SODOM & GOMORRAH: Christian apologetics is a very misunderstood field. Secularists will either pay it no heed or assume that apologetics must conform to secularism in order to be valid (i.e. to depart from the faith). Apologetics is always that bridge between faith and reason, which may have been true at a point in time when reason was tied to an overarching metaphysical view. The old philosophers reasoned as much about justice as they did the nature of the divine; for them, the realm of the mind contained spirit and intellect. In a world devoid of spirit, a compromise with the cult of reason may lead to a compromised faith.
The Bible, the Christian’s guide to interacting in the world, should provide some guidance on how to deal with a reason that rejects the spiritual. A few verses are quoted in support of modern apologetics: Isaiah 1.18, I Peter 3.15, Acts 17.17, and Romans 1.19-23 are used to justify the compromise with reason.
Isaiah 1.18 reads “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
The apologist will argue that this reads as an invitation to discuss and debate, a clear support of the idea of reasoning to strengthen the faith. Yet the first chapter of Isaiah contains a different message. Verse two calls the people to hear what “the LORD hath spoken” because the people are rebellious. Isaiah exhorts the people to examine their situation because their sins are as un-mended sores that bleed and puss all over. They are so corrupt that the sacrifices even offend the Lord.
The solution is provided in verse 18 with the call to approach the Lord to “reason together.” The rest of the verse shows that the context is a redemption of promises. The believer is supposed to discuss the covenant with God; the new covenant (testament) is the forgiveness of sins on the condition that the individual believes on Christ. Even though we are not worthy, God keeps his word to the believers but asks to be reminded of it, presumably to see if we have heard the promise. The Hebrew word yākach, which is translated as “reason together” is a primitive root meaning “to be correct” and has the connotation of a decision. God has decided, but the condition is the approach of the believer and the believer’s “willingness and obedience” as expressed in the next verse.
Isaiah 1.18 is a call to discuss with God a faith already possessed so that we may be obedient and receive the promise. This is not a call to reason with the unbelievers to persuade them of the faith.
I Peter 3.15 reads “But sanctify the LORD God in your hears: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”
Here the apologist will argue that we must reason with “every man that asketh” in order to persuade him of the faith. Yet this is again taken out of context. The prior verses 8-14 advise the faithful to avoid seeking revenge on people who do evil. The Lord will punish the transgressors and reward those who do right, Peter tells us, and if the faithful strive to do only good then those that harm them are obviously transgressors for evil is the only objection to good. The believers are told not to worry about suffering.
Verse 15 is how the believer should respond: give an account of the hope in their hearts in a gentle way. This will shame the evil doers and expose them as evil. In the following couple of verses, Peter advises the church that they shouldn’t be afraid to die for God. Verse 15 is advising the believer when they are persecuted.
Acts 17.17 reads “Therefore disputed he [St. Paul] in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.”
If anything ought to inspire the apologists, it should be this verse. Clearly St. Paul is engaging a debate with non-believers in order to convert them. And he is, but there are a few caveats. St. Paul has arrived in the city of Athens (verse 15) and he has gone to two locations – the synagogue and the market, and he has conversed with two sets of people – Jews and devout persons. St. Paul is in the city of the philosophers “disputing” which in the Greek is dialegomai. He is where Socrates was, engaging in dialogues. However, he has not gone to any philosophical school, but instead to the town square and a religious institution. He has also avoided talking to philosophers and instead talks to people of faith. Like Socrates, he was in the company of ordinary people.
Enter the philosophers in the following verse. “Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.” They then seize him and take him to Areopagus, where the main council met and they demand to know the new doctrine. St. Paul tells them and most of them mock him. It is those without faith who turn away from him, but a few believed.
The Epicureans (who held that pleasure was the highest good, much like today’s utilitarians) and the Stoics (who thought that we should be divorced from all feeling) are those who mock the apostle. This is the only place where the Greek word philosophos “philosophers” is used in the Bible and it is in a context of confrontation. This is not, however, the only place where he disputes with the Greeks. In Acts 9.29 he boldly disputes with Greeks at Jerusalem and the situation gets so heated that St. Paul’s friends must remove the apostle from the city before the Greeks kill him.
All of this knowledge probably helped fuel the sentiment that Paul had when he wrote in Colossians 2.8 “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” This is the only place in the Bible where the Greek word philosophia is used.
Romans 1.19-23 reads “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.”
This should probably serve as a warning against apologetics, if the effort of apologetics is an attempt to justify theology before the court of philosophy. The word “imaginations” in the King James in verse 21 means “reasonings.” It would then read, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their reasonings, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Essentially, a failure to understand the timeline of divine creation (II Peter 3:5-8) is the trigger for vain reasonings, which Paul goes on to impact out to promiscuity, murder, and all kinds of other negative things. The Greek assumption about the creation is that it didn’t happen; the world is eternal under those systems. The sentiment is present in Machiavelli and other moderns who have taken it from the ancient tradition.
St. Paul attempted to bring Christianity to non-believers by trying to make sense of it within their civilizational paradigm. He didn’t demand that the pagan follow the Law of Moses, he merely pointed the way to the truth. This was not done because he believed that the pagans stood on equal ground with the Christian community, but because he expected Christianity to fundamentally transform individual souls, so that the paganism would fall away. For St. Paul, that was the sole purpose of apologetics – it was to demonstrate the superiority of the Christian faith because the faith is the only consistent and effective answer to the world.
His speech at Athens was revealing, for he tells the story of coming upon an altar dedicated to “THE UNKNOWN GOD.” St. Paul claims that the Greeks were worshiping God but did not know the holy name. They wanted to find God but could not and through Christianity are the myths fulfilled. Oddly, there are signs that the New Testament provides an answer to questions that troubled to Greek and Roman minds. In chapter 9 of the book of Acts, the power of Christ works through St. Peter to heal Aeneas. Aeneas had been sick for some time, but was healed with Christ. Aeneas, of course, shares his name with the Roman hero in Virgil’s Aeneid. The sickly hero, or the old faith, fails to inspire. Only the power of Christ can infuse heroes, for their heroism happens only with God’s permission and grace. Further, the journey of St. Paul seems to mimic Odysseus. St. Paul too is journeying home, but home for him is a closer bond with the divine. Through his journey, St. Paul is beaten, imprisoned, and shipwrecked. Like Odysseus he overcomes. At the end of his ministry, St. Paul is utilized to break the Greek tradition, however. Like Socrates, St. Paul is arrested by the authorities. Like Socrates, the authorities demand an account from him. Like Socrates, the word apologeia is used to describe his defense of himself. Unlike Socrates, the apostle walks away with his life and a free hand to spread the truth. Worldly powers are nothing to the divine. Truth can be pursued, but always the chosen vessels of Christ are guided through the world’s troubles.
The lesson is made evident in the Gospel of John. There Christ is described as the Word made flesh. This word, “Word” in Greek is logos; the same word used for “reason”. Human knowledge always reaches a limit because of our distance from the divine; human knowledge that fails to acknowledge the divine simply fails.