Category Archives: Salvation

Do All Roads Lead To God? No. Kinda. Sorta.

Greg Boyd has an interesting piece here. Here are my thoughts.

A. Totally agree with Greg. Jesus is the only way to God.
B. I agree with his argument contra the idea of “The truth is there is no truth.” Or said otherwise as he puts forth. That’s a flat out contradiction not to mention arrogant because it claims to have a birds eye view of reality. It sits up on its tiny perch above everyone else and proclaims “the truth of the matter”–the truth about reality.
C. This has sort of argument has been put out for the general reader in the work of Watkins and Kreeft and others.
D. [Side note rant] What I have ALWAYS found interesting about the exclusive position that Greg is espousing here is that it is usually connected with some moral issue such that when you talk about Jesus in this fashion, you talk about a moral issue. For an example, most folk think that when you speak about Jesus you are already labelled a “fundie” or religious which entails being of a particular moral standing on an issue, ie., following Jesus=no sex before marriage (it always has to do with sex for some reason). Now we could take the moral issue away and simply be left with the theological issue. Thus folks would still be deeply offended (which is what Greg is proposing) which ultimately goes to show that whether you tack some moral issue on to Christianity or NOT, the exclusivity of saying, “Jesus is the only way to God” is going to be offensive to others. For them, that is tantamount to being arrogant and telling everyone else they are wrong which doesn’t fly in 21st century North America or much of the world for that matter. Regardless, for the most part, most Christian evangelicals give at least lip service to the “no sex before marriage ideal” such that even if they intentionally try to rid tacking on some moral issue the “world” will still judge you and your purity. Regardless X2. The Gospel does come with demands because the Gospel STORY comes with demands–some ethical imperative (though Christians have disagreed about those imperatives at times based on their traditions).
E. I take it that this question can’t be understood aside from other theological questions ie., those who died before the coming of Christ and those who have went to their graves having never heard a peep about the Gospel. As well as the eschatological idea of the eternal destiny of the lost and whether there is actually any hope for people post-mortem (of which I believe there is–and it’s not a very novel idea either). The idea here is whether Christ death is SUFFICIENT for even these (of which I believe it is: Think of a can of soup of which there is only so much of. That can can be watered downed to take care of the needs of the others. In other words it is sufficient. I think of the story of the feeding of the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish. Ultimately, is this story not also, among the many interpretations, about the the Saviour who has more than enough and is more than able to satisfy all of humanity’s need (the interpretations I’ve read are usually anthropocentric in nature but I think we should keep in mind first and foremost a Christological view)? He is our provider even of Himself for all others.
F. Some have drawn the distinction between “Christian” and “saved.” As I see it, I do think other religions have a salvific purpose to them. By that, I don’t mean that one becomes “Christian” or finds Christ in or through them. But that is not to say that there is not SOMETHING of salvific value in other religions. This understanding is based on the idea that the Holy Spirit is working through other religions to bring humanity to a knowledge of Himself. Just as the Spirit is at work in Creation, bringing humankind to SOME knowledge of the divine, so is the Spirit active through other religions. We can think of this in terms of those whom Clark Pinnock (a dear friend of mine) called, “Old Testament pagan saints” found in the Old Testament.

In conclusion, while Christians believe that Christ is the only way to the Father we should never say other religions are completely worthless. In saying otherwise, not only may Christians be able to learn more about their own faith, but bridges can be built with others of differing beliefs possibly bringing them to a fuller understanding of God in Christ.

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All Fall Short

So. Then there’s this: WATCH: Family Has Horrifying, Violent Reaction To Son’s Coming Out As Gay (GRAPHIC CONTENT)

My buddy went so far as to say the parents were not Christian in large part because they were violent and verbally abusive to the young man. Now, there ARE these folks on the Right who declare the spiritual status of people over others when it comes to their hot button issues ie., that doctor performing abortions CERTAINLY CAN’T be a Christian. But Christians on the Left do the same ie., Fred Phelps CERTAINLY CAN’T be a Christian. Pick ANY left/right issue. One side will declare that the other side is on the outs. And really, it looks like some family feud. The stinging vitriolic towards each other at times makes you feel as if you are standing in the middle of a battle field sometimes.

