Friday, January 18

"Lord, what must I do to be saved?"

The question of religious plurality and Christian exclusivity came up in class today. We were talking about how Eastern monastics do all sorts of funny levitating things because they're holy, and apparently holy people can do those sorts of things. And I said, "Do these sorts of things happen at Buddhist monasteries too?" And my professor said probably. So we talked about Christ and other religions for the next half-hour.

It's easy to draw clear lines and say, "If someone doesn't confess Christ, they're going to hell and that's it," but I think that experience and common sense should cause us to question this. There are tens of thousands of followers of other religions who live holy, self-sacrificing lives and an embarrassing amount of professing Christians who don't (myself included, most of the time). God's not going to say,"Gee Ghandi, thanks for all the good you did for my creation, but you're heading for eternal torment anyway while all these folks that created are going to enjoy my presence forever." It's an extreme example, but extreme examples help point out what happens when you take something that doesn't seem so ridiculous at first to its logical end. Moreover, drawing the line at those who explicitly confess Christ doesn't bode so well for babies, the developmentally disable, or the mentally ill--all groups that Christ would have compassion on!

As much as Pelagius makes me shudder, I think he might have been on to something, even though he took it a bit too far. When Jesus talked about salvation, didn't he always mention doing something? He told the rich man to sell everything he had and give to the poor, and he told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. If someone doesn't believe in Christ but they're following the 2nd Greatest Commandment, shouldn't that count for something? I think it does, and the Bible does hint at it. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, some of the sheep were completely flabbergasted to hear Christ say, "What you did unto the least of these brothers of mine, you did unto me."

In the Eastern tradition, they talk about salvation as participation in the life of God. I think this concept helps when thinking about other religions, because maybe it is possible to participate in the life of God even if you aren't aware of the fullness of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Think about Forrest Gump. He played college football even though he had absolutely no clue how to play football. All he saw was the sign, "Run, Forrest, Run!" and he ran. His coaches and teammates knew the big picture and they orchestrated the plays. God is big and he's in the business of loving and redeeming his entire creation. Maybe some people don't have the whole picture, but as Romans 1 say, "God has set eternity in the hearts of men." Maybe if they follow the signs pointing to God, they're headed in the right direction. I don't think God will overlook the fact that they're helping us win the game. Maybe there will be a lot of people in Heaven like Forrest, oblivious to the fact that they're about to meet the president and downing bottle after bottle of Dr. Pepper. Indeed, maybe Christians will be even more accountable for the plays that didn't go so well.


nbta said...

Scripture teaches us that there is nothing we can do to be saved. It's a gift. As is faith. God does it...we can't. As far as those who don't know Jesus as Lord and Saviour, we also see that God provides the way for them to know Him. For every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Paul tells us in 1 Cor 15 that in Adam all die...but in Christ all will be made alive...each in his own order. What great news!

Rachel said...

True, we can't earn God's grace strictly speaking, but I guess we have to hold that in tension with the stuff in James about faith being dead without works.

I hope you're right about the "all" part...I wish more people thought the same way!

nbta said...

As we are given the gift of faith, grace, and are being changed into the image of Christ and His character, Love becomes the driving force which makes works a "fruit" of our faith.
So James says "Faith without works is dead".

It's good that you are reading the early church theologians/teachers. We struggle with these types of doctrines because of the great minds before us...but we still can go back to the Scriptures and because of more accurate translations now, and I believe the leading of the Spirit, we can see how often great teachers/theologians have been swayed to create such doctrines like eternal torment, works, God's Will vs. man's free will...etc., and that doesn't mean any of us will see everything clearly! Keep struggling with Scriptures! It's a good thing.

Jason Pratt said...

{{True, we can't earn God's grace strictly speaking, but I guess we have to hold that in tension with the stuff in James about faith being dead without works.}}

Actually, even in some very important portions of Scripture which talk about works, there are some nifty universalistic notions. Remember that in the judgment of the sheep and the goats (which you very rightly mentioned), the word normally translated "punishment", is actually a loan word from agriculture about cleaning! (That was in Talbott's book, btw. {g})

Indeed, I like to quip that at least 80% of what Jesus has to say about God's punishment, is directed toward lazy and uncharitable servants of His! {g!} And yep, we're held more responsible, and may be punished more severely, for when we run plays badly, so to speak: Matt 24:42-51. (Not coincidentally, this leads into several parables about bad stewards, culminating in the judgment of the sheep and the goats...)


Nate said...

Nice post and comments.
Thanks for putting your stuff out there.
My wife and I had a similar conversation yesterday. She said that we don't even have to believe in God for Him to do His thing. Our faith does not make Him any more or less the Saviour of the world.
Some day, I believe that we will all be conscious of it, but that neither negates nor activates its reality. He is Saviour for having saved, not for a pledge to save.
If I could fabricate or maintain salvation, I wouldn't need it anyway because then I would be God, wouldn't I?
Thanks for the post.