Views of the Bible: Rationalism

The Views of the Bible

Now that we have talked about how we recognize the Bible and the words of God and describe them in various ways, we are going to discuss the different views of the Bible. Throughout the world, there are several different ways people view the scriptures. We’ll take a look at some of the more prominent views.

Rationalism

How many of us like to admit that we think we are intelligent? How about admitting that we like to be in complete control? Consider science and the keeping of time. Even in the early years of American history, people generally told time by the sun or by using a timepiece which would lose or gain seconds or even minutes throughout the course of a day. Over the past few hundred years though, we have gone from keeping relative time to using standards worldwide that determine the precise time that even shows up on your cell phone. We now have clocks that are constantly in tune with a clock that is accurate to 1 second in 300 million years.

But guess what determines the accuracy of that clock?  The universe which God spoke into existence. They only know if they are accurately keeping time by the locations of the stars and by the newly defined bases for the second. It is now defined as the time that elapses during 9,192,631,770 cycles of the radiation produced by the transition between two levels of the cesium 133 atom. God’s creation is still the standard, but we, as man, like to think we have set the standards in place.

Rationalism is defined as: A system of belief regulated by reason, not authority; a disposition to apply to religious doctrines the same critical methods as to science and history, and to attribute all phenomena to natural rather than miraculous causes.

In school we are taught to use “critical thinking” and to “think for ourselves”. Those seem to be useful ideas in the world we live and truly are at some level. We are told to not blindly follow others into bad situations or to believe everything we hear. We can look at situations and assess them as potentially good or bad and take appropriate actions. We can use inductive and deductive reasoning to discern wise decisions concerning business, home, and other life applications. In all these things, we can determine what we think is right.

However, making all these assessments, discernments, and decisions solely off what we think and reason leads to a dangerous place.  If we temporarily ignore what the Bible says, we can quickly arrive at a number of “logically sound” moral beliefs.  For instance, outside of the Bible, can we really argue that homosexuality is wrong? Can we argue against abortion without the basis of the scriptures? We truly can’t even hold a solid argument against murder, rape, adultery, or any other acts that are considered “bad” and identified as sin in the Bible.

This view of the Bible is exactly why we can see so many arguing for those things that we know are against the word of God.  There tend to be two camps of Rationalism: Extreme Rationalism and Moderate Rationalism.

Extreme Rationalism denies the existence of God or, at a minimum, denies any revelation of God, especially through a written form. The two most prominent representation of Extreme Rationalism are Atheism and Agnosticism.  Atheism denies the existence of God completely while agnosticism claims that nothing is or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena.  An atheist will claim there is no god while and agnostic will claim to neither believe or disbelieve in God. Deism is a less known type of Extreme Rationalism that recognizes the existence of a creator but holds to a belief that the creator does not intervene in the universe. Many of the American forefathers were deists such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine.

Moderate Rationalism allows for the possibility of some revelation from God but goes on to say that the human mind is the final judge of the validity of revelation. We see this type of rationalism even today in Modernism and Religious Liberalism.  At first look, this seems the “lesser of two evils”.  However, a more thorough look at the issues that come with this logic and we see it is far more dangerous of a position to hold and, unfortunately, at some level, we have all held to this position at one time in our life or another and quite possibly even after claiming belief in God and His word as truth.  How many times have we said, “God would not let that happen,” or “I don’t think God ________ (fill in the blank with whatever random thought about God you have)”?  These statements seem small, but they lead to twisted and deluded theology.

In a world where we, as people, tend to like to believe we are rather smart, wise, and intellectual, it comes as no surprise that some people approach the Bible with the idea that their mind must approve of any meaning of scripture and adjust or re-explain in a way that agrees with their thinking for it to be accurate.  Let’s look at some more extreme views of this approach to the Bible.

Many churches now have women pastors. When they are confronted with the requirements established in the pastoral epistles concerning the pastorate to be held by men, they quickly come with a number or arguments.  They say things like, “Ruth was a judge and she wasn’t a man,” “Women can preach and teach just as well as many men,” “If men were doing their job right, women wouldn’t have to be pastors,” “It’s not our place to argue about who God has called and who He hasn’t,” or, maybe the most common, “Paul was a sexist and he was writing to a culturally archaic audience and that no longer applies.”

Many churches teach what is commonly known as “prosperity gospel”.  Confront them and they will respond with verses of scripture that do not entirely capture the context of the verses to justify their message that God wants them to be prosperous and wealthy in this world. They will say things like, “God would not want people to be poor who believe in Him or no one will want to believe in Him,” and “God helps those who help themselves.”

Some churches are now condoning homosexual marriage in the church. When confronted on how they justify such a move, they respond “The institution of marriage is owned by the state,” “Children are not a primary or essential purpose of marriage,” “Marriage is solely an emotional and practical alliance between two adults,” “The Bible doesn’t specifically say that two men or two women can’t marry,” or a host of other arguments.

Those cases are just a few examples, but let’s look at another, possibly more concerning, issue with Moderate Rationalism in the church today. In today’s Christian world view, many are recognizing the need to be apologists and defend the faith.  Often, this requires us to use logic and reasoning to refute false positions concerning God and His word.  What happens though, when we start applying that logic more liberally and begin to persuade others to see that the Bible is the Word of God on purely rationalistic grounds? They might then believe that they are a Christian when scripture says they are not. Sound potentially far-fetched? Paul addresses this idea in his first letter to the church at Corinth:

“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, announcing the mystery of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

We should be careful that we follow Paul’s example in knowing that faith in man’s wisdom cannot save. It is only the power of God which saves by grace, through faith, and in Christ.

There is another area which threatens the church when addressing Moderate Rationalism.  Those people that enter the church under a belief of salvation which is based on reasoning become what Paul warns Timothy of: they have “a form of godliness”, they are “always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth”, and “They are men who are corrupt in mind and worthless in regard to the faith.” (2 Timothy 3) These men will not teach in the spirit of truth and submission to God because “the person without the Spirit does not receive what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually.” (2 Corinthians 2:14) So, if they cannot understand spiritual things, what is the result of these ones who have a rationalistic faith?  They become the apostates and false teachers we are warned throughout the new testament. They become those who “will not tolerate sound doctrine” and “turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4) They will be those “people, like irrational animals – creatures of instinct born to be caught and destroyed – slander what they do not understand, and in their destruction they too will be destroyed.” (2 Peter 2:12b)

So, what is to be our position regarding Rationalism? We must follow the example Paul gives us:

“Now I Paul, myself, appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ – I who am humble among you in person but bold toward you when absent. I beg you that when I am present I will not need to be bold with the confidence by which I plan to challenge certain people who think we are behaving according to the flesh. For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:1-5

We must follow the instruction he gives Timothy:

“I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and because of his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:1-2

If we are truly to serve Christ, we must avoid Rationalism at all costs. We must submit our mind to God and to His word and recognize that it is the scriptures that must judge our mind and not our mind that can judge the scriptures. We must understand that, while intellect can be useful in studying God’s word, it is the Spirit which reveals truth and not our carnal mind. We must put off our natural mind and put on the mind of Christ and seek Him in spirit and in truth.  Finally, we must avoid intellectually charged approaches to spreading the gospel. If they will not believe on the word of God when it is preached, convincing them to believe in their own mind only serves to bring confusion and destruction.

Categories Rationalism, Views of the Bible

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