Faith and Reason: Three Views by Steve Wilkens

I believe that reason and faith are compatible. I believe that philosophy and theology should work together. I believe that each field should have sphere sovereignty. I believe that without God’s grace our reason is distorted. I believe that every sphere of inquiry is ultimately directed towards God. Quite unsurprisingly there are many out there who disagree with what I believe. Two of those people are Carl Raschke and Craig Boyd. Both of their positions of the topic of faith and reason can be found in a recent book that Steve Wilkens edited called Faith and Reason: Three Views.

This most recent volume in the Spectrum: Multiview Books series covers the ever contentious topic of the relationship between faith and reason. It attempts to answer questions like “are philosophy and theology allies or foes?” “Can faith contradict reason?” “What comes first reason or faith?” “Does one have priority over the other?” Steve Wilkens provides a brief but helpful introduction to this topic. He sets the stage for three philosophers – Carl Raschke, Alan Padgett, and Craig Boyd – to make their best case for how faith and reason relate to one another.

Carl Raschke – Faith and Philosophy in Tension

Raschke argues that faith and reason are exclusive of one another. He makes the case that there is an ontological distance between Creator and creation which does not allow reason to “get” to God. However he does more than simply build an ontological argument, he argues based on the notion that God is a subject and not an object. This means that God cannot be known through detached and objective reason, God can only be known through a personal approach of love and trust, hence God can only be known through faith.

Alan Padgett – Faith Seeking Understanding

Padgett argues that Christians are called to make full use of reason to aid in organizing, interpreting, and understanding what they already believe though faith. Under this view, faith has a logical and temporal priority over reason. Much like Augustine Padgett insists that reason never operates in isolation from volition but is always directed and motivated by desire. Because of this, faith, or a trust and desire for God must be the motivating factor for our use of reason.

Craig Boyd – Thomistic Synthesis

Boyd makes an argument for the notion that natural reason/philosophy is the “handmaiden” of theology. He argues that reason can serve to lead people into faith. Of course grace plays a major part in this position, for grace sanctifies natural reason, however this position seems to be very optimistic in unsanctified reason to know many true things about God.

The Arguments

Briefly, Raschke’s argument lacks exegetical bite. He seems to argue for certain positions that most exegetes would vehemently disagree with. His argument for Faith and Philosophy in Tension relies upon these arguments, so at the end of the day his argument falls flat. Boyd’s essay is probably the strongest essay in the entire book. Boyd argues very clearly and he addresses many possible objections to his position. However his biggest problem is that he underestimates the noetic effects of sin. He seems to believe that reason is unaffected by the fall but how can this be? If reason is motivated primarily by our will and desires, how can reason be accurate when fallen reason is motivated by a twisted will and sinful desires? At the end of the day, Padgett’s position is the strongest. He takes seriously the biblical injunctions to know God with one’s mind and to seek wisdom, he takes seriously humanity’s capability to know some (very limited) things about the Divine (I don’t want to call this knowledge of God…), and finally he takes sin and human depravity seriously.

Assessment

I am a big fan of the multiple views book series. They are extremely helpful for whetting one’s appetite for larger debates and discussions. This book certainly possesses that characteristic. I can easily see college or seminary students reading this book for a class in an introductory theology or philosophy course. When these student read this sort of book, they will certainly be led to choose a position which best reflects their own, or they might even be led to change what they believe. Regardless of what happens, this book will certainly spur on some heated discussion over the relationship between faith and reason. I highly recommend it!

Faith and Reason: Three Views will certainty spark some debates about the relationship between faith and philosophy!

(Note: I received this book courtesy of IVP Academic in exchange for an impartial review.)
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