Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A response to Amillennialist

The discussion (Christians use the word Allah in place of the word God) started along the lines of whether as Christians we can accept the name of Allah as a legitimate name for God. You might want to consider that before you rerad on and also speculate where that comment string began to lead.

Following a couple of my comments on the string I had a lovely response from Amellennialist.

Dear Amillennialist, thank you for your perceptive, considered and gracious response to my earlier comments: it is always a joy to feel welcomed onto a blog and to be able to converse with those who have a different perspective in a spirit of respectful and civilized discourse, knowing that we can each learn one from the other. In that context it must merely have been an oversight that you called me coward, liar and blasphemer as if, somehow, that would show the righteousness of your cause and win me over to your point of view. How, like me, you must be laughing now at that little misunderstanding.

It must also have been a misunderstanding on Steve’s part which allowed the protocol against one guest being rude to another to be broken. Still, where there is spirited debate and all that…. I fully understand. As I also do the general convention that when one’s argument is weak one can attempt to deflect attention from it by instituting a slanging match and resorting to name calling.

I am grateful too that that you have taken the trouble to analyse my comments in such detail and are able to put me right where I have fallen into error.

In all humility, then, might I just raise one or two areas about which I remain unclear – what with me being intellectually challenged and all – so that I may continue to benefit from your extensive knowledge? I should really appreciate the clarification.

In no particular order then:

You accuse me of multiculturalism. Thank you. According to my (albeit ENGLISH) English language dictionary this means living in a society where many cultures seek to relate to each other. If I may dare to make so bold I think the word you were so fruitlessly groping for in that context was PLURALISM as I suspect you felt I was arguing that in some way all religious roads lead equally to God. Please accept my apologies if I am contradicting you, but I do not.

I am perfectly clear on the issue of repentance/confession and atonement following the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus who is Christ and Messiah and God’s guarantee of salvation. I am very sorry if you have misunderstood my position.

I think where your confusion has arisen is over the universality of that salvation – not as a key doctrine itself but as a current reality or as an unrealised potential.

I have been able to accept Christ’s saving substitutionary sacrifice. I assume you have too. Have you? In order for us to have been able to do that we needed to both HEAR and UNDERSTAND the message of salvation before accepting it. Having both heard and understood we stood condemned until we did accept it in penitence and faith.

My Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Agnostic and I suspect some Atheist friends (I know no Hindus) have certainly not understood and probably not properly heard. The odds are also stacked against those of a non-Christian background for a variety of reasons: not the least language, culture, family attitudes and religious upbringing. As someone who is an out and proud Christian and who works closely with people from a number of faith backgrounds I know how unlikely it is that they will truly hear or understand the gospel, although I do not seek to set limits on the working of the Spirit.

I am wondering Amillennialist, if your concept of God’s justice requires him to judge people by the same standards. I know that in human judicial systems ignorance of the law is no excuse, but I also know that one accused can enter a number of pleas. My understanding of scripture suggests that God does apply his standard consistently, but that he accepts a variety of pleas.

Now, you are a well informed woman about these matters as your comments on Steve's blog shows: you don't need me to go over the Arminian/Calvinist dispute on this issue. However, as you know the passages below are relevant.

1 Cor 15.22, 2 Cor 5.19, Col 1.20, 1Tim 2.6, 1Tim 4.10, Heb 2.9,1 Jn 2.2, Rom 11.32, Rom 3.23/24, Rom 5.18, Jn 1.9, Jn 1.29, Jn 12.32 and Jn 12.47

You are familiar with those texts, of course, the weight of which suggests that there is a universal salvation. However this IS NOT what I am arguing. I do not believe in universal salvation because that makes a mockery of the atonement. Nevertheless these verses are a problem to those of us who claim to live in obedience to scripture. (And it is possible that you are one of those). Yes I know there are other verses which suggest something else. I am familiar with them, so please do not feel obliged to list them for me. Yes, even I am familiar with the alternative perspective and wrestle with those verses. My point is that scripture is not clear cut here and YOU CAN ARGUE THE OPPOSITE LOUDLY UNTIL YOU ARE BLUE IN THE FACE. It won’t change the fact that scripture seems to suggest something which some Conservative Evangelicals are not comfortable with.

Now, remember that I am not arguing that all spiritual roads lead to salvation. Some will clearly NOT be saved. However, as I have said before it is not for me to put limits on God’s grace.

This is central to the comment string on Steve’s blog.

There ARE those who earnestly search for God who will never hear or fully understand the gospel through no fault of their own. Regardless of the mad and evil things some others may do in the name of the same religion – and they are probably not saved – we must not forget the many good, honest, decent, pious folk who seek to live with compassion and integrity and at peace with their neighbours. There are, after all, universal moral laws.

I have to say at this point Dear Amillennialist, that if I were a Muslim, I would not find my way to the gospel via your particular witness. Your comments on Islam offended me and I am not a Muslim: they showed a crass prejudice and a simplistic desire to demonise others while failing to see the faults in front of our faces. My Muslim friends say “Not in my name” to the lunatic fringe just as I do to the historic Crusaders, quisling clergy in Nazi occupied Europe, the IRA and on to the Topeka Baptists, all who have done untold evil in the name of Christ. There is no monopoly on evil.

In my personal experience unless someone has made it clear to me by word or deed, that he is my enemy, he remains my friend.

So my question to you is: If someone earnestly seeks God in the only way they know how, and have no chance of hearing with understanding the saving works of Christ, Does God condemn them? If you believe he does, I must ask you: Is that the God of Christianity or the God of Right Wing Republican Evangelicalism, given that the two may not be the same?

Unless someone has shown in word or deed that he is God’s enemy is not God right to ascribe righteousness to him as a friend as he did to Abraham?

Of course Christ is the benchmark and standard of our salvation but the Biblical passages above reveal to me that while God indeed judges us on our discipleship of Christ it is possible to be an unknowing or anonymous disciple.

I leave the last word to the theologian and writer C.S. Lewis and his Narnia stories:

For those of you who are unfamiliar with them, Lewis writes a series of what appear to be children’s adventure stories, set in the land of Narnia, the most famous of which is “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. However, Lewis wasn’t simply a children’s writer but a perceptive theologian and the Narnia stories are a Christian allegory: in “The Last Battle”, which is an eschatological story dealing with the end times and judgement, there is an exchange between Aslan the Lion, the Christian God figure, and Emeth, a follower of the God Tash, who is surprised to find himself on the right side of Aslan’s judgement. In this story Lewis is suggesting that God’s grace is, indeed, extended beyond the limits we might expect. But that is down to God’s grace and not our judgement. God may well choose to act towards others in ways which surprise us and it is not for us to question God’s grace. We do not know the mind of God.

Emeth says to Aslan: “Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine, but a servant of Tash.” Aslan answered “Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. If any man swears an oath to Tash and keeps the oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he knew it not and it is I who reward him.” Emeth replied “Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.” “Beloved”, said the Glorious one, “unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”

Lewis, like you and I, was familiar with the theology of the texts I quoted above.

I think many of us would do well to ponder on that idea as we consider who the “other” today, those who we reject because they don’t fit into our self imposed pigeonholes of who God accepts.

That is why, my Friend, I argue that we approach God by the name we have been taught and if that isn't the "correct" or given name, God doesn't care providing we approach in reverence and penitence.