Now here’s the thing. Both sides have a hold on the truth on their respective issues while the other side may not be in complete error on the issue itself. Let me give an example of what I mean. Using one of the examples above, lets look at the gay debate to see more clearly what I’m saying.

As it stands, there are a WHOLE swath of Christians whom feel/think that:

A. Homosexuality is not God’s ideal for human sexuality. That THAT along with other inclinations are not ideal for human sexuality ie., premarital inclinations and behavior, lustful obsessions, etc. They may fall more along the lines of what Stanley Grenz pointed out some years ago in which they are “welcoming but not affirming” (to speak in rather general terms). They believe there should be some things that are inappropriate in terms of our sexuality and so they don’t affirm those particular thoughts and behaviors. Though they may not except those whom do them.

B. On the other side is the more welcoming AND affirming crowd. As a matter of fact some would in all probability say that the other side is not welcoming if they are not affirming. Thus, they see gay orientation as immutable as the skin pigmentation or the shape of an say an Asian person for an example. For them, the gay person, in this sense, is the “Samaritan” or the “marginalized.”

For myself, I don’t think those in category “A” are mistaken (at least theologically). After all, they have a LONG history of Christian sexual ethics that they are standing on. But the Fred Phelps types and the folk in the video link above would fall into THAT category. Where they ARE mistaken is in their dysfunction in HOW they relate with those who are gay in their midst ie., they could learn from their gay brothers and sisters and see their own struggles, even seeing them AS fellow strugglers on a journey to a final destination where they struggle no more.

The other side, where I think they are mistaken, is not even seeing sexual orientation, identity, etc, as something to be struggled with. However, where they are NOT mistaken is seeing those as different as marginalized and to some extent relating properly to gay folk, ie., meeting them where they are at.

Now, if such is the case, how can anyone on either side declare those on the opposite side AS NOT Christian? Aren’t both sides lacking in love to some extent or another? Lacking in love in different capacities? Let’s face it. If love is supposed to be what we are shooting for ie., being “perfected in love” (towards God and our fellow humans) then to the extent that we lack loving in the way we should we are also not perfected. What I’m saying is this. When it comes to love? ALL of us SUCK at it. Let me give an example from Alexander Pruss’ book, “One Body.”

“One way love is humble is that the actions of love are not focused on agapé itself (we shall discuss a different aspect of love‘s humility in section 5 below). There would be something odd about a parent explaining why he stayed up the night with a sick child by saying: “I love my son.“ Surely the better justification would be the simpler: “He is my son.“ The latter justification puts the parent in a less grammatically prominent spot (“my” instead of “l”), and shows that the focus is on the son. Most importantly, however, the use of “I love my son“ as a justification would suggest that if one did not love him, the main reason to stay up the night would be missing. But the main reason to stay up the night is that he is one‘s son. That he is one’s son is also a reason to love him as one’s son, and that one loves him may provide one with a further reason to stay up with him. However, the main reason for staying up is not that one loves him; rather, the love, expressed in the staying up, is a response to a reason that one would have independently of the love. Thus, in an important sense, the parent acts lovingly—acts in a way that is at least partly constitutive of love—without acting on account of love. Love’s actions are not focused on love but on the beloved as seen in the context of a particular relationship. However, to explain why we made some sacrifice for someone to whom we had no blood ties, we might well say, “I love him.” Nonetheless, I suggest, this may be an imperfection—it may be a case of seeking one’s own. Why not instead act on account of the value of the other person in the context of the relationship? It is true that love maybe a central part of that relationship, but I want to suggest that love is not the part of the relationship that actually does the work of justifying the sacrifice. For suppose that I stopped loving my friend. Would that in itself take away my obligation to stand by him in his time of need? Certainly not. The commitment I had implicitly or explicitly undertaken while loving him, a commitment that made it appropriate for him to expect help from me, is sufficient for the justification. If I need to advert to my own love, then something has gone wrong.”

If Pruss is right here, then the case may be made that there are a lot of Christians, both of whom fall in categories “A” & “B” that are loving for “one’s own” (benefit). They are loving out of dysfunction. And if such is the case that all of us suck at love (loving) because we love out of dysfunction then how can we REALLY declare who’s on the inside and who’s on the outside? And that’s my point. Even when we THINK we are loving as we ought (“I’m loving but you guys over there aren’t”). We very well may not be as Pruss shows.

So for me, those in both categories “A” and “B” are loving in their respective ways. They ALSO LACK in love in their respective ways. Thus, no one should declare the other side on the outs.


Should We Take Every Opportunity To Evangelize?

I remember back in the 1980’s when I was a teenager, the big controversy was whether God could use rock music or not or whether rock music was of the devil or not (I still have the Peter brothers book on Christian rock music). For some of my Christian friends the bewilderment was over whether you could “worship and praise God” through screaming guitar riffs. Along the same vein was the idea that every opportunity should be evangelistic in nature. I believe it was Keith Green or someone in the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) industry that asked if “every church service had to end in an altar call.” Most of my Christian friends thought that it had to end this way. But not only that, for some, it had to not only end in an altar call, but it had to end successfully with SOMEONE’S salvation.

Well along came Francis Schaeffer who spoke about making good art simply to make art and that was, in itself, an act of worship. This past week as I was reading James Beilby’s book, “Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It” I came across this part:

“Finally, we must be faithful to God’s purposes in specific situations. In some cases, apologetics appropriately and naturally leads to an offer for a person to commit her life to Christ, but in the vast majority of cases, our apologetic endeavours are a small step in a person’s long and a winding journey that one hopes will culminate in relationship with Jesus Christ. Just as in 1 Corinthians 3:6 where the apostle Paul said, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow,” our responsibility is to be faithful to our call in whatever situation God has placed us and help our interlocutor move one more step toward Christ, whether that step be merely acknowledging that not all Christians are morons or committing his life to Christ. In other words, we must approach each apologetic situation pneumatologically, acknowledging that the Holy Spirit has preceded us and will work after we have left. Our task is to discern what God requires of us in each situation.”

I gather from what Beilby is saying, is not only does one NOT have to use every opportunity to preach or to convert (that’s the Holy Spirit’s job anyway) but to “just be yourself” for that in itself can go a long way in helping someone come to Christ. Maybe them seeing that you are not a moron will be all the witness someone needs.

While I have come to see this “take every moment as an opportunity to evangelize or convert” as reductionistic, in some ways though, I can see the heart behind it. Christian folk desire to “glorify God in all they do” and though expressing that desire may be slightly reductionistic, I can’t fault them for that heart desire.


Salvation of the Whole and Justice for All

From Chapter Twelve of Greg Boyd’s book, “Benefit of the Doubt.”

“The Cross-Centered Kingdom
An Invitation without Clutter
In an earlier chapter I noted that the way to know what a person or people group really believes is not to ask them but to watch. Christians frequently say, “It’s all about Jesus,” but our actions betray us. Judging by the amount of time, energy, and emotion that many put into fighting a multitude of battles, ranging from the defense of the literalness and inerrancy of the Bible to the war against gay marriage or universal health care, one easily gets the impression that Christianity is about a lot of different, equally important, things.”

This is probably the one thing that irritates me the most in Greg’s writings but also in some discussions between online friends, myself and Greg on the Open Theism Discussion Boards that we participated in years ago. His ethics–especially as it gets closer to the street level. Isn’t it interesting that this is a dig at the “Christian Right” or their issues? But if we were to bring up things like how best to help the poor or issues like war, I may definitely not get the same “dig.”

Now, Greg might say something like this would apply to both the right and the left and that would be fair enough in terms of the point about it all being about Jesus. However, when Greg speaks in this manner (mentioning these specific examples) he essentially betrays His political leanings. But more than this, he shows his anabaptist hand when it comes to politics in general. As if THIS is how evangelicals SHOULD do politics. In other words, it is not so much his political leanings but rather when he says: “Judging by the amount of time, energy, and emotion that many put into fighting a multitude of battles…” For Greg, it is all about God’s love. That we are made for that love. We are to reflect that love back to God, thereby participating in the triune Godhead but we are also to reflect it towards each other. Thus, these battles will be on the back burner.

I want to parse this out a bit though and say that as important as that is (which nothing can be more important than loving God), it is not robust ENOUGH. Let’s look at three political positions and then work from there.

