What Does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?
When the author of this essay became a Christian, he entered the world of faith. When he became a university student, he entered the world of reason. Jerusalem stands for faith, and Athens stands for Jerusalem. Tertullian, an early Christian writer, when penning this question, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem”? He was implying that faith and reason were not compatible. It is ironic that Tertullian is using his training in rhetoric to argue this point. There are at least three possible responses to Tertullian’s question. Two of these responses assume that faith and reason are not compatible. One response is the Christian fideist position. This position argues that reason corrupts faith. The other position is that reason does not faith. Some members of this group argue that faith is merely superstition. The third response is a mediating position. It claims that faith and reason are compatible.
The first position to be described is the faith alone position. An example of this position is the argument that the early church was corrupted by Greek philosophy. This position thinks that philosophy corrupts the pure faith. It believes the faith is corrupted when philosophy is added to it. In addition, it believes that all a Christian needs is faith. For example, Martin Luther called philosophy the Devil’s whore. He even called for books written by Aristotle to be burned.
The second position to be described is the reason alone position. Many thinkers since the enlightenment think reason alone can guide society and individual lives. In addition, they argue that Christian faith is made up of myths and fables. In modern times, scientism has argued that science or the scientific method is the only way to acquire truth. Since Christian faith or belief in God is not recognized as scientific, it is thrown into the dustbin of history.
The third position is a mediating position between the first two positions. This position claims that faith and reason are compatible. It believes faith and reason are compatible. It acknowledges that faith can corrupt faith, but this is not inevitable. It also recognizes that faith without reason can become superstitious. It believes faith and reason needs each other. For example, Psalms 19 speaks of two books of revelation, natural and supernatural. Natural revelation is discovered through human means. For example, the scientific method is a valid method to discover knowledge about the world. On the other hand, the Bible provides a divine knowledge about the things of God. It is the kind of knowledge that only comes through divine revelation. This mediating position believes that ultimately, these two books of revelation cannot conflict. The reason they cannot conflict is because they come from one source. The source for both natural and divine revelation is God. A good example of an individual who lived out this position is Thomas Aquinas.
The three responses to Tertullian’s question were evident in the time of Aquinas. These responses for especially evident in the responses to Aristotle’s writings becoming available. One could say that Aristotle’s philosophy is natural revelation. These writings of Aristotle became available to Western Europe in the twelfth century. Some of the religious leaders voiced opposition to the writings of Aristotle. They thought they should not be studied because they would corrupt the faith of the believers. This group represents the faith alone response. Some scholars thought Aristotle should be accepted completely even when he contradicts the Christian scriptures. Some even proposed the idea of double truth; that both faith and reason can be correct even if they contradicted each other. Aquinas was representative of a middle position. He accepted both faith and reason. He believed faith and reason could not contradict one another because they came from one source. This source was God. Aquinas agreed with thinkers like St. Augustine that truth should be accepted wherever it is found.
The reader has seen three different responses to Tertullian’s question: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” Another way to state the question is what has faith to do with reason? Should the believer say that faith and reason are not compatible? Or should they say faith and reason are compatible? Throughout 2000 years of church history all three responses have been evident. It continues to be evident today. For example, the new atheists argue that only reason is needed to order society and individual lives. They say science is the only valid method to acquire truth. In addition, some even argue that religion is not only superstitious, but that it is actually dangerous.
Christians who opt for the faith alone position are also evident today. This group thinks learning is dangerous. They fear their children’s faith will be corrupted by modern education. They want their children to read only Christian authors. They see that all truth comes from the Bible. They do not think the believer can find the truth in non-Christian authors. It seems they believe only in divine revelation. For example, any truth must come from the Bible itself. They seem to deny that is not only divine revelation, but also natural revelation. Are there truths in natural revelation that even non-believers can discover?
Last, the middle position that accepts both faith and reason is acceptable today. They believers believe that God is the author of truth wherever it may be found. They accept that there is truth in Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. They think the writings of these authors should be studied and are compatible with the Christian faith. These believers believe that faith and reason are compatible. They think Christians can pursue the life of the mind and be faithful Christians too.