What is one of the best ways to prepare for explaining and defending Christianity’s truth claims? I suggest that tapping into the wisdom of historic Christianity’s greatest thinkers is one such way.
As I pointed out in parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of this series, the term apologia sophia (Gk: ἀπολογία σοφία) transliterates the Greek word endings and roughly translates to “apologetics wisdom.” In this final installment, I hope to give more practical advice (even genuine wisdom) that you can use in your apologetic engagements.
One of my chief aims when I teach students either at Biola University (for a master’s in apologetics program) or in my role as an RTB scholar, is that students of apologetics appropriately ground their defense of the faith in the biblical and orthodox theology of historic Christianity. Apologetics needs to be tightly connected to theology. After all, throughout church history apologetics was viewed as a branch of theology.
Thus, I strongly recommend that students read classic apologetics works that have a strong theological emphasis. In part 5 of this series I listed and described three classic theologically oriented texts. Here are three more.
Theologically Oriented Apologetics Classics
1. On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius
As the title conveys, Athanasius’s (ca. 296–373) book explains and defends the incarnation of Christ against heretical attacks. Athanasius affirms that the essence of Christianity is found Jesus’s claims to be God in human flesh (a single person with both a divine and a human nature). During Athanasius’s lifetime, the influential Arian heresy challenged the incarnation. Arius of Alexandria (ca. 256–336) taught that Christ (the Son) was not truly equal to the Father in nature; rather, he was a created being. In On the Incarnation, Athanasius argues for the truth of the incarnation and indirectly argues against the Arian heresy by insisting that only the God-man (God in human flesh) can save human beings.
2. The City of God by St. Augustine
Augustine wrote in excess of 5 million words over his scholarly career, which makes him the most prolific ancient author. The City of God (Latin: De civitate Dei), written intermittently between AD 413 and 427, is considered to be Augustine’s scholarly masterpiece. The City of God stands as Augustine’s monumental analysis of world-and-life-view. It is his longest (more than a thousand pages) and most comprehensive work, and some people believe it’s his most significant contribution to Western thought. In this book, Augustine laid new foundations in the fields of Christian apologetics and worldview and in the analysis of Christian history.
3. Cur Deus Homo by St. Anselm
Cur Deus Homo is a work of philosophical theology in which St. Anselm (1033–1109) attempts to provide an explanation for possibly the greatest Christian mystery of all (as the Latin title asks): “Why the God-Man?” Anselm lays out a theological theory for why it was necessary for God to become man in Jesus Christ and for the Son of God to suffer. This idea becomes a rational defense of the necessity of the incarnation in light of the atonement. Anselm’s theological conclusion is that only the God-Man can make the necessary payment to restore God’s honor and humankind’s relationship with God. Because Jesus Christ is God, he has the dignity and glory to carry out the task, but he performs it in the nature of a human being. Thus, the incarnate Christ appeases God’s honor and justice.
Reading and studying these three classic books will definitely help apologists ground their apologetic efforts in the richness of historic Christian theology and Scripture. As the Word of God exhorts: “For he [Paul] vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah” (Acts 18:28).
Reflections: Your Turn
Have you read the three Christian classics above? What other Christian classics have you read?
- For more on these three thinkers plus six more, see my book Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction.