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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Reasoning Creatures

Because we're made in the image of our reasoning God.

Reason in the Service of Faith (3)

Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. Acts 17.16, 17

Made like God
We can have confidence in our ability, through reason, to help our unbelieving friends examine their wrong-believing lives and consider the Good News of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. God Himself is reasonable, and He commends the use of reason in making Himself and His will known to men.

A second cause for having confidence in reason is because human beings are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1.26-28) and are therefore also reasonable beings. This is true of every human being. Because we are humans we think, plan, consider, compare, analyze, conclude, evaluate, and all the other cognitive functions common to reasoning beings. Reasoning is an important means for coming to know anything, and that can include our own misguided thinking and the truth that is in Jesus.

To be sure, human reason does not function on the same level as God’s, and it is negatively affected by sin in our heart; nevertheless, enough of reason still functions in men that the apostle Paul employed it in talking with Jews, Greek philosophers, and people in the street.

Further, it’s likely that most of the people to whom we hope to give a reason for the hope that is within us will not agree with us that they are the image-bearers of God. However, their denial of what Scripture clearly asserts in no way nullifies what God has revealed. Indeed, let God be true (Rom. 3.3, 4).

Reasonable like God
Like God, people make plans, take counsel, and communicate in reasonable language. They want to be understood, and so they work hard to make their meanings clear. Reason, as exercised by human beings, is analogous to God’s reason; it follows the pattern of the way God Himself uses reason. Our reasoning is not exactly like His, because He is reason itself, while human reason is practiced by finite and fallen creatures in a world awash in lies (Is. 55.8, 9; Rom. 1.18-32). But the reasoning of people is sufficiently like God’s way of thinking that, as we have seen, He can make known Himself and His will by various means to human minds.

Because human beings are reasoning beings, and because they are made in God’s image to know Him (Jn. 17.3), God expects and, indeed, the history of the Gospel abundantly shows, that human beings can make sense out of the Lord’s will and plan, even to the point of agreeing with it and embracing it as their own.

Let me say again that human beings are made in the image of God whether or not they think so or agree with us on this matter. They are who they are, as God has made them. They may rail against the prospect of it and deny any affinity with God whatsoever, but this does not change who they are or how we must approach them, as beings who reason, in seeking to make God’s Good News make sense.

Do we know better? Yes we do!
In truth, and in all humility, we know more about the people with whom we would reason about the Gospel than they know about themselves. We know that, as reasoning creatures, they are amenable to God’s reason – His Logos. But they must be helped to discover a way through the ceiling of false and faulty reasoning under which they have chosen to dwell, so that the clear light of truth can illuminate new and more reasonable accommodations for their souls.

We can also see that people are reasoning beings because each one of them has chosen a way of life that seems right to them (Prov. 14.12). The life they’re living, lies and all, makes sense to them. They have values, make decisions, pursue vocations, make and spend money, and everything else they do according to a few basic ideas about what’s really important in life. Their approach seems to work well for them. But this may be only because they have not seriously examined their beliefs or considered the long-term ramifications of their views.

It’s true that, for many people today, this way of living is not critically considered and embraced; they haven’t reasoned very carefully about their chosen way of life. They have merely imbibed it from their upbringing, social environment, and the surrounding culture. Many – perhaps most – people whose orientation to life is merely “under the sun” have not made a reasoned examination of the way of life they’ve chosen to pursue.

Part of our task will be to help them undertake this effort, using reason in the service of faith.

Right reason
Contrary to what is sometimes claimed, we do not ask people to put reason aside in considering the Gospel. Rather, we hope to lead them, through patient questioning and conversation, to learn how to use reason aright, as God intended when He made them in His image. By giving a reason for the hope that is within us, we can help people to examine their own beliefs more carefully and to confront any problems in their views and practices that may not sit well with a reasoned approach to life.

But again, even should we succeed in demonstrating the unreasonableness of their wrong beliefs, this is no guarantee they will repent of their views and turn to Jesus Christ. Reason cannot accomplish this. Only grace can. But reason, by leading to closer examination of worldviews, can lead to greater awareness and even a note of unsettledness which may, in time, lead a wrong-believer to seek God as He intends.

We can have confidence, therefore, that, by the gracious and prudent use of reason in communicating the Gospel of the Kingdom, those we are seeking to reach can understand the message we are urgent to convey, and can compare it to their own views with perhaps greater objectivity. They may not like what they hear or learn, or they may disagree with it, or receive it; but they will be able to understand it, and this is all we, as God’s witnesses, are responsible to achieve.

For reflection
1. Why is it important to understand that people are reasoning creatures?

2. What do we mean by saying we know more about our wrong-believing friends than they do?

3. We do not trust in reason to convert someone to Jesus Christ. We trust in God and His grace. What can you do to bring that grace into your conversations with others?

Next steps – Preparation: Suppose today you were asked to give a reason for the hope that is within you. What would you say?

T. M. Moore

You can download all the studies in this series, “Let God Be True,” by clicking here.

A companion book to this study, Understanding the Times, is available at our bookstore. Learn more about this book and order a free copy by clicking here.

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T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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