The Mystery of Faith

Apologetics is a particular way of loving God with our minds.

You can’t argue someone into faith or into the kingdom of God. Only God can draw people by the Spirit to faith in Jesus Christ. On the other hand, Christians can join in the ancient and rich tradition—2,000-plus years strong—of Christians articulating and making sense of their faith, giving reasons for “the hope that [they] have” (1 Pet. 3:15).

Apologetics is the discipline and practice of Christians giving reason for why they have faith, for the sake of drawing others to faith. It’s a particular way of loving God with our minds (Luke 10:27). And it always happens in the context of cultivating relationships; without a good relationship, it’s hard to speak credibly to someone about your faith.

As Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that God is reconciling all things to God’s self through Christ. That means the brokenness in the world—the Syrian civil war, millions of refugees being displaced, institutional racism, environmental crises, damaged relationships, environmental degradation, wounded bodies and souls—all of these things will find their restoration in Christ and in the kingdom of God that will come in its fullness when Jesus returns.

Our capacity to think deeply and critically about all manner of things in life, including our faith in God and belief in Jesus Christ, is a gift of God. Our minds and our intellects are a gift. We are commanded to love God also with our minds (Mark 12:30). We do so by thinking deeply about our faith, and our faith can be strengthened by this practice.

Since the Enlightenment, an emphasis on reason has taken hold of the Western imagination. “If you cannot reason or verbalize it, it must not be real or true” is the air that we breathe. Thus, if you cannot understand something about your faith, it might cause a faith crisis.

Here is an alternate proposition: There are and will be many things in life you do not understand, but that does not stop them from being true or real. Some things we cannot reason, cannot take apart by our wills or fully comprehend with our intellect—things like love, death, time—but they are nonetheless real.

Similarly, God and faith in God are true and real, though we may not always understand or be able to reason them. Likewise, if we were to stop believing (perhaps because we do not understand), our disbelief doesn’t change the objective reality of God (that in itself is a claim needing evidence, but the claim that God is not an objective reality also needs evidence).

The point is that faith is a mystery. It is a gift of God by the Holy Spirit. God reveals God’s self to us through Scripture, and the Spirit impresses it upon our hearts and minds that it is true. Yet we do not know all there is to know of God.

The theologians St. Augustine and Anselm of Canterbury have expressed the relationship between faith and reason as "faith seeking understanding," or "I believe in order to understand." Faith informs the reasoning, and reasoning informs the belief.

We must take care not to overemphasize faith or reason against one another. To reason without faith can lead to misunderstanding the mysterious nature of faith when the limitations of reason are reached. And yet, to insist on faith without allowing for reason can lead to crises of faith when you come upon honest intellectual questions of faith. So we hold faith and reason together, understanding that we believe in order to understand, and that we understand more as we believe.

This article is adapted from a study on apologetics Joella Ranaivoson wrote for Calvin College in 2017.

About the Author

Joella Ranaivoson is an associate chaplain at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich. 

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