Is Faith in God the Opposite of Reason? [Book Excerpt from Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side]

Is Faith in God the Opposite of Reason?

I’m counting the days now until Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side is officially released on March 1! It finally seems around the corner. Thanks so much to all of you who have already pre-ordered. It’s been the #1 new release in Amazon’s Christian apologetics category for the better part of the last two months! I’m thrilled to see that so many parents are excited to get better equipped for these important conversations with their kids.

For those of you who have pre-ordered or plan to order, I want to let you know that I’ll be posting details in a couple of weeks on a read-along I’ll be doing soon after the book comes out. I’ll be creating a private Facebook group where we’ll read through the book together over 10 weeks. Each week, we’ll read 4 chapters (about 20 pages) and I’ll lead a discussion of key points and answer questions you have. This will be a great opportunity to connect with other Christian parents, to learn in community, to stay motivated in your reading, to ask me any questions you have, and to stay connected after the read-along as a group committed to building a Christ-centered home! I’m really excited about it, and I hope you will be too. More details coming soon. In the meantime, let’s get back to the subject of this post.

Last month I shared the full introduction to the book here on the blog. Today I want to share a full chapter so you can see what the rest of the book is like (this will be the last full excerpt that I can share here). Following is Chapter 8: Is Faith in God the Opposite of Reason? This is a particularly important topic to be able to discuss with your kids given how regularly they’ll hear that being a Christian is irrational and unreasonable. I hope you enjoy this excerpt.


Chapter 8: Is Faith in God the Opposite of Reason?

Our family went on a summer vacation when our twins were four and our youngest was two. Vacation with three young kids should really be called “that occasional week in your life when you take care of your kids in another location,” but I digress. We soon realized how limited we were in the kinds of activities the kids could do at that age, so we spent most of the week at the hotel swimming pool trying to teach our twins how to swim.

My daughter quickly figured out how to make her way through the water independently, but things didn’t go so smoothly for my son. He kept trying, but he was choking every time he came out of the water. He would pop up wailing, “I got water in my mouth and nose AGAIN!”

Each time, I reminded him, “You have to hold your breath! Don’t open your mouth under water. Hold your breath.” Then I would set him back on the edge of the pool to try again.

After a couple of days, I became exasperated. I couldn’t figure out why he refused to hold his breath—such a simple thing! But then a light bulb went on in my mind. My eyes must have been as big as saucers when I realized the likely problem.

“Wait… do you know what breath is?! Do you know what it means to hold your breath?”

He burst into tears. “NO! I don’t understand! WHAT is breath?”

I had practically beaten him over the head for two days with the words “hold your breath” and he didn’t even know what that meant. He kept jumping in the water, hoping he would figure it out, but came up struggling every time.

That experience made me reflect on how easy it is to incorrectly assume our kids (both big and small) understand words and concepts that are foundational to what we teach them. One extremely important example of this is a word that almost every Christian parent uses but rarely stops to define: faith.

I heard it over and over again growing up in church, and I hear Christians say it all the time today: “Just have faith.” But what does that mean? What exactly are we telling our kids to “just” have? Without further explanation, they can easily conclude over time that Christians are called to have a very simple, unexamined belief in God. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

But that’s not the only issue. The problem that Christians often use the word faith ambiguously has been exacerbated by the fact that atheists today are actively promoting their own definition—that faith is the opposite of reason. Even many Christians, unsure themselves of what biblical faith means, have started to buy this description. Without a strong footing in their own beliefs, they’ve retreated to an impenetrable spiritual fortress where they proudly respond that faith—not reason—is all they need.

Meanwhile, our kids eventually witness this cultural dialogue and feel the burden of shame for holding supposedly unreasonable beliefs. It has to stop.

Just as with my son’s swimming experience, this is a problem of definitions. The definition of faith and the definition of reason matter greatly in the Christian life. In this chapter, we’ll get to the bottom of what each word means.

 

What Is Reason?

Peter Grice, a contributing author to the excellent book True Reason, describes reason as “fundamentally the act of engaging the mind—whether done intuitively or rigorously, poorly or flawlessly. It is, ideally, a process of careful thinking, always involving logic, and often drawing upon evidence.”

I love this definition because it highlights a vital point often missed: Reason, at its core, is simply the process of thinking—a process that can be done well or poorly. There’s nothing inherently praiseworthy about merely reasoning, though that’s how atheists often make it sound. Everyone reasons. The more specific implied charge against Christians, therefore, is that they reason poorly.

So how, supposedly, do Christians reason poorly? I’ll let four atheist authors tell you themselves. See if you can identify the theme:

  • Sam Harris: “Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.”
  • Richard Dawkins: “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.”
  • William Harwood: “The difference between faith and insanity is that faith is the ability to hold firmly to a conclusion that is incompatible with the evidence, whereas insanity is the ability to hold firmly to a conclusion that is incompatible with the evidence.”
  • Bertrand Russell: “We may define ‘faith’ as the firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. Where there is evidence, no one speaks of ‘faith.’ ”

Did you catch the theme? No evidence, no evidence, no evidence. The pervasive claim that faith is opposed to reason is really shorthand for, “There’s no evidence for God, so anyone who has faith in Him is necessarily using poor reasoning given that good reasoning is based on an intellectually honest response to evidence.”

