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The role of 'apologetics' in eastern Christianity


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#1 R. Schutt

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Posted 01 October 2009 - 10:41 PM

I'm taking a course on Christian apologetics at my Evangelical-affiliated university. We've been discussing the role of apologetics and also the role of philosophy in explaining and defending the Christian faith (to make it reasonable and/or logical so that someone may accept it).

But it dawned on me, I'm only getting half the picture here. I began to wonder how Eastern Christians have viewed apologetics and how Eastern apologetics are conducted. No doubt it is inevitable that apologetics has to occur, but do Eastern Christians view it differently? I realized in the class I'm only getting a Western perspective on Christian apologetics.

Do Eastern Christians have any problems with Wesern apologetics as it exists? What might be some of the critiques?

Thanks for any insight, I'll be excited to learn and perhaps I'll bring some of the points up in class.

#2 Owen Jones

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Posted 03 October 2009 - 04:55 PM

See Contra Celsus by Origen, the greatest early Christian apologetics.

#3 Ryan

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Posted 03 October 2009 - 05:46 PM

I'm taking a course on Christian apologetics at my Evangelical-affiliated university. We've been discussing the role of apologetics and also the role of philosophy in explaining and defending the Christian faith (to make it reasonable and/or logical so that someone may accept it).

But it dawned on me, I'm only getting half the picture here. I began to wonder how Eastern Christians have viewed apologetics and how Eastern apologetics are conducted. No doubt it is inevitable that apologetics has to occur, but do Eastern Christians view it differently? I realized in the class I'm only getting a Western perspective on Christian apologetics.

Do Eastern Christians have any problems with Wesern apologetics as it exists? What might be some of the critiques?

Thanks for any insight, I'll be excited to learn and perhaps I'll bring some of the points up in class.


Here is a modern Orthodox work on apologetics: Orthodox Apologetic Theology.

#4 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 03 October 2009 - 07:28 PM

We don't hold "logic" and "reasonable" in much esteem. We find they are not very useful tools. We preach a crucified God—a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the philosophers.

God is very "illogical" (at least to our established modes of logic), and very very unreasonable. Trying to "water down" God to make Him more "acceptable" is one of the major problems that other Christian churches are having today. So yes, there are some serious problems and issues with western approaches to apologetics. In the end, they just do not work. And I say that as one from a Protestant upbringing. You will soon find that, even though we may be conversing in English, that we are not speaking the same language. Our use of the same terms have much different meanings and nuances than you are probably used to.

Fasten your seatbelt, you are in for a bumpy ride. God be with you.

Herman the Pooh

#5 Jonathan Hayward

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Posted 03 October 2009 - 07:54 PM

We don't hold "logic" and "reasonable" in much esteem. We find they are not very useful tools. We preach a crucified God—a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the philosophers.

God is very "illogical" (at least to our established modes of logic), and very very unreasonable. Trying to "water down" God to make Him more "acceptable" is one of the major problems that other Christian churches are having today. So yes, there are some serious problems and issues with western approaches to apologetics. In the end, they just do not work. And I say that as one from a Protestant upbringing. You will soon find that, even though we may be conversing in English, that we are not speaking the same language. Our use of the same terms have much different meanings and nuances than you are probably used to.

Fasten your seatbelt, you are in for a bumpy ride. God be with you.

Herman the Pooh

This is a very sharp position for a Christian who confesses the Logos who is Reason/Word/Wisdom.

I've been quite influenced by apologetics, and quite a lot of the theology I try to write has an apologetic bent; it's perhaps part of my website's success, such as it has. A good many theology texts have some degree of apologetics and are written against some other group: not just St. Irenaeos, Adversus Haereses, but the rather long list of works titled Contra ________, and not just those either.

Our understanding of rationality differs from the Western; it is centered on the nous rather than the dianoia and the difference is profound. But there is more to the picture than simply saying we don't agree with Western rationalism.

