The Encounter of Jerusalem with Athens -- By: Greg L. Bahnsen

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 13:0 (NA 1980)
Article: The Encounter of Jerusalem with Athens
Author: Greg L. Bahnsen


The Encounter of Jerusalem with Athens

Greg L. Bahnsen, Ph.D.

Scholar-in-Residence, Spring 1980
Ashland Theological Seminary

What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? … Our instructions come from “the porch of Solomon” … Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus…!

So said Tertullian in his Prescription against Heretics (VII).Tertullian’s question, what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?, dramatically expresses one of the perennial issues in Christian thought—a problem which cannot be escaped by any biblical interpreter, theologian, or apologist. We all operate on the basis of some answer to that question, whether we give it explicit and thoughtful attention or not. It is not a matter of whether we will answer the question, but only of how well we will do so.

What does Tertullian’s question ask? It inquires into the proper relation between Athens, the prime example of secular learning, and Jerusalem, the symbol of Christian commitment and thought. How does the proclamation of the Church relate to the teaching of the philosophical Academy? In one way or another, this question has constantly been before the mind of the church. How should faith and philosophy interact? Which has controlling authority over the other? How should the believer respond to alleged conflicts between revealed truth and extrabiblical instruction (in history, science, or what have you)? What is the proper relation between reason and revelation, between secular opinion and faith, between what is taught outside the church and what is preached inside?

This issue is particularly acute for the Christian apologist. When a believer offers a reasoned defense of the Christian hope that is within him (in obedience to 1 Peter 3:15), it is more often than not set forth in the face of some conflicting perspective. As we evangelize unbelievers in our culture, they rarely hold to the authority of the Bible and submit to it from the outset. The very reason most of our friends and neighbors need an evangelistic witness is that they hold a different outlook on life, a different philosophy,

a different authority for their thinking. How, then, does the apologist respond to the conflicting viewpoints and sources of truth given adherence by those to whom he witnesses? What should he think “Athens” has to do with “Jerusalem” just here?

Christians have long disagreed over the proper strategy...

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