Category Archives: Apologetics

Sunday School – An Appeal to Rome (Justin and Diognetus)

Plato. Luni marble, copy of the portrait made ...
Plato. Luni marble, copy of the portrait made by Silanion ca. 370 BC for the Academia in Athens. From the sacred area in Largo Argentina, 1925. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following last week’s need to be hated by Rome (i.e., World System) we find Christians appealing to Rome for an official status. As Christianity becomes Christianity, and not simply a secondary Judaism, more and more Gentiles are bringing in their customs, traditions, and philosophies. They are also bringing in the need to be more metropolitan.

Word: Apology, a defense. This is the time of Christian Apologetics, when Christians turned to defending Christianity and thus exploring its theological tenets.

Rome respected one thing: antiquity. This is why they stole every the Greeks had done — from the gods and goddesses to the poems. Because they desired to be themselves ancient. When Rome was introduced to Jerusalem, they begrudgingly accepted their quasi-independence because the Jews could point to Moses and say, “He not only preceded Plato, but Plato respected Moses.” Clement of Alexandria who would use this apologetic technique to bring Plato into use for Christian theology later picked this up. He was not the first, of course.

Please keep in mind, this is the barest of histories here. Just some background information.

The first Christian who used Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek philosophers to do his bidding was Justin Martyr (guess how he got his last name). Why would he do such a thing? First, the Gospel of John and the Wisdom of Solomon both allow for Hellenistic philosophy based on the use of the words Logos (Word) and Sophia (Wisdom). Justin latched on to this. The Logos of John became the Logos of Heraclitus. Further, Justin and Clement would insist in a God akin to Plato’s Ultimate God.

Second, by aligning Christianity with both Jerusalem and Athens, he gave it a certain antiquity, which was needed to apply for official State status. This would prevent persecution and allowed for other benefits as well.

There are two such writings springing to mind. The first, of course, is Justin’s First Apology. He is quick to defend against charges of atheism. Why would we be charged with atheism? Because our god (Jesus) was new, unless, of course, you account for the Logos:

Why, then, should this be? In our case, who pledge ourselves to do no wickedness, nor to hold these atheistic opinions, you do not examine the charges made against us; but, yielding to unreasoning passion, and to the instigation of evil demons, you punish us without consideration or judgment. For the truth shall be spoken; since of old these evil demons, effecting apparitions of themselves, both defiled women and corrupted boys, and showed such fearful sights to men, that those who did not use their reason in judging of the actions that were done, were struck with terror; and being carried away by fear, and not knowing that these were demons, they called them gods, and gave to each the name which each of the demons chose for himself. And when Socrates endeavoured, by true reason and examination, to bring these things to light, and deliver men from the demons, then the demons themselves, by means of men who rejoiced in iniquity, compassed his death, as an atheist and a profane person, on the charge that “he was introducing new divinities;” and in our case they display a similar activity. For not only among the Greeks did reason (Logos) prevail to condemn these things through Socrates, but also among the Barbarians were they condemned by Reason (or the Word, the Logos) Himself, who took shape, and became man, and was called Jesus Christ; and in obedience to Him, we not only deny that they who did such things as these are gods, but assert that they are wicked and impious demons, whose actions will not bear comparison with those even of men desirous of virtue.

This entire First Apology is well worth the read — and leaves us wondering what might we sacrifice to have our belief system validated? Or, perhaps this is what Christianity was to Justin — the former philosopher who caught wind of Christ and was thus changed forever. Perhaps his mind say in Christ the only answer to all of the questions asked by all philosophies. Maybe for Justin, Jesus was the answer.

The second person is unknown, although some scholars have placed him as Justin. Like the First Apology, this author writes to the Emperor and like Justin, promotes Christianity as compatible with Rome, or at least not in competition with Rome.

The Epistle of Diognetus contains a passage that has come to mean a great deal to me —

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

I’ll just leave this here.

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Review of “Defending the Faith: Apologetics in Women’s Ministry” @KregelAcademic

I have to be honest and admit that I came to Mary Jo Sharp’s Defending the Faith: Apologetics in Women’s Ministry predisposed to disagree with it. For good or for ill, I have some foundational and philosophical disagreements with the assumption that there must be separate ministries for men and women other than for certain delicate gender-specific issues. I have found no place in the New Testament that implies that men and women should be discipled differently or that they have different needs when it comes to spiritual formation or studying the Bible.

In addition, my personality is such that I have never found any of the traditional activities associated with women’s ministry remotely interesting (although I’m not criticizing women who do) and I am deeply offended when publishers assume that all they need to do is slap some flowers on the front of a Bible to make it more appealing to female buyers.

(And in the interest of full-disclosure, I was traumatized several years ago by a women’s ministry meeting at my church where they made us get up and “do the Locomotion” in order to force us to talk to perfect strangers. I walked out and never went back.

