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.

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