Archive for November 23rd, 2011

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This work is an abridgement of the author’s doctoral dissertation from the University of Edinburgh, and readers will get the sense that the book has a lot that carried over stylistically from the thesis. The work examines three Christian apologist that lived in the second century– Irenaeus, Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria–and their relationship to Greek philosophy. For those who are interested in the history of Christian apologetics and Greek philosophy, one would be excited just to know of this work. Chapter one has a good discussion of Gnosticism in relations to Greek philosophy, and also the account of how Christianity was able to trump against Greek philosophy in the fact that Christianity as an evangelistic religion was able to convert the masses while Greek philosophy tend to be an exclusive club of the elite. There are however, several weaknesses with this book. A major weakness of the book is that the point of the book was never made clear in chapter one, the introduction of the book, or in the rest of the book for that matter. What was it that the author was trying to prove? Was the work nothing more than just a historical account of these three men’s view of Greek philosophy? None of this was clearly stated. When the author describe the position of the Christian apologists, he states their view and gives a foot note where readers can find the original statements by the apologists. This is appreciated–however, this became an extensive practice and multiple times I wished he could have provided the actual quotes just so that the readers can read it themselves. After a massive survey of the rational apologetic of Irenaeus, the author towards the end of his treatment of Irenaues then called him “at least anti-rationalist” (38). However, when one consider what the author brings forth as evidence of Irenaus being an irrationalist, the citations prove more that Irenaeus believed in mysteries rather than irrationality. They are by far, two different things. Here I think Cornelius Van Til’s nuance between Christian mysteries and irrationality is important–Christian theology demands that some things are mysterious to finite human beings who are not able to comprehend everything. However, Christian mysteries are not ultimately irrational since it is based upon the metaphysics that all of reality is rational since God is the rational creator of everything. It is unfortunate that the author was not familiar with Van Til or at least seem not aware of Van Til’s insight here. The author’s concluding chapter (“Epilogue”) over all seems to be a big tangent from the three main chapters of the book. He summarizes how the three apologist reveals the three spectrum of Christian response to Greek philosophy: Irenaues who was rather “neutral” or eclectic when it comes to Greek philosophy, Tertullian who was officially hostile against it, and Clement of Alexandria who was in favor of Greek philosophy; then the author states how he sides more with Clement of Alexandria.  But one must remember that giving historical description of something is not the same as prescribing one particular norm over the other.  The author also revealed his synthesis of Christianity was not just only with Greek philosophy–but much broader, with the culture of the day as well, citing less conservative scholar such as Niebuhr and Harnack that did not dealt with the three apologist or Greek philosophy per se. One wonders why the author did not focused more on the three apologist’s view of culture instead of Greek philosophy if the epilogue was going to be devoted to getting on the soap box in his talk about being in the left wing of the church (page 97) that is more welcoming of the culture and seeking a new future where Christianity and culture goes hand in hand. Here the author paints with too broad of a brush without going in specifics or any normative limitations in safeguarding the faith and the gospel from corruption. But again, I digress from the main point-the pontificating of the concluding chapter did not follow from the study. While I appreciate the survey given of these three church fathers, it has only made me yearn to study the primary sources for myself.

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