Is God Present?

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.

p. 116

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.

88 thoughts on “Is God Present?

  1. This is why “theology in word” is so inadequate. We can say “I believe in salvation through Christ alone” and have it actually MEAN several different things.

    I tend more toward agreeing with Pinnock but leaning a tad more “orthodox”. So I guess I’m none of those. hehe…

    I have a “God is the judge, not me” position while also maintaining that it is the mission of Christians to know Jesus and make him known.

    I believe God meets people where they are at and works in their hearts and that people can respond by obeying or disobeying but only God knows if they are obeying or disobeying because only he can look at the heart.

    I believe that God CAN reach someone through another religion esp. if that person is “held” by that religion in a closed system…which may be in a nation where the Gospel is proclaimed. If a Muslim is “bound” by their religion by their family in America, I believe God’s grace is not too small to extend into that situation and “save” that person.

    If Jesus is the Word and Truth and we say that people are saved through Christ then couldn’t it be possible that Jesus could be present outside of what we define as “Christianity”?

    People can also be bound by how Christians present themselves and thank God He’s bigger than our institutions, our crusades, our arrogance and our hate.

    so yeah, that probably muddied the water up nicely for ya 😉

  2. I think Isaiah gets the biblical position right on pagan worshippers:

    …He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is used as fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says,”Save me! You are my god!” They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand.

    uncomfortable but fair words !


  3. Isaiah is closely followed by Paul, more confronting words for pagan worshippers:

    “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse….For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal human beings and birds and animals and reptiles….” and so on Romans 1

    It is a meaty topic to launch into the ether, but

    worth chewing on !


  4. But the last word goes to Jesus on pagan worship:

    “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. “This, then, is how you should pray: ” ‘Our Father in heaven…etc.'”


  5. “It does seem a quite horrendous view of God, to suggest that he would condemn the innocent.”

    But the point is that we’re not innocent, “All have sinned.”

    Is God at work in other religions? I would say yes to the extent that ‘all truth is God’s truth.’ But I think the Bible is fairly clear – salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Christ – no other religion can save.

    In the end, God will be seen to act justly because he can do nothing else. If that means he acts outside our narrow evangelical definitions – hallelujah! If not, he will be given glory all the same.

    Isn’t it great that the reality is not based on our opinion of it?

  6. i’ve been thinking about this a bit recently…

    There are times when I read something about faith/God in a newspaper or other non-faith-specific place and agree with what they are writing… when I find out at the end they are not a Christian in any traditional sense, what conclusion does that bring… do we ditch what they have said? Do we say “all religions can have traces of truth but not salvation”? It gets pretty interesting if you come to it honestly.

    Alex’s comment about “all have sinned” always bugs me a little. I agree wholeheartedly that we are all sinners, and understand the theological explanation for why God is not horrendous for condemning sinners.

    However, I also often hear it said that we cannot understand/know God except for by his grace, and so logic tells me that if God needs to reveal himself for us to know Him, and if we are condemned if we do not know Him, then is He not basically choosing who will be saved … thus condemning others who are no MORE guilty than we who have been offered grace?

    mmmm, tricky (to me at least).

  7. I remember my Dad speaking to some Aboriginal men once about the Gospel, and they pointed to the stars and showed him some of the great dreamtime figures. As they pointed out the great conflicts between good and evil, he was able to compare those images with Christ and Satan – their response: Jesus has been there all the time, but we didn’t see him.

  8. Mate…the key thing to me is that the issue is now debated with integrity. Too many times we christians only raise these issues to prove we are right and everyone else is wrong. The ebility to listen and learn is vital and we must always remember that engagement is not always endorsement. Well done Hamo

  9. GAV!!! You beat me to it. 🙂 I was going to point to Romans 1. I reckon that, if all the “heathen” are not lost (Didn’t we discuss this a couple hundred years ago?! grin) then the best thing I can do is quit doing “mobilisation” (helping people find their ‘niche’ in mission…mainly overseas mission) and get into the ministry of immobilisation. If we could just stop all the missionaries from going, maybe we would see more people have relationship with God…because ignorance is bliss.

    Nope. Don’t see that anywhere in Scripture. I see Jesus moved with compassion because the multitudes are like sheep without a shepherd. “Send more laborers, Lord of the Harvest!”

