Previously, I went through the purpose of apologetics and why we are to engage in it. In this article, I will be going over the brief history of apologetics and its influence on the Christian world.
There is some debate as to when Christ followers first started to defend the faith. Conventionally, we begin with the apostles and more specifically, Paul. As I outlined in my purpose of apologetics video, we get the command to defend our faith from the writings of 1 Peter 3:15. Even Jesus Christ defended his deity by appealing to the supernatural. Paul in the year A.D. 36 was converted to the faith and in the year A.D. 49 Paul began his mission while reasoning wherever he went. He reasoned with the Jews, Pagans, Philosophers (specifically the stoics), and Gentiles. He maintained this until the day he was arrested and martyred. Paul addressed the apologetic issues of his day using rhetoric and teachings of Christ. Paul is one of the earliest examples of apologetics being used to further the gospel and for the defense of Christ.
After the apostolic age had passed, the early church formed and thrived, preserving the teachings of the apostles and Christ. The early church were facing dangers and threats from the Roman governments and unbelievers to not practice such a religion. This included Pagan and Gnostic practices that had infiltrated the culture of that time. This is when philosophy became an extremely useful tool to countering the oppositions towards Christianity. The Christians of the early church were involved in politics and debates with non-believers. Justin Martyr was extremely influential during this era. Justin Martyr was formally a Platonist and an advocate for Stoicism. Martyr was converted in 132 A.D. and ultimately became a Philosopher and apologist for the Christian faith. Martyr wrote his work called “Apologies” that were broken into two parts and his “Dialogue with Trypho the Jew”. Martyr argued for the philosophical truth of Christianity and defended the scriptures authority. This is fascinating given that the canon of scripture had not be completed yet. He was executed in Rome for not worshiping other idols giving him the name “Martyr” by which we still refer.
After the life of Justin Martyr we are met with the third century. During this era, philosophical thought and rhetoric was in its prime and Christianity was at the center of its criticisms. Among the Alexandrians was someone named Origen. Origen was at the forefront of defending Christianity towards the arguments of that day. This included defending Christ’s deity and the historicity of Christ. Famous writings by Origen were called “Contra Celsus” where Origen formed a reply to a prominent Greek Philosopher and his arguments.
In the mid-3rd and 4th century lived influential Philosopher, Theologian, and Apologist Augustine (also known as St. Augustine of Hippo). Augustine was a Roman African monk who converted to Christianity and spent his life writing and defending the faith. His early works had a major impact on the people of his time and today. Augustine contended with the Pagans and Heretics in his philosophical works. Augustine believed in sinful state of man and taught that the Holy spirit must move in us to be saved. He wrote extensively on God’s nature and the importance of man’s relationship with God. He referred to these things as “unseen truths” that must be obtained through faith and not just rationality. Augustine’s most famous works are: The City of God and Confessions. These two works are the masterpieces that earn him his relevance. Augustine later died on August 28th, 430 AD alone writing his lasts works in solitude.
Fast forward to the middle ages where we meet Anselm. Anselm (also known as Anselm of Aosta) was one of most important Christian thinkers of the entire 11th century. He was a philosopher, monk, and theologian (specifically of the Catholic Church). Anselm wrote about the nature of faith, the existence of God, the nature of God, and the doctrine of the Atonement. Anselm was drawn to the intellectual ability of the monk Lanfranc. Anselm attached himself to Lanfranc’s abbey and later taught in the abbey school. Anselm’s most notable works were: Monologion, Proslogion, and Why God Became Man?. Another major of Anselm’s was the Ontological Argument for the existence of God. This later was worked upon and updated by Protestant Philosopher Alvin Plantinga. Today, Anselm is well known for his Proslogion proof for the existence of God, but his thought was widespread in the Middle Ages, and still today in areas of scholarship.
Very much like Anselm, Thomas Aquinas was also revered a Saint by the Catholic church in the middle ages. Thomas Aquinas was an Italian Dominican Philosopher and theologian. He is ranked as the most influential medieval thinkers of scholasticism. Scholasticism was a system of theology and philosophy that used Aristotelian logic with the teachings of the early church to formulate a school of thought. At the time, this was the dominating school of thought within the European universities. Thomas Aquinas tried to reconcile man’s natural knowledge and God’s revelation to show they are not in conflict. This was the faith vs reason debate in the middle ages. Aquinas presented 5 ways we can prove God’s existence. Aquinas’ most notable works are: Summa Contra Gentiles, Summa Theologica, and more. Aquinas died on March 7th, 1274.
In the 15th century, the reformation did wonders for apologetics by way Martin Luther and John Calvin. I will give them this honorable mention because so much of our theology today is based on the work of these two men. However, I will be focusing on Blaise Pascal. Pascal lived during the 16th century and only lived to be the age of 39. Pascal was a French Mathematician, Philosopher, Theologian, and Scientist. The foundation of probability theory, the early calculator, conic sections theorems, and many other innovations are contributed to Pascal. Apart from being a scientist, Pascal was quite the theologian and philosopher. This is where we get the ever so famous “Pascals wager” from. Pascals most notable works were Pensees and Les Provinciales. These works included his apologies and 18 letters in defense of the Jesuits.
We are now met with the 19th century where we start to see apologetics begin to thrive. During this era, the main forces were Humanism, Darwinism, scientific advances, and the development of archaeology and historical methods. Because we are going over the brief history of apologetics, I will only mention the major influences during this era due to the fact there are so many apologists we can mention. During this century, the enlightenment had influenced modern thinking putting Christianity on trial demanding the invocation of apologetics to respond to worship of human reason. This is primarily a response to Immanuel Kant and David Hume and their work against the supernatural. Major contenders such as William Paley, Charles Hodge, and B.B Warfield responded to their claims. William Paley worked upon matters concerning natural theology and an evidentialist approach to Christianity compiled together called A View of the Evidences of Christianity and Natural Theology. This was a key point in time since Darwinism had come onto the scene undermining any type of supernatural design hypothesis via evolution. Paley also wrote on the reliability of the New Testament and classical versions of the teleological argument. Charles Hodge held a position at Princeton and was revered as the most famous Calvinist theologian there. He wrote Systematic Theology and What is Darwinism? Which determined the position of the seminary until he died. B.B Warfield was one of the last professors at Princeton before it got reorganized. Warfield continued Hodges apologetic approach and argued against false liberal Christianity. This is covered in his book Apologetics.
So far, we have briefly covered the important centuries regarding Christian apologetics in history. Now, we will continue to the present and mention several of the main forces that are governing the thinking of apologetics today. Apologists such as G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler, J.P. Moreland, Francis Schaeffer, Alvin Plantinga, and many more to mention have been strong forces in the intellectualism of Christianity and forming a well-rounded apologetic for many to follow. Some argue that we live in a postmodern world and secular society has embraced it with open arms. Topics of truth, existence, ethics, etc have shifted along with these apparent changes. Christian apologetics has always had a seat at the table of intellectualism and will continue to do so for the years to come.
History of Apologetics Book: https://www.amazon.com/History-Apologetics-Robert-Cardinal-Dulles/dp/0898709334