Christos Jonathan

#6 Owen

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Posted 03 October 2009 - 08:10 PM

Our understanding of rationality differs from the Western; it is centered on the nous rather than the dianoia and the difference is profound. But there is more to the picture than simply saying we don't agree with Western rationalism.


Reminds me of an Orthodox description of a Western theologian: hypertrophic dianoia and a darkened nous.

#7 Father David Moser

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Posted 04 October 2009 - 02:44 AM

We don't hold "logic" and "reasonable" in much esteem. We find they are not very useful tools. We preach a crucified God—a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the philosophers.


I think that another way of saying this might be to say that the Orthodox hold that theology is not deduced, but rather revealed and theologians are not philosophers but reporters describing what they have seen and heard. Theology is simply the description of the spiritual world.

Western Christianity, otoh, seems to have a much greater dependence on logical argument and the philosophical development of theology, as if God gives us the "kit" but we have to figure out how to put it together so that it makes sense.

That's just my impression.

Fr David Moser

#8 Ryan

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Posted 04 October 2009 - 03:18 AM

I think it's obvious that apologetics, logic, and reasoning have a role in Orthodoxy and that they are important tools. Obviously they are not the same thing as the experience of theology. Similarly, the Jesus Prayer is not the same thing as the Prayer of the Heart. Nevertheless, the Jesus Prayer can help us achieve Prayer of the Heart. Fasting does not good if not accompanied by the right attitude of humility, love, etc. Reading the Gospel can be detrimental rather than illuminating for some. But these are all essential tools in our spiritual struggle. That is how the study of doctrine fits in. The intellectual understanding of the faith does not signify any kind of personal attainment but it is nevertheless an indispensable part of our struggle to achieve theosis. I think the attempts to distinguish Orthodoxy from Western Christianity by poo-pooing reason overstate the case and constitute a kind of Orientalism. Orientalism, of course, is the notion that the "Orient" is ontologically different, inscrutable, mysterious compared to the West; the idea is often associated with Western intellectuals but many "Orientals" have used it to their advantage as well so as to obfuscate discussion and divert criticisms by outsiders. Reason has a place in Orthodoxy and there is nothing particularly wrong with it.

#9 Jonathan Hayward

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Posted 04 October 2009 - 07:14 PM

One other comment:

Comparison of power, wealth and advantages of the king with the Christian love to wisdom of monastic life [Russian]
Exhortation to Theodore, After His Fall [Russian]
NPNF1-09. St. Chrysostom: On the Priesthood; Ascetic Treatises; Select Homilies and Letters; Homilies on the Statutes
NPNF1-10. St. Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew
NPNF1-11. Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistle to the Romans
NPNF1-12. Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians
NPNF1-13. Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon
NPNF1-14. Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of St. John and the Epistle to the Hebrews
To those who fight against the monastic life [Russian]

To those of you who aren't familiar with the Greek, St. John Chrysostom is called "Chrysostom" as a sort of formal nickname of "golden-mouth." Reading him is probably the closest of the Greek Fathers, or one of the closest, to reading the apologists an Evangelical might know and love.

Christos Jonathan

#10 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 05 October 2009 - 11:58 PM

Dear Mr Schutt,

Thank you for the question.

First, a qualification on a point already offered: apologetics needn't necessarily have any intrinsic relationship to polemic, so texts that are 'contra' someone or something aren't necessarily apologetic in scope, aim or tone. The fact that they often are has a great deal to do with contexts of history; but the genre of apologetic writing is not necessarily linked to polemic (and there are a vast number of 'contra n.' texts - i.e. the majority - which are not themselves apologetical).

With my great respect to Herman, I rather think the story is a bit broader. Or, I suspect that Herman is characterising, not 'logic' and 'reason' per se, but in the context of a very specific 'genre' of understanding logic and reason that is quite prevalent today. In that scope, he is correct by-and-large and I wouldn't disagree; but again, the story is a bit broader.

