Saturday, November 07, 2015

John Chrysostom Condemns Neglect Of Apologetics

In a culture like the United States, in which people have such significant advantages and responsibilities that Chrysostom's audience didn't have, every pastor should be speaking this way. So should other people in positions of influence. Notice that Chrysostom includes the poor in his criticism. Even they should be involved in apologetics and should be criticized when they neglect it. In societies like the United States, we often classify people as poor when they aren't poor by historical and global standards. But even when Chrysostom was addressing people poorer than the average allegedly poor person in America, he held those individuals accountable for being involved in apologetics. If pastors, parents, teachers, and other people in positions of influence would speak this way, we'd have a much better culture. Read through to the end, as the focus moves more and more to apologetics. Notice how the faults and excuses Chrysostom demolishes are so similar to the ones we see in our day:

I desire to ask one favor of you all, before I touch on the words of the Gospel; do not you refuse my request, for I ask nothing heavy or burdensome, nor, if granted, will it be useful only to me who receive, but also to you who grant it, and perhaps far more so to you. What then is it that I require of you? That each of you take in hand that section of the Gospels which is to be read among you on the first day of the week, or even on the Sabbath, and before the day arrive, that he sit down at home and read it through, and often carefully consider its contents, and examine all its parts well, what is clear, what obscure, what seems to make for the adversaries, but does not really so; and when you have tried, in a word every point, so go to hear it read. For from zeal like this will be no small gain both to you and to us. We shall not need much labor to render clear the meaning of what is said, because your minds will be already made familiar with the sense of the words, and you will become keener and more clear-sighted not for hearing only, nor for learning, but also for the teaching of others. Since, in the way that now most of those who come hither hear, compelled to take in the meaning of all at once, both the words, and the remarks we make upon them, they will not, though we should go on doing this for a whole year, reap any great gain. How can they, when they have leisure for what is said as a bywork, and only in this place, and for this short time? If any lay the fault on business, and cares, and constant occupation in public and private matters, in the first place, this is no slight charge in itself, that they are surrounded with such a multitude of business, are so continually nailed to the things of this life, that they cannot find even a little leisure for what is more needful than all. Besides, that this is a mere pretext and excuse, their meetings with friends would prove against them, their loitering in the theaters, and the parties they make to see horse races, at which they often spend whole days, yet never in that case does one of them complain of the pressure of business. For trifles then you can without making any excuses, always find abundant leisure; but when you ought to attend to the things of God, do these seem to you so utterly superfluous and mean, that you think you need not assign even a little leisure to them? How do men of such disposition deserve to breathe or to look upon this sun?

There is another most foolish excuse of these sluggards; that they have not the books in their possession. Now as to the rich, it is ludicrous that we should take our aim at this excuse; but because I imagine that many of the poorer sort continually use it, I would gladly ask, if every one of them does not have all the instruments of the trade which he works at, full and complete, though infinite poverty stand in his way? Is it not then a strange thing, in that case to throw no blame on poverty, but to use every means that there be no obstacle from any quarter, but, when we might gain such great advantage [from the things of God], to lament our want of leisure and our poverty?...

And thus as well as in other ways you may arm yourselves for trial of argument with them [the heathen]. But take heed. Strange were it that the physician, or the shoemaker, or the weaver, in short all artists, should be able each to contend correctly for his own art, but that one calling himself Christian should not be able to give a reason for his own faith; yet those things if overlooked bring only loss to men’s property, these if neglected destroy our very souls. Yet such is our wretched disposition, that we give all our care to the former, and the things which are necessary, and which are the groundwork of our salvation, as though of little worth, we despise.

That it is which prevents the heathen from quickly deriding his own error. For when they, though established in a lie, use every means to conceal the shamefulness of their opinions, while we, the servants of the truth, cannot even open our mouths, how can they help condemning the great weakness of our doctrine? how can they help suspecting our religion to be fraud and folly? how shall they not blaspheme Christ as a deceiver, and a cheat, who used the folly of the many to further his fraud? And we are to blame for this blasphemy, because we will not be wakeful in arguments for godliness, but deem these things superfluous, and care only for the things of earth. He who admires a dancer or a charioteer, or one who contends with beasts, uses every exertion and contrivance not to come off worst in any disputes concerning him, and they string together long panegyrics, as they compose their defense against those who find fault with them, and cast sneers without number at their opponents: but when arguments for Christianity are proposed, they all hang their heads, and scratch themselves, and gape, and retire at length the objects of contempt.

