Thursday, December 29, 2005

Question 4: Is Jesus the only way to Heaven continued

Yesterday, I talked about the different views of Jesus and salvation. Today, I want to take a closer look at the view called exclusivism. An exclusivist believes that salvation only comes through believing in Jesus Christ. Anyone who does not confess that Jesus is Lord will not find heaven I do affirm with exclusivists the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. I think Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life.”

Why I am not an Exclusivist
Again, an exclusivist holds that the only way a person can be saved is to confess a belief in Jesus. The difficulty of this statement arises when someone asks about the fate of those persons who never hear about Jesus. After all, there have been millions of people who have died never hearing about the gospel. There are also many people who live in a different culture that would not understand even the clearest presentation of it. The exclusive answer to this question is the reason I am not an exclusivist.

An exclusivist would have to argue that those people who never hear the gospel and those who cannot properly understand it will not be saved. This means that for a great many people, God does not desire their salvation. For instance, (1) If God is in total control of the world, then God can offer salvation to every person. (2) If the only means of salvation is Jesus and some people never hear about Jesus, then we have to conclude (3) God does not desire the salvation of everyone. This, I believe is contradictory to the heart of the biblical message. For example, the bible tells us that “God desires than none should perish and that all should come to eternal life.” It also tells us that “For God so loved the world that he gave his son for us.”

At this point, an exclusivist could argue that for those who never hear the gospel, God works in an agnostic sort of way. God judges people on the knowledge that they do have. However, I would suggest that this is not an exclusivist position. This is an inclusive position because the argument is saying that people can believe some type of truth and follow Jesus without confessing Jesus as God.

Sometimes exclusivist appeal to the types of revelation, which I wrote about yesterday in defending the justice of God in the face of God damning those who do not hear the gospel. They argue that everyone is a sinner and therefore held accountable for their sin. They believe every person is without an excuse because God reveals himself in nature. This is called “natural revelation.” The only problem is that natural revelation only makes us accountable for our sins, it never leads us to salvation. The knowledge of salvation is given through “special revelation.” This revelation is the gospel of Jesus. So, an exclusivist will argue that all people deserve hell because they reject God who has been revealed in nature. However, those who have been given special revelation will find salvation in Jesus. They believe this makes God just.

As well thought out as this is, I do not bye into it. For me it does not solve any problem, rather it creates more. For example, how could a God who loves the whole world give us natural knowledge which can only condemn us? Then, this loving God only gives some people special revelation, which is the only thing that can save us. Again, in this picture God does not desire the salvation of every person. Rather, it seems that this God cares more about damning humanity for their sins than he does about redeeming humanity from their sins. This is not the picture of God I see in the bible at all. Rather I see a God who goes to great pains to redeem fallen humanity. It seems to be that one of two things must happen. Either natural knowledge, which holds us accountable to God, can lead us to God or God gives special revelation to every person.

Next, I will examine pluralism.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Question 4: Is Jesus the only way to heaven?

This question arises from one of the answers I gave yesterday. In talking about Post-modernism, I suggested that pluralism was dangerous. What I was saying was that Jesus is God and that Jesus is the only way to heaven. Let me explain over the next several posts what I mean by this and why pluralism does not work.

On the question of Jesus and salvation, there are three primary views. The first of these is called pluralism, whichhas largely been advanced by Paul Hick. Hick believes that God is known to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhis, and others. He says that these religions represent different “faces” or manifestations of God.

I have had it explained to me this way. Lets say a group of people are sitting around a table and there is a centerpiece in the middle of the table. If we sit in our seat and describe the centerpiece from our own perspective, we are likely to describe different things. However, our descriptions are no less accurate than the person sitting across from us. Likewise, all of the religions in the world represent different perspective of God. One description of the Ultimate Reality is no more correct than another.

