Justin Martyr: A Man for Our Season
- 2005 28 Dec
It is important to recall those of the faith that have gone before us, to examine the history of the Church, and its profound influence in the world particularly in the area of thought. As J.R. Lowell said, "History is clarified experience." History can help us clarify and validate the truth claims of the Christian faith.
Secondly, history provides particular examples of how earlier Christians dealt with issues similar to those we face today. Our experience is not unique to us or foreign to those who have gone before us. The conflict is spiritual and therefore timeless, just as Solomon wrote: "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
It is also history that both the modern and postmodern mind gives little or no credibility, so it can be a challenge to first demonstrate the relevance of history's lessons. Nonetheless, history offers irrefutable examples of the truth of scripture as revealed in reality throughout the ages that must be brought to bear in our daily discussions. Since we understand that the cultural battle is a spiritual conflict fought on intellectual terms - a battle of ideologies and philosophies that oppose the Gospel, we therefore must be prepared to effectively engage the debate on these terms.
The first recognized Christian philosopher after the Apostles was Justin, who later became known as Justin Martyr - born Flavius Justinus in the Roman colony of Neapolis in Samaria. Justin was a well-born Roman and as such he received a classical education in Greek and Latin. In his search for truth he studied various popular philosophies. But none of them filled his hungry heart. The Stoics had no concern if God cared for man or not. The Peripatetics, who taught Aristotelian philosophy, were more interested in collecting their fees than in teaching truth. The Pythagoreans required intensive study of music, arithmetic, and geometry. Finding nothing in these philosophies, Justin became a Platonist, admiring Socrates' and Plato's notions of the invisible world.
Around 132 AD, Justin encountered an elderly Christian man who patiently exposed the weaknesses in Plato's philosophy. He shared with Justin the writings of the Old Testament prophets and the prophecies surrounding Jesus. He demonstrated that any truths taught by Greek and pagan philosophies were in fact natural revelations of the one true God, the God of the Bible.
In response to the persecution of Christians, Justin wrote his famous First Apology to Titus Caesar in 150 AD. Justin provided an excellent example for us today, demonstrating the role of reason in defending all aspects of the Christian faith.
"Reason instructs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honor and love only what is true, and to refuse to follow traditional opinions if they are worthless. Not only does sound reason direct us to refuse the guidance of those who did or taught anything wrong, but the lover of truth is compelled to choose to do and say what is right, even if his life was threatened with death by such a choice."
Throughout his treatise Justin employed reasoned arguments to demonstrate the inconsistencies between what the Roman culture held to be true and the State's acts of persecution. Justin argued point by point the injustice of persecuting Christians based on the Roman concept of justice. He argued that many Greek and pagan beliefs bore similarities to the teachings of Christianity yet these were not persecuted. He offered logical arguments to refute the notion of earthly materials fashioned by mere men [stone and wooden idols] could somehow be divine. Justin appealed to Caesar as the head of state by promoting the value of Christianity to civil order and citizenship pointing to the biblical principles of paying taxes and moral obligation. Justin went on to denounce sexual immorality and the practice of abandoning unwanted children to the elements to die demonstrating that there is moral order to the universe which is observable by all. (Philosophical arguments)
Then, Justin offered a compelling apologetic for faith in Christ himself by explaining in detail the prophetic evidence laid out in the Old Testament and arguing for the authenticity of these writings by referring Caesar to the records of Pontius Pilate and the libraries of Egypt as well as others. He continually presented empirical evidences for the authenticity of scripture, the deity of Christ, and challenged Caesar in the name of reason to examine the described evidence for himself. (Historical arguments)
Lastly, Justin challenged the truth claims of the Greek and Roman gods by pointing to creation, the natural order and their apparent inconsistencies with reality and human experience. (Theological and Natural Law arguments)
In concluding his appeal to Caesar, Justin delivered the truth of judgment and condemnation, a warning that all men who reject the truth do so at their own peril. He did not flinch when it came to sharing hard truths but he endeavored to give a compelling defense that would hopefully lead to understanding and acceptance of Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life!
Justin's First Apology clearly demonstrates the role of reason in defending the truth by first "tearing down" the false presuppositions of an opposing position or belief. Justin worked tirelessly for another 15 years, helping Christians address the competing philosophies of their day. This is precisely how we must engage the issues in our culture - at the foundation of what a given position or belief is based upon
Today, as in Justin's day, the truth of the Gospel is under vicious assault and few in the Church seem to have taken seriously their responsibility to "be prepared to give an answer." Instead, we are often quick to respond with religious rhetoric and moralizing language that attacks rather than seeks to engage people in serious and meaningful discourse presented in respectful terms. As we reflect upon Christ's advent during this season let us also endeavor to equip ourselves as "workmen approved" to contend for Christ and His Kingdom in a way that truly honors Him.
I would encourage you to read Justin's First Apology for yourself. You can read it online here
Copyright 2005, S. Michael Craven
S. Michael Craven is the vice president for religion & culture at the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families and leads the work and ministry of Cultural Apologetics. The Cultural Apologetics ministry works to equip the Church to assert and defend biblical morality and ethics in a manner that is rational, relevant and persuasive in order to recapture the relevance of Christianity to all of life by demonstrating its complete correspondence to reality. For more information on Cultural Apologetics, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.CulturalApologetics.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.
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