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The Ghost Of Alexander Severus: Third Century Religious Pluralism as a Foretaste of Postmodernity, by Woodrow E. Walton

Only then did the church finally emerge triumphant. Sacrifices to pagan gods were forbidden under threat of death and temples were abandoned and often destroyed.

The Soviet Union under the Communists in the 20th century tried to eradicate the Christians. It failed. “Christianity is like a nail” remarked Yemelian Yaroslavsky, chairman of Stalin’s League of the Militant Godless, “The harder you strike it, the deeper it goes.”4 Julian failed, Yaroslavsky failed, and others have failed. There is no need to be alarmed. Historically, we have been here before. This 21st century pluralism is essentially no different from previous pluralism.

To instigate the policies of Jovian, Constantine, Theodosius and Justinian, each in his turn, is out of the question in this postmodern period. There is a way out of this present pluralist morass.

Early Christians “not only lived in a pluralistic world, but they operated from a base of perceived inferiority.” — D.A. Carson

First of all, we, as Christians, need to remember that we have been this way before. The record of the third, fourth and fifth centuries bear witness to the fact that the Christian faith had both the resiliency and the ability to outlast its competitors.

There are ways of dealing with our present situation. One is suggested by the Manila Manifesto of Lausanne II issued in 1989: “Nothing commends the Gospel more eloquently than a transformed life.”5 The effect of the Christian gospel upon an individual’s life and that impact’s residual effects within social relationships is a powerful enough apologetic. Ramachandra, the missiologist, reminds that the “credibility of Christianity” is in the “cogency of its advocates’ social practice.”6 There is no better argument than the Christian’s outgoing love.

The years of Severus’ rule, A.D. 222 –  235, were also the years of Origen, the Christian polemicist, perhaps the early Church’s greatest figure of the century. This author does not know whether Origen’s Contra Celsus won any converts or changed things but what is known is that the church had both an apologetic and polemical voice of no mean stature.

We are not lacking in either apologetic or polemic. We are lacking an Origen who put it all together in a systematic onslaught. We have our Zacharias, Geisler, Craig, Plantinga, Kreeft, Carson and Colson and are blessed for having them. But there is a problem—out of this number Geisler, Craig, Plantinga, Kreeft, and Carson are associated with Christian academic institutions. Zacharias and Colson are more in the public eye. Neuhaus, through the Institute on Religion and Public Life and his prestigious First Things, addresses specific issues but there is no broad address of what is afoot in our world. One can also add the names of D. James Kennedy, James Dobson, and Donald Wildmon. There is no wanting of concerned individuals and this is the problem, many voices but no one single commanding voice.

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Category: Church History, Pneuma Review, Winter 2013

About the Author: Woodrow E. Walton, D.Min. (Oral Roberts University School of Theology and Missions), B.A. (Texas Christian University), B.D. [M.Div.] (Duke Divinity School), M.A. (University of Oklahoma), is a retired Seminary Dean and Professor of biblical, theological and historical studies. An ordained Assemblies of God minister, he and his wife live in Fort Worth, Texas. Walton retains membership with the Evangelical Theological Society, American Association of Christian Counselors, American Society of Church History, American Academy of Political Science, and The International Society of Frontier Missiology.

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