In defense of this view, Hick appeals to the morality of all the major world religions. He claims that it is obvious that Christianity is not morally superior to the other religions and if Christianity has a “more direct access to God” then Christians should be more moral. Since Christians do not seem to live more moral lives than non-Christians, then we must conclude that Christianity is not the one and only explanation of God. Hick goes on to suggest that the problem is that we cannot fully know or understand God, who is infinite. Therefore, we cannot know which religion holds the total truth about God. All we can say is that all religions are equal in there understandings of God.

This has implications when understanding the person of Jesus. If Christianity is only one truth in understanding God, then Jesus himself cannot be God. If Jesus were God, then Christianity would hold the most viable explanation of God. This also means that Jesus is only one way to achieve salvation out of many. Jesus is a way and a truth that will lead to life. Pluralist will suggest that Jesus lived a life that reveals God to us and if we follow this, we will find God. However, Jesus was not God. We can follow many other people and find God as well.

Pluralism has become very popular of late because it is reacting to the traditional view of exclusivism. This is the view which says that Jesus is the only way of salvation and apart from professing a belief in Jesus, you cannot be saved. Some exclusivists claim that God gives two types of revelation: general and special. God shows God’s self to the world through nature and through all the good things that happen to us. However, this type of revelation is not enough to lead someone to God. So, God reveals God’s self to the world through special revelation. It is responding to this revelation that brings salvation. Therefore the exclusivist concludes that God does not show everyone special revelation, meaning that not everyone will accept God. In this view, salvation is excluded from anyone who has never heard the gospel or who have rejected it.

There have been some faithful Christians who have examined both of these views and concluded that nether view makes sense of the biblical witness or their own understanding of God. This group has adopted the view of inclusiveness. This view holds two premises. First, that God’s love is inclusive in that God desires the salvation of every person. Second, it holds that Jesus is the means of salvation. This means that God will save humanity in and through Jesus Christ. Therefore, God offers every single person the opportunity of salvation.

A great example of this is found in C.S. Lewis’ book The Last Battle. In the book Emeth worships the god Tash and finds out when he dies that Aslan is the one true God.

Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of my death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him…. But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, “Son, thou art welcome.” But I said, “Alas, Lord I am no son of Thine but the servant to Tash.” He answered, “ Child, all the service thou has done to Tash, I account as service done to me.”… I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, ‘Lord, it is true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook… and said, “It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites- I take to me the services which thou hast done to him…. For all find what they truly seek.”

From this story Lewis points out that someone can be following God without knowing they are. People can be true believers and followers of Jesus without realizing that they are. Inclusivist believe that God works through any means possible to bring persons to salvation through Jesus Christ. This means that God could help people of other religions foucs on aspects of their religion that lead to Jesus. Although we may not totally understand how shares God's love with other, we do know that God does. Again, Jesus is the only way to God, but God desires and offers salvation through Jesus to every person.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Question 3: What is Post-modernism cont.

Positives of Post-modernity
I know of some people who are very down on post-modernism, but I think there are some advantages to post-modern thinking.

(1) Post-moderns focus more on knowing “why” than they do on knowing “what.” In other words, post-moderns want to know “so-what” For so many years I think the teachings of the church focused on knowing the facts without knowing how these facts were lived out in our lives. Post-modern thinkers are helping the church rediscover the Christian life. In Brian McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy, he compares the concepts of “orthodoxy” verses that of “orthopraxy.” He says that orthodoxy is about having “right beliefs” while “orthopraxy” is about right living. I think post-modern thinkers are trying to understand right living.

(2) Post-moderns can see truths in multiple arguments. This dawned on me one day when a good friend of mine named Daniel was in a class with Dennis Flaugher at the church. Dennis presented a number of different views of the atonement (Jesus restoring us to God). Then Dennis had everyone divide into groups and discuss which view they chose and why. In Daniel’s group, each person carefully accepted one view and defended it. Then, when they asked Daniel which one he chose, he stated that he could see truth in all of them. Daniel’s response articulated what I believe most post-modern thinkers would suggest. This approach allows a Christian to be influenced by arguments that they may not agree with. For example, I am not a universalist ( I do not believe every person will go to heaven), but I do find some truth in the things they argue. I do believe that God loves every person and that God desires the salvation of everyone.

