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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.

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