Blog Archives

Love and Logic

What is the relationship between love and logic? The picture many of us are used to is one of opposition. Love is warm, embracing, and personal. Logic, on the other hand, is cold, distancing, and impersonal. Christian thinkers in general, and apologists in specific, must be ready to counter this caricature. It is both biblical false and dangerous to a robust Christian discipleship of the mind.

Biblical Examples

The Example of the Gospels. Several pieces have been written clarifying specific ways in which Jesus himself employed sharp critical thinking. While our Christlikeness may mean more than this, it certainly does not mean less. Here are some examples:

The Gospels often present logical reasons for their portraits of Jesus. How best should we handle passages in Matthew which say, “this was done in fulfillment of…”? The logic of these passage is as follows: “Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and this is why you should believe it.”

The Example of Paul. If a reasoned articulation of our faith, one with the goal of persuading unbelievers, is wrong-headed how best should we handle the biblical passages in Acts that say that Paul “reasoned” with others to convince them of his message (such as Acts 18:4, 26:28, 28:24, compare also 2 Cor. 5:11)? Paul’s epistles are extended arguments in favor of certain conclusions. So, in Galatians, Paul’s argue you cannot add your good works to the atonement of Christ, and spends several chapters presenting carefully reasoned arguments to support his claim.

Practical Considerations.

Christians should never separate what God has united: A heart for God and a mind for truth (The RTS motto). Our proclaiming the gospel can and should be combined with “arguing for,” and persuading people of its truth. I don’t use the word reconcile, because I don’t believe that reason, logic, and argument need to be reconciled with heart-felt faith …they aren’t at odds![i]

Unbelievers certainly misuse “logic” when they turn it against its very foundation[ii], that doesn’t mean that Christians are disqualified from utilizing this good gift of God. In fact, again, the line of reasoning that abandons things unbelievers misuse proves much too much. This would mean no longer using music as a means of conveying gospel truth because unbelievers likewise employ music to communicate false worldviews. It would also mean that Christians may no longer use theatre, poetry, or allegorical writings because they are all tactics the world (and other religions) use to convey their false belief systems. This where this line of thinking takes us.

Don’t get the impression that I’m advocating a heartless, dry intellectualism. That is simply not the case. When I seek to sharpen and improve my thinking, I seek to honor God. I believe with all my heart that Scripture is God’s word, and can therefore stand up to all supposed “intellectual” attacks made by those who oppose it. I believe that the best thinking shows, demonstrates, coheres with, and is in accordance with everything that we find in the Bible.  Do I believe this because I’ve worked out all of the problems and can safely tell unbelievers that there are no challenges? No! I believe in Christ, and all that Scripture teaches because God has revealed them.  I believe these things because God has opened my heart, causing me to repent of my sin, and has given me new eyes to see His world. The Holy Spirit has taken the scales off my eyes, shown me the beauty of Christ as the One in whom “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).

Apologetic Considerations.

When applying our reasoning to apologetics, we should remember that regardless of how persuasive we are, when our words are not accompanied by love they are both 1) a misrepresentation to the unbeliever (as if Christianity is a heartless faith), and 2) displeasing to God. A faith that does not work itself out in love (Gal. 5:6) is both dead and useless (James 2:14). We should never, in personal conversation with either believer or unbeliever, advocate a heartless, loveless appeal to history or logic.

Is trying to persuade people that Christianity is true a bad thing? Not if we take our queue from the Bible. Jude tells us to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), Paul instructs Timothy to “correct opponents” (2 Tim. 2:25), that Scripture is profitable for “correction and reproof” (2 Tim. 3:16), as well as to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). Like to Titus Paul teaches that Elders must “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9),” and that false teaches “must be silenced” (Titus 1:11).  All of these verses in the pages of God’s word command us to, at appropriate times, contend, commend, advocate, and “argue” that the biblical understanding of God, the world, man, sin, Christ, etc. is correct. These are biblical passages that must be taken seriously.

To reject the use of rationality and reason in matters of our faith is known as fideism.  Fideism presents our faith as either an irrational or non-rational. No Christian should accept Christianity based on blind faith. The kind of fideistic conviction that grounds the truth of Christianity in one’s subjectivity (i.e. because they feel strongly about it) proves too much. A Latter-day Saint may claim that they truly, truly believe Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, but simply believing it doesn’t make Mormonism true. A Muslim may claim with all their heart that they believe Mohamed was the prophet of Allah, but this doesn’t make Islam true.