A. Christians going with a merging of the Church and state. In other words, you can go from the extreme Dominion Theology, Kingdom Now, Reconstruction type theology to the more conservative Religious Right (as well as the Left, though generally it is the Right) in which Christians will attempt to bring the Bible to bear on society. This will be every thing from trying to implement actual biblical laws into modern day society to weaker or blander versions such basing particular laws on “biblical principles” ie., the Religious Right/Left, ie., Pat Robertson, James Dobson to Jim Wallis types.
B. Christians will not become involved with politics in the same sense mentioned above. They will generally be removed from it for two main reasons–eschatology or pietistic reasons. For the first it’s kinda like saying, “What use is there in rearranging the furniture on the Titanic when it’s going down? Let’s concentrate on saving souls.” The latter is more what Greg would hold to. He would say that one should not be involved in politics because it is “power over” and not “power under” as “quintessentially expressed on the cross.” In other words, we don’t force or coerce people to obey our Christian ethics. It’s not to say that Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics and try to influence from without. It is only to say that we should not be forcing others to follow Christian ethics via making laws that would do so. Without getting into full fledged post on this point, I will say not only do I think this is confused but IT IS basically a position that is held to and practiced on the basis of scripture. That is, even though it is not like option A above it is still a position informed by scripture.
C. Lastly, there is the position that I hold to which doesn’t go with either A or B though it is still informed by scripture and has a long history within the Church. Catholics call it “subsidarity” and Reformers call it, “sphere sovereignty.” Though there are major differences between the two sides, the idea is that God has called the state or authorities (it’s not necessary to say which form of authority is derived from God) just as he has called other aspects of civil life into being, ie., schools, hospitals, families, churches, libraries, banks, etc, and given them authority.

Now, given that God has called these different spheres into being, this means that God has called them to be responsible. He has given them a responsibility to carry out their authority, doing that for which they are called for.

[As an aside, I realize that there are some objections to this of which I won’t respond to in this post ie., how is civil society called into being when it is that which humans make? Is a particular form of authority legitmate? If not, how is it called into being by God? What makes this particular form of authority legitimate over another form? Suffice to say, I’m simply noting that civil society is something that God ultimately brings about and, regardless, each sphere is still to be responsible for it’s own authority as opposed to another ie., a police authority is not a family. A family is not a police authority, etc.]

So, one may ask, “What does this have to do with what Greg is saying?” Let’s look at these in this order:

A. First, Greg looks at salvation in a pietistic fashion. He basically follows the ‘ol, “Let’s save souls and that is how we’ll change a nation” argument. Isn’t that basically what he is saying when social issues are secondary to the “pure gospel” which is loving God first? Gay marriage is second to loving God? Universal health care is less important than loving God? I submit that that there is a false dichotomy here. Salvation is definitely about loving God yes. But loving God is not intangible. It has to be worked out in the concrete. Frankly, there is no such thing as loving God outside the concrete. Salvation will also include this world. It will include saving this souls but also being concerned about someone’s health for example.
B. Second, (and of course this is related to the first), if salvation is about the “whole of human life” then it will be concerned about institutions such as marriage. If God has called these different spheres into existence, then God is concerned for justice done to them. And if that is the case, then justice will insure they have the room to carry out their responsibilities before God whom gives them these responsibilities in the first place. And in order to do that, each one of these spheres needs to be differentiated. A family is not a government. A government is not a library. A library is not a hospital. A hospital is not a church. A church is not a military and so forth.

So what we end up with here is where Greg will say, that we should do justice in the world (which he doesn’t connect to salvation, for the most part, though he gives hints to it in early writings ie., God at War) but is apparently oblivious of the connections to the bigger salvific picture.

Big point here: If I’m going to be concerned about justice not only will I see it in connection with salvation of the whole but I will see all spheres equally. In other words, I won’t simply be concerned about same sex marriage MORE THAN education. I will be concerned about justice for both. I won’t be concerned about abortion more than say, the poor or ensuring that we have regulations in place for which we can sustain life as a whole. I will be concerned about both. Don’t get me wrong. Yes, we may prioritize, say, life issues over same sex marriage, but we will still be concerned about justice for all based on the idea of a “principled pluralism” outlined above which is based on a theology that God creates, gives some authority over to his creatures and expects them to be responsible with that talent he has given them.


