APOLOGETICS, THEN AND NOW
I read an interesting passage in Arnobius (church father, ca. 300 AD) today. Why, he is asking the Heathen, do they bear such hatred for Christ that they feel a necessity to harry, torture, and kill his People? What injury did Christ ever do to them? “Did He ever, in claiming for himself power as a king, fill the whole world with bands of the fiercest soldiers, and of nations at peace, did He destroy and put an end to some and compel others to submit to His yoke and serve Him? Did He ever, excited by grasping avarice, claim as His own by right all that wealth to have abundance of which men strive eagerly? Did He ever, transported with lustful passions, break down by force the barriers of purity, or stealthily lie in wait for other men’s wives?”
Well, there is a sobering passage! For no Christian apologist would dare to write it today for fear that the response would be, “Yes, that is exactly what He has done—in His name-bearers and representatives–and we hold Him accountable for their actions, by God!!!” The early church had its problems, some serious ones; but by 300-ish AD it had not yet become publicly notorious for things like the crusades, the religious wars of the 17th century, or (to hasten forward to our own time) the Health and Wealth Gospel by which Televangelists get rich at the expense of their gullible followers, or the Roman Catholic priestly sexual abuse scandal. Can we even imagine a day when a Christian apologist could afford to advance an argument like this with any confidence? Now, there’s some nose-rubbing in reality for you! It does indeed help to explain why we face such an uphill battle today.
What lesson can we take away from this? Speaking the truth in love is not optional; but we already knew that. Well, the “love” part has to be over-emphasized now (if that is possible) because we do not start from a neutral position. We start with a world already angry for what it sees as the sins of Christians. We start with a world that has been told by the “New Atheists” that those sins are not an aberration, but flow from the very nature of Christian faith. We start with a world prone to believe such lies.
We have to overcome such perceptions before we even have a chance of being heard. We have to take more seriously than ever before Francis Schaeffer’s emphasis on True Spirituality and The Mark of The Christian (two books it would be well to read again–or for the first time). We have to remember that what he called “the final apologetic”–demonstrable love for each other and for those we are sent to reach–is not final in the sense that it comes at the end, but rather in the sense that it is the ultimate piece, without which anything else we do will do more harm than good. I don’t think we remain silent until all that is perfectly in place, for then we would never speak at all. But the “final apologetic” must become the unmistakable context for everything we do and say. We should have been doing this all along, because Scripture commands it. But our failure today will have even worse consequences than it did before.
Maybe, if we are faithful, our grandchildren may be able to use Arnobius’ argument once again. No, I don’t have that much faith. But we should be faithful anyway, because it’s the right thing to do.
Check out the Lantern Hollow Press books by Dr. Williams: STARS THROUGH THE CLOUDS: THE COLLECTED POETRY OF DONALD T. WILLIAMS and REFELCTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE: ESSAYS IN EVANGELICAL PHILOSOPHY. Available at