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Note: This question has been inspired by the related question Convince a Heathen Theologian with 25 years of Experience


I'm intrigued by the prospect of tailoring apologetics strategies specifically to effectively present a compelling case for the truth of Christianity to those who adhere to pagan beliefs. While traditional apologetics often focuses on persuading atheists and agnostics, such as in works like "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist," there is a unique challenge when engaging with individuals who already accept beliefs in deities, miracles, the supernatural, and similar concepts within a pagan or non-Christian framework. What arguments and approaches does Christian apologetics employ to effectively persuade individuals holding such perspectives?

Delving further into pagan theology unveils intriguing concepts such as theurgy and thaumaturgy. Theurgy, commonly linked with Neoplatonism, encompasses rituals and practices aimed at invoking the presence of divine entities. Thaumaturgy, on the other hand, often pertains to the use of magical acts or miracles for practical ends. Additionally, one may encounter related terms such as Western esotericism, Eastern Esotercisim, Perennial philosophy, Kabbalah, Hermeticism, Occult, Modern paganism, Shamanism, Spiritualism, New Thought, Theosophy, Witchcraft, Druidism, Yoga, Reiki, Astrology, and New Age.

Theurgy (/ˈθiːɜːrdʒi/; from Greek θεουργία theourgía), also known as divine magic, is one of two major branches of the magical arts, the other being practical magic or thaumaturgy. Theurgy describes the ritual practices associated with the invocation or evocation of the presence of one or more deities (also called "godforms"), especially with the goal of achieving henosis (uniting with the divine) and perfecting oneself. (Source: Theurgy - Wikipedia.)

Thaumaturgy is the purported capability of a magician to work magic or other paranormal events or a saint to perform miracles. It is sometimes translated into English as wonderworking.

A practitioner of thaumaturgy is a "thaumaturge", "thaumaturgist", "thaumaturgus", "miracle worker", or "wonderworker". A 'saint', being one who is variably defined as having an exceptional degree of holiness, enlightenment, or likeness or closeness to God, may be claimed to have performed miracles; these generally being defined as exceptional events or deeds not within the normative means of natural or human power, instead being of some supernatural or preternatural manner. Although the definition of a 'miracle', like the definition of a 'saint', will vary yet further among separate religions, sects, and schools.

Buddhism
See also: Abhijñā and Miracles of Gautama Buddha
In the introduction of his translation of the "Spiritual Powers (神通 Jinzū)" chapter of Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō, Carl Bielefel refers to the powers developed by adepts of Buddhist meditation as belonging to the "thaumaturgical tradition". These powers, known as siddhi or abhijñā, were ascribed to the Buddha and subsequent disciples. Legendary monks like Bodhidharma, Upagupta, Padmasambhava, and others were depicted in popular legends and hagiographical accounts as wielding various supernatural powers.

Hinduism
See also: Godman (India)
Godman is a colloquial term used in India for a type of charismatic guru. They usually have a high-profile presence, and are capable of attracting attention and support from large sections of the society. Godmen also sometimes claim to possess paranormal powers, such as the ability to heal, the ability to see or influence future events, and the ability to read minds.

(Source: Thaumaturgy - Wikipedia.)

When exploring these concepts, I'm intrigued to know if apologists have crafted arguments or techniques specifically designed to resonate with followers and practitioners of pagan religions. For example, are there instances where apologetics has been meticulously tailored to address the beliefs of modern New Agers or adherents of the perennial philosophy? Analyzing specific instances across different religions can provide valuable insights into how apologetics effectively navigates the nuances between Christianity and the diverse viewpoints found within pagan traditions, especially in the context of engaging with and proselytizing a pagan audience.