  10. I have to go with the big Gav on this one mate!

    A big issue is always the issue of Hell, and whether God will be getting glory while millions are in screaming unrelenting agony wailing to get out. But that’s just the point – they won’t be doing that! Most of the objections to Hell are strawman objections that are aimed more at lurid medieval descriptions than what the Bible actually means.

    CS Lewis’s The Great Divorce nailed hell so succinctly that it makes eternity without God all the worse, and all the more a realistic possibility too. To be handed over in judgement to an existence unfettered by any restraint, among others whose existence will be unfettered by any restraint also, is a fearsome thought, and even more so when we realise how many people are intent on living that way in this age, never mind the age to come.

  11. Alex, I don’t think God works through the Christian religion, he works through Jesus, who didn’t set up a religion around him. We’ve created the religion.

  12. Hi Gaz,

    I don’t think God works through the ‘Christian religion’ either – if you mean the institutions and rubbish we’ve constructed around the faith. So in that sense no religion can save. But insofar as Christianity, at its best, preaches and practices the truth of the gospel and points to Jesus, it points to the way of salvation like no other religion can. So does God use Christianity? In that sense, undoubtedly, without wanting to approve of everything in Christianity. Can Christianity save? Absolutely not.

  13. Hey, liked the post. I looked over to my bookshelf only to see the book you mention. I suppose I too am waiting for a vacation to read it…I have found Pinnock to be helpful in a number of ways. I would recommend reading The Openness of God by Pinnock and others.Thansk for the thought provoking post.

  14. Ok, I’m back and ready to wade in… I think!

    How would others respond to Don Richardson’s book ‘Eternity in their Hearts’ where he writes of the Jesus stories found all around the world in different tribal cultures?

    Rob mentioned how there is a Jesus story in aboriginal storytelling, so I am not yet convinced that God wouldn’t be using other religions to reveal common grace & truth.

    I am not satisfied to say that those who have never heard and never had opportunity to, will be condemned.

    It might tie in with Roman’s 1 to some degree but it seems incongruous with my understanding of God to sentence those with no knowledge to eternity outisde of him.

    McGrath speaks of the doctrine of ‘middle knowledge’, which is really just a way of saying ‘while we don’t know for sure we trust that God does’.

    Given that Christianity is not the key to salvation (and we may have thought that a few years ago), perhaps there is more room for movement in soteriology than we once thought possible.

    I realise I am treading on ground where some may call me a heretic for even voicing these thoughts, but don’t we need to grapple with them, because they do affect our missionary endeavours.

    I know some prefer not to delve into this stuff, because either ‘we already know the answers’ or we worry that it might de-stabilise our world view.

    I think we need to keep exploring these ideas and hold our opinions strongly but humbly.

    I look forward to some more thoughts…

  15. where do people stand on the globally-recognised scientific fact that indigenous people have been actively lived within a deep spirituality for the past 40,000years BP (before present), pre-dating common christian beliefs by over 30,000 years.

    Was God active in their Dreaming stories and their daily sacred comings and goings, or do we puport to believe that the christian God of the bible is the sole “franchisee”. If God operates beyond this christian framework, then wouldn’t his salvation follow him like a shadow wherever he goes???

  16. The OT speaks of God at work with the people of Israel, and among pre-Israelites.

    Acts 17:29-30 ..we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone… In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent…

    I don’t know how much ignorance God overlooked, and whether the Cross signalled a halt to such oversight.

  17. referring to my previous comment, the indigenous people referred to are I ndigenous Australians, who are recognised as being the oldest, unbroken, cultural people group in the history of our planet.

    If necessary, I can supply some relevant referencing for this statement, however, this is not meant as a pot-stir, but rather an honest reflection upon my own understanding and system of faith.

    I am convinced that the Spirit of Truth is not daunted as new convictions are formed in the company of our unravelling earlier “certainties”. What is true is today, was true yesterday, regardless of whether we knew it or not.

    God is keenly aware of our inconsistencies, as they were decisively woven into our being by the grace of his hand. It is in the midst of these blemishes and short-comings ,he gently fans into flame his image within us, and we join him in this process of [re]cognition.

    So, maybe this has been a slightly rhetorical process for me, but i appreciate the space to wrestle out loud.

  18. “It might tie in with Roman’s 1 to some degree but it seems incongruous with my understanding of God to sentence those with no knowledge to eternity outisde of him.”

    It is more accurate to say that we will be judged according to what they know, a little (there is a God his eternal power and his divine nature)or a lot that God became flesh and dwelt mong us full of grace and truth:Jesus” Either way we are judged according to what we know of God.

