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

It was nearly one hundred years after Origen and Alexander Severus that the Church acted singly at Nicea; more than that after Irenaeus and Tertullian. There was more than one voice in the early church but the continued pressure of the Graeco-Roman culture forced the issue of having a single voice.

This is not to propose a modern Nicea or Chalcedon. It is a proposal to consider having a single apologetic voice on the order of a Lausanne Movement and its Manila Affirmation or an Amsterdam 2000 and its Declaration. The Christian front is weakened to the degree that is fragmented. This is not a far-fetched idea. Back in 1996, D.A. Carson made the observation that “partly under the impact of postmodernism, the various ‘schools’ of Christian apologetics have an opportunity to draw closer together than they have usually been in the past.”7

There is a practical side to this concern. Aside from D. James Kennedy’s annual “Reclaiming America” which brings concerned Christians together to deal with issues, there is little to no concerted effort to deal with the pluralism that confronts us. After each conference is over, there is another year of each ministry going into its own telemarketing scheme in order to stay on and do battle on its own limited front. It is no wonder we are more often on the defense instead of on the offense. This makes for an ironic situation; a pluralism of Christian ministries seeking to take on a pluralistic society. There is, however, a difference. Ours is a pure pluralism, not one based upon a concept of relativity. Nonetheless, any thought to what we present to the world’s plurality should be enough to make us take stock of where we are at. We have soldiers and leaders off in different directions trying to beat off a persistent postmodern mindset.

A visitor from the third century wouldn’t find much different today, other than Islam, if she was looking over the religions of the world.

There is a third way which this writer calls a “reverse apologetic.” This “reverse apologetic” suggested itself from reading the Caner brothers’ Unveiling Islam. “One must love Allah in order for Allah to love that person in return. In Christianity, God loved people first in order to secure their salvation.”8 These two sentences from the book suggest the reverse type of logic in defining Christianity among the religions and the philosophies that abound.

The nearest similarity is the comment credited to Emil Brunner about religion being about seeking God while Christianity is about the gospel of God seeking man. It is man that is lost, not God.

Even Biblical inerrancy can be upheld and defended on the basis of a reverse apologetic by dealing with what the scripture maintains: that we are made in the image of God. There is no quarrel there. We are in a fallen state, incapable of saving ourselves and needing a Savior not of our own making. There is no quarrel that we have ignominiously failed in all our human-directed efforts. God has made Himself known in Christ Jesus. We come to God through Christ, no other way. There is no need to “hold the fort” or apologize to John Hicks and the theistic crowd. Forty years ago, the Christian philosopher and Thomistic scholar, Etienne Gilson maintained, “Not only do we need the Christian revelation to believe in the God of the Christian religion but it is senseless to imagine that His existence could be known otherwise than through faith in His own revelation.”9 This position is also maintained by missiologist Vinoth Ramachandra in his chapter on the “Scandal of Christ” in his The Recovery of Mission,10 where he alluded to a statement by Harvard theologian Harvey Cox in which he said, “… any honest dialogue between Christians and others will sooner or later—and in my experience it is usually sooner—have to deal with the figure of Jesus.”11

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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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