The Christian life as apologetics
by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2011, at 2:39 pm
In one portion of the apologetics of Tertullian (ca. 160-225) we find a defense of the faith on the basis of how different Christians live from their neighbors. The Christian life is intended to be lived in such a way that it puts on display the glory of God. In the early church, what made Christians stand out were the ways in which they were different from the surrounding culture in pursuing a virtuous and holy life. Being different is a struggle for American Christians who often find it desirous to be as much like our society in every way except for the occasional Sabbath from culture for religious activities. But the Bible is a book describing how and why God's people are supposed to live differently (Leviticus 20:23, Colossians 3:1-17, 1 Thessalonians 4:5).
Tertullian takes this principle even further in his Apology by explaining what happens when people commit their lives to Christ. Following Christ changes everything about one's life and family. Given the positive consequences of the Christian life, Tertullian wonders why those who attack Christianity spew so much venom:
"[Some attackers], in the case of persons whom, before they took the name of Christian, they had known as loose, and vile, and wicked, put on them a brand from the very thing which they praise. In the blindness of their hatred, they fall foul of their own approving judgment! 'What a woman she was! how wanton! how gay! What a youth he was! how profligate! how libidinous!-they have become Christians!' So the hated name is given to a reformation of character. Some even barter away their comforts for that hatred, content to bear injury, if they are kept free at home from the object of their bitter enmity. The wife, now chaste, the husband, now no longer jealous, casts out of his house; the son, now obedient, the father, who used to be so patient, disinherits; the servant, now faithful, the master, once so mild, commands away from his presence; it is a high offense for anyone to be reformed by the detested name."
Struggles with one's "reformation of character" are not only difficult during young adulthood. Because the temptations of youth are more visible, young people often get picked on for struggling with sin and idolatry more than their parents. But with older adults the temptations are much more subtle.
Could your pastor make a defense of the faith by pointing to the lives of the people in your church? Moreover, how would the "reformation of character" affect the divorce rate within Christian churches, Christian parents raising children for academic success instead of Kingdom success, those Christian families that regularly skip church for youth sports activities, car and house purchases, hoarding material possessions under the guise "stewardship," gluttony, spending patterns, and so on? This is very difficult because we often yield to idols without even realizing it until it is too late. But the Bible is very clear that Christians are to live differently and to invite people to live a life of virtue transformed by the Triune God. Peter reminds Christians to "live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us" (1 Peter 2:12). My guess is that if Christians in America were committed to this, in principle, it could change the disposition that non-Christians have toward those who hold closely to the teachings of the Bible.
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.