Negatives of Post-modernity

(1) Post-modernity can cause people to have a negative view of the world. If you do not believe this, listen to pop singers and rappers. Post-moderns have been taught to question everything and in doing this, have lost any kind of meaning to life. I love the sitcom Seinfeld. I was sad when it went off the air. However, the show was advertised as a show about nothing. Unfortunately, post-moderns are finding that they do not believe in anything and life looses all meaning.

(2) In our quest for finding truth in multiple arguments, post-moderns are embracing an idea that there is NO truth. To me, this is very sad. Christianity has become so watered down because we do not want to offend anyone. I have discovered that to a large group in the church universal, Jesus is offensive. Many Post-modern Christians are turning to Pluralism (meaning that all religions are equal paths to God) The problem with this is ,as Jerry Walls, in his book Heaven, the Logic of Eternal Joy says , “[A view such as this] requires Christians, as well as adherents of other religions that make exclusive claims, [such as the incarnation, atonement, resurrection, and the Trinity] to give up what is distinctive to their faith and accept a generic substitute in its place." Pluralism not only forces Christians to surrender the things that we hold dear to us, but those people who belong to other religions are forced to give up a belief in those things they hold to be exclusive. For example, Islam would have to believe that Muhammad was not the greatest prophet and that the Koran was just another religious self help book. I am not sure about you, but I do not see Muslims choosing this option.

My hope is that we can continue thinking and believing in Jesus as the “way, the truth, and the life.” In so doing, we will hold onto those beliefs that are essential to our faith and understanding of God. I also hope that the post-modern influence will help us continue to ask what it means to follow Jesus. In other words, how can we live the way Jesus did so that others will see the truth of his life. I also hope we will be able to love those who worship a different god despite our disagreements. We can do this without denying what we believe about Jesus.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Question 3 What is Post-modernism?

Question 3 What is Post-modernism?

The Routledge Dictionary of Post-modern Though defines post-modernism as “a wide-ranging cultural movement which adopts a skeptical attitude to many of the principles and assumptions that have underpinned Western thought and social life for the last few centuries.” Many people believe we are now living in the post-modern word, which has a great amount of influence on how we think about God.

As we explore the meaning of theology in our post-modern world, it is important for us to understand how each time period has understood the purpose of theology. The three time periods we will be focusing on are Pre-Modern, Post-Modern, and Modern. These time periods came into being during the enlightenment period when science began to dominate. We call this the beginning of the modern period.

The period before this is known as the Pre-modern period, which dates from 2500BCE to 1500 ACE. It was the Pre-modern period that produced the Bible and the emergence of the church. It produced our first doctrinal statements and our first attempts at theology. This period was primarily concerned with understanding who God was and who they were. They illustrated these truths through stories, such as the creation story. The writings in the Old Testament gave a picture of a God who loved them, even though they continued to rebel. Then the New Testament writers drew on these stories and told how Jesus gave these stories meaning. Jesus explained God in better ways than the other religious teachers. The disciples saw that it made sense of what they had read about God in the Old Testament. The early church fathers took the writings of the Old and New Testament and began to formulate what the church would believe. They wrote these in the forms of creeds and this became the doctrine of the church.

The purpose of these doctrinal statements in the Pre-modern period was attempts to understand God, as revealed through Jesus Christ. They used theology to help them better understand doctrine. They primarily asked the questions “What is God like and what are we like”. They wanted to know what doctrine said about God. For example, Athanasius, a fourth century church father says this about the doctrine of the Incarnation, “It was unworthy of the goodness of God that creatures made by him should be brought to nothing through the deceit wrought upon man by the devil.” His theology of explaining the incarnation focuses on telling us the incarnation is a reality because God is good. His theology told more about who God is than anything else.

