Friday, October 15, 2010

Essay on Early Christianity

Here is an essay by Larry Hurtado that is worth reading. It is entitled "Early Christian Particularity and Engagement with Society." It looks specifically at how Christian confronted and engaged their world that was largely hostile to them. Hurtado looks at two main ancient Christian works: The Epistle of Diognetus and Justin Martyr's First Apology.

Here are two excerpts:
But I want to focus here on second-century Christian efforts to address the wider culture and political authorities. These efforts had two main aims: (1) to defend Christians against various rumors and allegations which attracted social harassment and sometimes governmental prosecutions, and (2) to commend Christian faith to the wider culture as valid, indeed as superior to pagan religion and philosophy. I concentrate here particularly on the first of these aims. But the second should be noted as well, for it was integral to their endeavor. These Christian apologists were not simply asking for passive tolerance and a cessation of persecution, a quiet social space in which Christians could eek out their existence undisturbed and not disturbing others. They asked not to be persecuted, but they also wanted to engage their cultural and intellectual environment in serious discussion and debate about fundamental principles of truth, theology, ethics, and philosophy. That is, they believed that Christian faith had some important things to contribute to human life universally. Their faith was not a religious hobby or merely a quest for personal fulfilment, and they saw their way of life not simply as one option among others of equal value. Instead, they insisted that Christian faith offered distinctive and important teachings that held out unique benefits to individuals and the wider culture, and that rejecting Christian faith meant various serious deficits now as well as ultimate consequences in the future divine judgement of the world that they believed in and in the light of which they lived. (page 4)
From page 17 in conclusion:

I would argue that Christianity can make its best contribution to the wider society and culture if Christians are simply allowed to proclaim and live out their faith in all areas of their lives. This will allow them to philosophize, conduct scholarly work, create music and art, operate businesses and farms, teach, practice medicine, and participate in good government, all on the basis of their Christian faith. The society will benefit, and Christians will know that the continued viability of their faith rests on their faithfulness to what they profess. Undoubtedly, Christianity had a profound impact on European culture in many areas, including laws, art, music, a sense of the worth of the individual, and morality. But I propose that Christians can bestow these benefits on any society wise enough to appreciate them, wise enough to allow people the freedom to make their own religious choices and allow religions to live or die by their ability to commend themselves to the human conscience.
Given that in America, we (a) have freedom of religion and (b) we face active forces of secularization which seeks to reduce religion to a sphere of private influence that has no public value, I believe we can learn from the second century apologists.

One wonders if to often our apologetic efforts in evangelicalism are not so much to commend the faith and the value of the faith for society but an attempt to reintroduce Christendom where 'we' are the dominant power as a political force. Perhaps there is a better way.

Either way, this is a good essay from Dr. Hurtado that is worth the read. Read the whole thing here.

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