Saturday, April 5, 2008

Follow-up thoughts from boot-camp.

Me practicing my listening skills. Thanks to those who have been engaging in the discussion about Christian witness in a plural society: not an easy topic, but a rewarding one to struggle with. I had deliberately not nailed my colours to the mast on where I stand in relation to Exclusivist, Inclusivist and Pluralist, so here are my current thoughts on Christianity and other faiths:

Attractive as the Pluralist position is, and much as I might like to hope that all roads lead to God, I find no Biblical authority for such a stance and therefore reject it.

In terms of the unique claims of Christ as the only road to salvation, I would have difficulty rejecting such statements (its my evangelical past, don't you know) although I was much taken with one comment on the earlier thread which points out that such claims are unique to John's Gospel and are not to be found in the Synoptics. (If you are interested in Biblical criticism as a discipline, and are interested in the development of theological thought in Christian writings, that may be an interesting line to follow. If you are such a person, you will probably also not have a strong sense of the inerancy of scripture in its narrowest understanding.)

However, I must confess here to being an Inclusivist and my sense that this is the best understanding of God's grace is quite pragmatic. While I have no problem at all with the crucifixion and atonement being God's answer to the problem of human wilful disobedience (aka sin) I do have a problem with statements that interpret Christ's substitutionary death for all mankind as somehow being only for those who take a positive faith stance on that. Please don't misunderstand me here: I have made such a positive declaration of discipleship through God's mercy and grace via repentance, acceptance and a new life in the Spirit.

BUT I am not willing to accept that this defines the limits of God's grace. To ascribe such limits is a human failing. God transcends our understanding of him and we make that same God in our own image when we attempt to understand him beyond what he has revealed of himself. Our God, unless we are careful, is too small!

I am a Christian, born again and saved through Christ's once and for all sacrifice because I heard, understood and was convinced and convicted by that message of repentance and faith. It is at times like this, though, when I consider the Muslim born and brought up in Saudi Arabia, the Sikh born and brought up in the Punjab, The Buddhist in Burma, the Hindu in rural India or the Jew in The Orthodox areas of Jerusalem. Do they hear the Gospel as I did? No, they don't. Will they? Can they? No they won't and they can't.

What sort of a God dismisses and condemns such people to an internity in his absence? I want nothing to do with such a God. Such a God is not worthy of our loyalty or our worship.

Now we may discourse until the cows come home about mission in this context, but the bottom line is that Saudi Arabia, Burma and a great many other regimes aren't going to let us in to evangelise so are we saying that God condems these people? Are we really?

I think firstly, then, of Mark 9.38-40: "Whoever is not against us is for us..." and I think of Cornelius in Acts 10.4 as he received the Holy Spirit before his conversion. The church and the gospel can meet others, not as abandoned by God but as anonymous Christians. Back to Justin Martyr: "Those who live according to the light of their Knowledge are Christians." Christianity is the absolute religion resting on the incarnation of the word but non-Christian religions can nevertheless be vehicles of God's grace and ways of salvation where the Christian hope is present as a hidden reality - even outside the visible church.

So, should I attempt to evangelise my Muslim and Sikh friends? Are they not better off as faithful Muslims and Sikhs if I accept that their religious, cultural, linguistic and family ties all mitigate against them hearing the Gospel as I heard it and if I accept, as I increasingly do, that God will judge them as those incapable of hearing the true gospel but as those who can live by the light of Christ within their own faith positions?