There are three essential things to note about this.

First, there are Christians who reason poorly, but that doesn’t mean Christian belief is necessarily based on poor reasoning. Anyone, including atheists, can reason poorly. The ability to reason well cannot be claimed as the exclusive domain of those who have thoughtfully arrived at any particular worldview.

Second, the force of this entire implied statement rests on the assertion that there’s no evidence for God. If I truly believed that, I would actually agree with the atheist’s conclusion—believing in Him would be crazy! It would be like believing there’s a unicorn in the other room when there’s no reason to think as much. The reality is that neither Christians nor atheists are willing to believe in something without evidence; Christians believe there is evidence for God. It’s dishonest for atheists to state as a given that there’s no evidence and maintain that Christians are happy to believe anyway (see chapter 10 for a big-picture view of how the evidence for Christianity fits together). A more honest assessment would be that Christians and atheists disagree over what constitutes legitimate evidence for God.

Third, atheists label this ill-conceived idea of Christians believing in God without evidence “faith.” As we discussed previously, they’ve used the word faith in this way so loudly and frequently that our culture has largely accepted that that’s what it means. The Bible, however, gives a very different picture of what it means to have faith. Let’s look at that now.

 

What Is Faith?

The Bible’s most direct description of faith is found in Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Many skeptics latch on to the words “hoped for” in this verse and claim that even the Bible says faith is just a matter of wishful thinking. But that completely ignores the other key words—“assurance” and “conviction.” This verse doesn’t say faith is the hope of things hoped for, but the assurance of things hoped for. Furthermore, the verse doesn’t suggest that assurance is based on boundless fantasies, but on conviction. In other words, this doesn’t portray faith as an irrational leap into the unknown. Rather, it presupposes that Christians have good reasons for belief, leading to assurance and conviction.

It’s important to clarify here that faith itself isn’t a belief. It’s the commitment to a belief—a commitment that arises when you place your trust in something you have good reason to believe is true. All people—Christians and atheists alike—exercise faith. For example, you get on an airplane without checking the pilot’s license, reviewing the mechanic’s log, or checking the cargo for explosives. Do you know with absolute certainty that people have done those things for you and have done them correctly? No. Do you have good reason to trust that they have? Yes. That’s faith.

Likewise, the Bible calls Christians to faithfully trust in Jesus because we’ve been given good reason to believe God sent Him to be the Savior of the world. Some key scriptures that speak to the importance of good reasoning in the Christian life include:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, emphasis mine).

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

“Do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20).

“In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

Perhaps the ultimate testimony that God values evidence and good reasoning is Jesus’ life. Jesus didn’t run around making extraordinary claims without offering evidence to back them up. He substantiated His claims with miracles—actions no one could perform without the divine power He alleged He had. If God truly valued a blind, evidence-free faith, He could have sent Jesus unaccompanied by such proof. He could have delighted in seeing how many people would buy the astonishing claims of a first-century man from the unremarkable town of Nazareth. Instead, He offered evidence that Jesus was who He said He was—by the miracles performed during His life, and eventually through the greatest miracle of all, the resurrection (on the evidence for the truth of the resurrection, see chapters 21-24).

 

Biblical Faith and Reason Go Hand-in-Hand

As you’ll see throughout this book, half our battle as Christian parents is just stopping to define words and concepts. We can’t allow atheists to hijack the biblical meaning of faith and inappropriately redefine it in terms that leave our kids feeling ashamed of Christianity. Far from being the opposite of (good) reason, biblical faith is rooted in good reason. But your kids shouldn’t just take your word for it. They need you to show them the evidence for Christianity (presented throughout this book) in order for that fact to become meaningful in their lives. So press on! It’s time for part 2: Conversations About Truth and Worldviews.

 

Like what you read? There are 39 more chapters waiting for you in Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith! Click here to learn more about the book or pre-order now!

4 Comments

  1. Andrea on January 29, 2016 at 2:00 PM

    What a great, thoughtful post. Thanks for sharing.



    • Natasha Crain on February 1, 2016 at 7:29 PM

      Thanks so much, Andrea!



  2. Adaeze on February 3, 2016 at 5:48 AM

    Hi, Natasha. Very inspiring post, even for us adults, in line with 1 Peter 3:15, to be able to defend our faith (pun intended)! You did a good job pointing out how Christianity/faith doesn’t automatically mean the lack evidence. I want to highlight the other key word in Peter Grice’s definition of reason: logic. Drawing from the many miraculous child conceptions in the Bible, God expected each couple in question, to logically follow the natural laws He had already set in place. He didn’t just make “empty promises”, and bam! children popped into wombs. He could have easily told Abraham, “Sarah would have a son, go do nothing”. But the Bible carefully records how the man knew his wife (go, kjv!) in each case. I mean except the virgin Mary, God still gave conception with the natural laws He set. That’s logic, as far as i’m concerned. (I stand to be corrected. )