The Difference the Gospel Makes

“We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.” -Justin Martyr

Who were the Apologists?

“The apologists of the early church were a group of early Christian thinkers who specialized in making a defense of the faith. In most cases, the apologists were first generation Christians, converting to the faith as adults. Most members of this group were philosophers by profession and training… The work of the apologists was basically two-fold. On the one hand, they argued before governors and magistrates that Christians did not deserve ill treatment but rather were good and loyal citizens of Rome. On the other hand, the apologists promoted the idea that Christianity was a morally and spiritually superior religion when compared with beliefs then popular in the Roman world” (Nathan Feldmeth, Pocket Dictionary of Church History, pg. 15-16).

Christian apologists include:

  • Aristides (ca. 124)- his Apology before Hadrian argued for Christianity’s superiority in part because of its superior doctrine of God.
  • Justin Martyr (ca. 100-150)– Wore philosophers robes after conversion. His exegesis focused on OT prophecies fulfilled in Christ. Took an inclusive view of revelation, arguing that human philosophy prepared the pagans for Christ’s coming.
  • Athenagorus (ca. 177)- gave his Apology before Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Argued against charges that Christians were cannibals and incestuous.
  • Theophilus (late 2nd cent.)- Defended Christian views of God and creation against Homeric mythology.
  • Tertullian (ca. 160-225)- Argued for toleration of Christianity, and its superiority to other religions. Saw no value in pagan philosophy. Had powerful effect on the direction of Latin theology. Later joined the Montanist sect.

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Bavinck: General Revelation is the Foundation of Pagan Religion

“[General revelation] is the stable and permanent foundation of all pagan religions. Holy Scripture pronounces a severe judgment on ‘ethnicism’ and explains its origin in terms of apostasy from the pure knowledge of God. That knowledge, which was humanity’s original possession, did continue for a long time to exert a leavening influence (Gen. 4:3; 8:20), and the creation revealed God’s eternal power and divinity (Rom. 1:20). But people, though knowing God, did not honor him as God…” (RD1, 314-315).

“As the idea of the divine became impure and declined, the various forces of nature came to the fore and increased in importance. The boundary between the divine and the creaturely was erased…”

“But, however severely Scripture judges the character of paganism, it is precisely the general revelation it teaches that enables and authorizes us to recognize all the elements of truth that are present also in pagan religions” (318).

“Also among the pagans, says Scripture, there is a revelation of God, an illumination by the Logos, a working of God’s Spirit (Gen. 6:17; 7:15; Ps. 33:6; 104:30; Job 32:8; Eccles. 3:19; Prov. 8:22f.; Mal. 1:11, 14; Joh. 1:9; Rom. 2:14; Gal. 4:1-3; Acts 14:16, 17; 17:22-30). Many of the church fathers (Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and others), assumed an operation of the Logos in the pagan world.”

“In the Middle Ages Thomas not only asserted that as rational beings human beings can — without supernatural grace– know natural truths but also testifies that it is impossible for there to be “some knowledge which is totally false without any admixture of some truth” and in this connection appeals to the words of Beda [Latin for Bede] and Augustine… The Reformed theologians were even better positioned to recognize this by their doctrine of common grace. By it they were protected, on the one hand, from the Pelagian error,  which taught the sufficiency of natural theology and linked salvation to the sufficiency of natural theology, but could, on the other hand, recognize all the truth beauty, and goodness that is present also in the pagan world” (pg. 319).

Can be purchased here.