Thinking-Living-Dying: Early Apologists Speak to the 21st Century, Everett Ferguson
When judges review prior court decisions when deciding their judgments, they are said to be looking for precedence or past pattern to guide their decision. It should be obvious that clear and consistent teaching and practice formulates a strong precedence while inconsistencies in teaching, practice, or both weaken precedence.
While the Bible is clear on God’s great love for mankind as demonstrated by sending His Son to redeem humanity (John 3:16), it is also plain that God has standards for acceptable moral behavior. For example, God designed marriage to be one man and one woman for life (Genesis 1:24) and homosexuality is contrary to that design. God codified this design in both the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 20:7) and the New Testament (Matthew 19:4-5; Mark 10:6-7). The Bible also documented His abhorrence for various sexual practices contrary to the design of marriage such as homosexuality, bestiality, et al. (Leviticus 18:22-23). In addition, God has demonstrated His commitment to those standards by punishing those who flagrantly disregarded Him and His standards of morality; e.g. Sodom (Jude 1:7). He has also promised to do so in the future (Revelation 21:7-8). So, His design in creation, His laws across generations, His actions in the past and His promises in the future have been consistent in what constitutes moral rightness and immorality. One should not overlook God’s precedence in these matters!
There are religions claiming Christianity who have historically opposed homosexuality, but recently have not only tolerated this lifestyle but have promoted those who practice it into leadership ranks. One wonders how faithful churches are going to hold to God’s standards of morality in our legal system with so many other religions compromising God’s standards? I am convinced that one of the determining legal factors for churches who have consistently attempted to save those engaged in homosexuality by helping them cease the activity and become sanctified (1 Corinthians 6:8-10) will be the teaching and practice of churches across the centuries. In other words, what will precedence reveal?
This is where Thinking-Living-Dying becomes such an important study. The study is a fascinating one, especially for those who appreciate both early church history and apologetics. I was privileged to hear brother Ferguson deliver these lectures, and as I listened to him explain the early apologists’ debates with pagan philosophers on subjects such as celibacy, marriage, extra-marital sex, abortion, infanticide, and homosexuality, I was struck by how explicit and contextual these issues were in our society today. For example, Celsus, who was a pagan philosopher, attacked Christians in his writing True Discourse (or True Reason or True Doctrine) around 178 AD. Origen defended Christianity in his apologetic work Against Celsus around 248 AD. Origen’s work was viewed to be one of the strongest apologies in early church history. Interestingly, the attacks of Celsus were only preserved because of the extensive quotations and refutation by Origen. Origen lost his father due to persecution under the reign of Septimius Severus. Some fifty years later, Origen would also be imprisoned, persecuted and die in 253 AD at Tyre. Origen answered the call both in his defense of Christianity in thinking, living and even dying. What will our commitment be when we are put to the test?