Can you understand Scripture without faith?

I’m continuing my way through James K. A. Smith’s book Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-Secular Theology and continuing to think through the relationship of faith and reason especially in our post-modern and post-Christendom context.

As Smith continues to discuss the relationship of faith and reason, he turn his attention to the Reformed theo-philosophical tradition. As an exemplar he cites John Owen’s treatise The Holy Spirit (155), which captures nicely (preachers are often kinder to their readers than philosophers, but often less precise) the Reformed understanding of the relationship of faith to reason.


That Jesus Christ was crucified, is a proposition that any natural [i.e., unregenerate] man may understand and assent to, and be said to receive: and all the doctrines of the gospel may be taught in propositions and discourses, the sense and meaning of which a natural man may understand; but it is denied that he chan receive the things themselves. For there is a wide difference between the mind’s receiving doctrines notionally, and receiving the things taught in them really.

As Smith notes there are necessary conditions for proper reception: “regeneration…coupled with the lens of scriptural revelation…” (166). Smith argues that while critiquing the notion of secular (or neutral) reason, radical orthodoxy actually continues to appeal to it in a way that is reminiscent of what it finds fault with in the thought of Aquinas.

Questions: I’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions…

Which comes first: faith or understanding?
What role does the biblical revelation have in this?
To what extend can God’s revelation of Himself be comprehended by the unregenerate (or unconverted) person?

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