Rediscovering Our Roots

"What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?"

That famous question was asked by the church father Tertullian, some 20 centuries ago. He was trying to make the point that the philosophy of the Greeks and the theology of the Christians were incompatible.

But Tertullian may have had it wrong, in part. As Dr. John Mark Reynolds of Biola University points out, "The very Greek language that the early Christians used to communicate their message was soaked in centuries of classical thought. Trying to pry Athens and Jerusalem apart usually led to inconsistency and heresy."

Even Tertullian himself, Reynolds says, "echoed Greek philosophy on nearly every page" of his writings, whether he was aware of it or not!

But to this day, for many people-including many Christians-the old tension between theology and philosophy, between faith and reason, still exists. So Reynolds' new book, When Athens Met Jerusalem: An Introduction to Classical and Christian Thought, is an attempt to show not only that faith and reason can co-exist, but that they need each other to survive.

Reynolds writes, "Jerusalem gave the world truth; Athens gave it a valid way to express that truth. Out of this creative harmony came the classical Christian civilizations that shaped most of the world in which we live."

In his position as a Christian writer and educator, Reynolds sees it as his mission to help restore that "creative harmony" that will allow both faith and reason to thrive in a world so desperately needing them.

Much of the book, therefore, is spent studying the classical roots of Western culture.

Reynolds takes us on a tour of Greek philosophy from the pre-Socratic thinkers, through Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, all the way to the groups who were present on Mars Hill to hear the apostle Paul make his famous speech there.

In many ways, all of Greek philosophy, in its long search for truth and enlightenment, was leading up to that moment. It was Christianity, Reynolds says, that answered the questions the philosophers had not been able to answer.

Though not all of his listeners accepted Paul's teachings, Paul demonstrated there in the center of Greek learning and culture that the Christian faith "had the intellectual and moral energy that paganism and philosophy had lost." The stage was set for Christianity's triumph over pagan thought.

Dr. Reynolds argues that it's critically important for Christians to know at least something about this history. I agree. Rodney Stark, in his great book The Victory of Reason, argues that Christianity rescued reason, a point I make in my book The Faith. This is also why I so strongly support Christian and classical schools.

Although there are dangers in philosophy unchecked by Christian worldview, there are also great rewards when the reader has a "mental interaction with the Bible," as Dr. Reynolds puts it. "Wicked ideas in the ancients illuminate the power of Scripture. True ideas in the ancients expand the world presented in the Bible or illuminate in a fresh way truths already present there," he wrote.

When Athens Met Jerusalem makes a powerful case for learning all we can about how these ideas interacted to shape our world, our thinking, and our faith. You can get this, and the other books I've mentioned, at our bookstore at BreakPoint.org.