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Christians are not immune from thinking independently of God. We do it when we think we can circumvent clear passages which we would rather say something other than what they say.
We can see this in two episodes in the life of our Lord.
In the first, Jesus warns the disciples to “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6). The narrative then says the disciples “reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘It is because we have taken no bread.’” This brought forth a rebuke from Jesus:
O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves … do you not understand … How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? – but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matt. 16:8-11)
Then the narrative tells us that “they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Clearly the reasoning of the disciples was faulty and brought forth a righteously indignant response from Jesus. They were reasoning this way because faith was not guiding their reason. Notice that Jesus does not explain His meaning to them in verse 11, but simply repeats the warning of verse 6. That was because there was sufficient information in what He said to them for them to gain the right understanding—provided they let faith guide their reason!
The other example is in Mark’s Gospel. In Mark 4:35-41 we have the record of Jesus’ stilling of the wind and the sea. It starts out with Jesus’ statement of intent:
Let us cross over to the other side.
As the story moves forward these men, some of whom were seasoned sailors, began to panic and fear for their lives because of the squall which was pitching their boat up and down and throwing water in on the sides. In their fretting they petulantly rose the Lord with the words, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Then what do we read? The Lord rebuked the wind and the waves, and then He rebuked the disciples.
Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?
You see, faith would have prevented them from reasoning to the conclusion that they were on the verge of capsizing. While the noisy and raucous storm had their attention they couldn’t employ faith to guide their thinking. But Jesus was in the boat! Jesus had said they were going to the other side. It wasn’t for them to reappraise His words because they could not see how they could be true given the present circumstances. The same lesson can be gathered from Peter’s turn on the water in Matthew 14:22-33.
A very telling episode is found at the close of John’s Gospel where Jesus replies to Peter’s question about John,
If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” (Jn. 21:22).
But look what happens next. Reason is taking the helm and they begin thinking independently:
Then this saying [which is completely misinterpreted] went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but … (Jn. 21:23)
And, of course, the words of Jesus are repeated exactly as He spoke them in verse 21. What is the lesson? Surely it is take heed of what God says and let faith guide the way you reason about it. (This is what the “Rules of Affinity” seek to help us do). The more divergence there is from what God actually says, the more opportunity there is for us to reason independently in our attempts to understand. And in such circumstances we are always at more risk of missing what God is saying.
A Shining Example of Right Reasoning
There are many examples of men and women of God who get it right because they believe in order to understand. In Hebrews 11:17-19 Abraham provides perhaps the greatest example of faith going before reason in his willingness to sacrifice Isaac because that is what God told him to do. He did not reason like this:
Oh, well, since Isaac is the promised one who I’ve waited so long for, God wouldn’t really want me to kill him. God isn’t like those pagan deities which demand such sacrifices! Obviously this is meant as an allegory or a type or something like that.
I might have reasoned that way under the circumstances, but Abraham’s faith controlled his reason. And so Abraham,
conclud[ed] that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead (Heb. 11:19a).
He could not have come to that conclusion if his faith had not assured him that the only way out of the apparent contradiction was that God would just have to raise Isaac up again!
Faith connects us with our Creator and Father. It makes us dependent on Him and that pleases Him. Since we are urged to “bring every thought into captivity to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5), employing “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), we are to renounce autonomy, and struggle in faith to cleave to God. As Solomon put it,
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. (Prov. 3:5-6)
From a Christian-biblical perspective then, faith ought always and everywhere to guide and instruct our reason.
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.