Right Reason

The classical Protestant understanding of “right reason” goes beyond the typical modern meaning of reason and postulates that “it is a kind of rational and philosophic conscience which distinguishes man from the beasts and which links man with man and with God.”[1] “Right reason” involves the rational and moral faculties as an “act of the whole soul.”[2]  In fact, the concept infers that the total reality of the universe is rationally organized while containing truth that is both intellectual and moral.[3] Thus, according to Paul Kjoss Helseth, “right reason” in its classical and Christian expression “is a kind of theological aesthetic that affirms a rationally ordered, “theocratic universe”[4] while insisting that because truth is not only true but good, in order for human beings to know truth in a more or less true or right sense “they must themselves become good.”[5] [6]

Advocates of “right reason” submit that reason is a power that God has implanted in all humans guiding them to truth and moral conduct.[7] From this position, “right reason” enables humans to know objective truth. However, humans must undergo a transformation of the rational and moral faculties which can only occur through God’s regenerating work. Only those who have been regenerated know “rightly” and “are in a superior epistemic position.”[8] Through regeneration and by the work of the Holy Spirit, Christians are able to use their God given epistemic faculties to know and understand God’s objective truth, but this knowing does not occur without personal bias, subjective factors and the lingering effects of sin. Therefore, object truth cannot be known with perfect certainty. This is the crux of the issue—that object truth can be known, but it cannot be known objectively.

[1] Douglas Bush, Paradise Lost in Our Time (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1945), 37 quoted by Helseth, “Christ-Centered,” 3. [2] S.L. Bethell, The Cultural Revolution of the Seventeenth Century (London: Dennis Dobson, 1951), 63 cited by Helseth, “Christ-Centered,” 3. [3] Bethell, The Cultural, 57 quoted by Helseth, “Christ-Centered,” 3. [4] Herschel Baker, The Wars of Truth: Studies in the Decay of Christian Humanism in the Earlier Seventeenth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952), 5 quoted by Helseth, “Christ-Centered,” 4. [5] Hoopes, Right Reason in the English Renaissance, 6 quoted by Helseth, “Christ-Centered,” 4. [6] Helseth, “Christ-Centered,” 4. [7] Helseth, “Christ-Centered,” 5. [8] Helseth, “Christ-Centered,” 9.

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