Cultural Apologetics from Fifth Century Ireland

Lost History

Most who don their green shirts and down their green beers in celebration of their Irish heritage have no knowledge of the actual St. Patrick they celebrate was not Irish. Patrick was actually a Briton, captured by Irish pirates when he was only 16, and sold into slavery in Ireland. There he labored as a herder of cattle for 6 years until one night, through a dream, he was urged to escape. He got up before dawn and made his way to the coast and at the age of 22, found a boat that took him to Gaul. During his years of slavery in Ireland, he had converted to Christ on the the basis of what he had learned as a boy. From the age of 22 to 48, Patrick traveled and learned and served. Eventually, he became a priest but at the age of 48 (already past the life-expectancy of the fifth century), he had another dream, calling him back to Ireland.

The church at that time had largely written off the Irish as barbarians and no mission to Ireland existed. Patrick asked to be sent. And so he was commissioned as a bishop and sent to Ireland to evangelize the barbaric Irish. During his 6 years of his slavery, he had come to understand their language and their culture and the belief system. And, he had learned to love them. By the time he returned the 150 or more different tribes of the island all spoke the same language.  The way had been prepared. The servant of Christ had been sent and Patrick moved into his most productive years of ministry.

“There is no shortcut to understanding the people. When you understand the people, you will often know what to say and do, and how. When people know that the Christians understand them, they infer that maybe the High God understands them too.”

The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West . . . Again
George G. Hunter III, (p. 20)

Patrick had stumbled, by the sovereign grace of God, into a basic principle of a good cultural apologetic: know the people to whom you are sent. If we are to reach the people of the post-modern, relativistic, feelings-trump-reason, socialist-leaning, entitled, aggrieved, victimized, religiously skeptical, information obsessed peoples who are our neighbors, we have to get to know them. We have to ask questions. We have to be interested in them. And we have to ask God to do in us what he did in Patrick heart. We have to ask him to help us love them and be willing to leave our comfort to love them even better.


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