Patristic Apologetics

In Justin Martyr’s first apology he wrote to Augustus Caesar. The Church was under tremendous persecution for creating social and civil threats as far as Caesar understood. Justin wrote in defense of the Christian faith, to stop the injustice and the wrongly served punishment. Justin Martyr states in his apology

Hence are we called atheists. and we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity. But both Him and the Son (who came forth from Him and taught us these things, and the hose of the other good angels who follow and are made like to Him), and the prophetic spirit, we worship and adore, knowing them in reason and truth, and declaring without grudging to every one who wishes to learn, as we have been taught.

When I had come across this passage I caught myself nodding my head in excitement. Two thoughts came to my mind as to why I was so happy to read his apology to Augustus. First, this is packed with theology and second why is this type of apologetic virtually absent today?

The entire apology is bursting at the seams with theological concepts and statments. The thing to notice is that they are not preferential doctrines either, they are ones that have built the christian faith, as taught to us by Christ, like Justin Martyr clearly stated. These doctrines he has brought to the Emperor’s attention are Christian distinctives. Not theistic proofs or rationalistic diagnostics, but rather he makes his defense with Christian theism, trinitarian Christianity! It is through his theological underpinnings that Justin can speak with authority on topics like justice, love and mercy. He was a great theologian and thusly a great apologist.

The second challenge that came to my thinking was why is this not happening in our churches today? Why has the church become so complacent and bogged down with social issues before theological issues. Is it perhaps that we do not know the faith that is within us? Is it possible that we have become so theologically lame that we can’t even get up to defend ourselves. I am convinced that we have thrown away the bible as a formidable use of apology for the sake of cultural relevance and being tolerable.

In our age apologetics has become a largely missed pursuit, which is fundamentally one of the most pastoral disciplines in Christianity. In Peter’s first letter he tells us the means by which we make our defense is to ” do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15), which are very pastoral characteristics. What this mandate does not mean or communicate to the reader is to dilute the truth or water it down. This is the problem that church has, we have little trouble being friendly, welcoming and compassionate. This is not a rule that transcends all Christians but for the grand spectrum of evangelicals this is the case. The only problem is we cannot “friendly” anyone into the kingdom of God, it is by the renewal of our minds, as the Apostle Paul tells us.

We have every reason to look to the Patristics and the confessions of old as example of biblical apology, and a respectful handling on the word of truth. I believe if the church would stand for its biblical and vital doctrines we would live, think and act a lot like Justin Martyr. His theological and persuasive apology is one of the Christian faith is a great example of Cornelius Van Til’s definition of apologetics. “Apologetics is the vindication of Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life.” (Pg.17 Van Til)

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