One of the issues permeating the question of why there are world religions has to do with the massive diversity in the world and — to be blunt about it all — the “luck” or “chance” involved in some hearing the gospel or being nurtured in a more favorable environment. Interestingly enough, Origen thought about this intensely and Gerald McDermott, in chp 8 of God’s Rivals, has a full sketch of Origen’s interesting ideas.
This is our last post on McDermott’s book (the conclusion summarizes and points out areas of value for today). What’s next? Two more books: N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope::Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, and Randy Balmer, God in the White House.
Origen, some of you may know, was eventually considered a heretic. In spite of this, there has been a fairly wide scale theological appropriation of Origen and a recognition that Origen’s speculative ideas, the ones that got him in trouble (and some of them in the concern of this book), were experimental and not ones he taught as gospel truth. Origen always taught his own submission to the Church.
Origen comes of age theologically in an age of intense religious pluralism so he makes for a great example for McDermott’s study.
1. Study of the religions is only for the mature according to Origen.
2. The religions prepare others and the world to receive the gospel.
3. The issue facing Origen’s world was why all the diversity; and the world was perceived to be filled with angels and spirits and demons.
Now his big ideas:
4. Origen believed in preexistence where everything was equal and free and where everyone sinned and where everyone was assigned to his or her status in this world and there are four big ones:
a. Archangels — least sinful
b. Angels — next in line
5. Thus, everything about this diverse world is rooted in the merits and demerits of preexistence and thus the entire world is just.
6. Everyone and everything remains free to change; God’s grace remains open; eventually all may be restored to union with God. (Origen is the first to hint at universalism, but Origen’s ideas were speculative and rejected as inconsistent with the gospel and rule of faith.)
7. Yet, God remains providentially in control. Origen’s ideas are seemingly compatibilist.
8. World religions are shaped by angels who did not convert to Christ and who lead those under them, extending to entire nations (a common view in the ancient world), astray. But those led astray are in that condition according to their own merits and demerits.
Can we learn from him?
Religious diversity, McDermott contends, emerges in part for spiritual reasons. Religions need to be respected as spiritual powers and they can be preparations for the gospel.