Dorothy Sayers, Christian Apologist

August 30th, 2013 Post by

Christianity is an historical religion. Not just in the sense of having a long history, which it does. But Christianity is also historical in this manner: the central event – the one thing that makes Christianity what it is – is an historical event, namely, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To be sure, other world religions have history, that is, in the former manner of speaking . But they lack the same quality of historical integrity, verifiability, veracity, and most of all, falsifiability.

I usually ask skeptics and Christians alike this same question: “are there any facts, which if they were proven to be true, would cause you to give up your faith?” I’ve heard the skeptic and the Christian both answer with an adamant and definitive, “NO!” You see the problem here, don’t you? Both answers have removed the subject of inquiry from the field of knowledge, facts and history, something the Christian ought never to do. Paul says if Christ is not dead, then our faith is in vain and futile and we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:1ff). In other words, show the body and it’s all over; eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.

Pontius-Pilate-InscripBut in fact, Christ has been raised. And this didn’t happen once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, or in never-never land. But in history. In time and space. Somewhere between the years 30-33 AD (depending on which crucifixion dating you go with). It’s CSI Jerusalem! There were eyewitnesses. They saw him dead on a Friday. Saw where he was buried. Knew the tomb. Went to the tomb on Sunday. Saw him alive again. Touched him. Heard him. Saw him (1 John 1:1-4). Ate fish with him. And not just once, but many times. And he was seen by over 500 witnesses. There are codices. Manuscripts by the thousands. Even the stones cry out. We confess that Christianity is historic and factual on a weekly basis. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate. No other world religion is able to make these kinds of claims to historical investigation. It’s as if Paul is saying, “Go ahead; put Christianity on trial. Just the facts. There’s more than enough there for a verdict.”

 

Christianity and history are intricately woven together. Makes sense. As we confess, “He was made man.” The author of history appeared on the page. The playwright became the lead role in the greatest drama ever staged, as Sayers calls it. And she’s right.For the greatest drama ever staged also happens to be the one myth that became fact. It is the greatest true story, but it does not for that reason lose the drama or the beauty of a good story. It is the best story precisely because it is true. It is concrete, tangible, and historical in every sense of the word. Sure enough there are myths of dying gods in many mythologies. However, to compare these to Christianity is like comparing The Simpsons to a reputable nightly news program. Here’s what Dorothy the apologist has to say about all this.

 

Christianity is, of course, not the only religion that has found the best explanation of human life in the idea of an incarnation and suffering god. The Egyptian Osiris died and rose again; Aeschylus in his play, The Eumenides, reconciled man to God by the theory of a suffering Zeus. But in most theologies, the god is supposed to have suffered and died in some remote and mythical period of prehistory. The Christian story, on the other hand, starts of briskly in St. Matthew’s account with a place and a date: “when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King.” St. Luke, still more practically and prosaically, pins the thing down by a reference to a piece of government finance. God, he says, was made man in the year when Caesar Augustus was taking a census in connection with a scheme of taxation. Similarly, we might date an event by saying that it took place in the year that Great Britain went off the gold standard. About thirty-three years later (we are informed), God was executed, for being a a political nuisance, “under Pontius Pilate” – much as we might say, “when Mr. Johnson-Hicks was Home Secretary.” It is as definite and concrete as all that.

 

Dorothy Sayers, The Greatest Drama Ever Staged, Letters to a Diminished Church. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004, p. 2-3.

 


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  1. Karen H
    August 30th, 2013 at 09:38 | #1

    Wonderful Article! We need to teach and impress this upon our young people (teenagers). As they leave to start and raise their own families, they need to know that Christianity is not an arbitrary choice among many religions and preferences, but a historic fact authored by our Triune God. Christianity and the stories from our Bible do not sometimes “line up neatly” with history, but instead are history!

  2. helen
    August 30th, 2013 at 13:24 | #2

    @Karen H #1

    When I was ‘introduced’ to Dorothy Leigh Sayers [Never omit the 'L' ] her books were out of print. We scrounged them from used bookstores.
    My children have mostly ignored my library except when it had to be moved (and usually halved in the process… only Mom’s books, you know, and still mostly from used book stores).
    A grandchild has discovered Sayers! And what do you know… she’s “out of print” again. But if I’m not mistaken, she escaped the “purge” and should be in a box, somewhere.

  3. Stef
    August 30th, 2013 at 15:35 | #3

    Paul says if Christ is not dead, then our faith is in vain and futile and we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:1ff)

    Just one fact you may want to reconsider :-)

  4. helen
    August 30th, 2013 at 15:53 | #4

    @Stef #3
    Paul says if Christ is not dead, then our faith is in vain and futile and we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:1ff)

    “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me….

    Christ is not dead.

  5. Jeff
    August 31st, 2013 at 20:52 | #5

    @Stef #3

    1 Corinthians 15:14

    English Standard Version (ESV)

    14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain

  6. Paul of Alexandria
    August 31st, 2013 at 21:53 | #6

    Dorothy L. Sayers also translated Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, probably the best translation I’ve read.

  7. Stef
    September 1st, 2013 at 01:09 | #7

    Exactly! If Christ has not been raised our faith is in vain……

    To say “If Christ is not dead our faith is in vain….” is not a good way to put it as it gives the impression that He is and remains dead – whereas it should be giving the fact that He did die, but more importantly, He was raised from the dead.

  8. September 1st, 2013 at 19:32 | #8

    Sayers is one of my favorite apologist / polemicists for Christianity. Her writing is lucid and lively and full of fire. She was a student of patristics as a hobby. She is reputed to have said that she only wrote detective dramas to finance her study of theology!

    My favorite quote of hers is from ‘Creed or Chaos’

    “‎To do them justice, the people who crucified Jesus did not do so because he was a bore. Quite the contrary; he was too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have declawed the lion of Judah and made him a housecat for pale priests and pious old ladies.”

    Pretty good stuff.

  9. Joe Strieter
    September 10th, 2013 at 14:23 | #9

    May I suggest Sayers’ “Creed or Chaos” as required reading?

    Great stuff!

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