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    follow reasonablefaith org, and his book Reasonable Faith. basic arguments here biblestudying.net/mysticism1.html
    – Michael16
    Commented Jan 27 at 12:02
  • @Michael16 That looks like very useful material. Are you familiar enough with it to write an answer summarizing it?
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 28 at 17:15
  • I am myself very curious to read books that directly address the Greeko Roman philosophy. Before 1st century, Philo is the best example who reconciled Greek Rationalism with the Torah, which helped pave the way for Christianity with neoplatonism, and the adoption of the Old Testament with Christianity. (wiki), but I am curious about Roman Christian apologist debates with them. Maybe contact some Greek native experts and share with me as well.
    – Michael16
    Commented Jan 29 at 8:47
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    The 10th century method - to march boldly into the corpse-hung groves or blood-splashed temples, chop down the sacred trees or smash the idols, defiantly proclaim the protection of Christ against the wrath of the offended deities, and fail to be miraculously struck down - tended to produce quite a few martyrs, but was unquestionably effective...
    – g s
    Commented Feb 1 at 0:40

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And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. - 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

This is a brief summary of the 'strategy' employed by the Apostle Paul in engaging and persuading both the Pagans and the Jews at Corinth. It is not a strategy chosen because convincing arguments are impossible to derive from the Christian faith nor because Paul was incapable of formulating and utilizing such arguments.

The strategy has to do with the receptiveness of the intended 'converts' rather than the abilities of the apologist. As is often said, "Know your audience.":

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. - 1 Corinthians 1:18-24 

The Apologist for God is not looking to make disciples of himself nor to garner personal followers or popularity: The reconciliation of individuals to God is the sole concern so "That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God."

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    I think Ray Grant's answer (above) gives clarity to the "power of God". I haven't given much thought to the difference between evangelism and apologetics but I think the former is more of an initial offering, the latter is more defensive, and there is probably much situational overlap. Commented Jan 30 at 12:54
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    Modern-day evangelism is far removed from the evangelism of 1st century Christians. Today, it's a form of 'easy-believism' based on a person 'making a decision for Christ'. Apologetics is integral to proper evangelism, which prevents it sliding into that sloppy way of modern thinking, I would suggest.
    – Anne
    Commented Jan 30 at 14:13
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    @Anne Undoubtedly true that some modern evangelism is shallow but we all must decide. I consider that Paul practiced something more like apologetics in Acts 17:16-18 and then something more like evangelism in verses 22-31. Then, if he ever responded to the invitation in verse 32, that would have been more apologetic again, I think. But I do not think a hard line exists between the two. Commented Jan 30 at 20:12
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    @MikeBorden Certainly, that is what makes it so hard to be discerning about what is effective apologetics. Although Paul's reasoning (Acts 17) was dismissed by most, Dionysius and Damaris believed. Then in Acts 4, Peter's public speech of Christ crucified then risen, included the command to "Repent - be converted - and have your sins blotted out." Many were converted. In ch.2 he addressed a huge crowd about the crucified then risen Christ. The crowd was so cut to their heart, they asked "What shall we do?" They were told to repent, be baptized and so have their sins dealt with. That was 1st
    – Anne
    Commented Jan 31 at 10:43
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    century evangelism based on the unassailable truth of Christ crucified then risen. Of course there's more to the full gospel than that, but that is the beginning of the gospel, to get people stricken at the power of sin over them. But today people speak of "my mistakes" (not sins) and "missing the mark", as if it's an archery game, so they can have another shot and get closer to what is right, so their score will gradually mount up. Today, churches are apologizing for the gospel when they should be presenting the gospel unapologetically.
    – Anne
    Commented Jan 31 at 10:50
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+50

Effective Apologetic Strategies There are several Apologetic Strategies that are effective in convincing pagan (heathen, idolatrous, polytheistic) people to become disciples of Jesus. But which one is applicable depends upon the epistemology that the people are familiar with (that is, how they assimilate information). And it should be noted that some apologies may be stronger than others...or most effective when combined.

Personal Testimony An apologetic approach which was used by ministers in the Bible, as well as today, is the giving of personal testimony.

