Defending Christianity through the centuries
by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, February 2, 2011, at 3:22 pm
It's been said, "The more things change, the more they remain the same." In the area of Christian apologetics, this is most certainly the case.
Looking back at the Christian leaders who defended the Bible's teachings in the past, we are reminded that the profession of the truth of redemption has remained the same even as cultures have changed. Irenaeus (120-202/3), one of the earliest apologists for Christianity, found himself defending the truth claims of the Bible in a culture that was idolatrous and mixed Christianity with other philosophies and religions in various cults. He gave a powerful refutation of the religions of his day by stating the ways in which those religions were illogical, making clear the truth claim of the Bible story. It's a simple yet beautiful story.
Irenaeus tackled gnosticism as well as Marcionism, which said that Christianity was different from and in opposition to Judaism. Marcionites rejected the entire Old Testament and said that the God of the Old Testament was a lesser demiurge (a godlike entity) who had created the earth but was also the source of evil. In 2011 we may not have "heresies" in the exact same form but we do have our fair share of pagan philosophies and religions that mix Christianity with other beliefs, like the Nation of Islam, for example.
In Chapter 10 of his treatise Against Heresies, Irenaeus set the record straight by pointing out the theological errors in the prevailing views of his time and by clearly stating the timeless truths of Christianity that Christians hold dear nearly 2,000 years later. What Irenaeus confessed reminds the Christians of today of our connection to an ancient tradition of women and men professing work of the Triune God:
"The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father "to gather all things in one," and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, "every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess" to Him."
Is apologetics really that simple? In some ways, yes. We are called to give a reason for the hope that we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15). We are stating what unites us as Christians today, yesterday, and forever. The defense of the faith in the second century is not all that different from what we need to communicate today. Like Irenaeus, our job is analyze the prevailing religions and philosophies of our day, point out the errors of those views-with gentleness and respect-and tell the same story that Christians have been telling for centuries: The incarnate Son of God has come to save sinners and redeem his world. We should never underestimate the power of that confession. That was Irenaeus' story and I'm sticking to it.
Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.