Next we move to the Modern period, ranging from 1500 to 1980 ACE. Remember, this was the age of reason and the scientific method. In the scientific method, the goal is to prove a hypothesis true with as much date as possible. Something was not true unless it was proven by sound argument or evidence. Theology in this period became a means to prove doctrine to be true. The major questions being asked of doctrine was “how can we prove what God is like and how can we prove what people are like”. Theologians would not believe something just because it was passed down from generation to generation. It is in this generation that we see people trying to disprove the existence of God through scientific and rational explanations. Modernism taught Christians that certian explanations of the world had to be either true or false.

In the twentieth century, scholars believe we are headed into a new time period called the Post-modern era, which began around 1980. Post-moderns want to ask the question, “why does it matter what God is like.” They are not interested in whether something can be proven, unless it can be applied to their lives, empirical data is not enough. This has a huge impact on the way Post-moderns do theology. They are not interested so much in which theologies are right or wrong, theology is used to help apply doctrine to their lives.
Post-moderns normally look for truths that apply to their situations in any theological system.

Tomorrow I will talk about what I see as the positives and the negatives of Post-modern thought for Christians.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Question 2: God's Power

Question 2: If God can do anything, can he make a rock so big he can’t move it?

I am sure most people have asked this question before. (If you haven’t, you should. All the popular people are) Most of the time it is asked rather sarcastically, but there is a good point behind the question. The intent of the question is to ask, “Is there anything that God cannot do?”

This question goes back somewhat to the discussion I had a couple of days ago in explaining open knowledge. If you will remember, I said that there are some things God cannot do because that would be impossible. For example, it would be impossible for God to create a married bachelor or a square circle. Those things would be absolutely impossible. C.S. Lewis calls this intrinsically impossible because it carries impossibility within itself. These things would be impossible in all worlds for all agents. The same would be true for our question. Lewis goes on to say that intrinsic impossibilities are actually nonentities. In other words, asking if God has the power to create a married bachelor, a square circle, or creating a rock so big that God could not carry is nonsense because those things do not exist. Those are not “real questions.” Lewis concludes then, that God can do all things that a possible to do.

I also want to suggest that there is another question that is of greater importance than whether or not God can do anything. That question is this. “Are there certain things that God will not do?” This is, I believe a far more difficult question to answer. When we examine the world, we see lots of times in which we think God should intervene and perform a miracle and yet he doesn’t. Then, we hear reports from other people that claim God intervened in their life in an extraordinary way. I am not sure there is a real pattern to this. All I can conclude is that God does interact with the world, but there are times when he will not.

I do think there is one issue where we can conclude that God does not do. I think God does everything possible to help humanity respond in a positive way to his love. However, I do not believe God will override our freewill in order to bring about a faithful response from us. I think God does everything short of overriding human freedom in order to save people. Note that God could override our freedom, however, I believe he chooses not to in order for people to enter into a true loving relationship with him.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Question 1: God's Knowledge and Freewill continued

Yesterday I noted that I believed the best way to solve the problem of God’s knowledge and human freedom was to have a better understanding of what it means for God to know. I gave three options for doing this. The first was the Eternal Now, meaning that God is beyond or outside of time and views all of human history and the future as one event. Second, was to believe in middle knowledge, meaning that God created the world based on the knowledge of what every free person would do in any given circumstance. Finally, I presented the option of open knowledge which means that God knows everything that can possibly be known, including all the potential choices a person could make in all possible scenarios. However, God does not know with absolute certainty what a person with freewill will do until they make the choice. This would be impossible. God is still all-knowing because he knows everything that is possible to know. God is still completely sovereign because God uses our free choices to bring about his ultimate will.

