Monday, February 20, 2006

Response to a recent listener about Jesus and exclusivism

I recently received an email from a BP listener (sort of) of a more red persuation. She's been a little concered about my beliefs and salvation, especially after hearing the Brian Mclaren interview, and we've exchanged a few emails discussing various topics. Anyway, I was thinking that her last email, and my reply to it, might be of interest to some of you.

K:

"You know I got to thinking about some things regarding our past dialogue, and I have a question for you. Your spiritual autobiography chronicled your experiences with various denominations, but really didn't explain your concluding that the Gospel of Jesus wasn't the only way to the Living God. Actually, I really never heard you pin point why you are in opposition to authentic salvation (or the exclusivist's position as you say.) And, I already know that you think it's really anti-intellectual to be so narrow and all, but what I'm interested in is you identifying what the root issue is, kwim? I've just sensed we haven't honestly touched on it. Please receive me in kindness. I often find it difficult to "talk softly" through email. Have a great day. -K"

My response:

"Hi K

First of all, no, I am totally for 'authentic salvation' -is there any other salvation/ healing/ liberation than real/ authentic salvation? My concern, in fact, is that much of what I've seen in modern western churchianity is inauthentic --fear based, self-centered, arrogant, self-righteous, you name it. Yet, the good, real and authentic is there too, no doubt.

Secondly, no, I don't think that excluvism is always anti-intellectual. There are some pluralists who are very un-intellectual and even 'exclusivistic' about their beliefs. And there are some people who have v. exclusivistic beliefs about faith in Christ who are quite intellectual.

If your core question to me is:
"Have you concluded that verbally confessing and believing in your heart (before one dies) that Jesus Christ is Lord God, third person of the trinity, whose substitutionary sacrifice to God on the cross is not the only way to attain acceptance from God and everlasting life after death(salvation)?"

Then yes, I don't currently believe that is true.

To what degree Jesus is literally "Lord over all," or is ontologically God, or is central to the whole process of salvation --I don't know. I am agnostic as of now and not concerned about that too much, Jesus seemed to want us to focus on God (i.e when he tells his discples they can now go to God directly, etc)

I can tell you that he is the one whose life, teaching, and example I have chosen to follow as most central to my life. I know that he is the one who has most fully and clearly demonstrated God's core nature --"God is love" --the self-sacrificial love that forgives 7*70, that loves enemies, that turns the other cheek, and that is compassionately selfless. ANd perhaps he is the who patiently, lovingly, humbly bears with all my struggles and weaknesses and questions --perhaps he is the most 'human' face of God, and that one day I'll see that face and see it as the same as God's.


Otherwise, I believe that whenever anyone is following God's Spirit, hearing the truth, loving others --they are walking in Christ's way, acting in his name. Sometimes, perhaps most times (do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing) they don't even realize they are doing it to/for God (think of the parable of sheep/goats). Jesus seemed to be primarily concerned about right action and loving (Whoever is not against me is for me. Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me. Whoever loves is a child of God., etc). Rarely, if ever, did he get upset about right belief, calling people heretics. His anger, when it came out, was against those who were self-righteous and hypocritical and who used their religious power in the wrong ways. Thats why I'm concerned about the modern church.

Does that answer your question at all?

Thanks K--and ask away at anytime.

In Christ's love,
-Leif




8 comments:

Kristina said...

Interesting...Hrm.

"Otherwise, I believe that whenever anyone is following God's Spirit, hearing the truth, loving others --they are walking in Christ's way, acting in his name."

But if they're doing "good" without a true submission to Him, without a true relationship to Him, I don't think it can be argued that they really are walking in Christ's way. KWIM?

"His anger, when it came out, was against those who were self-righteous and hypocritical and who used their religious power in the wrong ways."

Obviously the religious leaders of that time (and indeed many in the current age) weild their authority unrighteously. There's no disputing that. But what about those who flatly reject Christ? What about those who try to do good without the heart for Him? What of that? I can do good all I want, but if I don't have a relationship with Christ, is it really any good in God's eyes? God is not a respecter of any person, we're all sinners in need of redemption, we all need love and support (and reproof!) from our brethren, and ultimately Christ died to save me from my sin. And the very best I can do is like filthy rags to God if not drenched in the grace supplied to me by His Son's death.

It's like that silly joke about the man who died and wants to take all his gold to heaven and when he gets to the gates of heaven the angel asks him why he is bringing things to pave the road with him.

What we think is good isn't near what God considers good.

"Jesus seemed to want us to focus on God (i.e when he tells his discples they can now go to God directly, etc)"

But the entire reason we can just go to God is b/c of His sacrifice. In the OT one needed to go to the priest b/c only the priests could serve in the temple and all that yes? That's the significance of the veil being ripped when Christ died. He is our High Priest.
(See Hebrews 4:14-5:5)

JM said...

If I may respond to Kristina's comments:

"But if they're doing "good" without a true submission to Him, without a true relationship to Him, I don't think it can be argued that they really are walking in Christ's way . . . What about those who try to do good without the heart for Him?"

I can't conceive of good apart from God, and I can't conceive of God apart from good. If someone is "doing good"--that honors God. If a man loves and cherishes and honors his wife, but without the consciousness of "God, I am doing this for you"--is that any less good? I don't think so. In my opinion, a heart for good is a heart for God, whether that is acknowledged explicitly or not.


