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In Defence of the Gospel - Aristides of Athens


“The Christians trace their origin from the Lord Jesus Christ. And He is acknowledged by the Holy Spirit to be the son of the most high God, who came down from heaven for the salvation of men. And being born of a pure virgin, unbegotten and immaculate, He assumed flesh and revealed himself among men.[”

 

— Aristides of Athens

 

On the surface there appear to be many similarities between the Roman culture and modern North America. Much like today, Rome was the envy of the modern world. It was modern with grand architecture, renowned philosophers, a booming trade business and a huge entertainment industry. Culturally Rome was individualistically self indulgent. Christians and Jews did not fit into Romes cultural ideologies and were hated for it. On a deeper level we know the Roman Era was much more violent from a government perspective... obviously I'm referring more to the underlying attitudes here.

 

For the first two hundred years of the Church Roman citizens and governments largely saw the Christians as annoying “atheists”. These counter-cultural religious outcasts didn’t fit in with society… as a matter of fact, when Polycarp was burned in a public display in the second century the crowd was shouting “down with the atheists”.

 

In this place we find an a man named Aristides of Athens, a Greek philosopher who became a Christian early in the second century. His letter of apologies was hardly known until about 1878. There has of course, as with many ancient writings been some debate about it’s authenticity however since its discovery there have been several supporting documents as well as a whole text of his apology found in a Syriac version.

 

It appears Aristides was one of the first philosophical apologists. Aristides was a powerful teacher who:

 

  • Taught the whole Bible - portraying the Old and New Testament as one congruent Book.

  • Taught about the “Logos of God”. This means the “word of God”. He expounded the scriptures in contrast to his current culture.

 

Recently I uploaded the apologies of Aristides of Athens. The link is here.

 

As I have studied the early Church Fathers writings I find in these stories and letters an incredibly deep understanding of the culture around them as well as the hope that the gospel offered to that culture. I find a deep understanding of how creation itself points towards God through intelligent design and how the “Logos” (the Bible) - both old and New Testament point to salvation. These writings show us how ordinary Christians can impact their world for Christ in powerful ways!

 

Contrast the depth of the Early Church apologists with todays Pastors and Preachers and it’s not hard to see how the Early Church could experience explosive growth while many of todays Churches look anemic and weak. As todays so called theologians attempt to “reinterpret” the Bible to bend to culture and modern atheistic science… apologists like Aristides dug in even as they faced intense opposition. They taught the scriptures powerfully in symphony with nature. They were undeterred by persecution and fearless in their presentation of Christ.

 

The Church today could learn much from these early apologist leaders. They were pillars of faith, presenting truth everywhere they went… to Kings or Paupers the Gospel was preached with passion and intellect.

 

Aristides used philosophy, science and his deep understanding of the written word to make the strongest evidential defence of the claims of Christ. The calling on the Church today is not found in large Charismatic movements nor in staunch religious settings. The Church is called to live in the “spirit and the truth”. We cannot lay aside either the power of the Holy Spirit nor the strength of the written word. We are called to become skilled in defending our faith in a world that is increasingly hostile to the Church.

 

To quote RC Sproul from his book entitled “Everyone’s a Theologian”:

 

“Many people believe that theological study holds little value. They say, “I don’t need theology; I just need to know Jesus.” Yet theology is unavoidable for every Christian. It is our attempt to understand the truth that God has revealed to us—something every Christian does. So it is not a question of whether we are going to engage in theology; it is a question of whether our theology is sound or unsound. It is important to study and learn because God has taken great pains to reveal Himself to His people. He gave us a book, one that is not meant to sit on a shelf pressing dried flowers, but to be read, searched, digested, studied, and chiefly to be understood.”

 

 

 

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