    Pascal’s God-shaped hole in our heart picks up the lingo of much earlier teacher who wrote in Ecclesiates 3:11 “…He has made eternity in hte hearts of men: yet they cannot fathom what God has done”

    The fact that we are made in the image of God is the eternity placed in our hearts, we are made for relationship with the creator God, yet we turn our backs on Him.

    Religion is human attempts to reach out to that sense God on our terms not His. So the psalmist can say, and Paul can plagiarise “No one who is righteous not even onen no understands noone seeks God ”

    It is a bleak picture

    But it drives us to see our need for a Saviour

    notice it doesn’t say noone is righteous except those who haven’t heard because they don’t realise the extent to which they ignore the Creator.

    Each man and woman will held to account by how they respond to Jesus, and if they have never heard of Jesus they will be held to account for how they have responded to the God who made them in his own image….


  19. Thanks Gav

    And I am not trying to be pedantc here, but I do want to push the point:

    You said:

    “It is more accurate to say that we will be judged according to what they know, a little (there is a God his eternal power and his divine nature)or a lot that God became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth:Jesus” Either way we are judged according to what we know of God.”

    If a person knows ‘a little’ and has never heard of Jesus then do you feel they will be judged much more graciously?

    I am thinking of the aboriginal folks who Matt mentioned who were here 40 000 years ago.

    Obviously they would never have heard of Jesus, so could not have responded in any meaningful way to him.

    Given that Jesus is the only way, how do people see this issue?

    Did Jesus ‘become’ the only way 2000 years ago?

  20. And even then, the spread of communication was a fair bit slower than today. What about the poor bastard who just missed the knock on the door and the inevitable message of salvation because he karked it while the roving missionaries where still having their cup of tea with Mrs Jones in the next valley.

  21. God is good and just, and omniscient (I lack all three) I need to leave judgement to him.

    He doesn’t deal more graciously, just with the same fairness according to what they know, according to the eternity that is written on their hearts…

    The Old Testament at least illustrates faithful people before Christ.Eg. that one hit wonder Melchizedek worshipping God …We need to cautiously extrapolate from there to others…

    We equally need to grapple with the biblical account on total depravity of humanity post the fall, T-Tulip for the closet hyper-calvinists?


    PS Grendel you don’t need to worry about the deepest darkest tribesman, just yet start with your own soul and work out… to him who is given much, much is expected? Gav

  22. Gav the anglican – i love the quote from spiderman – it adds a sense of contemporary authenticity and authority 😉 surely, homer simpson has something to add.

    sorry, just some light half-time entertainment

  23. hey – don’t blame spidey, it was his uncle who laid that one on him. And the movie director’s didn’t provide any end-text referencing to Luke in the end credits… bah humbug!

  24. “Religion is human attempts to reach out to that sense God on our terms not His. So the psalmist can say, and Paul can plagiarise “No one who is righteous not even onen no understands noone seeks God””

    We discussed this in our youth group a couple of weeks ago. This is one of the points we made. I think it is possible for someone who has never heard to be saved if they realise this – and my meagre reading of religious history is that many have this awareness of their own unrighteousness.

    What is it about humanity that we have this insatiable appetite to dogmatise about things of which we have no knowledge?

    I simply say with Abraham, “Will not the judge of the whole earth do right?”

  25. Well this conversation is slipping into the dark unknown of Hollywood quotes, obviously we all needed a break!!

    Lets get back on track…is he or is he not the the messiah or is he “just a very naughty boy”…woops, couldn’t help myself…love Python!

  26. Well the Romans (who threw him to the floor vewy woughly) obviously opted for the ‘naughty boy’.

    Gav – what Tribesman? I was talking about when the Irish converted the English!

  27. True – I’ve often wondered how the English, who are so rowdy on the soccer pitch, managed to create a church that is so reserved. . .

  28. Hey Grendal

    I’m in Sheffield, Yorkshire. and if you’d been to some of the churches around here you’d want the chance to let it all hang out at the football, let me tell you!