"But what about those who flatly reject Christ?"

I wonder how many people there are who flatly refuse Christ. I know of no one who flatly accepts him. No belief is perfect or whole. I don't think any doubt is perfect either.


"Obviously the religious leaders of that time (and indeed many in the current age) weild their authority unrighteously. There's no disputing that."

How do we know that the religious leaders of today don't wield their authority as unrighteously (or moreso)? I think it is comforting to assume that is not the case, but I'm not so sure it is. I don't guess there's any way to really know the answer to that though, so I'm just throwing it out to chew on.

Kristina said...

Jm:

"How do we know that the religious leaders of today don't wield their authority as unrighteously (or moreso)? I think it is comforting to assume that is not the case, but I'm not so sure it is. I don't guess there's any way to really know the answer to that though, so I'm just throwing it out to chew on. "

If you look a little closer at what I said you'll see that I basically say the same thing. ;)

Obviously the religious leaders of that time (and indeed many in the current age) weild their authority unrighteously.

See? ;)

As to the heart being good.

And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
(Gen 6:5)

How different are we really? Do we suppose ourselves to be better than the people of that age? I think not.

This evilpeople, which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing. (Jer 13:10)

Again, how different are we really from the people of that age? Would I have chosen any differently if I were in the garden? No, and I don't know anyone who would have. Sure in hindsight we say they shouldn't have listened to the serpent, but how often do we allow ourselves to be lead astray only to realize later what was done?

Leifh said...

Kristina,

Please don't take this as my attempting to get out of a potentially interesting discussion, but I think that our biblical hermeneutic and subsequent beliefs are far enough apart that trying to discuss these issues in the comments section would not end up proving very fruitful. I am open to discussion in another format, like via Skype or Gizmo, but otherwise I'm afraid we would both end up being somewhat frustrated and feeling misunderstood.

In peace,
Leif

Kristina said...

Sure thing Leif, I wasn't trying to take over the comments section. Just thought I'd pop over and say hello.

Take care,
Kristina

Nathan said...

I'll challenge this one:

"Jesus seemed to want us to focus on God (i.e when he tells his discples they can now go to God directly, etc)"

Actually, he said and did several things that drew intense attention to himself, like claiming authority to forgive the paralytic's sins, gathering 12 disciples (symbolically staying he was starting a new Israel, and he was king/Messiah or even more--and inviting sinners to be part of it by eating with him), and having the gumption to challenge the religious and political powers by doing and saying and claiming to fulfill things only God could do, say and fulfill.

Leif, I think getting away from the oversimplistic SuperJesus caricature of some evangelicalism is good, but you're letting an imaginitive reconstruction of Jesus as a 21st century northwest American white guy replace the Jesus the NT portrays. Wrestling honestly with the very complex texts we have about Jesus is better than replacing one cartoon with another.

April T. said...

I am new to this podcast, since I just purchased my first IPod, but I enjoyed the Brian McLaren interview greatly.

Since I read, "A New Kind of Christian," I have enjoyed Brian McLaren, but I was a little bummed after listening to this podcast.

Being a pretty liberal Christian myself in many ways, I, too, am disappointed in many aspects of the church. However, I stop short at defining God based on my own limited experience.

It's very easy to want to view the positive aspects of God's personality, but when we start to get into the wrathful, judging, and jealous God, a lot of people balk.

If we're going to use the Bible as our window into God's personality, we have to accept Him based on those standards. If we don't use the Bible, then are we guilty of gleaning only what we are willing to accept. I know that the argument might be made that everyone does that, but at some point, it seems to me that we have to either accept or reject it because I don't see everyone (or even every Christian) agreeing on every detail of the Bible.

If God is omnipotent, as the Bible says, and we believe that about Him. I have to believe that He was able to ensure that the Bible would be preserved exactly the way that He wants it. I think perhaps the mystery of the Bible is there so that we will ask questions.
As long as humans are asking questions about God, we are striving to be closer to Him. God loves that.

Leifh said...

(By the way, I am not trying to ignore Nate's above comment. He gets at some really good, challenging issues, and we are planning on doing a podcast together sometime within the next month).


Hi April,

Thanks for your comments and I'm sorry to hear that the interview with Brian 'bummed you out'. I think I hear you saying that you believe that Brian and I are 'editing out' the rough and tough parts of the bible (wrath, etc). I can understand why you'd think that, but I don't believe thats what either of us is really doing. As you mentioned, its the questions and dialogues that keep us engaged with scripture and the bible...we are simply doing some of that questioning ourselves: What did Jesus really mean by these terms? What did Jesus' audience hear when he used certain images and terms, etc? How do we reconcile truths that seem to contradict each other (ie Jesus teaching us to love our enemies, forgive 7*70, etc vs. supposed teaching of retribution and revenge)

When we looked into this, we found that things are not quite what we thought. Thats the simple version. How much can be said in a blog comment? Please read my paper in the blog notes for that show, or Brian's book "The Last Word and the word after that"...I think things might start to make a little more sense. The good news become truly good news.
Sorry for the hasty response, its hard to keep up with the comments lately.

In peace,
Leif