  • Paul gave his personal testimony several times, especially when standing in front of Roman rulers (polytheists) and judges. (Acts 22:1-21, 24:10-21)

  • The woman at the well went to the Samaritan village and gave her testimony about her meeting with Jesus...and ending up convincing many to follow Jesus (John 4).

  • Many of the early Christian martyrs gave their personal testimonies, as well as evangelistic apologies, with great influence upon observers, if not on the rulers (Justin Martyr, ante-Nicene writers).

  • Modern examples are DEATH OF A GURU (Rabi R. Maharaj), THE CASE FOR CHRIST (Lee Strobel), SURPRISED BY JOY (C.S. LEWIS), SEEKING ALLAH, FINDING JESUS (Nabeel Qureshi). See also many video testimonies of Conversions at "navigationbyfaith.com/journies-of-faith/spiritual-seekers".

Performing Supernatural Miracles The Bible is replete with examples of proving the superiority of Yahweh over the gods of the heathen (represented by wooden idols, stone monuments, etc.).

  • Moses in Egypt performing the 10 plagues (Exodus)

  • Elijah on Mt. Carmel exposing the falsity of Baal by fire (2 Kings 10).

  • Jesus healing the sick of a Phoenician lady...Roman centurion's servant, etc. These were people of a heathen culture who followed Christ. (See Hebrews 2:3-4, salvation confirmed by signs and wonders!)

  • The disciple Philip worked miracles and won over villages to discipleship (Acts 8:6, 13).

  • Paul and Barnabas worked miracles among the Gentiles who were heathen in their worship (Acts 15:12, 16:16-19, 19:11-12, 19).

  • In modern times there are denominations and missionary societies that rely on the Confirmation of the Gospel among the natives and tribes by signs and wonders (according to Mark 16:20). Pentecostal Assemblies, Assemblies of God, Foursquare Gospel, Vineyard denominations all exhibit the supernatural Gospel of Jesus in a world with many gods and demigods, Satanists and New Agers.

Prophetic Word (Charismatic Gifts) A strong apologetic for Christianity among the heathen is the working of Charismatic gifts described in 1 Corinthians 12.

  • Prophecy, and gift of discernment, was appealed to by Paul as an effective way to convince heathen of the truthfulness of Christianity. (1 Cor. 14:24-25, Corinth was a major heathen city.)

  • In the Old Testament (Tanakh) the prophet Isaiah appealed to the ability of God to foretell the future as a proof that He was the One True God! (Isaiah 44:6-7, 24-25).

  • There are many modern Charismatic and Pentecostal churches that exercise these supernatural gifts in confirming the Gospel of Jesus. As a branch of the elders in the local church, they discern, reveal past personal events in a life, foretell the future, confirm individual giftings, and often warn politicians (pagan) of their conduct and its consequences.

  • The Prophetic Ministry by Frank Damazio is one resource describing this prophetic exercise in presenting the Gospel as the true religion.

Worldview Examination A major apologetic strategy is the presentation, comparison, and examination of religious worldviews: an expose' of religious beliefs and foundations. Not all worldviews are equally valid! The are also glaringly contradictory, so they couldn't all be right.

  • Paul spoke at Athens, trying to get the polytheistic heathen scholars there to examine the details of theirs and of Christ's overall worldviews. (Acts 17:16-34) He engaged in "Natural Theology" and "Historical Theology" to prove his points (General revelation and Special revelation). Some of them were convinced!

  • In writing to the Romans emmeshed in idolatry, polytheism, heathenism, Paul began by also appealing to Natural Revelation to get the people to think accurately (Romans 1:19-32). A church was firmly established there, even in the midst of great persecution. The truthfulness of Jesus's religion was so confirmed convincingly that they were willing to suffer for it.

  • It is common for modern Christian apologists to appeal to heathens to examine their religious worldviews for Consistency, Correspondence, Coherence. And then compare them with the Christian Gospel.

