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 godhatesfags.com 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.