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Maintain ‘uniqueness of Jesus’ amid modern pluralism, Newport counsels

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–In a world that regards religious truth as a smorgasbord of personal preferences, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary must maintain its conviction that Christ is the sole means of salvation and that God continues his work in history despite Satan’s schemes.

John Newport, Southwestern’s distinguished professor of philosophy of religion emeritus, brought that message during a Founders Day service March 9. Founders Day is an annual commemoration of the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary’s establishment March 14, 1908.

Newport said Southwestern’s focus must continue to be “on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only Savior in an increasingly pluralistic world.”

Southwestern’s foundation is both denominational and evangelical and has been reflected in its leadership, said Newport, who has served under five of the seminary’s seven presidents and has known six of them.

Southwestern has always taught that Christ is the only name under heaven by which men may be saved, from the time of B.H. Carroll, the seminary’s founder, and L. R. Scarborough, the seminary’s second president, until today, Newport said.

The commitment to preaching the name of Christ through evangelism and missions continued under E.D. Head and J. Howard Williams, Newport recalled, referring to President Williams’ tenure as the “five golden years.”

It was also a strong emphasis with Robert Naylor and into Russell Dilday’s presidency, when the World Missions Center and Scarborough Institute for Church Growth were inaugurated, Newport said.

Current President Ken Hemphill’s administration is “at the very heart of the missions emphasis of Baptist life,” Newport noted.

This continuing emphasis on preaching the name of Christ is especially important in today’s atmosphere of syncretism, the belief that all religions are valid and equal in value, Newport said.

A growing acceptance of syncretism has accompanied the growing New Age movement at the same time that many people have abandoned the belief that any religious truth can be known, he said.

Newport cited Hendrick Kraemer and Alister McGrath as scholars who are meeting pluralism head-on. Newport recounted that Kraemer contends that Romans 1-3 makes clear that people have always misunderstood and distorted God’s message, and so the only way for God to reveal himself was through the Hebrews and ultimately through Jesus Christ.

McGrath notes that pluralism is not a new problem for Christians, Newport said, because early Christians had dealt with religious pluralism — and had done so by preaching the gospel.

Newport said there is a definite relationship between missions and the fulfillment of God’s program and that two critical biblical concepts — the apocalyptic and the prophetic — regarding the culmination of God’s work on earth undergird Christian missions.

The apocalyptic concept, championed by Hal Lindsey and others, recognizes the reality and power of evil and Satan, but the preferred concept, Newport said, is the prophetic, which “emphasizes that Almighty God continues his activity in history despite the power and work of the evil one.”

Such an approach, Newport said, avoids the extremes to which the apocalyptic concept can be prey.

Newport also touched on the biblical balance between the “already” and the “not yet” of the kingdom of heaven, which has begun in the hearts of believers although the Lord has not yet come to establish it physically.

“Our world is very dangerous,” Newport said. “Unless something happens inside us, there is no hope for us. The situation is sinister. The wrath of God is being revealed. But the ground has been plowed.”

The gospel, he said, is needed every day.

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  • Cory J. Hailey