Wednesday with Wesley: On Undervaluing Reason

Reason and logic are an important part of daily life and decision making. However, there are some Christians that undervalue the use of reason. They interpret “walking by faith” as rejecting logic and ignoring the need for plans. In Sermon #70, John Wesley “impartially” considered the use of reason and those who did not value it.

Even [in the earliest times] there were not wanting well-meaning men who, not having much reason themselves, imagined that reason was of no use in religion; yea, rather, that it was a hinderance to it.

And there has not been wanting a succession of men who have believed and asserted the same thing. But never was there a greater number of these in the Christian Church, at least in Britain, than at this day.

John_WesleyRoger Olson sees the same problem among Christians today as Wesley did in his day.

[Some Christians] appeal to “faith” as if that means blind faith, unexamined belief, in truths delivered by authority. It is more spiritual, they say, to believe against logic and evidence than to believe with them.

The passage 1 Cor 14:20, which formed the basis of the sermon, tells us to be men in our understanding. Wesley’s notes on this passage remind us (as did Paul) that we have the responsibility to not only use our reason but to develop our abilities in this area.

Knowing religion was not designed to destroy any of our natural faculties, but to exalt and improve them, our reason in particular.

Without Reason we can’t understand the Scriptures

Wesley would challenge Christians who rejected reason to explain how they would understand the Scriptures.

The foundation of true religion stands upon the oracles of God. It is built upon the Prophets and Apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone. Now, of what excellent use is reason, if we would either understand ourselves, or explain to others, those living oracles! And how is it possible without it to understand the essential truths contained therein?

In Principles of a Methodist, Wesley answers the question (how will you understand the Scriptures) with this statement (in which we see 3 of the 4 parts of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral):

We prove these by Scripture and reason; and, if need be, by antiquity.

Is it not reason, Wesley asks in his sermon, that enables us to understand what the Holy Scriptures declare on a variety of matters including:

  • the being and attributes of God
  • his method of dealing with people
  • what is that faith whereby we are saved
  • what it is to walk as Christ walked

We cannot miss the importance of reason in understanding what the Scriptures are teaching us with the aid of the Spirit. The two work together to build our understanding of Christianity.

Unless you wilfully shut your eyes, you cannot but see of what service [reason] is both in laying the foundation of true religion, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, and in raising the superstructure. You see it directs us in every point both of faith and practice: It guides us with regard to every branch both of inward and outward holiness.

Wesley goes on to say that reason is required to make decisions in all of our “ordinary duties” as well as in our theology.

Many cases of conscience are not to be solved without the utmost exercise of our reason. The same is requisite in order to understand and to discharge our ordinary relative duties …

In all these respects, and in all the duties of common life, God has given us our reason for a guide.

Without Reason we are left with our subjective imagination

The people that seemed to worry Wesley the most were those Christians who rejected reason and relied on inner impressions that they understood to be the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Among them that despise and vilify reason, you may always expect to find those enthusiasts who suppose the dreams of their own imagination to be revelations from God. We cannot expect that men of this turn will pay much regard to reason. Having an infallible guide, they are very little moved by the reasonings of fallible men. …

In a letter Wesley further defined enthusiasts:

‘Enthusiasm,’ you say, ‘is a false persuasion of an extraordinary divine assistance, which leads men on to such conduct as is only to be justified by the supposition of such assistance.  …  Instead of making the word of God the rule of his actions, he follows only that secret impulse which is owing to a warm imagination.

He then rejected that he was anything like this – it is no more like me, than I am like a centaur.

Those who claim to be “more spiritual” than those who “walk by reason”, Wesley sternly warns, at the conclusion of his sermon, are not helping advance Christianity among those who have not accepted Christ by rejecting reason and logic.

When therefore you despise or depreciate reason, you must not imagine you are doing God service: Least of all, are you promoting the cause of God when you are endeavouring to exclude reason out of religion.


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