Existential Despair: The Problem And The Cure

Have you ever watched the 1953 movie, “The Robe?” IMBD summarizes:

“Marcellus is a tribune in the time of Christ. He is in charge of the group that is assigned to crucify Jesus. Drunk, he wins Jesus’ homespun robe after the crucifixion. **He is tormented by nightmares and delusions after the event.** Hoping to find a way to live with what he has done, and still not believing in Jesus, he returns to Palestine to try and learn what he can of the man he killed.”

Rotten Tomatoes says:

“After the Seven Last Words, the jaded Burton wins Christ’s robe in a dice game. Gradually, **the mystical influence of the holy garment transforms Burton from a roistering cynic into a True Believer**–at the cost of his own life, which he willingly gives up in the service of his Lord.”

Greg Boyd, in his newest book, “Benefit of the Doubt,” says this (which I love btw):

“Augustine spoke a profound truth when he said our hearts are restless until we rest in God. **So long as we try to meet our core needs with idols, we experience disappointment, frustration, and a host of other negative emotions.** Yet we find ourselves unable to discontinue our searching, for our hunger never dissipates. We may try to numb it with the novocaine of alcohol, drugs, or pornography. Or we may try to forget about it by distracting ourselves with work, television, movies, sports, politics, and the like. But the novocaine eventually wears off and the distractions are only momentary. Until we learn how to find our life from God, we are incurable idol addicts.”

Greg describes perfectly Burton’s tormented state without relief until he submits to Christ. Burton, I thought, played those scenes well. He was like a man in a desert searching to relieve his thirst but finding none. I imagined (as I was watching the movie) that if this was set in today’s world, Burton would have been thrown into a padded room in a straight jacket and given drugs to put him out of his misery. I’ve so connected emotionally with that aspect of the movie because I have been in my own “prisons” of emotional despair with no escape or relief in sight. THAT to me, is hell. A very scary place to be because part of the anguish is the feeling that it will never end and there is nothing you can do to end it.

Some people want to ignore this stuff. I just can’t. It weighs on me to heavily. I wish I could be like a lot of people who seem to “just forget about it.” But asking me to forget about it is like asking me not to breathe.


Go Now And Leave Your Life of Sin

“(And before someone jumps in with a friendly reminder that Jesus told those he healed to “go and sin no more,” let’s remember that no one actually went and sinned no more—not the first disciples, not us, not anybody. We aren’t welcomed into the Kingdom on account of our worthiness, but on account of Christ’s worthiness.)”

That’s what Rachel Held Evans said this past week on her blog concerning the Boy Scouts of America here.

The post over all makes sense in terms of the comparisons of sins. “If you don’t accept this sin then what about THIS sin? And if you don’t accept this sin here at BSA then what about accepting this over here at RA?”

Well, that IN ITSELF is cool. Though if we were to talk about the BSA then the question isn’t about homosexuality at all but about building character and so any sexual desire should come under purview. But that is not my biggest issue I have with RHE’s post. It’s the quote above.

Ironically, I think this kind of argument works against her position. For if one says that what makes us fit for the Kingdom is not what we do or don’t do, then why would one, say, wonder who the “real” Christians are (at least to some extent question who is in and who is out) based on their response to the poor or the marginalized or the widow?

See, that’s the thing, there ARE imperatives that we must follow as Christians and I think most Christians intuitively recognize this. I won’t get into the debate as to whether one can be a Christian, like the thief on the cross who didn’t have time to produce good works but I will say this much.

God know’s who’s in and who’s out. Not me. But if Jesus wants genuine disciples and not simply converts while we have 70 + years on this planet then I would think that would entail that there are imperatives we Christians should follow. Besides, at the end of the day, it is God who separates the sheep from the goats and casts the fish back into the water (for further purging [and I’m an evangelical universalist!!]) If Acts 16 is any indication, we are to go out and make genuine disciples. It matters not to me HOW people are brought into the Kingdom (though that is of of concern, for this point it isn’t). What matters is that we bring them in, and disciple them. In Acts 16, whole families were brought into the Kingdom and baptized ALL WITHIN ONE NIGHT. Though this may have included small children, whether it did or not, do you think these folk had a solid grasp of the story of the Gospel? How much do they need to have? Where is the line to be drawn? Would not some have made a leap of faith with doubts and as they went along on their Christian journey became more solidified in their trust in who the Messiah was?

