Both reason and experiences (or feelings) are integral to the life of the Christian and the life of the Christian church/community. In regard to reason, it is the very thing that enables a Christian to think, and at times – to rethink their way through the Scriptures such is the case for Christianity in light of the continuous flow of scientific discovery. Even more so, reason lends to interpretation of the Scriptures, which is vital to Christian understanding and behavior. However, reason has a proper place within Christianity, and it must be understood that reason should serve faith, which places the human mind under the authority of Scripture.Simply put, reason is not a replacement for faith, which is the pitfall that many, beginning with the Age of Reason, have fallen – and continue to fall into. Further, Scriptures show that human reason was not immune to the fall of humanity (2 Cor. 10:5), and although there are remnants of good within human nature that have survived the Fall event, human reason became just as infected as the rest of the human being. This means that Christians must take great caution in avoiding over-confidence in reason alone.
Christianity is not only about proper understanding of the Scriptures rather it also involves living out what is understood from the Scriptures (James 1:22). The great intellect, Blaise Pascal understood that experience is what gave meaning to reason. In reference to Pascal, Shelley writes, “Even reason is no sure guide. If we trust reason alone, we will doubt everything except pain and death . . . God and the meaning of life must be felt by the heart rather than by reason: ‘The heart has its reasons which reason does not know.’”However, just as reason became infected by sin – human emotion and feelings, which lend to our experiences are fallen as well. Simply put, human “feelings” also have a proper place, which is under the authority of Scripture.
In summary, for Christians and the Church, it is not simply about maintaining an equal measure between reason and experience. As the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (a phrase coined by Albert Outler) shows the four essential tools of theology – Scripture, reason, tradition and experience – are not equilateral.Clearly, Scripture holds the emphasis in Protestant Christianity. That said, an overemphasis in one over the other (not including Scripture) must be avoided. An extreme example of an over-emphasis in reason would be Deism where reason is the dominant factor in discovering truth.In the Church – an over-emphasis on reason often comes at the cost of an under-emphasis of the need for salvation, which is evident in the following quote, “Man is no sinner. He is a reasonable creature. Now he seemed to need common sense more than God’s grace.”
In contrast to the above, an over-emphasis in experience or “feelings” often comes at the cost of an under-emphasis of understanding and perhaps even falsely living out the written Word, which can be seen when a person allows their feelings to interpret the Scriptures over what is hopefully sound reason. The point is that an overemphasis often comes at the cost of the other, and as this discussion has hopefully shown – both reason and experience are most effective together rather than apart.
To close, in the introduction of Thinking, Loving, Doing, David Mathis writes, “The Christian life is more than mere intellect. And the angle of feeling – the life of the heart – won’t do justice by itself to the full biblical witness. It’s more than simply passion. And doing isn’t the alone biblical perspective on the Christian life.” The implied message that Mathis was getting to is that Christianity should be a treatment administered to the entire human being – holistically. This is best done through the fellowship of believers, which consists of both people: some who are more reliant upon their intellect and others who are what many call the feelers of Christianity. Simply put – Christians need to listen and rely on each other to grow. In closing then, reason and experience are both significant to the life of the Christian and to the life of the Church – but both must fall under the authority of the Scriptures.
. Bruce Shelley, Church History In Plain Language, 4thed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 324.
. Ibid., 339.
. Roger E. Olson. The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 513.
. Ibid., 532.
. Shelley, 327.
. John Piper, David Mathis, and Richard Warren, Thinking, Loving, Doing(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 15.