When Faith Meets Reason: Religion Scholars Reflect on Their Spiritual Journeys

What happens to faith when the creeds and confessions can no longer be squared with historical and empirical evidence? Most critical scholars have wrestled with this question. Some have found ways to reconcile their personal religious belief with the scholarship they practice. Others have chosen to reconstruct their view of religious meaning in light of what they have learned. But most have tended not to share those views in a public forum. And that brings up a second question: at what point does the discrepancy between what I know, or think I know, and what I am willing to say publicly become so acute that my personal integrity is at stake? Being honest about what one thinks has always mattered in critical scholarship. In the pages of When Faith Meets Reason, thirteen scholars take up the challenge to speak candidly about how they negotiate the conflicting claims of faith and reason, in hopes that their journeys will inspire others to engage in their own search for meaning.

Study guide available online. Visit www.faithmeetsreason.com

In a slender book rich with large and profound ideas, Hedrick collects 13 essays solicited from scholars in religion (including himself) that answer the broad question of how faith is understood when it conflicts with reason, science, or scholarship. Their answers are remarkably varied, painfully honest, and profoundly respectful of Christian tradition and newer truths alike.Library Journal
“The great thing about this book is that it is not trying to convert you to anything. Here you’ll find a group of scholars letting us in on some of their most precious and private convictions. . . . This book could lead to a dangerous epidemic of honesty among religious thinkers.”-Richard Holloway, Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church retired
I love this book! It would be great value just for the quality and extent of the scholarship that it offers. However the personal testimonies about the respective journeys of faith of these talented writers give the book a perspective and a dimension that would not be found in most scholarly books. . . . A wonderful book for study groups, personal retreats or family discussions over the dinner table. -Fred C. Plumer, President, The Center for Progressive Christianity

Press release

Contributors: Charles W. Hedrick, Susan M. (Elli) Elliott, David Galston, Glenna S. Jackson, Paul Alan Laughlin, Nigel Leaves, Darren J. N. Middleton, Robert . Price, James M. Robinson, Mahlon H. Smith, Hal Taussig, Theodore J. Weeden, Sr., and Walter Wink

Retail price: $20 – Become a Westar Institute Member and receive a 20% discount off the retail price.

192 pages, paperback, $20
ISBN 978-1-59815-010-0
Available October 21, 2008


Robert W. Funk

The exchange among the Westar Leaders in April 2005 about Easter and the resurrection burrows into the heart of our problem: at what point does the discrepancy between what I know, or think I know (I like to add that important qualification) and what I am willing to say publicly become so acute that my personal integrity is at stake? The breaking point came fairly early for me. I decided for the academic world because I thought I could maintain my integrity longer there than in the parish ministry. Then the seminary became a threat to that integrity and again I sought relief by moving to a secular university. But there is no escape if you wish to be true to yourself.

I finally realized that Westar Institute and the Jesus Seminar lay in my future because only in that context could I hope to recover any modicum of personal integrity. I worried initially because I feared I was the only one who had secretly been on this pilgrimage to discover the historical truth. How surprised I was to learn that many other scholars were on the very same trek. At the same time, I began to realize that the historical truth is not the fundamental issue. The fundamental issue is the nature of faith itself. So I longed to embark on the second big phase of the seminar and take up what has been called a “Second Nicea.”

I have often asked myself how I got to the first stage—the desire to determine and articulate the historical truth. And the answer I always get is this: I was learning things about my own tradition that undermined the original affirmations I had inherited from my predecessors. Why had I not thought to share those things, one at a time, with people in my church? Instead I do what many clergy do and that is dissemble. And I dissembled as much by what I didn’t say as by what I did say.

And now we have Associates in Westar who are convinced that we should stop with the historical Jesus, and perhaps the historical Paul, and rest our oars. There is of course wisdom in the suggestion that we should pass on the fragments of truth we gained from our intense studies to those who haven’t been let in on the secret as yet. And that would be sufficient. In other words, go back into the education business and simply transmit what we now know, or think we know, about the gospels, and the Bible, and let it go at that.
But that won’t do. And the reason is that personal integrity is still at stake—for me at least. If it is the case that we live by faith—by trust—I want to know what that means for me. So exploration of the future of the faith is inevitable—for me.

In the Westar Institute and the Jesus Seminar I have come to think that our collective or group integrity is now at stake (it has been all along, in fact), if we break off now and be satisfied with what we have done.
Or so it seems to me.

—Robert W. Funk April 2005

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