Regardless, imperatives are a part of discipleship. And in John 8:11–“Go now and leave your life of sin”–are we to really expect that Jesus is NOT telling her to NOT commit adultery again? And that’s the problem I have with RHE’s interpretation. She moves the interpretation from one specific sin to ALL sin which I believe is covered under the “genuine disciple” idea covered above. The whole journey of being a Christian is making God the center and reflecting back God’s love both to God and fellow human beings (Greg Boyd~Repenting of Religion). We certainly aren’t “looking out” for our fellow human beings when we commit adultery (nor ourselves for that matter). We aren’t reflecting back the triune love to God or them when we “sin against” them by not carrying out the imperatives that God expects of us as disciples.

So really, is there anything problematic with the interpretation to, actually at least ATTEMPT to lead a sinless life both in terms of the specific sin of adultery addressed here and discipleship, making God the center of our existences?


Trying To Make Sense Of It All: On UR

I was reading Kurt Willems’ blog here at Tony Campolo’s “Red Letter Christians.”  Essentially, Willems’ an open theist (such as myself) has two major critiques of Rob Bell’s book, “Love Wins.”   The first one goes like this:

“I have a problem with humans being able to live forever.  Eternal life is not inherent to being human but is something that is a gift from God.  Though humans have a CAPACITY for eternal life, it is not something they innately possess.” 

The second criticism has to do with the “Final Judgment.”  The first part of this criticism is that Willems’ thinks judgment has to do with refinement.  He then says that Rob Bell believes that everyone will be in hell for eternity until they repent (I don’t quite get that last part. How can one be in eternity until they repent? It wouldn’t be eternity then), however, if death is “…the ultimate end of existence” (according to the ancient Jewish worldview) then eternal life or immortality is a gift.  This gift is only given to Christ followers.

The second part of this second criticism is that even after the Second Coming and the Final Judgment, if someone persists in un-repentance then they will in effect be annihilated.

Now I find this last half of Willems’ post to be rather convoluted as there are some important theological points that he is missing.  Let’s go with the first criticism and then into the second.

In response to the first part, what if the GROUNDING of a person or the “logos of one’s being” is God Godself?  In other words, what if creaturely particularity CANNOT BE SEPARATED from the logos reality that undergirds and sustains such creatures?  This is not to say that the actual “ontological substance” that constitutes the creature would simply be a possibility or an intention on God’s part, such that if God did not create the actual, all we would have left are possibilities and not persons.  To say that God is the GROUND or the grounding of said person’s being is to say that God’s creatures are DEPENDENT on God for their EXISTENCE.  God is the ground at all levels and at all times.  Thus, I would say that it is an ontological error to say that we are “gifted” with eternal life as if we can be separated or cut off from God at ANY TIME.  Think of this as an example.  Just as we NEED a life conducive atmosphere to sustain our being, we need to breathe the Spirit of Life or God.  This is why, for some time now, I’ve understood the creature’s relationship to the Creator as similar to a fish in water.  If we were like fish out of water we would certainly die.  What I’m suggesting here is that we don’t need to posit “conditional immortality.”   To do so throws a wrench into the mix.  Just messes things up.  “In Him we live and move and have our being” Acts 17:28 is the idea.

As an aside note.  Think of the implications of this for annihilationism.

To respond to the second part about the Second Coming and Final Judgment I take it that by what I’m saying above it would be IMPOSSIBLE for one to end up being annihilated.  But it is also to say that Revelation and apocalyptic is kinda rough terrain to travel.  That kind of literature is open to a wide range of interpretation.  John doesn’t interpret his visions and neither do any of the N.T. authors.  It may be that it is meant artistically to reveal the glory and the majesty  of Jesus as well as something that is meant to speak to Christians living in hard times.  Grenz even speaks about the different millennial “moods” that  bias one toward a particular millennial bent in his 1992 book, “The Millennial Maze.”

Hopefully we can get a little more clarity on this from Willems’.