    On a more serious note (surely not? – Ed), the onus is on those with a more universalist approach to explain a number of other factors. Most of the work I see explaining how other religions can be saved hone in on either mono-theism or those religions/spiritualities that have no “yuk” factor. Aboriginal spirituality is the new sexy these days, given its age and its mystery. But what about child sacrifice? Can anyone tell me that those people were not completely sincere in their attempts to access God/the gods through their efforts? What about white witchcraft? What about the KKK? What about a host of other things that fall outside the acceptable boundaries. In particular what about the Egyptian overlords of the Israelites whom God overthrew? Isn’t 4000 year old Egyptian worship simply another expression of worship directed towards the true God without knowing it under the rationale of Pinnock et al? God sure has a funny way of showing it.

    The question becomes “acceptable to who?” We all draw boundaries of who is in and who is out and it is disingenous to say otherwise. Not just Christians – everyone does it.

    In actual fact the Bible is pretty clear on the need to be part of the Jesus salvation story started with Abraham, but always, always meant for the world. The amount of judgement God directs towards Israel for its failure to draw people to JAHWEH is reduced to mere capriciousness on God’s part if it’s only the anger of a God who can be approached through any number of mediators for salvation. In other words, why get ticked off with Israel if salvation history is NOT riding on their response to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?

  29. Hi Steve

    Just saw your comment come in and thought I’d phone instead… Its 10.20pm here and I’m not feeling much up for theological debate, but thought a chat would be cool.

    Looks like I just missed you though!

    Will try again later


  30. If i travelled to the beach and lent down at the water’s edge to fill a thimble with salty water, surely, it would be ludicrous to think that the ocean was contained within that thimble.

    Yet, if someone came along and asked, “what is that in our thimble?”, to respond, “the ocean”, would indeed be correct.

    thankfully, the Spirit of Truth, although often successfully [re]cognised by the bible, refuses to be restricted to a “correct” interpretation of this single, ancient book.

  31. Are you sure ?

    Does the bible merely witness to the Truth?

    Paul can say to Timothy

    “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

    The God breathedness of Scripture makes it more than a witness to Truth, it is truth in Action, the Sword of the Spirit.

    Karl Barth made the same mistake…and inadvertantly undermined the authority of the written Word.

    God is bigger than the thimble but what is in the thimble is trustworthy and written on hearts by the Spirit. It is his Word not my opinion…


  32. No, that statement about the thimble would not be correct, you would just have a thimble full of salt water, not the ocean at all.

    Your last statement…sounds like you are speaking for God….

  33. hmmm try posting it in parts:

    A standard thimble has a volume of 5.47 ml.

    If you fill it with water from the ocean, you hold in your hands a thing of wonder.

    Sea water has a salinity of between 3.5% and 4%, but if you are taking it from the coast near Perth it would be roughly 3.59%.

    Nearly every element is present in sea water – if in miniscule amounts. Salt ions dominate and the salt ions in sea water consist of the following:

  34. Chloride Cl, Sodium Na, Sulfate SO4, Magnesium Mg, Calcium Ca, Potassium K, Bicarbonate HCO3, Bromide Br, Borate BO3, Strontium Sr, Fluoride F

    There are also gases dissolved in the sea water, mainly:

    Nitrogen N2, Oxygen O2, Carbon Dioxide CO2, Argon

    A thimble full of water from the ocean holds more atoms than you can count in a human lifetime. It holds atoms that were once at the core of stars, it holds atoms that were once part of dinosaurs, fish and even people. Atoms once a part of saints, movie stars, emperors and despots mix with serfs, slaves, soldiers and whores in an ultimate equality.

    If you take that thimble full of water away from the ocean, there is nothing you can do to prevent those atoms from once again returning and becoming part of the ocean again – the best you can hope for is to delay it.

    The thimble holds truth – and the ocean entire.

  35. My comment/s did not speculate in either direction in that regard! Certainly ‘chance’ is not a word that would describe my position.

    From your perspective I am sure you would see it as the beautiful work of the hand of God, however I would of course take a slightly different view, and still see beauty in it.

  36. 1 comment at a time – Mark E…

    To me this is not about the ocean (“God”), it is about the shortcomings of the thimble (“us”, the “bible” etc.) and it’s inability to contain the fullness of that, which it holds just a glimpse of.

    But to say that the ocean within the thimble is not ocean at all, is really confusing me – when did it ever stop being ocean? How can it ever stop being ocean? Do you think by calling it by some other name that you successfully change the truth of it’s origin and composition and source and identity?

