It has seemed to me over the years that the two most difficult issues for Christian apologetics has been the experience of suffering and conflicting claims of world religions. I addressed the former recently in Pain As a Means of Grace (Wipf & Stock), the latter earlier in The High God (Morris Publishing), and the general topic in A Case For Christianity (Tyndale). On this occasion, I mean to enlarge on salvation history as an adjunct to Christian apologetics.
The early church fathers would on occasion defer to salvation history in terms of the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles. These three eras seemed expressive of three stages, although the church fathers were quick to point out that all had not made a transition from one stage to another.
Accordingly, I am reminded of the experience of Clement Idachaba, as he shared it with me. Clement’s father was a village priest, residing in Nigeria. Clement assisted him in preparing sacrifices to be offered at the sacred tree, a massive growth towering above its rivals. This roughly corresponded to the time of the patriarchs, when the High God was thought supreme over lesser deities.
Clement became critically ill. His parents turned to religious ritual and traditional medicine, but to no avail—since their son’s condition continued to degenerate. Whereupon, they heard that a man of God was in the vicinity, and solicited his help. Such persons were thought to be priests of the Most High, not unlike Melchizedek—king of Salem and priest of God Most High (cf. Gen. 14:18).
Once the man of God had interceded on behalf of Clement, the lad took a pronounced turn for the better. Consequently, he concluded that the Supreme Deity had some service for him to perform, but was at a loss as to what this might be—since the High God was by common consent unfathomable. In this regard, I was assured that although he was known by various names, the High God is one and the same.
Some traditions allowed that the Almighty once lived among men, but had retreated into the heavens. This was variously accounted for, either due to human misbehavior or simply in the course of events. It was decided to build a tower reaching into the heavens, providing access to the High God—similar to the biblical account of the tower of Babel. However, they soon ran out of tiles. The mother of men, not otherwise explained, suggested that they take tiles off the bottom and place them on top. At this, the structure collapsed. Therefore, it was decided that they would have to await a divine initiative if access were to be regained.
Clement subsequently encountered an orange skin, so designated because his skin resembled the color of the inside of an orange. In this regard, I recall the excited shouts of children upon seeing we orange skins in our vehicle. Accordingly, the orange skin informed Clement that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believed on him should not perish, but have everlasting life (cf. John 3:16). The latter understood this to mean that the Supreme Deity had revealed himself, since it was commonly understood that a parent is revealed in his or her offspring. “Good,” he concluded, “now I shall know what he wants of me.”
As a result, when I first met Clement he was teaching at the mission compound. His youngest son was a frequent visitor. Prone to rolling in the dirt, he liked to curl up in my lap and fall fast asleep. Needless to say, this required that I frequently wash my clothing.
One day as I walking by Clement’s residence, he appeared over-joyed. His father, the aged village priest, had decided to follow Jesus. Having waited in vain for his son to return to the security of the sacred tree, he concluded that Clement had met up with a greater power. This was in keeping with what is usually identified as a power encounter. Thus assured, he meant to join his son in his pilgrimage to the celestial city.
Thus father and son had emerged from something akin to the time of the patriarchs, in retrospect as associated with that of the prophets, and current with the era of the apostles. This resulted in a vibrant faith, not uncommonly more convincing than that we experience in western culture.
This was, of course, one among other similar but distinctive accounts. Consequently, our Nigerian seminary students began to record these narratives for posterity. As such, they would serve to illustrate the critical role that salvation history can play in Christian apologetics.
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