God laid a great task upon humans -
to integrate the practical experience of their faith
with the prevalent intellectual perspective of the world.
Since the early days of Christianity, there were two clearly identifiable streams present, namely those who practised an essentially existentialist faith and those who accentuated the reasonable aspect of their belief. The first group had their roots in the early Jewish church and accentuated a practical intimate experience with God. The second had its roots in the Greek, especially Platonic, philosophy and used a more rational approach towards believing. To this day these currents are visible in Christianity. Today, more than before, it is a great challenge for Christians to integrate their faith with reason. How could they accomplish this? In this essay, I discuss the possibilities for doing so.
An existentialist faith
What is existentialist faith? It a trust in God which is practised and experienced in all aspects of daily life. This faith normally flows from a particular commitment to God. For such believers, this is a way of life - spirituality is at the centre of their whole existence. For them, it makes little sense to speak about spirituality if you do not experience it. The heart of spirituality is experience - the experience of God and his presence in a very intimate, intuitive way. This practical experience of Christian living is described by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1955), who accentuated his existential faith - at a time when rationality was overshadowing all other aspects of human life. From an existentialist point of view, science will never be able to give final answers. All knowledge is provisional - but faith is grounded in God.
This existential faith includes the desire to make a difference (it is, in fact, a very basic human desire). In a Christian context, this manifests itself primarily as the desire to bring others to faith in Christ. To share one's experience and motivate others to also commit themselves to God. Although there is a way in which this could be done on a purely existential level, these believers typically find themselves confronted by a barrier - most people do not easily believe if they are not convinced. They must believe that the Biblical message is trustworthy (see Paul's writings in this regard in Romans 10:14; 1 Tim. 1:15; also Mark 4:12). And to be convinced - especially in the present scientific era that we live in - these Christians need to argue, to use reason, to convince others. Although they ground their faith in an existential relation with God, they need reason to bring others to a similar faith. Like Paul, when he argued with the Greek philosophers in Athens.
Since most of these existential believers do not accentuate reason - for them it is not really important what science thinks - this aspect of their humanness is not very well developed. Having feelings of uncertainty result in them seeing the world around them, which operates for the most part according to reason, as a threat - even as a danger. To reinforce their faith, to guard their views against arguments that they are not able to answer, these believers use all sorts of rules and laws to protect themselves and their community against the outside world - which often results in them leading very legalistic lives. And this strategy is indeed very effective in protecting them against arguments from atheistic thinkers like Richard Dawkins - they do not read such books or watch movies .
But this strategy is not particularly successful in convincing other people to commit to such an existential faith. For outsiders, their arguments are typically not convincing enough and the legalistic practice of their faith pushes them away. For these reasons such groups normally decline numerically in a scientifically oriented world. In those parts of society where people are not really well educated, a strategy of promoting existential faith through, for example, "signs and wonders", could still yield good results. But this is becoming an ever smaller part of society. Another strategy, one born of desperation, is to work and pray for a religious revival which is probably the most dramatic expression of existential faith. This is surely a good ideal, but these are very scarce nowadays.
An intellectual belief
What is "intellectual belief"? This is a set of religious convictions which grow out of intellectual reasoning. During earlier epochs, when the ancient worldview was still prevalent, intellectual Christians used reason not only to formulate their belief but also to argue for it against the prevalent non-Christian views of the time. Many of the early Christian fathers were educated in Greek philosophy. This led to the rise of Christian philosophy - especially of the Augustinian (derived from Platonic philosophy) and Thomist (referring to Thomas Aquinas and derived from Aristotelian philosophy) varieties. With the rise of science - the rational-empirical study of things which requires physical proof - it became clear that it is impossible to prove the existence of God. But the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), himself a Christian, argued that there are certain limits to pure reason - that is, to what extent pure reason can arrive at real (empirical) knowledge . And this allows for faith to exist next to reason. Although we could rationally argue for our faith, we will never be able to prove it in any scientific sense.
For the intellectual Christian, it is nonetheless important to find a rational basis for his or her faith. They do not have a problem to accept the basic scientific views about the world, although they reject the view that science has (or will ever have) all the answers. We find these Christians - mostly Christian philosophers and theologians - often in debates with atheists. They try to show that Christianity is compatible with the scientific worldview. They try to convince people in the wider public space about the viability of present-day Christianity. And we do find that some intellectuals, struggling to reconcile the Christian belief in which they were brought up with the scientific worldview (or post-modern worldview for that matter), eventually settles for some form of that belief to which they can adhere to.
Since "belief" is in some sense the balance between faith and reason, these Christians end up with a form of intellectual belief. They are able to reconcile their Christian views with the current scientific worldview, but their focus on reason often draw them away from any true experimental faith. In this regard they experience a problem in their desire to make a difference, namely that convincing people intellectually is not enough to bring them to faith in God; if people do not see the practical experience of Christian living, they will not easily commit to it. Although the reasonableness of the Christian faith is important to bring people to that faith, it is not enough - what is also needed is the experience of faith in a personal and powerful way.
