Chapter 2 Summary: The Patristic Era_Part 2_THE ALEXANDRIAN’S OF THE THIRD CENTURY [Pgs. 31-38]

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We now turn to Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 214) who after much searching for the truth converted to Christianity and succeeded the Sicilian apologist Pantaenus, at the catechetical school in Alexandria (about 200 AD)  [Pp.31-34].  His Principal Works are The Protrepticus (Converter) the focus of which is an apologetic exhortation to conversion.  In its literary form, it resembles Aristotle’s Protrepticus and Cicero’s Hortensius. He also wrote The Paedogogus (Tutor) and The Stromata (Miscellanies).

In His arguments Clement resembles Justin Martyr’s and other 2nd century apologists.  The difference however is that they are more polished given his literacy of Greek mythology, philosophy, and mystery cults.  For him Greek music is lauded for its ability to strengthen and give peace to the soul.  Yet Christ is the minstrel who imparts harmony to the universe making music to God.

Clement contrasts the Greek mystery religions with their mythic stories of the gods, and idol worship as truly atheistic, but not Christianity.  And even though Greeks did receive light of the truth, Clement held that it’s incomparable with the revelation of the Old Testament and the New Testament ultimately exemplified in the Word (Logos).

His acumen is revealed in his work which is well ordered; combined both with variety and with symmetry.  Clement is a Christian Humanist who combines piety with the highest values of ancient culture.  And his body of work focused on Christ as the Incarnate Word who works in all men’s souls, so they can experience his true presence.

Another Alexandrian apologist is Origin (born about 184) who while still a boy, lost his father to martyrdom.  How that event shaped Origin, is for another time to reflect, but perhaps it did play a vital role in turning him into a man given to a life of study and one of the Church’s first expository preachers of Holy Scripture. [Pp.34-38]

His Major Work is Contra Celsum, where he defends core Christian doctrines like the Virgin Birth, Miracles, Deity of Christ, Reliability of Scripture, etc.

First, Celsus attacks the Virgin Birth account by affirming what so many in Jesus’ day held—that he was born of fornication.  Today, for many, this is not a big deal, but in that day it was a disgrace.  How could anyone claim to come from God if they were an illegitimate bastard child?

Second, Celsus held that the miracles of Jesus and his alleged wonders were performed through magic arts learned in Egypt.  Interestingly, the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons (miracle) by Satan’s power, but Jesus put that notion to rest quickly.

Third, there’s a denial of the historicity of the Resurrection.  Celsus, like so many today, held that this account was nothing more than a fabricated lie.

Fourth, Celsus denied the Deity of Jesus.  Of the many reasons advanced, the clincher for him was the disciples’ disbelief and reaction to the crucifixion.  Their reaction “proved” Christ was not divine.  Added to these objections, Celsus held that “faith” was irrational because it could not be verifiably true in history; the Bible was not a reliable source of information but instead is full of legends and childish doctrines.  Moreover, the exclusive claims of Christianity left no room for pluralism and he thus saw it as intolerant.  And when it came to Christendom’s ethical teachings, Celsus was not impressed since these teachings are also found among other philosophers.

In Contra Celsum Origin responds to several charges:  First, biblical faith is not based on philosophical arguments but on the Spirit’s power (1 Cor.2:4) and even if Christians are not educated, it does not then follow that they despise wisdom; they only despise the wisdom which leads to destruction.

Second, in light of Jesus’ Character, it’s actually incredible to hold that he would have made up the story of the virgin birth.

Third, as far as Jesus’ miracles or those of the apostles, the power behind said phenomena was not fraudulent magic, which rather than bringing them wealth and fame earned them public shame martyrdom.

Fourth, the Bible’s historicity is selectively chosen by Celsus, for the Moses in whom he professes to believe, is far harder to prove historically than Jesus of Nazareth.

Fifth, Origin argued for Christ’s Deity by using messianic prophecies to show he was the Messiah along with his miracles, which allegedly was present in Origen’s contemporary Christianity.

Sixth, the Crucifixion and Resurrection accounts could not have been a fabrication for the disciples gave their lives to preaching the risen Lord.  Moreover, the resurrection was no fantasy, nor hallucinations, for these things happen not to sane people.

Seventh, regarding Ethics, just because similarities obtain among Greeks and Christians, does not mean that our Scriptures are not revelation.

