We Have the Mind of Christ: T.F. Torrance on the Relation between Faith and Reason

In a recent post I enlisted the assistance of T.F. Torrance in order to navigate the difficult tension between the universal and particular aspects of the biblical witness to Christ’s work and human salvation. In this post, I would like to call upon Torrance once again to help make sense of another oft-disputed relationship, namely, between faith and reason. The solutions to this perceived tension are varied, ranging from a strict disjunction (as in Tertullian’s “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”) to a harmonious synthesis (as in torrance-bigPope John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio). Frequently, the attempt is made to neither separate nor conflate the two but rather to give each its own proper place and hold them together in a delicate balance. This latter approach is well exemplified in the work of the Protestant orthodox theologians, as Richard Muller helpfully explains:

Reformed orthodox theologians were not philosophical determinists interested in creating a deterministic system of Christian doctrine. At the same level, we can also declare categorically that philosophical rationalism, which understands human reason as the fundamental principle of knowledge…was not determinative of the formulation of the norms and principia of Reformed orthodox theology, even among those Reformed who were open to Cartesian philosophy. The definitions of theology and the theological task that we have encountered in the Reformed prolegomena, the hermeneutical criteria found in the doctrine of Scripture, and the actual working-out of formulation in the doctrine of God, all evidence an attempt to balance revelation and reason, exegetical foundations and philosophical usages, leaving philosophy in an ancillary role.[1]

Whatever each of these views may have to commend for it, I personally find them all deficient for two reasons. First, they attempt to resolve the faith-reason tension without primary reference to the One who is reason (i.e. the Logos) embodied and who reveals in himself what faith truly is – Jesus Christ. Second, because of this failure to think out the faith-reason relation from a center in Christ (who reconciles and unites all things in himself), all of the aforementioned approaches are left with an inherent dualism between the two that must then be overcome through some sort of logical or metaphysical bridge.

By contrast, I find Torrance’s own account of the faith-reason relation to be more compelling and christo-logically coherent. Torrance’s nephew Robert Walker explains:

For Torrance, faith may be defined as what happens to our reason when it encounters the nature and reality of God. It encounters a personal reality it has not met before, which it cannot fit into its predefined categories, which far outstrips its powers of comprehension but which makes itself intelligible in terms of its own unique reality. Reason must either reject such a reality or recognise it and learn to reshape its whole way of perception in accordance with the nature of this new reality. If it does the latter, reason becomes faith. It becomes in Torrance’s language the mode of apprehension appropriate to the eternal God. Faith may be defined as the obedience of reason to the nature and reality of God. It is the appropriate response to the Person-Word-event it encounters in Christ, the Son and Word of the Father become man for us in historical event.

Although Walker does not use this specific phrase to describe Torrance’s view, I think that what he expresses could be restated as a “relation of conversion” between faith and reason. Put differently, faith is “converted reason”, the form of human thinking that obtains only through union with the “mind of Christ”, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:16. It is not that faith is opposed to reason, or that faith is the elevation of reason, or that faith must be counterbalanced with reason, but that faith is reason that has personally encountered Christ and has been converted by the power of his Spirit such that it becomes obedient in all things to God. As Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:16-17: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” In other words, to be in Christ through faith entails a whole new epistemology; we no longer know according to the flesh but in conformity to the new creation that is in Christ. This is not faith in tension, in synthesis, or in balance with reason, but faith as reason redeemed and made new in Christ!

I think that Torrance’s view of faith as “obedient reason” offers a salutary solution to the typical faith-reason debates and provides a unitive, christo-logical way of reformulating the entire issue in non-dualistic terms.

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[1] Muller, R.A., 2003. Post-Reformation reformed dogmatics: the rise and development of reformed orthodoxy;  volume 4: the triunity of God, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. pp.391-392. Emphasis mine.

[2] Walker, R., 2008. Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, p.xliii.

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