How does the defense of the faith (apologetics) influence a person’s embracing the Christian faith (conversion)? In historic Christianity the apologetics enterprise is considered a branch of theology. Defenders of the faith have used apologetics as a vehicle to eliminate intellectual obstacles, thereby encouraging serious reflection on the truth of the Christian faith.

In this four-part series we’re looking at the historical case of Augustine of Hippo (354–430) in which six specific apologetics-oriented factors contributed to one of the most famous conversion stories in church history. Augustine would later explain that the Lord sovereignly used these elements to draw him to faith. I think these six factors can be considered a type of broad apologetic model or pattern for how God, through his providential grace, prepares people for conversion.

Part 1 introduced Augustine and his conversion to Christianity, and part 2 addressed the first apologetics factor that helped Augustine move toward the faith. Now we’ll look at two more factors that removed critical obstacles to Augustine’s conversion and made the faith more believable for him.

2. Removing Theological and Exegetical Objections to Christianity

While teaching rhetoric in Milan, Augustine came in contact with Ambrose,1 the distinguished Christian bishop of Milan. Ambrose was known as a great orator. In fact, he is regarded in church history as one of Christianity’s greatest preachers. Initially, Augustine went to hear Ambrose just to observe his oratory skill. However, the two soon developed a friendly dialogue and discussed many issues relating to Christian theology and especially proper biblical interpretation. Ambrose was the first intellectual Christian that Augustine had encountered, and Augustine was impressed with the bishop’s intellectual acumen and personal moral integrity. Augustine marveled at Ambrose’s commitment to the celibate lifestyle. Through their interactions, Ambrose corrected certain misconceptions that Augustine had about the Bible and Christianity overall.

3. The Example of Other Believers
Augustine witnessed not only Ambrose’s testimony to the truth of Christianity, but testimonies of several other prominent individuals as well. Victorinus, the Neoplatonic scholar who had translated the Greek philosopher Plotinus’s work Enneads into Latin, had also converted to Christianity. Victorinus’s conversion was an example of another first-rate intellectual embracing the truth of Christianity. Other people, including St. Athanasius, testified to Augustine about the distinguished moral example of Christians like St. Anthony of Egypt. Augustine was moved when he read Athanasius’s biography entitled Life of St. Antony.2 And, of course, Augustine knew firsthand of his own mother’s abiding commitment to the Christian faith.

Thus, we see that (1) Ambrose’s ability to answer Augustine’s theological and biblical objections, and (2) the prominent Christians Augustine came in contact with in person and through books attracted him to Christianity. There’s only one St. Augustine, but as Christians we never know who we might be influencing for Christ. May this historical example of God’s providential grace help guide our efforts to lead people to faith. Be sure to check in next week as we look at the last three apologetics-oriented factors in the final article of this series.

Reflections: Your Turn

Can you relate to Augustine’s quest? What apologetics factors impacted your coming to know the Lord? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Resources

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

Endnotes
  1. Kenneth Samples, “6 Straight A Christian Thinkers,” Reflections (blog), September 18, 2018, https://reflectionsbyken.wordpress.com/2018/09/18/6-straight-a-christian-thinkers/.
  2. I review Athanasius’s Life of St. Antony, which influenced Augustine, in my book Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2019), 46–7.

 

About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.



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