Reasoning Outside the Box of Human Reason

Unless you reason outside the box of human reason, you can forget about understanding the Jesus of the Bible. Only those willing and able to break the constraints of common experience and human rationalism can hope to make any sense of Jesus’ life and ministry.

The birth narrative of Jesus demands that we think outside the box. We have no conceptual or experiential category for a woman conceiving a child without sperm from a man. But the biblical authors announce that Jesus was conceived in the womb of a virgin named Mary by a direct act of God. We are to understand that although fully human, Jesus had no earthly, biological father—a reality Mary found no easier to grasp than we do (Luke 1:31-35).

Another mental box the Jesus of the Bible explodes is our understanding of kingship. Beginning with nursery rhymes and children’s stories and then attaining higher levels of historical awareness, we learn to conceive of kings as people born in palaces, attended by servants, and consumers of every luxury afforded by their culture. Kings rule their realms and lead armies. They conquer and reign, or at least try to.

But once again the Bible bursts the walls of this mental box. King Jesus is born in a cattle stall to a peasant woman. He is a wood worker and itinerant preacher who befriends commoners, carries no sword, and leads no army. And the placard proclaiming him king does not hang from an archway leading into his royal palace. It is not etched on a gold plate fixed to the back of an ivory throne. That placard is nailed to a rugged cross where Jesus is being tortured to death by soldiers and languishes under the curse of God (Matt. 27:35-46).

“Some king!” the critics scoff. Yet Jesus prophesied His crucifixion (Luke 18:31-33) and claimed that He would sit in victory at God’s right hand following His execution (Luke 22:69). Far from dismissing his earthly kingship as an abysmal failure, Jesus and His followers claimed that His ministry on earth secured His reign in heaven and guaranteed His future return to reign on earth (Acts 2:25-36; Rev. 19:11-20:4).

A third mental box Jesus explodes is our understanding of death. Experience teaches us that no one beats death. We have no humanly rational explanation for one vulnerable enough to succumb to a hideous execution, yet powerful enough to stare death in the face, conquer it and ascend to heaven’s throne. But this is precisely what Jesus claimed to do and what His followers proclaimed that He did—despite suffering persecution for their witness (Acts 3:11-4:3; 8:1-3). Unabashed by the seemingly irrational notion of bodily resurrection, Jesus’ followers insisted that Christianity was a farce without it (1 Cor. 15:15-19).

By the strict demands of human reason and experience, the birth, ministry and resurrection of Jesus Christ are absurd. We cannot catch these realities in the small boxes of human reason and experience. And this is precisely as God intends!

Both the critics and the modifiers of biblical Christianity need to recognize that God intentionally designed the way of salvation in Jesus to be naturally inconceivable. God ordained that the revelation of Christ prove impossible for human beings to grasp within the strictures of their own cognitive and existential powers.

The apostle Paul ably summarizes this theme: “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know him. God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:20-21).

In other words, God designed the path of salvation such that no one will ever boast in having found it on his own. God has ordained that no one be willing to believe in the authentic Christ until he or she has been divinely enabled to believe. We cannot see Jesus for who He really is until God opens our eyes to this spiritual reality (Matt. 11:27; 16:15-17; 1 Cor. 1:18; 2:4-16; 2 Cor. 4:6-7). God ordained this state of affairs to assure that no one will finally attempt to transfer God’s infinite glory onto finite creatures, but that all who are enabled to see the light of Jesus will revel in the infinite splendor of God’s mercy and grace through all eternity (Eph. 2:4-7).

At the heart of the mind-blowing truths that God opens eyes to see, is the truth that Jesus died to save sinners from God’s wrath. It is mind-boggling to think that God does not accept good people but receives those who are His natural enemies—people who lie, cheat, lust, swear, hate others, love themselves and fail to love God with all their hearts (Rom. 4:4-5; 5:10). It defies human reason that the sinless Jesus would die to pay the penalty of sin, forgive sinners, and defeat death in their place.

That may not seem to make sense, but deep down in your heart, you know this is exactly what you need. Around other sinners, you can get away with lying and cheating, with lust and greed, with gossip and bitterness. But God sees all and His standard is nothing short of absolute moral perfection. We need God to cancel our sin debt, to give us His righteousness and to mercifully embrace us as His own.

The good news is that God does just this for those who trust His saving grace in Christ. This transformation begins when God opens our blind eyes to see what we cannot naturally see; namely, that Jesus alone provides salvation from God’s wrath. Perhaps God is opening your eyes to see that what you so desperately need is precisely what Jesus alone supplies (Acts 4:12). Reach out right now and receive the free gift of salvation by faith and your joy will defy all human reason.