In my own opinion, views one and two, namely the Eternal Now and middle knowledge do not completely solve the problem of God’s knowledge and freewill. I do think they are better solutions than accepting a compatabilist view of freedom, but they still do not solve the problem. For example, the Eternal Now view still holds that the things you do in the future are determined as far as God can see. The actions that you have not completed on earth are completed from God’s vantage point. Therefore, God still knows your futures choices with absolute certainty. If this is the case, then we are back to square one because God’s absolute knowledge cannot be wrong and we could not choose something other than what God already knows we will choose.

Middle Knowledge has the same problem. God creates a world based on what he knows we will do in any given situation. Therefore, after God’s decision to create the world, we do not have the power to change the world God has already created. God still knows with absolute certainty our future actions and we cannot change them. In fact, I think this view has another problem. If God knew from the beginning of time that there was no circumstances in which someone would accept Jesus and have salvation, would it not have been better for that person to not be created? If God is creating the best possible world and he knows the best way for us to accept Jesus, should we not all be able to accept him. If middle knowledge is true, God must have created some people knowing that they would never accept God’s offer of salvation. This does not seem like a God of love.

I do think open knowledge does the best job of accounting for God’s knowledge and human freedom. God knows everything that can be known, thus being able to remain sovereign over the world he created. Yet, God does not determine our actions, giving us the freedom to choose. You may say, “That means God is taking a big risk?” I agree. God is taking a huge risk, but I believe God thinks that the risk is worth the payoff. Freedom equals true love and that is what God wants from us.

One more note before I finish this question. God could have created a world in which all things were determined in advance. He could have created people that would always respond in a positive way to him. God had the power to create any type of world that he wanted. However, I believe he chose to create a world in which humanity can make free moral choices. God chose this world because it was the best possible one.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Question 1: God's Knowledge and Freewill continued

As I noted yesterday, I do not think we can answer the question of God’s knowledge and freewill by changing the definition of freedom. In order for us to be free we must accept the libertarian view of freedom which says there may be things in our lives that influence our decisions, but these influences are not sufficient causes, meaning we are free to choose other than what we do. If this is the case, then how can we be free to make choices if God already knows what we will choose?

The first way to answer this question is to say that God sees all of our actions as the eternal now. What this means is that God is outside of time and he sees our past, our present, and our future as if it were one moment. This view says that if God can see all of our moments in one instant, then we can remain completely free when it comes to making choices. God only sees our actions, he does not cause them. John Wesley describes it like this,

God, looking on all ages, from the creation of the consummation, as a moment, and seeing at once whatever is in the hearts of all the children of men, knows everyone that does or does not believe, in every age or nation. Yet what he knows, whether faith or unbelief, in nowise caused by his knowledge. Men are free in believing and not believing as if he did not know it at all. John Wesley “On Predestination”

The second option for answering the question of God’s knowledge and human freedom is to believe that God has middle knowledge. This theory is often called Molinism, named after Luis de Molina. Middle knowledge gets its name because it comes between God’s natural knowledge and God’s free knowledge. God’s natural knowledge are the truths that are necessary, like mathematics and logical truths. God’s free knowledge is the knowledge that God has based on his decision to create. These truths are contingent because God could have created a world other than the one he created. Therefore, Middle knowledge is the knowledge of what all possible created free wills would do in all possible circumstances or states of affairs before God decided to create our world. God created a world (free knowledge) based on what he knew all created free wills would do in all possible circumstances (middle knowledge).

If you are not totally confused yet, lets move on to option three. If you are totally confused, just wait, it gets worse. The next option is called open knowledge. This view says that God knows all things that are possible to know, however, since future undetermined free actions are impossible to know for certain, our future free actions cannot be known to God with certainty. I am sure this sounds like blasphemy, but let me explain a little more.