I have also always had the nagging feeling that offering women a ministry of their own allows some churches to claim that they have provided them a venue for service and fellowship without really allowing them to be involved in the larger life of the church. In business circles, this is what used to be called “the pink ghetto.”

For all these reasons, I do not, as a rule, join exclusively female Christian groups.

The purpose of this seemingly useless background information is to demonstrate the fact that Sharp had a lot of work to do in order to gain my trust. Her book, after all, was written with a very specific goal: to convince churches to include apologetics training in their women’s ministries.

After reading it, however, my biggest frustration is that it should be read by everyone, but probably won’t be because it’s targeted specifically at women.

Defending the Faith is a well-written, extremely persuasive argument for apologetics. Regardless of whether the reader is trying to convince their pastor to integrate apologetics into women’s ministry, men’s ministry, or the weekly handbell choir rehearsal, this book argues eloquently for the importance of Christians knowing their stuff—and being able to articulate it well.

Although the content of the two books is significantly different, I can unashamedly put Defending the Faith on my bookshelf beside J.P. Moreland’s Loving God with All Your Mind as two books that will convince most any Christian of the importance of apologetics.

As someone not predisposed toward tea parties and scrapbooking, I was immediately disarmed by Sharp’s admission that she, herself, didn’t understand the value of women’s ministry until she started teaching apologetics. Her confession regarding the southern belle atmosphere of many women’s groups made me like her right from the start.

One of Sharp’s first arguments for integrating apologetics into ministry is that a women (or a man for that matter) who doesn’t have a solid basis for her belief will live just like the non-believer down the street. A person’s actions, says Sharp, flow from what she really believes deep down in her bones. And a faith based only on that warm, fuzzy feeling a person gets from worship isn’t powerful enough to kick-start an inside-out transformation.

Next, Sharp makes the startlingly obvious observation that in no other area of study is it acceptable to assume that a person will know everything they’ll ever need by the time they’re a teenager. Millions of Christians, however, believe just that. The list of excuses that people offer for being satisfied with a shallow faith is sadly familiar, but Sharp’s response provides no wiggle room:

Please understand that we create a shallow view of the Christian faith if we do not deal with difficult passages and tough questions. Look at the dilemma presented by the author of Hebrews who wants to teach in greater depth on the difficult concept of Jesus as the High Priest, but he cannot because the people have become dull of hearing…If ladies in your church are using the idea of a “simple child-like faith” as a reason not to learn hard Christian concepts, you need to help them see that childish thinking is not to be confused with the heart that trusts God with childlike faith.

Defending The Faith is, at its core, a very practical book. It’s designed to give women who want to convince their church to incorporate apologetics into their women’s ministry specific strategies for approaching the pastor, finding quality material, and integrating it into the existing ministry structure. The author even goes into detail on how to create an apologetics curriculum from scratch.

But my favorite part of the book is Sharp’s responses to the most common objections she hears to apologetics itself. “Apologists just want to win arguments,” says one woman. “We should just give people the gospel,” says another. The author’s response is at once spiritual and practical:

The gospel of Jesus entails knowledge of certain propositions that another person may or may not believe. When we proclaim the gospel, we assume the historical reality of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the existence of God, the problem of a sinful human nature. Finally, we assume the reliability and authority of the Bible. If people have never been exposed to some of these ideas, these principles may sound foreign or confusing to them. When our message seems hard for our listeners to understand, instead of just walking away from the conversation and telling ourselves that they just were not ready to receive the gospel, we can help them with questions they may have on these issues.

One thing Sharp does not spend much time on are the reasons why women avoid apologetics. She acknowledges the problem to be sure, but unlike Toni Allen in Come Let Us Reason Together (another great book), Sharp doesn’t dive too deeply into why so many women seem to have an aversion to it. For my part, this is not a criticism. While Allen did us a great service in identifying the problem—that women, as a group, rely more heavily on their emotional experiences as proof of God—the last thing I want to read is another book talking about women’s deficiencies. Sharp wisely avoids the giant black hole of “what’s wrong with women” and concentrates instead on why apologetics is important and what we can do to convince people of it.

My criticisms of Defending the Faith are minor compared to its value to the church. First, the fact that it is specifically targeted at women will no doubt significantly reduce the number of people who could be reading it and benefiting from it. Nothing in the arguments the author makes is unique to the way women think, but focusing exclusively on women’s ministry almost assures that most men won’t read it.

Are men’s ministries actually more focused on apologetics than women’s? I suspect not. This book has the potential for impacting countless men’s ministries, but unless the pastor stands up and tells his entire congregation to read it, they probably won’t.

So maybe it’s not such a minor point after all.