    Languages (and by inference – “words”, both written and spoken and imagined) are simply a signpost to the Truth. God is certainly discovered in and through the bible (ocean in the thimble), but it simply points to the ultimate [re]cognition of the fullness of God/Spirit of Truth extending far beyond the limitations of ink and paper (the ocean beyond the thimble).

    So, “yes”, God is contained within the bible – and “no”, it is not simply ink and paper (or as one could imply by your earlier statement – simply “salty water”) – BUT also, “yes”, God is far more than this; He is the great Beyond.

    This is the mysterious beauty of the “now” and “not yet”.

  37. #2 – Mark E….

    I’m not sure how what i said equals me speaking for God, but even if I was, isn’t that what people would claim to do each time they preach or encourage or prophesy?

    What i was simply [re]cognising is how, over the years, we each grow through different versions of truth and “correct” interpretations of the bible.

    Maybe you still believe everything you’ve ever preached over the years, but i certainly don’t.

    And all i was getting at was…

    just because I, with all good intentions – heck i even prayed about it 😉 – might have misunderstood and/or misrepresented the “truth” of the bible, incredibly, God didn’t necessarily cease to move.

    Is this an inappropriate statement to make?

  38. “I think we could both agree the coffee bean must have come from heaven”

    Or is Heaven within the bean? Jesus was close enough to ethiopia – how come he preferred mustard seeds?

  39. #3 – Alex the non-Barthian…

    I am not so interested in 1. undermining the authority of the bible as I am in 2. establishing/[re]cognising the authority of God/the Spirit of Truth.

    However, if by pursuing #2, it inadvertantly leads to #1, I am actually ok with that, because surely #2 is one of the fundamental purposes of the bible in the first place (???)

    hopefully though, from my engagement with Mark E, regarding the “thimble full of ocean”, you might see that my intention is not #1. Maybe we simply differ on the interpretation of that “authority”.


  40. #4 – Grendel…

    yes, my friend, the coffee bean is the fruit of heaven – of which i just ordered 10kg of PNG fair-trade organic AA at the last bean bay, as well as knicking in to pick up 7.5kg of a couple of different varieties from Fiori last wednesday.

    You could say my storeroom is “full of heaven” 🙂

  41. …it sounds like you are driving a wedge between the Spirit of Truth and the written Word of God in a way that the self disclosure of Scripture doesn’t.

    The biblical account of inspiration and illunumiation (speaking the old lingo of Theology) keep the Spirit’s writing and and illuminating, and the written Word tightly together. The Spirit without the Word is dumb, the Word without the Spirit is dead. In the writing of the the written Word and the application of the written Word the Spirit of truth communicates the mind of God, thus the Word of God is the Sword of the Spirit.

    listen to God!


  42. PS it wasn’t Karl Barth’s intention to undermine the authority of Scripture either but it was a natural consequence of him seeing the Written word as a witness to truth (The Word of God) and not the God breathed Word.

  43. Gav – I’m still a little lost (pardon the pun 😉 ) – why does “seeing the written word as being a witness to the truth” have to automatically contradict it being the God-breathed word?

    Isn’t it a witness to the truth precisely because it’s from God???

    if i asked a friend to pen a letter from me to you and proceeded to dictate the message, would you hold the letter in higher regard than me? or even equal regard?

    It seems obvious to me that the letter has an inherrent purpose – that being “communication”, not substitution for relationship. And ideally, letters are just one way of communicating and maintaining that relationship.

    but having maintained a long-distance relationship before, i can understand how those letters from my loved one become precious and end up having a value placed on them (by me) far beyond the mere cost of a pen, some paper and a stamp. However, this is the value i place on them, not the value the writer places on them.

    I ended up marrying that long-distance relationship, and interestingly, the letters have been replaced by a multitude of other means of communication…. mmmmmmm commmmmmunication 😉

  44. The letter analogy falls down for the Scriptures because of the living character of the written Word.

    The writer to the Hebrews can say “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

    God’s written Word is a living Word because the Spirit, God’s Breath carries it to our hearts. It is a living Word not a dead letter.

    Speech is a closer analogy. The written Word is God’s speech to us by His Spirit. God speaks as the written word is read, the Spirit is the breathe that carries God’s Words to us. The ministry of the Spirit is the breath which causes an ancient book to be a living Word.

    The written Word is not a witness to Truth, it is truth as God’s Speech carried to us by his breath, the Holy Spirit, thus it is ‘God Breathed’. Not a dead letter but a living Word.


