The more I read Gerald McDermott’s God’s Rivals the more convinced I am that this is the kind of book churches need to be using and here are my reasons for saying this:
1. The issues of the reality of world religions and the reason for world religions are not going away any time soon.
2. McDermott’s approach is to sketch both how the Bible deals with alternative religions and how the early Christian thinkers came to terms with alternative religious systems.
3. Because this is not a “this is what I think” but “here is how the Church has thought” kind of book, it will be safer for some yet also raise all the fundamental issues.
4. Perhaps most importantly, McDermott’s theology permits him to put on the table a way of seeing these issues that many are not doing today: If God is sovereign, world religions must be within the scope of God’s ways.
So, chp 7 is about Clement of Alexandria and he is the most advanced thinker so far.
The bug under the bonnet of Clement was Greek philosophical/religious thinking, and today we may not appreciate just how potent and glorious was the standing of Plato and Aristotle in the ancient world. They reached a pinnacle that no on exceeded in ancient philosophy, and that kind of philosophy was not just hard core thinking but religious to the core.
1. Greek philosophy was a work of divine providence and here he draws on Justin’s prisca theologia idea.
2. Greeks had only a grasp of partial truth. “The former have the ‘names,’ while the latter [Christians] have the ‘things’ themselves” (121).
3. God made a covenant with the Greeks as God had made with the Jews; to the Jews was given the Law and to Greeks philosophy. To these Greeks God gave his “prophets.” (McDermott does not say but I’m assuming Plato, etc..)
4. It was the same God at work, but Greeks did not perceive God fully.
5. Knowledge of the Greeks is not necessary for salvation in spite of God’s having worked with them. “They are ways to salvation, not ways of salvation.”
6. In light of the descent into hell theme of the early churches, Clement claims both Jesus and the apostles preached to those in hell and the Greeks, who had been prepared and who had previously responded to such truths, delighted to hear the fullness of their truth in Christ.
7. Philosophy is good for teaching, for apologetics, and for filling out the Christian faith.
8. There are stages in the ancient religious quest according to Clement: original innate communion with God and fall, worshiping elements, worshiping images of the elements, and worshiping of human images (euhemerism).
Overall then: we are to believe that world religions are there by design and that God is at work in them to lead them to Christ. These religions, McDermott argues, are not sufficient for salvation.