Thursday, November 29, 2007

Newbigin on reason and revelation

There is a profound confusion of thought when it is suggested that reason and revelation are two parallel paths to truth, or when, in a further development in this line of thinking, it is said that alleged revelation has to be tested at the bar of reason. All this kind of language involves a confusion about the terms we are using. The faculty which we call reason, the power of the human mind to think coherently and to organize the data of experience in such a way that it can be grasped in meaningful patterns, is necessarily involved in knowing of any kind. The question at issue, for example, in the debates about the respective roles of reason and revelation is really about how the data of experience are to be understood. They are - to be more specific - debates about whether the events which are narrated in the Bible are to be understood entirely in terms of political, social, economic, and psychological categories such as are used in a secular writing of history, or whether, without denying the usefulness and relevance of these categories, we recognize this story as communicating the personal will of God in acting in and through all the events recounted. Reason is not an independent source of information about what is the case. It is one aspect of the human activity by which we seek to understand the world and ourselves. The difference involved in the long-running debates about reason and revelation is not a difference between two sources of information: it is a difference between two ways of interpreting the data which are (potentially) available to all. The Christian believer is using the same faculty of reason as his unbelieving neighbour and he is using it in dealing with the same realities, which are those with which every human being has to deal. But he is seeing them in a new light, a new perspective.

Lesslie Newbigin (1989) The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

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