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Jonathan Edwards (and Josh Moody) on reason and revelation

November 10, 2009

Is Christianity reasonable? How many of the “truths of Christianity” should we be able to find “in nature” or to be “reasonable”? Is Christianity verified through reason or in nature? These were questions pressed upon the Christian faith especially during the Enlightenment. Josh Moody, in his Jonathan Edwards and the Enlightenment: Knowing the Presence of God, summarizes how Jonathan Edwards, one whose ministry existed in the midst of the Enlightenment’s heyday, addressed these questions (pp 121-22):

Can . . . a high view of Revelation be reconciled with reason? For Edwards, it all depended on the beginning. The dominant picture of Edwards’ understanding of the relationship of reason and revelation is not the . . . one of separate location, but of appropriate order. Revelation comes first. Primary place in Edwards’ mental authority structure was always given to revelation.

On this matter Edwards makes his most vigorous departure from [John] Locke. He disagrees with him that reason can teach us true religion, which he feels is but a “wild fancy,” because history shows true religion began with revelation not reason; reason before revelation went “very wrong.”* The reason which concerns Edwards is “thinking God’s thoughts after him,” reasoning after revelation. Truth “now demonstrable by reason” could never be “found out before” revelation.** Once things have been revealed it seems “as if we could easily arrive at a certainty of them if we never had had a revelation of them.” But to see a truth is reasonable “after we have been told of it” is one thing; it is “another to find out . . . by mere reason.”*** Thus, “The light of nature teaches that Religion, that is necessary to continue in the Favour of the God that made us; But it cannot teach us that Religion, that is necessary to our being restored to the Favour of God, after we have forfeited it.”****


*Misc. 986

**Misc. 140

***Misc. 350

****Misc. 1304

One Comment leave one →
  1. George permalink
    November 13, 2009 5:12 pm

    Is Christianity reasonable? Yes. Reason is uncreated, existing before creation as an attribute of God. God is infinitely reasonable and logical. He is the Logos.

    How many of the “truths of Christianity” should we be able to find “in nature” or to be “reasonable”? This is a key question that needs to be answered before most other questions can be tackled. My epistemology is that of the great philosopher-theologian Gordon Clark, “the Bible tells me so.” ALL truth can only come from the Word and what can logically be deduced from the Word. No truth can be found in nature. All that can be found in nature is empirical and inductive – and is thus a house built upon the sand that is subject to Hume’s “problem of induction”.

    Is Christianity verified through reason or in nature? The underlying axiom of Christianity and indeed of all epistemology is sola scriptura. God’s Word can not be verified; rather the Word and logic verify everything else. In a sense nature is verified by Christianity, the Word and what can logically be deduced from the Word. Psalm 19:1 notes the heavens declare the glory of God. However, my view (and Calvin’s) is that Psalm 19 is David praising God, not David bringing forth a general theory of revelation. Without the Word there would be no way of knowing that God created the heavens. The Word is not self-contradictory, and in that sense is not contradicted by reason – but it can not be proved by reason, as reason requires an underlying axiom, and the only axiom not built upon sinking sand is that the Bible is the Word of God.

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