Dan Miller has served as the Senior Pastor of Eden Baptist Church since 1989. He graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College with a B.S. degree in 1984 and his graduate degrees include a M.A. in History from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the M.Div. and Th.M. from Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He is nearing completion of D.Min. studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dan is married to Beth and the Lord has blessed them with four children: Ethan, Levi, Reed and Whitney.

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RPittman's picture

Dan Miller has the challenged the paradigm of Rationalism that has fettered our thinking since the beginning of the Modern Age. Whereas rational methods have given us much progress and knowledge in the concrete, observable natural phenomenon of the physical world, these methods cannot span ultimate realities reaching beyond unto the supernatural. Rationalistic methods are limited to the experiences of our eyes, ears, and technology as well as the boundaries of the human mind. When we try to bring everything under the scrutiny of Rationalism, we limit ourselves. Only revelation can extend our knowledge of the world beyond human experience.

RPittman's picture

Quote:
By the strict demands of human reason and experience, the birth, ministry and resurrection of Jesus Christ are absurd. We cannot catch these realities in the small boxes of human reason and experience. And this is precisely as God intends!
Amen! And this is precisely the error of the Modernists and Liberals when they tried to bring Christianity and Scripture under the scrutiny of Naturalistic Rationalism. The ironic thing is that Fundamentalists, who rejected Modernism and Liberalism, employ the same naturalistic, rationalistic methods, limited by human reason and experience, in their search for spiritual truth beyond the Essentials (i.e. the Fundamentals). The question may well be how does spiritual discernment balance with academic scholarship?

kirkmensch's picture

Although surely not new, Millers argument emphasizes several limits to rationalism that is thankfully quite often discussed as a priori assumptions in metaphysics, moral philosophy and apologetics. It is good to clarify what is meant by “rationalism” and of course others before me have done this to some extent. Perhaps an exploration of Kant's treatise on the Critique of Pure Reason might provide one with a more resolute understanding of Millers argument. I might also recommend Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason...vis a vis The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and The Metaphysics of Morals. While I cannot agree with much of Kant’s theology, many of his logical arguments are none the less applicable to a defense of the faith.

RPittman's picture

Quote:
"Pure reason always has its dialectic, whether it is considered in its speculative or its practical employment; for it requires the absolute totality of the 'conditions of what is given conditioned, and this can only be found in things in themselves. But as all conceptions of things in themselves must be referred to intuitions, and with us men these can never be other than sensible and hence can never enable us to know objects as things in themselves but only asappearances, and since the unconditioned can never be found in this chain of appearances which consists only of conditioned and conditions; thus from applying this rational idea of the totality of the conditions (in other words of the unconditioned) to appearances, there arises an inevitable illusion, as if these latter were things in themselves (for in the absence of a warning critique they are always regarded as such)." (Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Practical Reason, Book II, Chapter 1)

And the definition of "rationalism" depends on the audience, I think. Beginning with the Enlightenment, it may be seen in the thoroughgoing philosophical Naturalistic Rationalism of a century ago, or it may be "common sense" arguments (i.e. rationalizations) of the man on the street. In the broadest sense, it is exemplified in scientism. I prefer a descriptive identification to a confining formal definition.

Although not original, Pastor Miller's article brings home things of which we need reminding. Its audience is an informed laity, not philosophers. The average college curriculum today, I fear, does not require an extensive reading of Kant. Furthermore, Miller's article gives nice balance to the current trend of looking to reason and scholarship for the promulgation of Christianity.

RPittman's picture

kirkmensch wrote:
While I cannot agree with much of Kant’s theology, many of his logical arguments are none the less applicable to a defense of the faith.
And what if the system of these arguments fails? Where stands the faith?

N.F. Tyler's picture

Everyone's worldview (atheist, agnostic, rationalist, Christian, everyone's), whatever it may be, is based on presuppositions -- 'ideas' which we accept 'on faith' and use (necessarily) to make sense of the world around us, establish beliefs, and rationalize those beliefs, etc., but which we have no 'rational' support for. Naturally, the presuppositions which we have strongly incline us to the beliefs that we have: our worldview. Modernist/liberal 'Christians' basically share the same presuppositions as the atheist, agnostic, and other non-believers -- they are coming from the same place -- which is ultimately why they water down the Word of God and reformulate it on modernist/liberal terms. Given their presuppositions (those of the world) they cannot not do this.

The Christian, on the other hand, must make the principles of the Word of God his presuppositions. Regeneration allows him to do this, to 'de-program' himself of the presuppositions of the world and reprogram with the principles of the Bible. Our worldview must be that of the Bible.

