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A Reasonable Tool

How reason works.

Reason in the Service of Faith (4)

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
Lest you also be like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
Lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Proverbs 26.4, 5

Reason then and now
Believers are commanded always to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within us. We must be able to explain what we believe and to help others examine their own beliefs. Reason is the best tool for this effort. We can have confidence in reason to communicate our hope because God is a reasoning Being and human beings, His image-bearers, are reasoning creatures.

We can also have confidence in reason to explain our hope in Jesus because the Bible uses reason to do precisely that. This suggests that reason itself is a reasonable tool for the communication of eternal and spiritual truths.

All the writers of Scripture present their material in carefully reasoned ways, with clear logic and precisely crafted arguments or story lines. All the people in the Bible who were called to the work of proclaiming God’s will – prophets, preachers, apostles, and everyday believers – made use of sound reason to get their message across. The people of their day were no more attune to such disciplines as logic, argumentation, and the like than the people of our own. But every human being understands certain of the basics of reason, and they make use of reason every day of their lives. Thus, we have every reason to believe that what worked as a tool for the writers and preachers of Scripture can work for us yet today.

We do not look to reason to convert anyone to faith in Jesus Christ. Reason can, however, set the stage for grace to accompany the proclamation of the Good News and bring a new heart and a new life as God is pleased to do.

Reason as a tool
As a tool, reason works according to certain rules and procedures. We know these intuitively, so much so, in fact, that we can sense when someone is beginning to be “unreasonable” in a discussion or an argument, or when the logic of their views doesn’t make sense.

In general, reason proceeds as follows: First, discover or declare the facts and claims to be considered. Next, entertain contrary facts and claims. Third, weigh all facts and claims against available evidence. And finally, follow the weight of the evidence to achieve an appropriate commitment.

This is a very simplistic outline, I know, and there are various pitfalls and traps to be avoided in the use of reason. Nevertheless, for our purposes, this brief outline can help to keep us focused on the task at hand, that of providing a reasonable explanation of why the Gospel gives us such hope.

So we have many good reasons to expect that, if we can learn to use reason as a tool for making the Gospel make sense to our generation, many will hear the truth for the first time, and some of those who hear will actually believe (Acts 17.32-34). We cannot bypass reason in making the Good News known; we must not substitute appeals to emotion, offers of relief from pressing difficulties or fears, or anything less than the clear exposition of truth in working to win the hearts of lost men and women for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

We must proclaim the Gospel to our generation, just as believers in every generation before us. And we must rely on sound reason as a valuable tool for making God’s Good News make sense. The Gospel is reasonable. It makes sense – we know it does.

The challenge we must be willing to take up is to make this reasonable Good News make sense to the wrong-believing people around us. And again, while we may become skilled at giving a reason for the hope that is within us, so that those who hear us understand our reasons and explanations, this is no guarantee that those who understand will believe the Good New we proclaim.

The limits of reason
We must not be naïve about the power of reason. Reason can only do so much. No one can be reasoned into believing the Gospel. That requires a work of the Spirit of God, a work of faith. Reason can clear the way for faith, but it cannot engender it. Only God can do that. Ultimately, we rely on God to make the Gospel make sense to the people to whom He sends us. We plead with Him to have mercy and grace at the ready as we explain the Good News. We urge and seek to persuade, but we know that only God can convert.

After all, there are many hindrances to reason at work within the hearts and minds of our wrong-believing friends – doubts, biases, prejudices, and dumb ideas. Mere reason may not be able to overcome all of these. But we should always remember that we do not rely on mere reason alone for bringing the light of truth to our unbelieving age. God’s Spirit works with our words, and He can overcome even the most stubborn obstacles to reason, so that people might believe the Good News through the work of God’s Spirit.

So, even as we reason with our unbelieving friends, using reason as a tool to prepare the way for grace, we must remember that only if God the Spirit works with our words – and if our words are faithful to the Word of God – will our friends come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Reason is a tool, but the Holy Spirit is the power of grace for faith and eternal life.

For reflection
1. What’s the danger that comes with believing that reason is a tool for converting others to faith in Jesus?

2. What’s the danger in failing to use reason as a way of preparing for the work of God’s Spirit in converting others?

3. Why can we rest content, giving thanks and praise to God, whenever we have explained the hope that is within us, regardless of how others respond?

Next steps – Conversation: Today, strike up a conversation with someone in your Personal Mission Field. In the process, share a bit of your testimony about trusting Jesus Christ.

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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