The Influence of Philosophy in Christian History

Note: This is posting #12 in a series on historical theology within the Christian church. To view other postings, please click here.
Philosophy Causes the Apologists to Emerge in Christianity

Entering into the second century, the defense of Christianity turned to follow a more distinct direction. Philosophy had long before established a platform of authority within the world. Seen as a ‘higher level of thinking,’ philosophy was often at odds with the Christian faith. That conflict is quite clearly seen in Acts 17, where Paul dialogs with philosophers as he traveled around (Acts 17:18 specifically mentions the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers). However, as one century turned into another, there began a new organized defense of Christianity with the emerging of the apologists. These apologists sought to incorporate into their defense of faith the Greek philosophy that was so enticing to the world.

While disagreeing with some core tenets of philosophy, the apologists used both Stoicism and Platonism in their defense (they rejected the Epicurean philosophy noting that there was not common ground that could be reconciled between it and Christian doctrine). Most noted among these early writers is Philo, whose work is preserved and often read today. His work is the most extensive giving a broad insight into the work of the apologists. However, from it also we learn of the reason that so many were greatly concerned with this movement to meld Christianity with philosophy. Not only was there a concern because there were a variety of religions, occult and mythology part of philosophy, but some of the premises lead to flawed interpretation of Scripture. For example, while in Alexandria, Egypt, Philo produced works that often allegorized the Scriptures, which presents the option to make any text say whatever one wants it to say and thus leads people astray. To this end, we learn that there is a need to be very cautious of the apologists and their ways when studying their early works. Yet at the same time, there are great lessons to be learned from these early defenders, and to that end we must endeavor to learn what we can from them.
The Apologists Cause Philosophy to Emerge in Christianity 
Clearly the task was to engage not just unsaved, but uninterested persons with the gospel of Jesus Christ by appealing to their way of thinking. In fact, Roger Olson sums it up succinctly by saying, “This was the Jewish precedent for the Christian apologists’ task of persuasively communicating Christian ideas to educated and reflective Romans.” They sought to find that common ground with philosophy and present an unapologetic defense of Christianity.
As philosophy and Christianity melded, there were some that began calling this the ‘true philosophy.’ Practitioners of this blending attempted to find common ground in several areas, including but not limited to the following:
  1. Like the Christian belief in one God, philosophy overall rejected polytheism (despite having proponents of mythology engage in philosophy),
  2.  Philosophy saw a god as the ultimate source of all things, and
  3. Related to the previous, philosophy saw a god as the origin of all things.
In finding this common ground then, the apologists also met the philosophers at the next level: logical argument. This is much of their legacy. They offered a vehement defense for the Christian faith, tackling many of the false teachings of the day. To that end, they have become an example of what it means to defend the faith and give us a model for that defense. Over the next several weeks we will examine some of these apologists to examine them and their defenses in order to learn from them.

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