30 May 2004

The (first) one about exclusivism/pluralism

OK, I said I'd post some thoughts about the Christian exclusivism vs. pluralism, or in other words, Christianity is THE way vs. Christianity is A way. I just spent about an hour looking up a lot of the relevant Bible verses in various translations online and printing them out in context. And now I'm losing steam. There's a lot to address, so I think I'll break it up into multiple posts. I'll start with a summary of my basic position, and go from there in future posts.

My basic position is this: I'm a pluralist. A staunch pluralist. I believe that "salvation" (whatever that is--probably a good topic for a future series of posts, since I keep talking about it without defining it) is available to all humans in all times and places, regardless of whether they've heard about or "accepted" the Gospel of Jesus Christ as transmitted by his human disciples. There are three essential parts to my conviction on this subject.

1) My understanding of God's love, based on scripture, tradition, reason, and my personal faith experience, will not admit of another possibility. God loves us all, and she makes salvation available to us all. I can't believe otherwise.

2) My personal relationships, some quite intimate, with many non-Christians leaves absolutely no room for doubt in my mind that (to speak in Christian terms) the Holy Spirit is alive in their hearts. I'm not saying that they're really Christians and too dumb to know it. They would use other words to describe what I would call the Spirit, or to explain their thoughts, words, and actions, and I think those words are just as valid as the Christian ones I use. But these are just words, and I can't deny the underlying reality they point to--it's what I as a Christian would call salvation.

3) I believe very strongly that it's possible to hold this position and also take the Bible seriously as the inspired Word of God. That's the main thing that I hope to argue in future posts, and I admit it's not always an easy argument. I should clarify that I'm neither a Bible literalist nor an inerrantist, but I do think that as a Christian it's incumbent upon me to take the Bible seriously, to respect it, and to try to hear what God is saying to me through his Word. I'm going to specifically consider the following verses that are usually looked to when discussing this issue: John 14:20, John 3:16-18, Acts 4:12, 1 Timothy 2:3-6, Romans 10:9-15.

I'm also going to consider a verse that's not always mentioned on this topic: Revelation 3:20, which really holds the key to my whole position: In Christian orthodox belief, Jesus Christ is not just the historical human person Jesus of Nazareth; he is also the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, God himself. And God, in this aspect as the Son, stands at the door of our heart and knocks. She knocks on the heart of every one of her children, and all we need to do to dine with her is to hear her voice and open the door. Not become a professing member of the historic human institution known as the Church. Not get baptized. Not even assent to certain beliefs. Just open the door.

I believe that millions of non-Christians throughout history, both those who have heard the human transmission of the Gospel and those who have not, have heard the voice of what Christians call the Son of God, and have opened that door. Through that simple act, according to my faith, they became "saved", thought they didn't become Christians. And I believe that this interpretation is consistent with a high level of respect for Christian scripture. So more later.

Small addition to the post about the Atonement and salvation

It seems advisable, when one's readership is as tiny as mine, to respond to the suggestions of one's readers. Therefore, a brief comment regarding an observation from my friend Jan: my post on the Atonement and soteriology didn't mention the position that salvation is immediate (like a Pop-Tart), but that constant pickle-like activity must be maintained in order to preserve one's salvation, or it will be lost. Maybe that's the "toasted Pop-Tart left out on the kitchen counter on a summer's day" position.

About that, I only want to say that it sounds pretty frightening. I also believe that it would be a position defined as outside of Christian orthodoxy by most of the major historical branches of Christianity (Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant). But who cares about that? It's definitely the position of some smaller, less-orthodox branches of Christianity (taking orthodoxy, again, as defined by the major historical Christian traditions). And it's also the private position of plenty of individuals who profess to faith in one of the major, "orthodox" traditions. Lots of Christians are privately terrified that they're going to lose their salvation if they don't do X, Y, and Z, and lots of "orthodox" Christian congregations encourage this point of view. And there is, of course, a kernel of "truth" (bearing in mind Pilate's famous unanswered question) to it: If faith is an ongoing, living relationship between the individual and God, can't we choose to let that relationship sour by our own apathy or turning away?

My own position on this is this: It certainly is possible to have a terrible relationship with God if our spiritual practice is weak or nonexistent. And it's not that God doesn't expect anything of us; we are expected to love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls, and to love our neighbors at ourselves--and he means the "get out there and do something" kind of love, not just the "warm fuzzy feeling" kind. But what's at stake is the quality, not the existence, of that relationship. For Christians who are afraid that this is not the case, that there's "stuff" we need to do in addition to having faith, my advice is to read Galatians. It's only six chapters. It'll do you good. And have a cup of warm soup. :-)

08 May 2004

That's me!

Great quote from an Anglican bishop in Georgia (USA):

"I guess I am sort of an orthodox evangelical catholic liberal traditionalist. Perhaps you are also."

Yes! That's me! It's so simple. :-)

Not the one about exclusivism/pluralism

Hi folks, just made a few formatting changes to the blog, and I'm testing them. Posts might have titles now, for instance. Maybe later I'll do a longer one about exclusivism/pluralism (as a Christian theological issue--in other words, is Christianity THE way or A way?).