My second criticism is more about marketing than content. Couldn’t they have come up with a better title than Defending the Faith? So much of this book is truly inspirational; so much of it makes the reader want to go out and change the way people approach their faith and live their lives. Couldn’t they have come up with something more representative of what’s inside? How about Women into Warriors: How Apologetics can Xenafy Your Women’s Ministry? Now there’s a book a man would read!

Review: @BakerAcademic: Imaginative Apologetics

IA

Apologetics is changing. Yes, the stereotype of the white man in a suit that simply loves to argue and has a special place in his heart for the teleological argument is still around, but more and more people are realizing that while Christianity can certainly be defended historically, evidentially, and logically, reason only gets us so far. Very few people are argued into the kingdom and individuals (aside from the occasional college professor) are made up of both head and heart, with the heart usually leading the way in the search for God.

Imaginative Apologetics is a relatively new area of study, although anyone who has read George MacDonald, Tolkien, or Lewis can see it beginning to take root. Baker Academic has released a paperback version of a wonderful book that was originally available only in England. Consider it an introduction to a new world in which cold, hard reason sits down in front of a warm fire to listen to the myths of the ancient world—and finds Jesus there.

You can read the entire review here.

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What’s Missing from Modern Apologetics?

Apologetics has experienced somewhat of a boost of late—in part because of the new atheism and in part because post-modernism is slowly being replaced by something that looks a little bit more like the real world. But assumptions regarding the gap between our intellect and our emotions still relegate apologetics to the margins of most churches.

New ways of doing apologetics are beginning to change all that by appealing not just to reason, but to intuition and imagination as well. Click here for part 1 of Searching for a New Apologetic

The Passionate Intellect – Personal Thoughts

This is the third and final installment of my review of The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind by Alister McGrath from IVP-Academic.  You can read the author info here and find an overview of the contents here.  Thanks again to IVP-Academic for sending a copy.

Let’s start with the good – McGrath makes very important points about apologetics throughout the book. This is assessment comes from a person (i.e. me) who, though once enthralled by apologetics, has developed a serious disdain for the field, especially at the popular level. I’m sure others have made similar points to McGrath elsewhere, but I have simply stopped reading apologetics books, in general. I find the tone of most “debates” an utter turn off.

I think the most important point he makes is that an inability to explain one aspect, or even several aspects, of your worldview doesn’t necessarily invalidate the whole thing. Interestingly, he communicates this point most strikingly by quoting Charles Darwin as saying:

A crowd of difficulties will have occurred to the reader. Some of them are so grave that to this day I can never reflect on them without being staggered; but, to the best of my judgement, the greater number are only apparent, and those that are real are not, I think, fatal to my theory (p. 137).

That is a profoundly helpful statement. Immediately preceding this, McGrath discusses this point, namely the inability to adequately explain a particular aspect of one’s worldview, in relation to the Christian’s struggle to explain the issue of pain and suffering in the world.  I like McGrath’s approach to apologetics; it gives a person room to breathe. Rather than looking for “linchpin” arguments he encourages us to look at matters more holistically. Thus, with regard to pain and suffering in the world, it is not that we may find any one particular explanation completely satisfying. However, when we take several explanations together, we might still find a theistic worldview convincing, even though we still may consider anomalies.

In addition, the book contains some very helpful articles on science and religious faith, in particular. The first part of the book contained some helpful thoughts concerning theology, in general, but I didn’t really find those chapters as stimulating as those in the second part of the book (see the post overviewing the contents). I particularly enjoyed the chapter entitled “Does Religion Poison Everything?” He ends with this bit of invective, which I do think is appropriate considering the approach to “apologetics” taken by many of the new atheists “The belief that religion poisons everything is simply childish.”

As I think I’ve made clear, I like a great deal about this book. Yet I will offer two points of critique.  First, the book was not really what I expected from a book entitled The Passionate Intellect.  As I hinted in the previous post, the book had more of a feel of Collected Essays of Alister McGrath: 2008-2010, or something to that effect.  With that said, if you like Alister McGrath, you will like this book. I like reading about science and religion, but this is not really my intellectual passion.

Second, I thought the book was a little too dispassionate to be titled The Passionate Intellect. I guess this is not really a knock. Everyone might display passion differently. Only, I was expecting something a little more along the lines of David Ulin’s The Lost Art of Reading, where he describes reading as rebellion against all of the other things that vie for our attention. The tone of The Passionate Intellect just didn’t communicate passion to me.

With that said, I do think the book is worth reading. It’s a fairly short, easy read. And, for those who like Alister McGrath, I think you will enjoy it.  For those, like me, who are unfamiliar with McGrath, it is a good introduction. Only, recognize that the title may set up expectations that do not coincide with what you experience reading the book.

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