must finally determine whether faith is true or misplaced.  Understanding and choice are both essential to genuine belief, and they are always more important than the emotions in conversion.”

“Needless to say, conversion may be profoundly emotional because it is a complete change involving the whole person.  But however emotional it is, the emotions alone do not effect conversion.  This is not because the Christian faith is unemotional but because this is how human knowing works anyway.  The Christian faith, in fact, has a very high place for the emotions, but in coming to believe the place for understanding and choosing truth is primary and the place for the emotions is secondary.”

“…Perhaps the greatest single human factor in explaining why faith does not go on as it began is the explosive power of the emotions subsequent to conversion.”

One way to fight unruly emotions, writes Guinness, is biological – you can fight an emotional roller coaster by getting proper sleep, avoid over-stressful situations, take breaks, etc.  Another deeper way to fight unruly emotions is spiritual.

“The second part of the remedy lies in the long-term discipline of training faith so that it is not overwhelmed by moods and emotions.  …Our faith should dictate to our emotions, not the other way around.  …The quality of our emotions depends upon the quality of our faith, just as the quality of our faith depends on the quality of our understanding.  ‘Feeling must follow; but faith, apart from all feeling, must be there first.’  This is Martin Luther’s understanding of the relationship of faith and emotions, but he also makes clear that this is not our first nature, and it will be our second only if we carefully and patiently learn it.  The lesson of faith is a lesson that must constantly be practiced and rehearsed.'”

Or, as C. S. Lewis said,

“Faith…is the art of holding onto things your reason has once accepted, in spite of our change of moods.”

There’s more to this chapter (chapter 8) on faith, emotions, and doubt, of course.  You’ll have to get the book to read more.   Many – most? – Christians who are serious about the faith struggle with doubt from time to time (some more, some less).  In my own Christian life, this book has been helpful as I fight doubt and seek to grow in faith.  I’m sure it will be helpful to those of you who often pray this from the heart: Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!

God in the Dark: The Assurance of Faith Beyond a Shadow of Doubt (Wheaton: Crossway, 1996).

shane lems

A Prayer of Anselm: “Truth and Understanding”

  Many of us may have heard Anselm’s (d. 1109) famous line, “I believe so that I may understand.”  That famous line is part of a longer (and outstanding) prayer we may not have heard.  Here it is (at least part of it).  Read it slowly and deeply.

“I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that You have created Your image in me, so that I may remember You, think of You, love You.  But this image is so effaced and worn away by vice, so darkened by the smoke of sin, that it cannot do what it was made to do unless You renew and reform it.  I do not try, Lord, to attain Your lofty heights, because my understanding is in no way equal to it.  But I do desire to understand Your truth a little, that truth my heart believes and loves.  For I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand.  For I believe this also, that ‘unless I believe, I shall not understand’ [Is. 7:9].”

Amen.  This prayer puts us in our rightful place before God: bowing at his feet, in need of everything.

The quote is found in Proslogion, which can be found in Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 87.

shane lems