Friday, July 17, 2009

Knowing God by Means of Reason

Sometimes those of us who are Protestant, especially those in the Reformed tradition, tend to caricacture the Roman Catholic tradition as semi-Pelagian on the issue of the ability of reason to know God. At the same time, many Protestants appear to succomb to a fiedism that borders on irrationality and arises from rather suspect sources in nominalism. Is there a Protestant, Reformed view of reason that is also genuinely Catholic? John Webster is one theologian who is providing a convincing "Yes" in answer to that question.

In the editorial to the most recent issue of the International Journal of Systematic Theology, he describes what he called in his book Holiness, "holy reason." This quote is well worth meditating on and pondering:

"Reason is a grace; by the redeeming work of the divine Word, made real in the Spirit's power, reason is made new, brought back from ruin and alienation and restored to its vocation of knowing God in his self-communication. Reason's 'seeing' - the sphere of its operations - is the divine economy, and in this economy, reason is formed and brought to life and activity, so that it becomes an instrument of fellowship with God. Through reason creatures apprehend God and are enabled to fulfill their calling to intelligent adoration of the creator and all his works. Yet in the wake of the Fall, the condition for this is the humbling of reason: the setting aside of reason's pretence to be the author of knowledge or the adjudicator of what may or may not be said. Reason must be redeemed and sanctified, and only then may it judge and direct. But it is indeed redeemed and sanctified: mistrust of reason (as, for example, merely an exercise of power) is as ruinous as trust in its omnicompetence. And Christian theology is an instance of this redeemed intellectual judgement."

No comments: