Fideism is a philosophical view that emphasizes faith and trust in God over reason as the primary way to know religious truths. The word “fideism” comes from the Latin word “fides” meaning faith. Fideists argue that God transcends human reason and logical systems, therefore faith provides a better path to knowing God than rational proofs or arguments. Some key characteristics of fideism include:
- Faith is prioritized over reason
- Human reason is limited and flawed
- God’s existence and truths are known through faith rather than logic or evidence
- Skepticism towards natural theology (using reason to prove God’s existence)
- Belief that God transcends logic and human rationality
Fideism has a long history in Christian theology, with advocates such as Tertullian, Pascal, Kierkegaard, and others. Scripture passages that emphasize faith rather than human wisdom are often cited in support of fideism (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, 2 Corinthians 5:7, etc). Critics of fideism argue that faith does not preclude reason, and that the Bible portrays faith and reason working together. They also contend fideism can lead to irrationalism and skepticism about established facts.
There are different types of fideism. “Extreme fideism” completely rejects reason and relies on faith alone. More moderate forms value reason but argue its limitations require faith to grasp religious truths. “Pragmatic fideism” posits that reason alone cannot provide definite knowledge, so faith is justified as a pragmatically useful tool.
Throughout history, Christian fideists appealed to various philosophical ideas to support the priority of faith over reason. Tertullian used Stoic skepticism to argue against natural theology. Luther and Calvin emphasized the noetic effects of sin in distorting human reason post-Fall. Kierkegaard utilized existentialist concepts to argue that objective rationality misses the personal nature of faith. Van Til employed presuppositionalism to argue only the Bible’s presuppositions, accepted in faith, allow for rational thought.
In Roman Catholicism, fideists such as Blaise Pascal critiqued Thomistic rational proofs for God and argued that reason relies upon intuitive faith. Reformed Epistemology continues this tradition of “Reformed Fideism” emphasizing Scripture over natural theology and proposing belief in God as “properly basic.” Postmodern fideism leverages postmodern skepticism of objectivity and foundationalism to emphasize subjective faith over reason.
Key Bible verses fideists use to support faith over reason include:
- Proverbs 3:5 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”
- 1 Corinthians 1:25 – “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.”
- 2 Corinthians 5:7 – “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”
- Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Fideists interpret these verses to mean human reason is limited and God is known through faith rather than human wisdom or natural theology. Critics argue faith and reason should be complementary, not adversarial.
Some weaknesses of fideism include:
- Overemphasis on faith minimizes role of reason in understanding God
- Can lead to irrationalism, skepticism, anti-intellectualism
- Hard to discern misguided faith from genuine faith without reason’s discernment
- Contradicts biblical examples of reason working alongside faith (Acts 17, Jesus’ use of logic and evidence)
In summary, fideism is the view that faith is superior to reason for knowing religious truths, particularly the existence and nature of God. Fideists appeal to the limitations of human reason due to the Fall and argue that God transcends rational categories. Critics counter that Scripture presents faith and reason as complementary, not adversarial. Fideism continues to engender lively debate about faith, reason, and knowing God.
The Bible affirms the importance of faith while also presenting human reason as a God-given gift, though limited and fallen. Faith provides convictions about God’s existence and character which may transcend proofs and arguments. However, this does not mean reason has no role in interpreting God’s revelation, discernment, or defending the faith against skeptics. The healthiest approach upholds faith while also welcoming reason, critically yet humbly, as a means of loving God with our minds in addition to our hearts (Mark 12:30).
In the Old Testament, God presents the covenant relationship beginning with Abraham as a journey of faith, not just rational deduction. Abraham believed God’s promises despite external circumstances (Rom 4:18-21). Moses asks Pharaoh to accept God’s word in faith, providing miraculous works as authenticating signs rather than irrefutable proofs (Exod 4:1-9). God calls Israel to trust His word above empirical observation or human philosophy (Prov 3:5-7). Yet God also appeals to Israel’s reason by recounting His faithfulness toward them (Deut 4). Wisdom literature affirms gaining understanding and knowledge as part of fearing the Lord (Prov 1:7).
In the New Testament, Jesus rebukes those who refuse to believe unless they receive an irresistible sign (John 4:48). Faith is portrayed as a gift rather than something compelled through proofs (Eph 2:8-9). Believers are encouraged to walk by faith rather than sight (2 Cor 5:7). However, the role of eyewitness testimony and circulating accounts about Jesus provides an evidentiary basis for faith as “true witness” grounded in real history (John 20:30-31, 1 John 1:1-3). The Apostle Paul affirms that Christian faith is not “irrational” (1 Cor 14:33) and appeals to evidences like Christ’s resurrection as “proof” (Acts 17:31).
Reason alone cannot compel faith, nor can it grasp mysteries like the Trinity, Incarnation, or God’s transcendence. However, reason plays a role in interpreting God’s written revelation, systematizing doctrine, applying wisdom, making prudential judgments in line with biblical ethics, defending truth claims, and offering persuasive cases for Christianity’s plausibility. Reason should grow in understanding in order to better explicate and admire the God made known through faith (Anselm, Augustine).
In conclusion, the healthiest approach sees faith and reason working in harmony rather than tension. Reason helps articulate, defend, apply and grow in understanding of that which faith grasps. And faith provides convictions and humility regarding God’s transcendent truth that reason depends upon yet cannot fully capture.