This column will contain articles on Christian apologetics. It is designed for those who are interested in a more intellectual defense of the Christian faith, and particularly a defense of the Wesleyan understanding of it. Each year the Rehoboth Church sponsors a "Worldview Event" in the Spring. The event is usually well-attended and deepens the understanding of the Christian worldview in light of contemporary attacks on the Christian faith.
ONLY ONE ETERNAL BEING
Lactantius understood what later men like Jean Paul Sartre and Francis Schaefer meant when they stated that the most fundamental question of all is, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Another way to ask it is, "Where did everything come from?" Everything here refers to all the "stuff" - the molecules, the atoms, the basic building blocks of the material universe. Rational thinkers have long realized that there are only two possible answers to that question.
1. Either matter has existed eternally and will continue to exist eternally (in one combination or another), or
2. God exists eternally and brought matter into existence out of nothing (what Christians call creation "ex nihilo".)
There really is no third reasonable answer, and thinkers have long refused the idea that an eternal dualism could exist (that is, that both matter and God are eternal).
And if these are the only two possible answers, one of them must be right and the other must be wrong.
And it is on this question that humanity divides into two great camps: those who believe in the Almighty Creator God and those who are atheists and choose to believe that the universe is self-existent, that the material in the universe has always existed in one form or another.
The ancients understood this very well. They knew (both the Christians and the atheists) that the gods and goddesses of Rome and Greece were not sufficient deities to be the Creator of all matter. And while some of the atheists believed the gods and goddesses were real (they were only atheists in that they didn't believe in the Eternal, Almighty, Creator God), they conceived of the gods and goddesses as some sort of material being made up of atoms and combinations of atoms. That is, they didn't believe there was a real spiritual realm. Everything was made of matter.
While many early Christians were doing the "idea battles" with the Jewish segment of society or with other religious cults, Lactantius was doing battle with the "atheists". He went to great efforts to show the absurdities of the atheist approach to life. And the arguments he put forth are just as potent today, in an increasingly unbelieving society, as they were in his age.
In the letter to the Hebrews it states clearly, "...whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists..." (Hebrews 11:6). Early believers placed as the first article of the Creed, "We believe in God the Father, the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth." This IS the first article of faith. It gives the Christian answer to the most fundamental question: "Where did it all come from."
Early on the Church understood the need to make a reasonable presentation of the Christian faith to a world that was captured by pagan worship and Greek philosophy. A number of Christian scholars undertook this task among whom were Justin Martyr and later leaders like St. Augustine.
One of the early apologists was Lactantius. He was born in northern Africa, wrote in Latin, and did most of his apologetics in response to the attacks against Christianity which were leveled by the followers of Epicurean philosophers (they were the atheists of their day). You will recall that the Apostle Paul also had a bout with Epicurean philosophers in Acts 17:18ff.
Born @240 A.D. Lactantius at first was an ardent opponent of Christianity, but upon his conversion soon became a powerful defender of the faith. He wrote several treatises, of which two of the most famous were, "The Works of God" and "The Divine Institutes." Both of these are answers to the atheist worldview expressed in the writings of Lucretius (a Roman atheist philosopher) and Epicurus (a Greek atheist philosopher). Lactantius carefully demonstrated the futility and inconsistency of an atheist (materialist) viewpoint, while carefully and logically demonstrating the truth of Christianity.
In his later years, Lactantius was employed by the Emporer Constantine as a tutor for Constantine's son. Constantine had become a Christian as a result of a miraculous vision, but he understood the need for the intellectual foundations of the faith. He had great respect for Lactantius' ability to lay out those foundations in a reasonable manner and wished for his son to have a strong Christian foundation for life.
The exact time and manner of Lactantius' death are not known, but his arguments against atheist philosophy are being revived today in response to the growing atheism in Western culture.
Interestingly enough, some of the very arguments which Lactantius used, John Wesley used in a few of his "worldview" sermons. More will be said about this in later articles.
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