  • Examples are: D.J. Kennedy, What if Christ Had Never Lived, Sire, The Universe Next Door, Douglas Groothuis, Unmasking the New Age, Allan Mosely, Thinking Agasinst the Grain: Developing a Biblical Worldview in a Culture of Myths, Steve Kumar, Christianity for Skeptics, Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods, Gerhard Uhlhorn, Conflict of Christianity with Heathenism.

  • Topics important to the study of apologetic strategy are Karma, reincarnation, illusion, dualism, guilt resolution, compassion, death, evil/goodness. Heathen religious worldviews are seen to fail at some important existential point. And those points need to be stressed in discussions with heathens.

Conclusion It is not enough, in a heathen world full of Temples like the Pantheon (Rome) and Parthenon (Greece), or Druid stone monuments, or Aztec pyramids, or New Age monasteries, to simply preach (proclaim). There must be substantial Reasons to believe...with a confirmation by "Signs following". (Mark 16:20) That was the norm in biblical times, and was seen throughout the centuries. And it is the only effective strategy in modernity for permanent results in gaining strong disciples.

{Important note: There is a Bible verse that stated,The goodness of God leads to repentance. So amid all the arguments, discussions, actions, the most important ingredient for effective persuasion must always be the Love of God. For "God so loved the world (heathens, idolaters, self-righteous, you and me), that He gave His only begotten Son..."}

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  • Good answer, covering multiple angles. Could you please add the author of the book 'Confessions of a Guru'?
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 29 at 23:04
  • Could you please add a link to the book 'Confessions of a Guru'? I'm not sure which book you are talking about. I presume it's not this book.
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 31 at 10:52
  • @ Mark - Oops!, the title was Death of a Guru, by Rabi R. Maharaj. There is also a good web-site called: navigatingbyfaith.com/journies-of-faith/spiritual-seekers. Peace.
    – ray grant
    Commented Feb 2 at 2:22
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What specific strategies exist in apologetics to effectively engage and persuade individuals who adhere to pagan beliefs?

This will depend on the historical circumstances of the region in question as well the the ability of those Christians engaged in in the domain of missionary activities in order to obtain the conversion of Pagans to Christianity.

Here are a few examples of what some missionaries have done in the past:

  • Dress the best way to get integrated into the local life of those in the region one is evangelizing.

For example the French missionaries to Tibet, Fr. Évariste Régis Huc and his companion Fr. Joseph Gabet were the first Europeans who had reached Lhasa since Thomas Manning in 1812 and chose to the dress worn by ordinary Lamas of Tibet as it was recognized as a religious costume worn by Buddhist monks: a long yellow robe fastened by a red girdle. See his book: Souvenirs d'un Voyage dans la Tartarie, le Thibet, et la Chine pendant les Années 1844, 1845, et 1846.

  • Preach the Gospel, not argue the Gospel with unbelievers.

Fr Huc makes the point not to laugh at Pagan beliefs and not to ridicule their customs even internally, but to always respect the person who are engaged in conversation. Explain and preach the Gospel of Christ. Remember what Jesus said in the Gospel: And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. (Mark 16:15)

Jesus never said: Go and argue the Gospel.

Example will often win over preaching.

  • Be willing to adopt the lifestyle of those you are living with.

St. Jean de Brébeuf one of the greatest missionaries in the 19th centuries chose to live amongst the Native Indians of North America. He ate what they ate, and integrated their lifestyle as best he could in order to convert these heathens to Christianity.

He learned their languages and wrote liturgical songs in the languages. Brébeuf composed the "Huron Carol", Canada's oldest Christmas song, written around 1642. He wrote the lyrics in the native language of the Huron/Wendat people. The song's melody is based on a traditional French folk song, "Une Jeune Pucelle" (A Young Maid).

  • Martyrdom of a missionary or apologist will certainly bring many more conversations to the faith.

It was Tertullian, one of the Early Church Fathers of the second century, who really coined the term “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” He drives the point home hard in his Apologeticus, directly addressing the Roman Empire:

“We are not a new philosophy but a divine revelation. That’s why you can’t just exterminate us; the more you kill the more we are. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. You praise those who endured pain and death – so long as they aren’t Christians! Your cruelties merely prove our innocence of the crimes you charge against us…

Blood of the Martyrs Is Still Seed for the Church

  • Live what one preaches.

