I Think, Therefore . . .

Rationalism is knowledge or belief gained through reasoning. The fields of philosophy, science, and mathematics have long been the strongholds for rationalistic thought. This is mirrored in a perverse view of man's creativity and intellectual superiority in which such things are to be the source of truth and authority. Concepts that don't make sense to "the experts" are too easily and quickly rejected in today's culture, fostering the opinion, "I am right because I trust the experts on ‘x.'" Educational credentials often become the sole basis for credibility. But educational credentials have their own agenda. Biblical teachings such as creation or miracles have been ruled out-of-bounds in much of academia.

Many questions from the disciplines of philosophy, science, and mathematics are designed to evoke a skeptical view of Christianity: "If there is a god, why are there not more positive miraculous occurrences and fewer calamities?"; "Why is there so much evil in the world if God is good?"; "Why would you put your trust in someone as narrow-minded as Jesus?" There are no philosophical, scientific, or mathematical formulae that can answer such questions. In a context of rationalism, this means that the questions themselves are designed to show thenaiveté or irrelevance of religion. Raising the dead by a spoken word, rather than heroic, scientifically-based medical means is not an activity science has any real interest in affirming.

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Authority's Author

So how does the Christian respond to these challenges? How do we think about the empirical and the rational? How do we think about events recorded in the Bible when science disagrees? How do we think about the conflicts between Scripture and culture, or Scripture and philosophy, or Scripture and science, or . . . ? How do we face these difficulties and work through them in light of our Christian commitment and in light of God's word?

If the tendency is to approach Scripture as inspirational reading, is it possible to view it as an absolute authority? To speak of the Bible's authority is to be perceived as being intolerant, which is seen as the mark of the simpleminded and unintelligent. Above all, today's generations seek to be open and teachable and loving. Jesus' words of exclusivity do not fit with the rational, reasoned voices calling for freedom in religious practice. It doesn't seem right or wise to speak openly about a religion that states there is only one way to God or that there is only one God. It just doesn't seem to make sense.

But doesn't the notion of "making sense" itself have its own cultural, philosophical, and scientific bias? Does it make sense that God would part a sea to allow an entire nation to walk through on dry ground? Does it make sense that out of all the stars and planets, our one solar system supports human life and is the recipient of his grace? Does it make sense that Jesus, who is divine, would take a human body and suffer physical pain? Does it make sense that God's incredible range of creativity in plants and flowers and animals was given for man's enjoyment? These things do not make sense to our rational or empirical processes. It is no wonder, then, that students ask why the Koran, the Book of Mormon, or the writings of Buddha or Confucius don't hold just as much authority as the Bible.

Jesus and Authority

For the Christian, the question is, why should I stake my life and hope on the Christ of the Bible? Those who investigate the validity of Scientology, Christian Science, Ellen White and the Seventh Day Adventists, or groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses, have addressed the question of the authority of the Bible. The question is as old as history itself; it dates back to the Garden of Eden and extends through the New Testament. An incident at the initiation of Jesus' public ministry will help us to focus the issue: