When Paul engaged the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers on Mars Hill in Acts 17, he quoted from their own writers (notably Aratus) and mentioned their idols (particularly, one to an “unknown god”) to build a bridge for communication. Clement of Alexandria did much the same thing when he began his early work, Hortatory Discourse to the Greeks. Drawing a comparison with the legendary musicians Amphion and Arion, he taught that, “Christ is the noblest minstrel. His harp and lyre are men. He draws music from their hearts by the Holy Spirit: nay, Christ is Himself the New [Song], whose melody subdues the fiercest and hardest natures.”
Clement’s parents were wealthy pagans, and once he converted to Christianity, he went on a journey to find a teacher who would give him deeper understanding of the Christian faith. In Alexandria, he found a teacher, Pantaenus, who could quench his thirst for knowledge. Upon Pantaenus’s death Clement replaced him as the head of the Catechetical school of the city, the main Christian teacher in Alexandria.
In those days, around 200 AD, Alexandria was the intellectual center of the world. It had a museum with an adjacent library, both of which functioned somewhat like modern universities. Scholars from various fields would meet there to exchange ideas and debate. As a trade center, Alexandria also attracted an interesting collection of adventurers and scoundrels. Not surprisingly, syncretism was prominent in the city.
Clement entered this marketplace of ideas and fought for the truth and supremacy of Christianity. He was not a pastor but an apologist who sought to demonstrate that Christianity was not the absurd superstition that many intellectuals claimed it was. Though he maintained that certain things should be accepted by faith, he insisted that Greek philosophy ultimately supported the truth of Scripture.
Clement leaned heavily on the contemporary allegorical interpretation, claiming that Scripture is written “in parables.” Clement’s importance is not found in how he approached particular Bible passages, but in his reverence for God’s Word, which he declared thoughtfully and persistently in the midst of a spiritually and doctrinally confused society. By his effort, the intellectual atmosphere was changed and Christianity gained a place of honor.
Today, when the secular siren song plays loud and to great crowds, there is a need for more Christian interpreters and apologists, men and women who are literate, zealous, and persistent for the truth, able to out-fox the enemy and out-sing the culture.