 Final Thoughts: Contra Celsum ranks high as an apologetics classic as this letter reveals the first apologist who is very prepared for battle.  It is however very ad hominem. Nevertheless, it reveals how there’s nothing new under the sun.  Some of the objections raised against Christianity’s truth claims by Celsus have been repeated over and again throughout history.  It’s encouraging to know many stalwarts intellectually and spiritually have dealt with the same objections we encounter and gave us a model to consider for our day and era.

Summary of CHAPTER NINE: THE GOD WHO LOVES [Pages 135-149]

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The Bible says that God is love, but it also says that God is just, holy and good.  In the area of judgement and discernment many seems American Christians that are very confused, affirming things that flatly deny the Scriptures plain teachings on said matters.

First, Carson considers the difference between being morally discerning from being judgmental.  He argued that having moral discernment deals with making distinctions that are based on revealed truth, where we humbly recognize our need to first deal with our own shortcomings in order to be able to see for the aid of another (Mathew 7:1-6)

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2“For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. 6“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

To be judgmental is based on a hypocritical disposition where self-righteousness is in the heart.   This Jesus always condemns.

 Second, Carson lists five ways the Bible speaks about the love of God.  There’s love within the TrinityThis is a perfect love:  

 “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand.” (Jn.3:35)

“For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, 23so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” (Jn. 5:22-23)

but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me Get up, let us go from here.” (Jn.14:31)

Then there’s love and God’s general care over the creation (Mt.5:44-47).  This extends to friends and foes alike.

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47“If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”

What follows is God’s Love that invites, commands, and implores (Ez.33:11).  This is where God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked; Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’

Then there’s God’s Love that’s selective (Mal.1:2-3).  Here He chooses one and not another:

“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.”

Finally there’s God’s love that’s conditional (Jude 21).  This is where those in covenant with God experience his pleasure and displeasure based on obedience to Him: “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.”

Third, Carson answers the question of the extent of God’s love.  To answer, “does God love everyone in the same way” is dependent on what is meant.  God does send the rain and the sun on both the righteous and the wicked, so the answer in this sense is yes!  But He chooses Israel over all the other nations as his special possession.  Thus in this sense, the answer is no!

Having said that, Carson considers the famously read/heard text of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world,” and points that what makes God’s love so wonderfully admirable is grounded on the objects of His love—humans. 

That is, we who are God hating, self-absorbed, murderous people, are nevertheless loved by God.  He loves all nations and ethnicities—Jews and Gentiles.  He does this not because we are so loveable, but because God is that kind of God.  He’s amazing!

 Fourth, Carson explains why the measure of God’s love for us is Jesus.  God gave us Himself in essence, the cost of which was the life of his treasured Son for God-haters!  Consider Jesus’ tenderness when he had compassion on a leaderless people; how he embraced little children; how Isaiah speaking of Jesus said that a bruised reed he would not break.  He is a tender God.  And while he rebukes the hardened one’s; He also weeps for them:

Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. (Mt.9:36)

 But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mt.19:14)

Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased; I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. 19 He will not quarrel, nor cry out;
Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.
20 “A battered reed He will not break off, And a smoldering wick He will not put out, Until He leads justice to victory. 21 And in His name the Gentiles will hope.” (Mt.12:18-21)

 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.  16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.(Mt.23:15-16)

Then, consider Jesus’ individual-nessWhen he approached the rich young ruler he dealt with him in a very different way then he approached the Samaritan woman.  They were both broken lives who were both addressed truthfully yet compassionately.  What a Savior.  The rest he offers to all who are weary and burdened is precious:

 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”(Mt.11:28-30)

Then consider His crucifixionHe loved us to the end “forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” (Lk.23:34)  Forsaken by the Father on Calvary (Mt.27:45-46)

Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? ” that is, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Fifth, Carson explains the purpose of God in giving us His Son.  It was that we might have life.  God gave his son not to condemn but to save the world!  He came in order that those already condemned may be delivered, rescued and set free.  To not believe means that people remain condemned.  Whereas to believe means that one has been rescued from impending doom.

Carson concludes the chapter by explaining that God’s love will rightly stir in us gratitude and joy as we consider our weakness and need as finite creatures who are rightly dependent on an all-wise infinite God that has revealed himself in the creation and ultimately in his precious son.  Nothing do I bring, to the cross alone I cling.