The best patristic apologetic (e.g. that of Justin, Theophilus, Athenagoras, even Tertullian) seeks precisely to engage with the world in a dialogue over the reasonableness of Christianity. Justin's First Apology and more tenuous Second are not against any one in particular (they are against, as it were, the idea of persecuting Christians on false pretences and misunderstandings), but seek to demonstrate that Christianity is 'not unreasonable'.

What is perhaps a distinguishing characteristic from so much modern-day apologetic is the orientation of that intention. Patristic apologetic seeks to show that Christianity is 'logical' and 'reasonable', precisely because God, rightly confessed, is the source of true logic and reason. Its aim is not to defend or substantiate Christianity by attempting to ally it with accepted sensibilities on logic and reason (though at times they do some of this, as a 'getting-a-foot-in-the-door' technique; see for example Justin's discussions on Socrates); rather, to show that logic and reason are rightly apprehended only in the true confession of the true God. So their aim is not to conform Christianity to the logic of the world, but to conform the logic of the world to its true source in Christ.

So perhaps the patristic witness gives us a guidepost to interpreting the nature, usefulness and scope of apologetics today. I see far too much 'apologetic' writing which seems to progress by showing how individual beliefs and confessions of Christianity are in concert with, or at least not in conflict with, various views of the day - whether scientific, social, political or otherwise. But a consistent confession of Christianity, right from the first, is that God's truth is 'not conformed to this age' - a reminder echoed time and again in the Fathers. Their voices, then, mitigate against the usefulness of the kind of apologetic that seeks to establish Christianity as 'reasonable', by allying it to reason and logic defined precisely by 'this age'.

But where apologetic in the modern day echoes its ancient source -- conforming reason, logic and rationality to the One who is the authentic source of these -- then it certainly has a place. But how often do we see this?

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#11 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 06 October 2009 - 05:47 PM

The Reformer who comes recommending any institution or system to the adoption of men, must not rely solely on logic and argument, or on eloquence and oratory for his success, but see that he represents one pretty perfect institution in himself, the centre and circumference of all others, an erect man.

I ask of all Reformers, of all who are recommending Temperance—Justice—Charity—Peace, the Family, Community or Associative life, not to give us their theory and wisdom only, for these are no proof, but to carry around with them each a small specimen of his own manufactures, and to despair of ever recommending anything of which a small sample at least cannot be exhibited:—that the Temperance man let me know the savor of Temperance, if it be good, the Just man permit to enjoy the blessing of liberty while with him, the Community man allow me to taste the sweets of the Community life in his society.

I cannot bear to be told to wait for good results, I pine as much for good beginnings. We never come to the final results, and it is too late to start from perennial beginnings.

But alas, when we ask the schemer to show us the material of which his structure is to be built. He exhibits only fair looking words, resolute and solid words for the underpinning, convenient and homely words for the body of the edifice, poems and flights of the imagination for the dome and cupola.

Thoreau, D. "Reform and the Reformers", Reform Papers, ed. Glick, W., Princeton University Press, 1973.


I also believe it was Thoreau who once said to a debate opponent in exasperation: "You are not thinking, you are merely using logic!"

Logic and "reason" are rather limited tools. Granted they have a place, but they only get you so far. Logic depends on assumptions. Once you step outside the boundaries of those assumptions, the logic no longer applies, it is no longer useful. God does not have boundaries, our assumptions cannot account for all the absolutes in His "logic" and trying to explain that to someone who refuses to acknowledge this simple and "reasonable" assumption is, at best, an exercise in extreme frustration. What happens when I declare your "reason" unreasonable?

It is not our words, nor our logic, nor our "reason" that will speak to a person's heart. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. The best we can hope for is to plant some sort of seed, but it is only the Holy Spirit that can make it grow, if there is any "good earth" for it to grow in.

If you develop a "fool-proof" logic, then I will simply point you towards a "logic-proof" fool.

Herman the foolish Pooh




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