In his new book Pillars of Grace: A Long Line of Godly Men, pastor and author Steve Lawson examines the lives of 23 early “pillars” of the Christian faith; men, who, Lawson says “stabilized the church by upholding God’s Word, thereby strengthening the household of faith.” Lawson adds that each of these men, to varying degrees, upheld fundamental principles pertaining to the doctrines of sovereign grace in his God-appointed hour of church history. In so doing, each of these godly men, “formed a colonnade, century by century, in support of the truth of God’s supreme authority in man’s salvation.”
In this article, and in five more to come, we speak with Lawson about a handful of the 23 stalwarts of sovereign grace, beginning with Justin Martyr.
Justin Martyr, one of the Apologists, gave special attention to Jesus as Logos. Why was that important in the Greek culture of his time?
The Apologists were early Christian leaders who lived from the early second century to the early third century, which means they followed immediately after the ministry of Jesus’ apostles. These were frontline Christian intellectuals, gifted teachers and exceptional writers, who defended Christianity in the marketplace of ideas dominated by the Greek philosophical thought pouring out of Athens, which was then the intellectual hub of the known world.
The Greek philosophers spoke of the concept of the logos as the controlling force of the universe. They saw it as an impersonal power, yet it embodied ideas of creation, purpose in life, ultimate meaning, as well as one’s eternal destiny. In their view the logos was directly connected with one’s personal fulfillment and happiness.
So, when the Apologists ministered in this context, they spoke of Jesus Christ as the Logos. This is precisely how the Apostle John speaks of the Word—the Logos—at the beginning of his Gospel and first epistle. In both places John shows that Jesus Christ is the Logos, the personal power of creation. As the Son of God, He is the controlling force of history, the One who governs our eternal destiny, the One who gives true meaning and purpose in life.
Justin Martyr and the other Apologists stood on the shoulders of the Greek philosophers. They even borrowed their vocabulary—such as this very word logos—and gave it its true Christian meaning. The early apologists seized upon this concept and used it for evangelistic purposes in their day.
Are there lessons for us? Can we study what Justin did and apply the same principles?
I think there are some helps for us to study Justin Martyr. But I want to say at the outset, I think the Apologist Fathers relied too heavily upon a philosophical approach at times in presenting the gospel. Nevertheless, they understood the thinking of the day in which they lived. They understood the mindset of the unconverted in need of Christ’s gospel. And this is important for us today. We, like the Apologists, need to understand those we are trying to reach unregenerate minds for the Lord. We need to know the pivotal issues in their thinking—those critical places where the gospel can be brought to bear upon their secular worldview in order to expose its utter bankruptcy.
Justin and the other Apologists also rightly understood that the intellectual community largely influences the surrounding culture. These early Christian leaders understood that if they could reach the intellectual community, they would influence the wellspring of the world’s thinking. If they reached the thinkers, they would ultimately reach the rank and file population of their day.
In this regard, they show us some of the intellectual places we ought to go with the gospel in this present hour—like the college campus, for example—where we can demonstrate that the claims of Christianity in Scripture are intellectually superior to the ideologies of our day. We can effectively demonstrate that Christianity is able to hold its own in the marketplace of ideas, and show that it is, intellectually, a reasonable faith.
Justin and the Apologist Fathers clearly remind us that we must say, with Paul: “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” as we, in our day, contend for the truth.
Dr. Steven J. Lawson is the senior pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala. He is also a teaching fellow with Ligonier Ministries and a visiting professor at the Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies. Lawson has written 15 books, including Foundations of Grace, The Expository Genius of John Calvin, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards, and Famine in the Land.
In the next article, we delve into the role of higher education and philosophy, and we speak with Lawson about how each affected Justin Martyr’s ministry.