Thursday, September 4, 2014

Origen - A Pitfall of Apologetics

I am convinced that apologetics, the rational defense of the Christian faith, is vital. But it does have its pitfalls. One of them is falling into the mindset of those you are trying to convince. One example of this problem is a man named Origen. He was of the same school as Clement of Alexandria. He followed the basic principles of that school, trying to reconcile Christianity with secular philosophy, and was well learned in his studies. As such, he was successful in persuading many people to embrace Christianity. He was also a detailed Bblical expositor.  Though as a member of the Alexandrian school he had a tendency toward understanding Scripture in a symbolic manner. He was a very zealous man, somewhat overly zealous. In his youth his mother hid his clothes to prevent him from going to the authorities and volunteering to be a martyr. Also in his youth, he mutilated himself by cutting off his male organ in obedience to his understanding of Christ's commandment to cut off an offending member (an ironically over-literal interpretation). However, he did show an appropriately charitable attitude toward his opponents.

But one of the results of his trying to understand the mindset of those around him was that he developed a complicated theology that borrowed heavily from Greek philosophy. This involved the idea of preexistant spirits that can become in turn humans and then angels and work their way back up to union with God or else might take the wrong path to become demons. But Origen suggests that everyone, including Satan, will in the end be saved and forgiven. The result of this is an emphasis on our works rather than God's grace, even with the positive ending. We may all eventually make it, but we will have to work our way there. Origen was condemned for these views by some, both in his own time and later, though he was also respected and supported by many for his other works. His views do reflect the Greek philosophy of his day more than what the Bible teaches.

We are met here with a difficult conundrum. If we do not try to understand the world around us, we will have a hard time reaching people. But if we do try understand it, we can end up altering our beliefs to fit it. One thing that helps, from my perspective, is to remember the temporary nature of the world's philosophies. What is thought to be a necessary conclusion today may be out of favor tomorrow. And if we count on it too much, ironically, we may end up conformed to a world that no longer exists. But the main thing is to remember the dangers on both sides here and avoid extreme dogmatism on things that may change tomorrow.   

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