By Miles Woodard
“I am not mad…”
In Acts 26 we find Paul standing before Festus, a Roman governor, and Herod Agrippa II, the last king of the Herodian line. These two men and others gathered to hear Paul respond to the false charges brought against him by Pharisee and Sadducee leaders. After describing his life as a youth and his prior endeavors to destroy the Church, Paul concludes the history of his conversion by saying, “Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come- that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:22, 23 NKJV). Upon hearing these final words, Festus charges Paul with madness; to which Paul replies, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason.” (Acts 26:25, emphasis added).
Obscuring terms like Truth and Reason is common for those who have neither Truth nor Reason. Indeed, many secular thinkers would have us believe that neither exist. Truth is said to be relative to our experience, while Reason is elevated as the epistemic opponent of Faith. Given this (false) dichotomy, how do we respond to the claim that Reason and Faith are mutually exclusive?
In the passage previously noted, Paul makes two claims when he says he speaks words of truth and reason. First, by saying his words are true, he’s expressing the idea that his claims accord with reality. But second, and closer to the aim of this article, Paul claims his words are words of reason. His words are not the incoherent ramblings of a mad man, as Festus asserts. They are not the speculative musings of a Greek philosopher; nor are they reveries of an ancient myth. His words are truth claims justified by logical consistency and experiences that could be adequately verified by other witnesses.
Logical consistency is achieved when two or more corresponding claims do not contradict each other, either implicitly or explicitly. For example, claiming that God made man in His image (Claim 1) and that man has objective moral value (Claim 2) is logically consistent. In fact, it’s only because man is made in the image of God that he retains objective moral value. On the other hand, claiming man to the biproduct of time + chance + material (Claim 1) and that he retains supreme moral value above all other accidents of nature (Claim 2) is a good case of logical inconsistency. How can man, who is merely a collection of atoms like everything else in the universe, retain a higher moral value than any other collection of atoms, like a cockroach or a piece of broccoli?
Examining the logical consistency of Theism is an ancient task. Furthermore, confirming the logical consistency of Christianity, and still further the claims of Paul, in a 1,500-word article would surely be insufficient. Still, the claim of Festus is that Paul is no longer committing himself to coherent claims. Interestingly enough, however, scripture records no argument on the part of Festus to defend his claim of Paul’s insanity. He merely shouts his assertion from the position of ignorance; a ploy commonly used by skeptics today! His predecessor, however, knew very well the reasonableness of Paul’s claims.
“And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about the righteousness, self-control, and the judgement to come, Felix was afraid and answered, ‘Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.’”(Acts 24:24, 25, NKJV). Scripture says Paul would converse with Felix often as he spent two years under house arrest by order of Felix. Whatever impression Paul gave Felix, we can be assured it was not that of a lunatic. Felix understood the reasonableness of Paul’s claims; He just didn’t like the implications. Not much has changed over the centuries!
In addition to the logical consistency of Paul’s claims, the veracity of Paul’s experience of the risen Lord lends itself to the rationality of his claims. The sensibleness of Paul’s claim of encountering the resurrected Christ is affirmed by multiple disciples precisely because they too had met the risen Lord at earlier times and different locations. Now, the origin of not a few religions entail a meeting between a single individual and a divine character occurring in isolation to discuss an unconfirmed decree of reform. Neither the event of the secret meeting(s) nor the heavenly decree of reform are corroborated by other witnesses. Moreover, once a significant mass of loyal followers is established, the newly anointed “prophet” often leverages his or her new position to elevate their political and socio-economic status; not to mention their bank accounts.
In contrast, Paul’s claim of Jesus’ resurrection is adequately verified by others claiming to have also confirmed firsthand the risen Christ, and they corroborate the message that salvation is through Christ alone. These witnesses experience no political or socio-economic benefit as a result of their claims. In fact, they’re often stoned, tortured, forced into exile, and killed as a reward for their gospel. While Christians have the direct witness of the Holy Spirit in our lives today, we certainly don’t have the ability to travel back in time to witness firsthand the resurrection of the Jesus. So, what does this mean for Christians today?
Though Paul rightfully appeals to truth and reason in his response to Festus, he certainly knew reason can only take us so far in our quest of truth. At minimum, every person is reliant upon the collective knowledge and experience of humanity for daily living. Indeed, life would be unlivable if we had to personally verify every claim prior to accepting the claim as fact. Imagine a physician warning you about the hazards of the Ebola virus and responding, “Maybe it’s hazardous to other people, but I’d like to verify the effects on my own body before I nail down any beliefs!”
Governing our lives from the information we’ve come to believe, not by direct verification, but though the trustworthy witnesses of those in a superior position of knowledge about a particular issue is the very essence of faith. We live by faith with respect to many matters because we’re so often unable to personally verify every topic of interest. No matter our education level, no person can personally verify every fact about anything and so must have some measure of faith in every matter.
Given how little we know about our universe, its history, and our future, we all find ourselves in the position of looking for answers to questions beyond our individual and collective grasp. No matter one’s worldview, everyone exercises faith to establish a reasonable belief about both the small and grand questions in life. The danger we face is believing it’s impossible to have a misplaced or even blind faith. Indeed, we’ve all had the experience of directing our life in accordance with a belief we later found to be based on false information. Is our faith in God and the gospel misplaced as well?
The disciples that walked with Jesus daily are undoubtedly in the superior position of knowledge regarding His life, death, and resurrection. Equally, no one living for the past 1900+ years was alive during Jesus’ lifetime so as to directly authenticate the claims of the disciples. As a result, every person has to decide whether it’s reasonable to accept the testimony of the apostles regarding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The message of the gospel confronts each of us with the directly verifiable reality of personal sin (Romans 2) and calls us to place our trust in the Lord who will work in magnificent ways that can hardly be comprehended by the human mind, much less verified from our lowly estate.
Where Faith and Reason Meet
As one philosopher so astutely put it, “God has put enough into this world to make faith in Him a most reasonable thing. But He has left enough out to make it impossible to live by sheer reason alone. Faith and reason must always work together in that plausible blend.” A life without reason is primitive; and one lived without faith is impractical, if not impossible. Reason and Faith will always be companions to those on the quest for truth. Reason is not the foundation we build our house of Faith upon, nor Faith the substrate for our residence of Reason. Rather, Faith and Reason are the two hands with which we reach to the Lord to know Him, worship Him, and find our satisfaction in Him.