The Defense of the Faith
Revelation or Reason?
It is very easy for a person to say and believe that he has faith in God while, in reality, he has faith in his own opinion about God. Believing our own opinion of God is, in fact, present in our sin because it was a very real part of man's first sin.
You have likely heard the quip, You think too much! In a similar vein, our sin often centers around thinking too much of our thoughts. Much of our sin occurs when we give our thoughts priority over God's Word, which is, really, to put ourselves before God.
Satan and Eve
Satan's first words to Eve were a challenge to doubt God's Word, to question it. Rather than Thus saith the LORD, Satan encouraged Eve to question, Yea, hath God said?
Eve, in fact, knew the words of God and quoted them to Satan. Satan's response was to cast doubt on the reliability of God's words: Ye shall not surely die. Man, Satan declared, had other options. In fact, he claimed, God was hiding the full truth, He was being selfish in trying to maintain control over two potentially autonomous moral beings. God, the tempter claimed, was a spin-doctor hiding the full truth, For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
Satan's suggestion to Eve and her husband with her was first of all to question God's revelation of truth and then to decide on a course of action for themselves based on their own self-interest. All sin repeats this pattern of rejecting God because we are too busy playing God.
Man's sin was to play God, to determine for himself good and evil. In order to do that, man has to repeat the concurrent sin of Adam and Eve of questioning God's revelation, of determining truth by his own criteria. Satan persuaded our first parents to submit God and His Word to the bar of their reason, as if their intellect could sit in judgment over their Creator.
In Modern Times
In modern times, two major intellectual movements in the West represent the continuing struggle between ultimate faith in revelation and in reason. The Reformation stood firmly in terms of Scripture as the basis of faith and life. This faith in the revelation of God was accompanied by a corresponding faith in its Sovereign Author. Scripture, as the law-word of God, was the standard of truth to which men deferred.
The Enlightenment rejected the theistic emphasis of the Reformation. It involved a conscious repudiation of divine revelation and Biblical law in favor of man's reason and nature as the source of natural law. Building on the advancing frontiers of Protestant Europe, the Enlightenment saw the progress of reason as inevitable. The French Revolution was the beginning of a series of horrors spawned by this humanistic rationalism. More revolutions followed in the 19th century, until WWI broke the faith of modern man in the inevitability of progress. Darwin also contributed, on an intellectual level, to the loss of faith in man's progress. Though he attempted to explain the world by naturalistic means, in doing so he destroyed the concept of nature as a source of natural law. Darwin's theory necessitated a view of nature as a realm of the random, meaningless combination of matter. Nature, after Darwin, could not be a source of law.
Marked by a sequence of bloodletting revolutions and war, the faith of man in reason as a process of civil discourse gave way to what we now call political correctness, which is a code of humanistic morality imposed by coercion. Such coercion in schools, courts, and media was accomplished by the advance of relativistic rationalism not by poets and philosophers, but increasingly by revolutions and statist action. The progress of reason's march has continued to be marked by enslavement, destruction, decapitalization, and death.
Sin, whether by an individual or by a culture, never allows man to get ahead. In viewing the present state into which Enlightenment thinking has brought us, we are, at times, awed by the forces that align themselves against God and His Word. The threat of coercive action awaits all those who resist the march of the humanist's dream.
The humanists, however, have failed to live up to their professed allegiance to reason. They display this failure every time they resort to law and coercion. As liberalism becomes truer to itself it becomes uglier and its failures more prominent. Because God is Truth, all things must conform themselves to His logic and plan or be dashed to pieces in judgment.
Lest we see the sin of reliance on reason only in terms of its most anti-Christian advocates, we must remember that Christians can and often do elevate reason above God and His Word. Rationalism is not just the sin of avowed rebels. The serpent was, remember, more subtle than any beast of the field. As Adam and Eve fell for Satan's subtlety, we fall for it whenever we place ourselves in the position of questioning God.
When we create an idea or image of God that we try to impose upon Him we put that idea above Him as our law and act as the judge of God. When we view the world as one of mere facts that are ours to interpret in terms of our own understanding we play god and allow our reason a priority over God and His Word. When our experience, logic, or preferences cause us to preface our approach to God with the idea I think we play the role of a deity standing over God Himself. Ultimately, a man who depends on reason knows only one authority, himself.
God as Our Center
It was part of man's first sin to believe that he could question God's revelation and decide good and evil for himself. We repeat that sin every time we fail to begin and end with God as the center of our thoughts.
God gave us minds to use in His service. He did not give us minds to exalt over Him and His revelation. Reason, when used to challenge God, is irrational and schizophrenic, for reality and truth are centered in God. Reason cannot be independent of God or it becomes a false god and an aspect of rebellion against the living and true God.
Our God must be the God of Scripture. Our faith must be in Him and we must claim no other standard of understanding and judgment. We are called, moreover, not to prove God by our fallen and fallible criteria, but to have faith in Him as He reveals Himself to us in His Word.
When Adam and Eve sinned, their eyes were opened (Gen. 3:7). They knew what they had done and hid from God's righteous judgment. God had mercy upon them, however. May He have mercy upon us for too often elevating our pathetic minds over Him and His Revelation.
Rev. Mark R. Rushdoony is president of Chalcedon and Ross House Books. He is also editor-in-chief of Faith for All of Life and Chalcedon’s other publications.