Passional Reason and the Heart

Our heart is involved with our beliefs, from our desire for chocolate ice cream to the truth claims of our religion. I’ve written before about the role our will can play in belief. Now I want to turn to a thesis which is highly contentious, namely, that the evidence for Christianity is conclusive, but that this evidence can only be fully ascertained within the framework of a believing heart.

William Wainwright writes about a similar thesis:

“…the thesis that mature religious belief can, and perhaps should, be based on evidence but that the evidence can be accurately assessed only by men and women who possess the proper moral and spiritual qualifications… reason is capable of knowing God on the basis of evidence–but only when one’s cognitive faculties are rightly disposed… [Christianity] places a high value on proofs, arguments, and inferences yet also believes that a properly disposed heart is needed to see their force” (Wainwright, 3).

If my thesis is accurate, however, then this means that only the believer can fully understand the truths of Scripture, the soundness of the incarnation, and the blessedness of the Trinity. Regarding the truths of Scripture, Wainwright comments that:

“The strongest evidence for scripture’s divine authority is its spiritual beauty–a feature that natural reason cannot detect. Only those with converted hearts can perceive, taste, and relish the stamp of divine splendor on scripture and thus be certain of its teachings” (17).

Why should I claim such things? Why think that  only a believer can detect the truths of Christianity, when some of these very truths are made to be detected by “natural reason” (i.e. arguments for the existence of God)?

The answer is fairly simple: such evidence is inherently life-changing. This should not be such a surprise, but it seems as though it is a point too often ignored in philosophy of religion. A little reflection should reveal this to be the truth, however. If one grasps fully the truth of, say, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, then one comes to the conclusion that there is a transcendent cause to the universe. Is it even possible for such a conclusion not to be life-changing? Should not the reaction be an utter commitment to discovering what this cause is? But then, in light of other sound arguments (ontological, moral, etc.) the conclusion is even more startling: theism is true. It is impossible for such a conclusion to be accepted with the sterility of mere philosophical assent. Such a conclusion forces a new worldview, a new moral outlook, and a new heart.

Furthermore, it seems to me obvious that if the God of Classical Theism exists, then such a God would, in sovereignty, demand such life-changes upon the discovery of His existence. As Paul Moser puts it, “…God would offer the kind of evidence and knowledge that represents and advances God’s kind of unselfish love among humans” (Moser, 14).

So what does this mean for the believer, for the unbeliever? For the believer, it means he or she should not abstain from offering evidence. Such evidence, after all, has historically been considered rational basis for Christian belief. But the believer should not expect the nonbeliever to come to faith in Christ based on an argument. Such arguments are barrier-breaking, but not life-saving.

For the nonbeliever, it means that he or she cannot come into faith on his or her own… it is a matter of coming to God with “Fear and Trembling,” knowing that “faith is the highest passion in man” (Kierkegaard, 90). This faith requires the nonbeliever to abandon the self-restraints which he or she has placed on the heart. It requires standing on the precipice of faith and realizing that one cannot come to God on one’s own, but that God brings all to Himself. It requires an abandonment of the radical skepticism, the unrepentant lifestyle, the willful setting aside of the evidence, and a realization that God is in control. It is the existential moment of fear and trembling, of triumph and despair, about which Kierkegaard writes so eloquently. And in this existential moment, it is God Himself who calls, who folds the nonbeliever into unending love.

When it comes to the matter of God’s existence, the problem is not with the evidence, it is with the heart.


Moser, Paul. The Evidence for God. Cambridge University Press. 2010.

Kierkegaard, Soren. Fear and Trembling. A & D Publishing. 2008.

Wainwright, William. Reason and the Heart: A Prolegomenon to a Critique of Passional Reason. Cornell University Press. 1995.


The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


6 thoughts on “Passional Reason and the Heart

  1. So you’re saying that the evidence is all there, and it’s completely proven, but only people who already think it’s true can see any of the evidence?

    Posted by asdf | September 20, 2010, 11:10 AM
    • Nope, I actually didn’t say that at all.

      What I said was, “the evidence for Christianity is conclusive, but that this evidence can only be fully ascertained within the framework of a believing heart.” Note the word “fully” in that sentence, which acts as a qualifier to the entire phrase. People who don’t believe can certainly be confronted with the preponderance of the evidence, but the truth of the evidence requires a paradigm shift in one’s life. One cannot fully jump on board with the evidence of theism without submitting one’s will to a divine being.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 20, 2010, 11:33 AM
    • I think it’s the difference between thinking it’s true and knowing it’s true. The way Christians know that Christianity is true is through what William Lane Craig calls the “immediate experience” of God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. With this access to the Spirit all sorts of things about God are more understandable, because God dwells within us. If God really is in us, then to us His existence is proven. The problem is that this argument doesn’t work on its own for a non-believer, which is why the cosmological, teleological, moral and ontological arguments are what theists use as points of contention with non-believers.

      That said, well written, J.W. Interesting that you reference Kierkegaard in the same blog as the truths of Scripture, since he doesn’t see the Bible as the infallible and objective Word of God. The point you made in regards to him is valid, however; he didn’t have it all wrong. 🙂

      Posted by sabepashubbo | September 20, 2010, 11:37 AM
  2. “It requires an abandonment of the radical skepticism, the unrepentant lifestyle, the willful setting aside of the evidence, and a realization that God is in control.”

    If becoming a believer requires you to abandon the willful setting aside of the evidence, why do so many believers set aside evidence against things like the creation story, Noah’s Ark, or evidence of the gospels being written long after their supposed authors were dead?

    Posted by Ollie | September 22, 2010, 10:42 AM
    • “why do so many believers set aside evidence against things like the creation story, Noah’s Ark, or evidence of the gospels being written long after their supposed authors were dead?”

      Perhaps that is because such things are not actually challenges to Christianity. The creation story is, by many, considered to not be a literal 6 day creation event. There are such branches within Christianity as Old Earth Creationists, ID theorists, and theistic evolutionists. I, in fact, have a series of posts on this very issue.

      Noah’s Ark.. I’m not sure what your evidence against this account is. People like Hugh Ross (an Old Earther) claim the flood wasn’t worldwide, but instead covered the entire known world, which is very much in sync with the data.

      Your insinuation about the Gospels may be true for hyper-critical scholarship, but even most critical scholars agree that the Gospel accounts were written within the lifespans of those involved. John is generally dated as the latest, with a date of about 70-90 AD. Furthermore, when they were written doesn’t matter so much as where the text originated from–the oral history, which is confirmed in such things as Paul’s writings to date from about 50AD or earlier. Your claim here has been largely rejected by New Testament scholars. Unfortunately, due to the time it takes for common scholarly knowledge to trickle into mainstream knowledge, this isn’t well known. See the work of N.T. Wright or Craig Blomberg for the conservative side, but even critics like Crossan admit that the Gospels are earlier than the street talk hyper-criticism tends to make them.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 22, 2010, 12:55 PM

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