I’m not sure if I will have net access while I am away so I might leave you with a controversial post to chew on while I am gone. Is God present in other world religions and can people be ‘saved’ outside of Christ?
I mentioned previously that I have been reading Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. It was my holiday reading and I loved it! A very challenging read about how salvation functions, to what extent ‘Jesus is the only way’ and to what extent salvation may be possible outside of ‘Christianity’ or even Jesus.
The 4 authors, John Hick (a normative pluralist), Clark Pinnock (described as an inclusivist), Alistair McGrath (described as ‘salvation in Christ’) and R.Douglas Gievett & W Gary Phillips (Jesus alone) all present their perspectives on how people are ‘saved’.
The descriptions used above were the ones used by the book, but they don’t really suffice. Essentially, as I read him, Hick falls into a camp outside of classical orthodox Christianity. He insists that God is ‘ultimate reality’ and that he/she can be accessed in any number of ways and through any number of religions. He argues (quite confrontingly) that if Christianity really is all it claims to be then it ought to be doing a much better job of living its own teachings. Fair enough on that point, but I don’t buy Hick’s other arguments and none of the other authors did either.
Gievett & Phillips argue a very narrow view – that Jesus is the only way and those who don’t hear go to hell – probably not a view that is easily accepted these days by most evangelicals. It does seem a quite horrendous view of God, to suggest that he would condemn the innocent.
McGrath is probably the standard conservative evangelical view – where there is ‘agnosticism about those who haven’t heard the gospel’, but Jesus is still regarded as the only way to know God and experience salvation.
The one I found interesting was Clark Pinnock, a man who almost got ousted from the American Evangelical society (or whatever it is called) last year for his provocative and boundary pushing views. His argument is that God is present in all major world religions – a ‘general revelation’ concept and that people are drawn to him through their religion, but that normally salvation is only possible through Christ.
When thinking of exceptions, Pinnock cites Melchizedek as a ‘pagan saint’ in whom God was at work and argues that salvation is possible in some instances by a response to general revelation.
Here are two quotes, one from Pinnock and one from the book but by C.S Lewis:
This does not make religions salvific as such, however. The Spirit is the power of God unto salvation, not to religion. God may use elements in them as means of grace, even as God may use the moral dimension, the celestial bodies or social interaction to lead people to himself. We must be alert to the possibility that God is effectively at work in the religious dimension in a given instance, but there are no guarantees of it.
There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it. P. 119
What do you think? I hold to a ‘Jesus is the only way’ position, so I will nail my colours to the mast there, but I am open to the possibility that Pinnock could be onto something and that his position is both biblically and intellectually plausible.
Is God at work in Islam drawing people to himself?
Is God at work in Hinduism helping people gather some knowledge of who he is?
is it possible that people can experience salvation through general revelation?
Karl Rahner spoke of ‘anonymous Christians’ in other religions, but Pinnock prefers ‘pagan saints’ to describe those who are ‘saved’ but not aware of Jesus.
We often say God is already at work in the world (Missio Dei) so why wouldn’t it be possible that he could be at work in other religions. Don Richardson’s classic missionary text ‘Eternity in Their Hearts’ also shows the Christ stories that are present in diverse tribal religions all around the world.
Actually the more I write the less controversial it sounds…
Might just go watch the Footy show.