But I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway. 1 Corinthians 9:27

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Mark,

Thank you for bringing my attention to this stasis:

Since the major corporae of Christian theology derives from middle neoplatonism that was "carved out" to suit the purpose of a new birth pangs of a religion, all neoplatonists opposed the gnostics - vide - the first Christians of whom Jesus as the Essene (a Hebrew gnostic sect under the jurisdiction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem) student of John the Baptist was an exemplary.

Therefore, neoplatonism was degutted of its inner intricate logic and adapted to fit the gnostic idea of henosis in the figure not of everymen, everywomen, but Jesus in the Triad (a concept borrowed from Chaldean mysteries and twisted) in a singular fashion.

The first Gnostic movements that subscribed under faith in Jesus, whether Valentinians, Naassenes, Ophites, Sethites derived their knowledge from the typically anti-demiurgic stance: "There is Heaven above, matter is evil", therefore we must "conquer or indulge in matter"; "We are not of this world" etc.

In contradistinction to Hellenic Gnostics, or Hellenized Hebrews that accepted the rule of archons (rulers of planetary spheres in Chaldean order) and seemed to be more flexible in adapting their rituals for ascent, not contra archons, but along them and through them, the Hebrew gnostics were at constant political and spiritual war - governed by the turmoil of the Levant most likely, rebellions, zeaolots, regional instability etc.

As mentioned before, neoplatonism was filtered through typically Hebrew version of gnosis and spawned many "heresiarchs" that were not officially constituting "Christianity" - it was de facto created by Constantine at the Council of Nicea with circa 300 out of approximately 12 000 invited bishops from all over the Empire. When the doctrines were established, among murder, and accusation of heresy, many were called "heretics, heresiarchs", especially the ones that did not participate at the Council and were at a doctrinarian collision course with Constantine and his bishops.

Therefore the beginning of the religion should be set at the Council of Nicea and it was already almost three centuries after Jesus (I avoid the term "Christ" as it is a hellenized version of "Mess-iah" that was supposed to be the king of Jews that liberates them from Roman rule, precisely belonging to Judaism, not to Christianity per se).

The first Christians wanted to prove that they are the "real" adherents of Judaism, until Constantine put a wedge between "then" and "now". From now on Christians couldn't be Jews, the truest of them, they had to Christians. If you seek to derive apologetics to convince Heathens to your creed, you must acknowledge "Against the Galileans" of Emperor Julian, "Againts the Christians" by Porphyry - he is using the same arguments for illogical and unreasoned inconsistencies among Christians as modern day atheists. "Against the Christians by Celsus" and finally a chapter from Plotinian "Enneads" titled "Against the Gnostics", for a few examples.

I would not conflate the philosophies and mysteriosophies of Hinduism and Buddhism here, as Dharmic doctors are a completely different category and they are far away from this debate, as it does not concern them - rest assured that Dharmic magicians are way above this spectacle, if they are truly professionals in their art.

I understand that your ambitious goal is to construct apologetics vis-a-vis traditional Heathenism, which is more achievable, yet first things first - remember that Christianity is in majority, and we, the reasoned Heathens are in minority, and we are well equipped with discussing such issues like in ancient Hindi schools or the School of Plato - an argument, a belief, a doctrine needs to be proven by high-minded people in a civilized conversation, otherwise it is to be disbelieved: That concerns faith too, faith needs to be grounded in reason, otherwise it is ignorance. It may be founded in reason, as long as the beholder of Pistis is intelligent enough to master the nuances of his foundations.

To cite Macrobius in his "Saturnalia": As the bees, that collect nectar from various flowers and combine it into splendidly tasting honey - a symposium was much valued, when people didn't try to prove their "right" or "wrong", but engaged in debate from which all emerged enriched.

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