A reasonable faith
It seems that the most rewarding form of Christian life is when faith and reason are both fully part of our lives. It is not only rewarding in the sense that such a person can experience the joy of practical faith in the framework of intellectual integrity but also in the sense that such a person could be successful in his or her existential desire to make a difference. Although we understand that all human knowledge is partial and temporary, we also know that people's intellect requires convincing them of the trustworthiness of the Christian faith. At the same time, their spiritual needs require a grounding in practical faith. But how is this balance accomplished in us?
During the modernist epoch, some thinkers not only expressed dismay at the over-accentuation of reason but also argued for some synthesis between opposites. One can think of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), who expressed his rejection of the non-existentialist reason-dominated state-Christianity of his time in a powerful way. He proposed a synthesis of the "Apollonian" (rational) and "Dionysian" (non-rational, unconscious, including intuition). Nietzsche accentuated the instinctive drives within the framework of the "Dionysian"; it is passion that drives this synthesis. Later Carl Jung (1875-1961) also formulated his theories on the synthesis of "consciousness" (rational) and "unconsciousness" (non-rational, including intuition). It is interesting that these men saw themselves as philosopher/scientist-psychologists. This shows their deep conviction that the intellect should be integrated with the more basic aspects of our existence, leading to "wisdom" (Nietzsche) or a "deeper consciousness"/an integrated self (Jung) .
These insights are valuable to Christian living. Both the intellect and the deeper non-rational faculties should be integrated to form a "complete" person. Reason and intuition (faith is intuitive trust) are not disconnected faculties - they are interconnected in a fundamental way so that their development and integration into a balanced harmony forms part of the process of spiritual growth. Their interconnectedness is clearly manifested in Christian life - our rational arguments about God are grounded in the intuitive trust in God's supernatural revelation in Scripture and in Jesus Christ, whereas our intuitive experience of God is grounded in our rational notions about God's existence and His workings in humans. It is only when both the intellect and the inner intuitive experience of God are synthesized, that the ideal of the Christian who is both "wise" and "spiritual" could be realized. It is only when the church accentuate both the practical experience of existential faith as well as intellectual excellence that it will have a real and lasting impact on society.
The desire to make a difference, the passion to be useful to God, should be present if we want to grow towards wholeness - this brings value and meaning to our lives. In each of us, this passion manifests itself in a different vocation, leading us along different routes. The details of the route to wholeness differ for everyone - no two persons follow the same route. It is a lifelong journey, which is never fully accomplished. There could be times when the apparent conflict between faith and reason will lead one into the dark valley of doubt. It is important, however, to keep the practical experience of faith alive. It implies that one should keep praying - even when one feels no desire to do so. This kindles the flame of faith - even in the darkest hours of the intellectual struggle about one's faith. During this time we gain insights (maybe some metaphor that comes to mind will be of value) that enable us to overcome. With these insights we can sensibly integrate our faith with our reasoning, allowing the process of growth to proceed.
With intellectual growth comes freedom from all the many rules and regulations of legalistic faith, but this freedom is contained within the boundaries of a spiritual relationship with God. With spiritual growth comes the deeply personal intuitive knowledge of God that enables us to overcome and be victorious in all circumstances. As we develop our own perspectives, the potential for conflict with long-held communal views will force us to involve others in our own process of growth - some will resist change, but others will accompany us on the journey.
With time each one of us should develop into "spiritual-wise" persons who could contribute in a unique and special way to the growth of the Christian community where we are active. In this way, we would follow in the footsteps of many others whose lives and wisdom had an impact on our own. Eventually, we will come to enjoy the pure experience of the Christ-like life in the fullest sense of the word.
 Pardi, Paul F. 2010. "Kierkegaard and the Modern Religious Mind". On the internet: http://www.philosophynews.com/post/2010/12/29/Kierkegaard-and-the-Modern-Religious-Mind.aspx. This essay forms part of a series on faith and reason, focusing on the existentialist perspective.
 Ward, A. 2006. Kant. The Three Critiques. Cambridge: Polity Press. Ward gives a good overview of the Kantian perspective - if one does not want to read Kant himself, which is of course preferable.
 Nietzsche and Jung. 1999. Sailing a Deeper Night. Contemporary Existentialism, Vol 3. New York: Peter Lang. p 50. This is one of the best books that I have read on Nietzsche and his influence on Jung.
Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud
This article was followed by a debate between Willie Mc Loud and Cornelis Malan (MA Philosophy) from Southern Evangelical Seminary in the US) on www.wmcloud.blogspot.com.