How Faith Seeking Understanding Cultivates Spiritual Health

The great Welsh preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said: “I spend half my time telling Christians to study doctrine, and the other half telling them that doctrine is not enough.” It is a mark of maturity to realize our doctrine and life must agree, or to use Paul’s words, that our conduct must be “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal 2:14). But what about faith and understanding? Is it right to say we must not only believe, but seek to understand what we believe?

If we consider a passage like Colossians 1:3-14, it is easy to see why Christians through the ages have answered yes. After rejoicing at the Colossians’ faith in Christ, Paul offers an urgent prayer that they would “be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” When faith lacks wisdom and understanding, it leaves us exposed to deceitful philosophies and smooth sounding arguments that are not “according to Christ” (Col 2:8). No one understood this better than Augustine (354-430), who provides a classic expression of “faith seeking understanding.” Responding to a Christian layman in Spain who claimed that the truth is found through faith and not through reason, Augustine says that while it is right to start with faith, God does not despise the gift of the intellect he created in us. We cannot bypass thinking, even in the great matters of salvation. The real issue, Augustine contends, is true reason versus false reason.

False reason exalts the human mind as the ultimate standard of truth, imagining itself to be a flawless and impartial judge, scoffing at anything that lies outside its understanding. We agree with this kind of reasoning, Augustine says, not because the arguments are “so obviously true,” but because we desperately want them to be so. True reason, on the other hand, begins with humility and faith, acknowledging that the human mind is limited and disordered by sin. It accepts the guidance of revelation and rejoices in receiving truths that no mind has seen nor the heart of man imagined. True reason, humbled by the cross and enlightened by the Spirit, seeks to understand “the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor 2:12).

SC Study Center

“Faith seeking understanding” is just a simple way of communicating that God created us to know the truth, and though the mind has fallen into sin and false reasoning, redemption through faith in Christ restores us to be a people characterized by knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Christians sometimes balk at this because false reasoning, often focused in institutions of higher learning, has done so much damage to the church. But as Paul and Augustine attest, there are only two options: false reasoning or true reasoning; the wisdom of this world or the wisdom of God. We should not react to faithless thought with a thoughtless faith.

What does this have to do with the spiritual health of college students? Here is the challenge: at precisely the moment when students need to grow into a deeper understanding of their faith, they enter a university culture where an entirely different ethos dominates. A student’s faith will be met, at least by the majority of those in positions of authority, with indifference, incomprehension, and at times hostility. Students are tempted to cope with this pressure by separating their faith from their thinking. Or worse, to discard it altogether. They need to be shown a better way, the way of “faith seeking understanding.” This in essence is the goal of a Christian study center: to embody the tradition of “faith seeking understanding” in a way that is hospitable and accessible to the next generation.

The urge to see lost students brought to faith is healthy, and has rightly been emphasized in college ministry. But we must also focus on not losing young people in the first place. To keep the faith, we must help them understand it better—leading them to see that in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3).

Two Upcoming Events at the Study Center

Event 1
Event 2

In Romans 15, Paul expresses his desire to meet the Christians in Rome, and to be helped by them on his way to Spain. He wanted their company, and he needed their financial support. This is the way God designed for the whole church to have a share in gospel ministry. Likewise, we would love to see you at the study center, and we need your help. When people walk into our house and ask (with a bit of shock), “how is this funded?” I always say two words: generous Christians. This is a great witness for the church in Columbia. I pray you will consider joining in this effort so that we can continue this ministry in 2024 and beyond.

In Christ,