The Magisterial vs. Ministerial Role of Reason

Portrait of Martin Luther

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“But what about . . . the role of argument and evidence in knowing Christianity to be true?  I’ve already said that it is the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit that gives us the fundamental knowledge of Christianity’s truth.  Therefore, the only role left for argument and evidence to play is a subsidiary role.  I think Martin Luther correctly distinguished between what he called the magisterial and ministerial uses of reason.

“The magisterial use of reason occurs when reason stands over and above the gospel like a magistrate and judges it on the basis of argument and evidence.  The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel.  In light of the Spirit’s witness, only the ministerial use of reason is legitimate.  Philosophy is rightly the handmaid of theology.  Reason is a tool to help us better understand and defend our faith; as Anselm put it, ours is a faith that seeks understanding.  A person who knows that Christianity is true on the basis of the witness of the Spirit may also have a sound apologetic which reinforces or confirms for him the Spirit’s witness, but it does not serve as the basis of his belief.

“If the arguments of natural theology and Christian evidences are successful, then Christian belief is warranted by such arguments and evidences for the person who grasps them, even if that person would still be warranted in their absence.  Such a person is doubly warranted in his Christian belief, in the sense that he enjoys two sources of warrant.”

— William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Crossway, 2008), 47-48.

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7 thoughts on “The Magisterial vs. Ministerial Role of Reason

  1. The “magisterial” and “ministrial” terminology is useful.
    The NT tells me that the Holy Spirit is the One who brings people to faith in God and what follows from that. Why do I believe that, because I believe that the Holy Spirit is the One who brought me from darkness into the light. Why don’t so many others remain in the dark about that? Paul the Apostle says it well, but, supernaturally, he would:

    “…the church of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. [28] Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
    (Colossians 1:25; Colossians 1:25b-29 ESV).

    See discussion (Thomas, a Jew, and myself, Bography, a Christian Jew) at the Messianic Jewish site Roshpinaproject.http://roshpinaproject.com/2011/04/06/ramban-obey-your-rabbi-if-he-tells-you-to-break-the-torah/#comments

  2. Pingback: Historical evidence and good argument in coming to Christian faith: With special reference to the Jew « OneDaringJew

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Magisterial vs. Ministerial Role of Reason « Cloud of Witnesses -- Topsy.com

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