Monday, June 6, 2022

"Embodied Alternatives" In A Broken World

“Simon Price has pointed out how hit or miss the apologists’ range of subjects was [in the first few centuries of the early church]. He gives a long list of topics that apologists failed to treat properly:  

“There is little on the Bible, little on Christology, nothing about the Holy Spirit or the emerging doctrine of the Trinity; little on the Redemption (only Judgment); nothing about the Church, its ministry, sacraments, and other practices.”

Michael Green, assessing the apologetic writings for their evangelistic success, has concluded that there is “no example of an outsider being converted to Christianity by reading an Apologetic writing.” Apologists wrote to convince their readers of the innocence of the Christian communities’ behavior. In fact, behavior figured largely in the apologists’ writings… because of their Christian conviction that the way people live expresses what they really believe. 

  • In the mid-second century, Justin began his First Apology by stating his aim: “It is for us, therefore, to offer to all the opportunity of inspecting our life and teachings.” For Justin the life is as important as the teachings; indeed, the teachings are incomprehensible without the lived reflexes that exegete them.
  • Significantly, a century later the great intellectual Origen agreed: at the beginning of his apology Contra Celsum, he states that Christ “makes his defense in the lives of his genuine disciples, for their lives cry out the real facts.” 
  • In the 170s the apologist Athenagoras, in his Plea to Marcus Aurelius and other emperors, wrote about the way Christians were habituated to live. “For we have been taught not to strike back at someone who beats us nor to go to court with those who rob and plunder us. Not only that: we have even been taught to turn our head and offer the other side when men ill use us and strike us on the jaw and to give also our cloak should they snatch our tunic.” Later in the apology Athenagoras underscored this patient habitus: when the Christians are struck, they bless.
  • Tertullian was in the same tradition. His Apology is saturated with descriptions of habitus; indeed, Tertullian designed the Apology so it would climax in chapter 39 with his presentation of the Christian community’s common life. Clearly the early Christians thought their way of life was important, for lifestyle is not only a product of belief; it is a display of what people truly believe…

As Scottish missiologist Andrew Walls argues, when Christianity enters every culture, inculturation is inevitable. In every setting, including the cultures of the ancient Greco-Roman world, two principles are simultaneously at work:

  1. The indigenizing principle: Christianity enters a culture and finds new expressions there, discovering understandings and customs that embody the way of Christ. Christians celebrate the culture and are at home in it; they are residents in it.
  2. The pilgrim principle: Christianity enters a culture and finds ways in which the culture contradicts the way and teachings of Christ. So Christianity critiques the culture, and seeks to embody alternatives that challenge the culture and invite it toward a life in which injustice, violence and oppression are overcome. In the culture Christians are not fully at home; they are resident aliens (paroikoi) in it. 

Christians living in Carthage or Caesarea experienced two things: gratitude for the beauties in their local cultures and also discomfort with the distortions in their cultures to which the gospel had sensitized them. As a result, out of their love for their cultures, the Christians attempted to embody alternatives that pointed the way forward for the healing of their cultures."

- From The Patient Ferment Of The Early Church:  The Improbably Rise Of Christianity In The Roman Empire, by Alan Kreider

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