And regarding the inevitable modernist/liberal 'Christian' charge that to do so would be 'irrational', our presuppositions would be no more irritational than the modernist/liberal's presuppositions, for the presuppositions behind their worldview were equally accepted on faith. But our presuppositions and worldview, unlike theirs, have behind them the infallible authority and perfect trustworthiness of God.

RPittman's picture

N.F. Tyler wrote:
Everyone's worldview (atheist, agnostic, rationalist, Christian, everyone's), whatever it may be, is based on presuppositions -- 'ideas' which we accept 'on faith' and use (necessarily) to make sense of the world around us, establish beliefs, and rationalize those beliefs, etc., but which we have no 'rational' support for. Naturally, the presuppositions which we have strongly incline us to the beliefs that we have: our worldview. Modernist/liberal 'Christians' basically share the same presuppositions as the atheist, agnostic, and other non-believers -- they are coming from the same place -- which is ultimately why they water down the Word of God and reformulate it on modernist/liberal terms. Given their presuppositions (those of the world) they cannot not do this.

The Christian, on the other hand, must make the principles of the Word of God his presuppositions. Regeneration allows him to do this, to 'de-program' himself of the presuppositions of the world and reprogram with the principles of the Bible. Our worldview must be that of the Bible.

And regarding the inevitable modernist/liberal 'Christian' charge that to do so would be 'irrational', our presuppositions would be no more irritational than the modernist/liberal's presuppositions, for the presuppositions behind their worldview were equally accepted on faith. But our presuppositions and worldview, unlike theirs, have behind them the infallible authority and perfect trustworthiness of God.

Well, this is the standard, rational explanation of differing Weltanschauung. Yet, there is the enigmatic means of our coming to faith. It is more, I think, than either cultural conditioning or choosing presuppositions. There is the indefinable and unexplainable working of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God to bring men to faith in Christ Jesus. It is beyond rational, conscious thought. Antony Flew observed that C.S. Lewis wanted to come to belief in God through intellectual thought but even Lewis could not explain how he came to believe. Describing his journey, Lewis said that all he knew was that he didn't believe in the beginning but he did believe in the end. Somehow, saying that he formed and reasoned from certain presuppositions doesn't seem to explain the experience.

N.F. Tyler's picture

RPittman wrote:
Well, this is the standard, rational explanation of differing Weltanschauung. Yet, there is the enigmatic means of our coming to faith. It is more, I think, than either cultural conditioning or choosing presuppositions. There is the indefinable and unexplainable working of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God to bring men to faith in Christ Jesus. It is beyond rational, conscious thought. Antony Flew observed that C.S. Lewis wanted to come to belief in God through intellectual thought but even Lewis could not explain how he came to believe. Describing his journey, Lewis said that all he knew was that he didn't believe in the beginning but he did believe in the end. Somehow, saying that he formed and reasoned from certain presuppositions doesn't seem to explain the experience.

Certainly.

My 'presuppositional' schema positively assumes that behind the act of making one's presuppositions the principles of the Bible, and one's worldview that of the Bible, is the Holy Spirit at work. No one could do this -- no one would try -- without the inner workings of the Spirit, first of all through regeneration and saving faith.

And in no way am I suggesting that people can come to be Christians merely via a conscious, 'rational' decision to do so.

Rather, I am saying that Christians (the already regenerate, saved) should (and, again, the Spirit is always at work in a person here) take that extra step and abandon those (often many) presuppositons of the world which they brought over with them from their unregenerate, non-believing lives and replace them with the principles of the Word of God, so that their worldview is that of the Bible and not Biblical ideas plus worldly ideas/desires about God and man (which is what we see in so much of the evangelical world; Christians who have one foot each in antithetical worldviews, bringing worldly ideas/desires to their understanding of the Word and thereby corrupting doctrine, rather than viewing the Bible from the perspective of the Bible -- which is so often at odds with our own, or what we assume the perspective of the Bible to be from tradition).

An example of Christians holding onto worldly ideas/desires would be the idea that the truly saved can lose their salvation. We want to believe this, not because the Bible teaches it (it doesn't), but because of our non-Biblical ideas regarding 'fairness' and worldly desire to earn (or at least co-earn) our salvation. Christians bring worldly arguments to the table to support the belief, such as so the saved person can do anything he wants, kill and rob people, and he still goes to Heaven? That's ridiculous... etc., etc. He assumes that this is the perspective of the Bible, when it is a perspective which he has brought over with him from his prior, non-Christian life.

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