The Danger of Bad Philosophy

Once again: logic is not inherently sinful. Developing one’s analytical abilities is simply the discipline of thinking clearly and avoiding mistakes in reasoning. It can, and must, be used in a God-honoring fashion. Biblical passage frequently cited to dismiss the importance of “philosophy,” like 1 Cor. 1-2, are of course, all true. Let’s avoid hollow and worldview philosophy. But let’s also look at the context of such passages. The point Paul is making in all of those verses can be reduced to a few simple points: 1) the truth of the gospel cannot be reduced or explained merely be “fancy-talking” (what Paul calls “persuasive words,” “worldly wisdom,” etc), and 2) unbelievers show their hostility to God by taking a gift that He has given them (the capacity to think) and trying to use it against Him.

Likewise, in Colossians, Paul says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). This verse, though commonly thought to rule out learning philosophy, logic, etc. altogether, actually does no such thing.  What this verse does do, however, is rule out doing these things when done “not according to Christ.” So, believers should seek to sharpen their reasoning abilities precisely because they seek to honor the Lord who gave them this capacity and whose righteous thinking we are to reflect.

Paul tells Christians not be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Rom. 12:2). Here Paul is speaking of the great truths of sin, grace, justification, and the mystery of God’s election covered in the first 11 chapters of Romans. The Pharisees and their ilk didn’t truly reason with Christ, they tried to rationalize their legalism. Big difference. It was bad, flawed, and ungodly thinking and spiritual rebellion that caused them to oppose the sinless Son of God. If we blame it on “logic,” then let’s agree that it was logic “not according to Christ.” Logic is not something man made, but rather reflects the mind of God whose thinking is clear, unified, and without error or confusion.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I’m not advocating an intellectualist religion. I think both are needed, a heart for God and a mind for truth.  Thinking critically is not opposed to a vibrant faith. Love and careful reasoning are both useful in testifying to Christ. They work like the two blades on a pair of scissors. The same Paul that commanded that we “speak the truth in love” also said, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” (2 Cor. 10:5).

[i] I don’t define an “argument” as a heated discussion, but rather providing clear reasons for the convictions we hold dear.

[ii] Though, as I’ve said before, I don’t think it’s the proper use of logic.

John Piper on Thinking Christianly

From Desiring God:

Right thinking about God exists for the sake of right feeling for God. This was the main point of John Piper’s Friday night message, “Think Christ,” at the Hirten Konferenz in Bonn, Germany.

Expanding upon Thursday night’s message, “Feel Christ,” Piper said that being satisfied in God will not glorify God if our satisfaction in God is not based on right thinking.

Piper gave 10 arguments for the indispensible role of right thinking and right knowing in the life of the Christian:

  1. It is possible to have strong feelings and be lost if the feelings are not based on knowledge (Romans 10:1-2).
  2. God has planned that thinking about the Bible is the means he uses to give understanding (2 Timothy 2:7).
  3. Paul is given as an example of reasoning with the Bible (Acts 17:2-3).
  4. Jesus assumes and requires that we will use logic in understanding both what is natural and what is spiritual (Luke 12:54-57).
  5. Jesus refuses to deal with people who use their reason to conceal truth (Matthew 21:23-27).
  6. Thirteen times in Paul’s letters, he asks the question, “Do you not know?” Paul assumes that if his readers knew something, they would see things differently, feel differently, and act differently.
  7. The Bible tells us that Christ has given pastors and teachers to the church and tells us that they should be apt to teach—because God intends that the Bible be explained to ordinary folks who don’t have the time or ability to go as deep as God wants them to go. Christ would not have given teachers to the church if he thought they were not needed.
  8. The Bible declares that we should proclaim the whole council of God (Acts 20:27). That implies that there is a coherent unified whole, a body of doctrine, that should be given to the church. It is not easy to find this whole council in a book with 1,500 pages! It’s mainly mental labor. Finding the unified biblical theology that the people need to know takes hard thinking.
  9. The Bible is a book, which means that it must be read.
  10. An example of how thinking and valuing and acting relate to each other is Matthew 7:7-12.

On the final point, John Piper said that thinking is necessary to get meaning from a text and to then present it to others. In particular he pointed to the first word in verse 12.

I read Matthew 7:12 for 25 years before I asked how it relates to the previous verse. Why does verse 12 begin with “so”? Because confidence that God will meet our needs is what frees us to take radical risks in loving other people. “Do unto others . . .” because you know God is going to answer your prayers and take care of you.

God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. But that satisfaction in God does not glorify him unless it is based on right thinking and right knowing. God is all-satisfying because he’s a Father who gives us everything we truly need. And that kind of deep unshakeable satisfaction in our Father causes us to value things differently than the world. Therefore, we will love our neighbors. Right thinking with right feeling changes our behavior.

For more by Piper on godly thinking, see his Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God.