Aristides for Today

ícone bizantino representando Santo Aristides ...
Aristides of Athens. Image via Wikipedia

Many years ago, an aunt of mine died. At her funeral, the pastor of her church got up to speak. He chose that time to provide a number of scientific “proofs” of Christianity. Back then I was a nuclear engineer so I was somewhat comfortable with the natural sciences. I knew that much of what the pastor said was extremely shaky.  I was a bit embarrassed because an uncle of mine was in attendance who was a self-described atheist and seemed to feel that Christianity was an ignorant set of fables.

I spoke with my uncle, and he suggested that the funeral sermon was targeting him (almost certainly correct) but made no comment about the inaccuracies. It occurred to me that he did not find the sermon strange because it simply reinforced his belief in the illogical and anti-scientific nature of Christianity and Christians (such as those he would see on TV).

It did get me thinking that it would be helpful for Christians to have role models who can address the concerns of the intellectual (or at least educated). While I think it is more important that a Christian be godly, loving, and kind, the need exists for someone who can express Christianity in terms that the educated can appreciate.

Consider a spectrum of apologetic presentations.

<Evangelism> ——————————————- <Apologetics>

At one end is Evangelism, where the purpose is to express Christianity in a way that unbelievers can be led to see the need for a change of allegiance. At the other end is Apologetics, where the (primary) purpose is to express Christianity in a way that believers can be led to remain true to the faith. Some think that apologetics is for evangelism… but few are “argued” into salvation.

But what about a middle ground between these two which deals with both Christians and Non-Christians, but is not necessarily dealing with classic evangelism or a classic apologetics against apostasy? Not everyone appreciates a bumper sticker Christianity. “Letting Go, Letting God” for some creates more questions than answers. “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it” does not satisfy and causes some to question the intermediary steps in this logic.

Since I am not always too good at clever names, I would like to suggest calling the middle ground the “Safe Zone”.

<Evangelism> —————<Save Zone>—————— <Apologetics>

The “Safe Zone” to me is apologetics that expresses Christianity in a way that unbelievers understand that they can safely become a Christian (even if not ready yet to do so) without being foolish. It is also a place where Christians can feel safe that being a Christian does not mean (as stated by Mark Twain regarding faith) “believing what you know ain’t so.”

When I was in college, at Cedarville, there were many Christian professors… they all were… it was a requirement. It was nice, but there was the fear that Christian education may exist only in an academic ghetto within a broader educational structure. Then I went to SUNY at Buffalo where it seemed to be (to me at least) a distinctly anti-Christian environment. After that I was in the Navy where Christians were present, but not particularly successful. Finally, I attended Old Dominion University. I enjoyed it, in part, because there were many capable and successful Christian professors that lived out their faith and worldview in a secular academic environment. To me, it set up a safe zone. I knew that being a Christian did not necessitate turning off my mind.

I definitely believe we need people today who can express Christianity in a way that builds this safe zone. In the early 2nd century, there was a man in Athens named Aristides. He was a Christian and a Greek statesman. Supposedly, he went around Athens in the garb of a Greek Philosopher. He wrote an apology to the Roman emperor around 125AD. It expressed an understanding of the Christian faith in a way to make it more intelligible to the Roman leader (some Romans thought that Christians were incestuous, atheistic, and cannibalistic because of poor representations of this faith). We don’t know how successful or unsuccessful it was with the Emperor, but it had a strong impact on Christians. His basic arguments were recycled in the Medieval Christian fiction, Barlaam and Josaphat. Even today it can be useful to understand an extremely early perception of orthodox Christian faith within the framework of Greek politics and philosophy.

I think we need more Christians like Aristides today. We have loud Christians, we have energetic Christians, we have loving Christians (though not enough), but we also need thoughtful and reflective Christians creating a safe zone where Christians and non-Christians can find Christianity expressed well. There are some who attempt this, but the numbers are too few.

4 thoughts on “Aristides for Today

  1. Pingback: Critical Contextualization in the Early Church « MMM — Munson Mission Musings

  2. Pingback: Quote on “Christian Faith” « MMM — Munson Mission Musings

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