The classical world counted Christianity as upstart foolishness. Now, many call it “outdated.” Robust Christianity could not care less; it is always self-consciously countercultural, ever faithful to the gospel. The words of English non-conformist preacher John Angell James (1785 – 1859) are meant to embarrass any pastor made craven by the culture. He spoke in a day when modernism was budding; his words hold strong in our post-secular era.
It should never be forgotten that the time when the apostles discharged their ministry was only just after the Augustan era of the ancient world. Poetry had recently bestowed on the lettered world the works of Virgil and Horace. The light of philosophy, though waning, still shed its luster over Greece. The arts still exhibited their most splendid creations, though they had ceased to advance. It was at such a time, and amidst such scenes, the gospel began its course. The voices of the apostles were listened to by sages who had basked in the sunshine of Athenian wisdom, and were reverberated in startling echo from temples and statues that had been shaken by the thunders of Cicero and Demosthenes; yet they conceded nothing to the demands of philosophy, but held forth the cross as the only object they felt they had a right to exhibit. They never once entertained the degrading notion that they must accommodate themselves to the philosophy or the taste of the age in which they lived, and the places where they ministered . . .
Whether the apostle addressed himself to the philosophers on Mars Hill, or to the barbarians on the island of Melita; whether he reasoned with the Jews in their synagogues, or with the Greeks in the school of Tyrannus, he had but one theme, and that was Christ, and him crucified. And what right, or what reason have we for deviating from this high and imperative example? Be it so, that we live in a literary, philosophic, and scientific age, what then? Is it an age that has outlived the need of the gospel for its salvation; or for the salvation of which any thing else can suffice but the gospel? The supposition that something else than authentic Christianity, as the theme of our pulpit ministrations, is requisite for such a period as this, or that it must be presented in philosophic guise, appears to me a most perilous sentiment, as being a disparagement to the gospel itself, a daring assumption of wisdom superior to God’s, and containing the germ of infidelity.1
1 John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (1847; reprinted in Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1993), 69-70.