Yesterday we asked this basic question, “Is God’s foreknowledge compatible with human freedom?” The open knowledge view answers the question by saying, “No, not in the traditional way that we understand God’s knowledge.” Therefore, the proponent of this view believes, as Jerry Walls notes, that “if an action is foreknown with infallible certainty, that action can’t be free. (Why I am not a Calvinist)” The open knowledge view basically says that God does know all things that are possible to be known, but there are certain things that are not possible to know, not even to God. This makes more sense if you view it in light of God's power. For example, God cannot create a married bachelor or a sqare cirlce. Likewise, God cannot know with certanity something that a free creature will before the event happens.

You may be asking, “Does this mean that God is not in complete control of the world.” I want to suggest that this view still places God as sovereign in our world. The open knowledge view allows for the future to be open ended, but God is still in control. Instead of God determining our future actions, he works through our free choices in order to accomplish his will. It is also important to note that God does know all the potential choices a person can make and all the possible scenarios the world can have so that no matter what choice we make, God can anticipate and plan for his response in order to accomplish his will.

Tomorrow, we will continue this topic and I will tell you which view I choose and why.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Question 1: God's Knowledge and Freewill

Over the next several weeks, I am going to be answering some questions that were turned in by our college students. Some of these questions are more philosophical and some are more centered on biblical interpretation. I hope these questions and my answers will spark your own thoughts around these issues. I am not trying to give easy answers so that you will know what to think. I am hoping to make the reading think through the issues involved.

Question 1: If God knows everything because he is God, then how do we have freewill? Wouldn’t his knowledge mean that he caused (our actions) it?

This is a great question to ask. This question has been greatly debated among theologians and philosophers. To begin with, I want to restate the question. The question is: If God knows what we are going to do in the future, do we have the freedom to do something different than what God knows we will do? For example, as I am answering this question, I know that I am going to eat lunch with the other pastors from our church. It is my turn to pick the restaurant and I have narrowed it down to two choices. I can either choose Chilies or Taco Mac. If God knows the future then he already knows which choice I am going to make. If God knows that I will choose Chilies then in one hour when I make my choice, do I really have the freedom to choices Taco Mac. If I did choose Taco Mac, then God’s knowledge would be wrong. So, do I have the freedom to choose something contrary to what God knows I will choose?

The first way to answer this question is to change the definition of freedom. The opposite of freedom is called determinism. This means that all of our choices in life have a sufficient cause so that we COULD NOT have acted in a different way. If one holds this view, then there are no moral consequences to our actions because we could not have acted in a different way.

The opposite view is called libertarian freedom which means that we are free in making our decisions. There may be things in our lives that influence our decisions, but these influences are not sufficient causes, meaning we are free to choose other than what we do. This is the type of freedom our question is assuming because if God knows the future, then we COULD NOT choose other than what God knows to be true.

There is one way around our predicament and that is to redefine what it means to be free. We would accept a notion of freedom called compatabilism. In this view, there are sufficient causes for all our choices so that we COULD NOT act differently than we do, but we are also morally responsible for our actions because we choose them freely. This notion of freedom says that we all behave the way we desire to behave, therefore we are completely free in our actions, however we cannot change our desire to behave a certain way. For example, if a friend of yours was caught robbing houses and you held this view of freedom you would conclude that your friend has a choice to rob the house he did and therefore is morally responsible for his actions, however, he could not change his desire to rob houses.

The way compatiblism answers the question that we have posed above is that God knows the future and his knowledge does mean that you have no choice in your actions; however, we are still morally responsible for our actions. We still make free choices, even if our freedom is limited to our desires which we cannot change.

Although this is the move most Calvinist make in defending freedom and God’s knowledge, I do not think it is the best answer to the question. It is an answer, but I still do not think it solves the problem. In this view, we are still not free to make choices and we will never be able to choose anything contrary to our desires. We cannot make a free choice to accept God unless God changes our desire for him. Therefore, our freedom is still limited by God’s knowledge. I believe we must maintain a view of libertarian freedom. If we are going to so this, we must reexamine what it means for God to know something.

Next, we will attempt to answer this question by looking at what it means for God to know .