Monday, July 21, 2008

Sermon 7/13/2008 Back to the Basics Part Six: "The Inclusive-Exclusive Factor"

“Is Jesus the only means of salvation: The Inclusive-Exclusive Factor?”

John 14:5-7, Acts 4:12, 1 Timothy 2:3-6 Romans 2:12-15

The Foundation for Pluralism posted an article on the web that stated:

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life concluded that 57 percent of evangelical church attendees said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life, in conflict with traditional evangelical teaching.In all, 70 percent of Americans with a religious affiliation shared that view, and 68 percent said there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their own religion.[i]

This raises questions not just for Christians, but for all religious. But for us as Christians, the question is: Is Jesus the only means of salvation. If the answer is yes, then what happens to all of those people who have never heard about Jesus?


The first answer that is often given to this question is that: all religion, including atheism are equal paths to finding the ultimate truth. This view is called pluralism. Let me spell out the argument for you.

1.We cannot know everything there is to know about God.
2. All religious expressions of God are human attempts to understand God.
Because we cannot know everything about God, we cannot say one religious expression is more valid than any other.
3. Therefore, all religions are equally valid paths to God.

John Hick, who is a philosopher who has really defended this position, begins his argument for pluralism by arguing that the reason these four points make sense is because neither Christianity, nor any of the world religions are any more moral than any other group. Often we even find that Christians can act less moral than non-Christians.

I find that oftentimes Christians are just as immoral as those who are non Christians. The other day I was shopping for groceries and I got to the check out line just in time to witness the lady in front of me chew some poor kid out for making a mistake. When I got to the parking lot, for some reason I was so convinced that she was a Christian, I looked for a fish sign on her car. Thankfully I did not see one. Imagine, if I would assume that someone who just chewed out a kid was a Christian, think about what non-Christians assume about Christians.


On the flip side, Christians have claimed that the Bible uniquely reveals the means of salvation and that Jesus I exclusively the means by which a person is saved. The argument is as follows

1. Salvation is given uniquely through Jesus Christ. Therefore salvation is “exclusive” to those outside of a relationship with Jesus.
2. God’s gift of salvation is given through special revelation, i.e. the Bible
3. Therefore those who do not confess a belief in Jesus in this life will not have salvation.

This view espouses that God sent Jesus exclusively into the world to bring salvation and that salvation is 100% dependent upon both hearing and accepting the message about Jesus. One of the positive aspects of this belief is that is takes seriously the claims of the Bible about Jesus and confirms our Christian faith.

To review in broad terms, pluralism says that God’s offer of salvation in inclusive to every person, no matter their faith and background. Exlcusivism teaches that salvation is exclusively given through Jesus.

The Bible and Salvation

It is important to note that in the 1st century, Rome was in control of most of the known world. Rome has a pretty relaxed religious policy with one exception. They would accept and tolerate people’s religion as long as people acknowledge that the Emperor was sent by God and worshipped. The 1st century was very pluralist by all appearances. As a matter of fact, the Romans called Christians atheist because they did not acknowledge all of the gods. The writers of the Bible were not narrow minded knowing of only one faith, they were well aware of many gods and religious belief.

As we begin our search in the New Testament, the best place to begin is by reading the most notably controversial text. John 14:5-7 says,

Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."

To understand this passage, it is important, as always, to understand its context. Jesus has just predicted his death when Peter asks Jesus where he is going. Jesus then tells them that where he is going, they cannot come. Peter, being persistent as normal then wants to know why he can’t go. Jesus then tells Peter that he cannot come because he is unwilling to lay down his life, but Jesus will be laying down his life. Then Jesus tells them to trust him, that what he is doing is a good thing and he will prepare a place for them and then he will come back and take them to be with him. Then Jesus tells them that they know the way to the place he is going. Thomas then speaks and tells Jesus that they actually do not know they way. Jesus then tells them that he is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus is essentially telling them that the way can be seen through his own life. If they want to love God, they need to love him. In loving him, they love God.

Jesus is making a very exclusive statement at this point. He is saying that if they love him and follow his example, they will have life. If they refuse him, they refuse life. In John’s gospel, Jesus and the Father are seen as one and the same. If you love one, you love the other, if you reject one, you reject the other.

In the book of Acts, Peter confirms this thought. In his third sermon in the book of Acts he says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.” This sermon is preached after Peter and John have healed a lame man and then preached a sermon and converted a bunch of people. They are questioned by the Jewish authorities and they defend their actions and say this lame man was healed because of Jesus, who they crucified and God raised from the dead. He then says that there is no other name that is given for salvation.

