Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Defending Christ by Nicholas L. Thomas – Book Review

I purchased Defending Christ by Nicholas L. Thomas in an effort to further research on Arnobius of Sicca.  While this work did not aid toward the specifics of my research, the author did a good job in presenting five early Latin apologists in their defense of Christianity.  The author compares and contrasts styles of argumentation in chronological order* to show how authors may have borrowed from one another or addressed similar issues.

I found the lack of direct scriptural citation to be interesting.  Each was more intent on presenting the Christian position in general terms assuming the specific propositions from which they are derived are true.  Instead, each apologist brings his argument to the cause to lay out the reasonableness of the Christian position, the unfairness of attacks against believers, and the folly of continued pagan worship.

Thomas does a good job of interconnecting the thought processes between these men and bringing out individual rhetorical styles.  Minucius Felix is noted for his elegance and Tertullian for prowess in building a legal case.  Lactantius, the last of the men chronologically, set out to draw from and improve upon the argumentation of the North African writers who preceded him, as noted in Divine Institutes.
Although Tertullian fully pleaded the same cause in that treatise which is entitled the Apology, yet, inasmuch as it is one thing to answer accusers, which consists in defense or denial only, and another thing to instruct, which we do, in which the substance of the whole system must be contained, I have not shrunk from this labor, that I might complete the subject, which Cyprian did not fully carry out in that discourse in which he endeavors to refute Demetrianus (as he himself says) railing at and clamoring against the truth.… For, since he was contending against a man who was ignorant of the truth, he ought for a while to have laid aside divine readings, and to have formed from the beginning this man as one who was altogether ignorant, and to have shown to him by degrees the beginnings of light, that he might not be dazzled, the whole of its brightness being presented to him. (5.4.1)
I was disappointed that the section covering Arnobius did not dwell more on his arguments, dwelling on his relation to the others.  This is understandable since the apologist is a professional rhetorician, not a theologian, something his errant scriptural support demonstrates.  Instead he plays to his strengths and argues against the pagans with an offensive polemic akin to Martin Luther’s denunciations of foolhardy doctrine and practice.†

All in all, I appreciate this book explaining the united effort given to the defense of Christ while undergoing Roman persecution.  It is my hope that this will assist believers in learning of the early apologists and how they built upon their predecessors to logically address cultural, if not legal, opposition to the gospel.

*  Exact chronology is impossible, especially in the case of Minucius Felix, however the relative placement of the original works assists in understanding the relationship of ideas.
†  And who doesn’t like a good smack down where it is richly deserved?

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