Must not this deserve excessive wrath, when Christ is shown to be less honorable in your estimation than a dancer? since you have contrived ten thousand defenses for the things they have done, though more disgraceful than any, but of the miracles of Christ, though they have drawn to Him the world, you cannot bear even to think or care at all. We believe in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, in the Resurrection of bodies, and in Life everlasting. If now any heathen say, "What is this Father, what this Son, what this Holy Ghost? How do you who say that there are three Gods, charge us with having many Gods?" What will you say? What will you answer? How will you repel the attack of these arguments? But what if when you are silent, the unbeliever should again propose this other question, and ask, "What in a word is resurrection? Shall we rise again in this body? or in another, different from this? If in this, what need that it be dissolved?" What will you answer? And what, if he say, "Why did Christ come now and not in old time? Has it seemed good to Him now to care for men, and did He despise us during all the years that are past?" Or if he ask other questions besides, more than these? for I must not propose many questions, and be silent as to the answers to them, lest, in so doing, I harm the simpler among you. What has been already said is sufficient to shake off your slumbers. Well then, if they ask these questions, and you absolutely cannot even listen to the words, shall we, tell me, suffer trifling punishment only, when we have been the cause of such error to those who sit in darkness? I wished, if you had sufficient leisure, to bring before you all the book of a certain impure heathen philosopher written against us, and that of another of earlier date, that so at least I might have roused you, and led you away from your exceeding slothfulness. For if they were wakeful that they might say these things against us, what pardon can we deserve, if we do not even know how to repel the attacks made upon us? For what purpose have we been brought forward? Dost thou not hear the Apostle say, "Be ready to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you" [1 Peter 3:15]? And Paul exhorts in like manner, saying, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." [Colossians 3:16] What do they who are more slothful than drones reply to this? "Blessed is every simple soul," [Proverbs 11:25] and, "he that walketh simply walketh surely." [Proverbs 10:9] For this is the cause of all sorts of evil, that the many do not know how to apply rightly even the testimony of the Scriptures. Thus in this place, the writer does not mean (by "simple") the man who is foolish, or who knows nothing, but him who is free from wickedness, who is no evil-doer, who is wise. If it were not so, it would have been useless to say, "Be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." [Matthew 10:16]

(Homilies On John, 11:1, 17:3-4)


  1. Great reminder. I was talking with some men in our church after an evening lesson this past Sunday about this very topic - how "busy" everyone seems in our age of high-technology, interconnectedness, and social media, but how much time people seem to have for endless frivolous, empty and purposeless activities - and I remarked how the Puritan authors and pastors dealt with the same types of concerns in their congregations hundreds of years ago.

    Many of them inveighed specifically against "worldly entertainments" and "the theater". Of course that may partly account for them being accounted as humbugs and strict, censurious killjoys.

    But the world (and self) really is the primary competitor with Christ. Almost no one has trouble choosing between heaven and hell. Everyone wants to go to heaven instead of hell. The real temptation is the world. People constantly prefer the world over heaven. Apparently Christian people too.

    My wife texted this link to me earlier this week and said it convicted her: You Can't Serve God and Entertainment.

    Timely stuff here. I'm going to read this aloud to my wife, and to myself - and then put away the electronics for a while! :0)

  2. Great quote!

    The text quotes Scripture as saying "Blessed is every simple soul," and cites Proverbs 11:25. But it doesn't seem to match. Proverbs 10:9 does match even though the meanings are different because of translation (which is understandable).

    The slothful in apologetics could also quote:

    O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
    I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me
    .- Ps. 131:1

    They may even claim they're not smart enough to deal with apologetical issues. The problem is they don't even try to get the basics down. Admittedly, not everyone has the aptitude to deal with the Bart Ehrmans and Robert Prices of the world (I know I don't). But every Christian should at least learn the basics since most non-believers are just about as ignorant concerning Christianity as most Christians.

    The advantage of the non-Christian in apologetical encounters is that it's easier to produce questions and objections to Christianity than to provide answers. And even if one knows the answers to a buckshot or machine gun style drive-by skeptical shooting, it's more difficult to explain a thorough answer (which may take many minutes) than to present an objection (which may only take seconds to express.
    For example, it only takes 15 seconds to ask three basic objections like: 1. "If God is good and all powerful, why is there evil in the world?;" 2. "How is the Trinity not polytheism?;" 3. "How can we trust the Bible since it's been translated so many times?" Yet, it may take literally an hour (or hours) to thoroughly answer just these three objections.

    The advantage of a Christian who knows the basics are twofold.

    1. Either the basic (Christian) apologist is dealing with a non-Christian who's relatively ignorant. In which case many questions and objections could be answered by the basic apologist.

    2. Or the basic apologist is dealing with a very knowledgeable non-Christian with informed objections to Christianity. In which case, the basic apologist could refer the person to an in-depth apologetical book that deals with those deeper objections. The problem is that the more popular apologetical resources don't rise to the level of informed objections. That's why blogs like Triablogue are so important and need to be more widely known among Christians. Not only does Triablogue (and similar blogs/websites) have in-depth material, but they also link to or cite the works of in-depth material.

    Christians need to know when to refer people to other resources (books, videos, mp3 etc.). But they can't do that if they aren't AWARE of such resources. As Triablogger John Bugay has pointed out, we Christians have the better arguments. The problem is that it's not being disseminated widely and so be better known.