In the midst of religious pluralism on the one hand and among the Jews who believed exclusively in monotheism, Peter announces that Jesus is the only name that brings salvation.
Paul though adds a twist. In 1 Timothy 2, he tells Timothy to be in prayer for the rulers of the world because, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Paul continues by explaining the truth, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”

Paul affirms the truth laid down by both John and Peter that salvation is exclusively through Jesus Christ, but takes it one step further. He adds that God desires that everyone come to this knowledge. He does not say only those who hear the gospel and repent, he does not say the frozen chosen; he says point blank that it is God’s desire that every person know the truth about Jesus. You could say that God wants all people to find salvation.
I want to share one more passage from Paul, this time from Romans 2. In this passage, Paul has first talked about how Gentiles have exchange the truth about God for a lie and worshiped the creature rather than the creator. He then tells the Jews not to look down on the Gentiles because they have had the advantage of the law given to them and they are equally sinful. He then says,

12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)

This is a difficult passage, but let try to explain what I think Paul is driving at. God has always been working for the salvation of humanity and is trying to reach people anyway he can. For the Jew he gave them the law in physical form, for the gentile he gave them nature to reveal himself to them. Paul then goes on and says now God has given every person Jesus as means to reveal himself. Paul is saying that God will do whatever it takes to bring salvation to the world
Inclusive-Exclusive Factor

I believe the Bible teaches what I would call the Inclusive-Exclusive factor.
1. The Bible teaches, God desires the salvation of everyone. Therefore God is “inclusive”
2. Salvation is given uniquely through Jesus Christ. Therefore salvation is “exclusive” to those outside of a relationship with Jesus.
3. Therefore, God will use any means possible to bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ, including other religions.

I am not always sure how God will offer the unique opportunity for salvation to ever person through Jesus, but I am convinced he will. I believe Jesus is God and I believe salvation comes through Jesus, but I also believe God will go to whatever he has to in order to offer salvation to every person. I believe God can use other religions to lead someone to Jesus, but God does not have to. That is God’s decision, not mine.

The amazing thing about the belief we hold about Jesus is that we truly believe Jesus is the salvation of the world and we believe that God wants every person to find Jesus. We believe every person really matters to God. This theology is so great, the problem is that often times we act as if we want to share the good news of Jesus with the least amount of people. If we really believe that Jesus brings salvation. I mean if we really believe it, we will do what the disciples did at the end of Acts 5. “They never stopped teaching and proclaiming the name of Jesus.”

When I was in Orlando some time ago I was getting a ride back to my hotel room late at night to a guy who had grown up Catholic and had been to a Christian school all his life. He was very intelligent. He knew theology and Church history very well, but he told me he had become an agnostic. I asked him why he had concluded this and he shared with me how much he had been hurt by the church. He was gay and his family and their church had basically put him out. He shared with him about how he missed having God in his life but that he really could not be a Christian anymore. It was obvious that he was hurting and broken, as most of us have experienced.

In our conversation I asked him if he liked Jesus and he said, Yes, I think Jesus one of the most profound people I have ever read.” I agreed with him, of coarse! Then I challenged him with the challenge I want to give you. I told him to go back and fall in love with Jesus so that Jesus could set him free. Follow the truth of Jesus’ life show you the way.



Mike Ghouse said...

Dear Brian,

Thanks for posting this article, I will write more about it, later this week, but for now, I want to address.

"Jesus is making a very exclusive statement at this point. He is saying that if they love him and follow his example, they will have life. If they refuse him,.."

and this statement, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."

Brian, like in all other faiths, most people recieve the essence of their religion in their heart; which translates Jesus's primary message.

Jesus taught the simplest truth to follow – Love thy neighbor, when you love the people; you are free from tension, anxiety and malice. Imagine if most of us can do it, the world would be a better place to live. And when Jesus said, turn the other cheek – it simply meant, that when you are angry, don’t aggravate it by slapping back, mitigate the conflict and bring a resolution. It is a very powerful message of peace and non-violence.

This is what Jesus wanted us to believe and practice, that would make him happy. When we become that person, certainly, those who recieve his message, will be showered with God's grace, it is through him that state of mind is achieved.

The essence of his teaching was to take the ordinary human to become a good human, who is in balance following the principles, focus was on creating a just society and not the society who label themselves with symbols.

Just as Jesus wanted us to be good beings, other spiritual leaders have given the very same message and all are valid to the followers of those leaders.

The ultimate focus of the religion is on creating a just society. It comes with a strong belief in a single source of creation and following the guidance provided.

God in Qur'aan asks the believers to submit to his will, as the Torah says “be holy, for I am holy”, you can feel the same vibration when Lord Krishna asks one to surrender to him, and of course, Jesus reiterats the same message "to follow him."

When you are like God, everything is yours, and your every one’s, and that creates a just society, a society with least conflicts and that is what heaven is all about.

All of us, be it Bahai, Christian, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Shinto, Sikh, Wiccan, Zoroastrian and all the native traditions teach the same message and all of them will be in that heaven, when they follow the message they have recieved. All of us need to follow the REFRESH button to rethink Religion, a beautiful gift to the believer.

Mike Ghouse

Brian Davis said...

Mike, thanks for the responce. I think you know your stuff very well and it is nice to hear from someone so thoughtful and faithful. While I understand where your comming from in you views on pluralism, I do think there are a couple of issues that I have with it.

I do like the fact that pluralism is open and inclusive, but by being a pluralist you must deny all religions' exclusive truth claims. In other words, you are actually forcing religions to deny the things that makes them distinctive. I believe pluralism actually devalues other religions rather than builds them up. For example, you are asking a Muslem to deny the fact the the Quaran was directly passed down to Muhammad, just like you are asking Christians to give up the heart of what we believe about Jesus.

Instead, shouldn't we embrace the things that we believe about Jesus. That is what makes us Chritsians. We can agree that other religions offer some great truth and we can encourage folks from other religions to follow those truths, while maintianing the heart of our own faith.

Secondly, the Bible cannot mean something today that it did not mean when it was written. The writers of the Bible to believe Jesus was different from the religions around them. We should join them in celebrating these truths.