December 15, 2004

Faith and Reason 2: Tertullian

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What have heretics to do with Christians?

This is the attitude of a LOT of modern people. What has reason (Athens, the ancient seat of reason and philosophy) to do with faith (Jerusalem, the center of Christian belief)? Most would agree with Tertullian -- nothing at all.

Tertullian had a good reason to give up on a 'reasonable' approach to Christianity. The Greek and Roman philosophers were pagans, after all. The Roman emperor was the one putting Christians to death. He wanted to move Christianity as far as possible from their influence. He was really one of the first to proclaim sola Scriptura -- Scripture alone, without the philosophy and logic. He went so far as to say that because the crucifixion and resurrection were absurd -- the idea that God would come to earth, die, and then rise from the dead is so illogical -- that it must be believed. Tertullian rejected the notion that faith must be understood -- he felt that if it was understood, it was not real faith.

Tertullian was inconsistent, though. He used Greek ideas of philosophy and logic in his arguments and disputations. In his Apology, he expects the Roman authorities to treat Christians the same way that they treat other "criminals" (since that is what Christians were considered at the time). He portrays the Roman condemnation of Christians as unreasonable because it is based in ignorance (Book I of Ad Nationes.)

It seems that we have misunderstood Tertullian's reluctance to mix faith and reason. He should not be considered anti-intellectual -- rather, he is trying to keep overtly pagan influences out of the Church. His major opponent was the heretic Marcion, whose theology was heavily influenced by Greek dualistic ideas.

Unfortunately, there are many who have decided that 'pagan influences' have infiltrated higher education today. This hasn't been helped by the influence of liberal theology in seminary education -- many young men have entered seminaries full of a desire to preach and teach the Gospel of Christ, only to have their faith shattered by professors who don't really believe what they are being paid to teach. In many cases, we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater -- to get away from bad schools and bad theology, we have abandoned the scholarly realm. Mark Noll has a LOT to say about this in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (a review of which will shortly be up here). As we continue with this series, we will see that faith and reason are not incompatible at all, and that in many cases, Athens and Jerusalem have a lot in common.


The next installment of this series will concern Augustine, and his idea of faith seeking understanding.
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