  45. trust me Gav – those letters were not dead by any stretch of the imagination. The spirit that united us over that distance, our love for one another brought those letters alive as they communicated truth over the physical distance.

    i think I hear what you are saying though Gav, i think i really do, having been “on the bus” (see Jarrod’s new post on MLK) for some 20 years, but the language you use seems to jump in and out of different things as if they were one in the same.

    “The written word is a living word because the Spirit, God’s Breath carries it to our hearts.”

    It sounds like the Spirit transforms the written word into water for our thirsty soul – but that’s the Spirit job isn’t it?

    “The ministry of the Spirit is the breath which causes an ancient book to be a living Word.”

    i think i could safely paraphrase these words to… “The ministry of the Spirit is the breath which can transform an ancient book from a ‘dead letter’ into a living Word.”

    Surely the experience of many of us could testify to the truth that sometimes when the bible has been read it has most closely resembled a dead letter – with no life, or more accurately – no Spirit.

    Maybe the reason for this is because the bible is nothing/dead without the ministry of the Spirit.

    no Spirit = dead letter

    so the implications for the original point of this thread…

    Does the Spirit of Truth/God choose at times to transform other texts, religions, teachings, things etc. into conduits of Life/Salvation?

  46. I am sure your letters move you as poetry or a good song lyric move us all. My point still stands that reading Scripture is of a different order. Scripture moves us subjectively when we read it Yes!…But it also is God’s instrument of objective communication hence a living Word, of a different order to your love letters.

    2 Peter 1:16-21, 2 Tim 3:15-16, 2 Corinthians 2:15-17 are key passages in Scripture’s self disclosure on this process.

    The trinitarian shape of Scripture requires us to keep Word and Spirit together. It is a living Word and never dead (I think that is a point on which we appear to differ.)

    A further point, You observed:

    “Surely the experience of many of us could testify to the truth that sometimes when the bible has been read it has most closely resembled a dead letter – with no life, or more accurately – no Spirit.”

    It is not the book which is dead but the heart which is hard (or dead). The issue when we have a bad day reading, is not whether the Spirit is present or not (The Spirit is always present it is a living Word), but whether my heart is hard to Gods communication through the God breathed Word , hence Paul’s encouragement not to quench the Spirit. (1 Thess 5:19-22)This same living Word is the aroma of life to some and the stench of death to others.(2 Cor 2:14-16) The living Word exposes the human heart.

    God doesn’t speak through the Quran (or whichever other Religious book you choose) in the same we he speaks though the Bible, his living written Word. This at least is a biblical perspective.

    We can learn from human wisdom but it is not God speaking to us, it is human’s groping around for the God they don’t want to belive in (I refer you back to Isaiah, Paul and Jesus at the start of this thread)

    I appreciate the conversation


  47. An honest admission from this ‘intellectual wanker’ is that I have always struggle to get my head around theories of authority.

    I find it hard to see where Barth’s ‘error’ (as determined by those who don’t see it his way!) is less correct than the more standard evangelical view.

    I have read a bit on this stuff and studied it while at Theol college, but I’m not sure of its implications?

    I actually wonder if we surveyed our churches if we wouldn’t find all manner of interpretations of ‘authority’, but still a community of people committed to living out Jesus way in their lives.

    So, while I know it matters if we consider scripture authoritative (and how that works out is another question again?!) I am less certain that our definitions of authority need to be watertight.

  48. Hmmm…

    Just read your previous comment Gav and I’d like to suggest that God speaks to me thru all manner of avenues – poetry, movies, novels, a sunset… I could go on.

    I am hearing you right in saying that scripture is the ONLY way God communicates?

  49. Any doctrine of Scripture ought to reflect Scripture’s self disclosure. Barth’s construction is challenged by Scripture itself.

    He argues the written Word is only a human document, which at some future event of reading becomes the Word of God, by the Holy Spirit.

    2 Peter 1:16-21, 2 Tim 3:15-16, 2 Corinthians 2:15-17 are key passages in Scripture’s self disclosure to Challenge Barth on this on this.

    Parsons V Barth Perhaps I am the one kidding myself….Highly likely

    At the techier end: An Article by Bromiley (Who translated Barth from German to English) is good readable summary and Critque in “Hermeneutics. Authority and Canon” Carson and Woodbridge.

    Cheers Hamo


  50. PS pastorally I want our church Family to have a high View of Scripture (because Scriptures self disclosure has a high view of Scripture)

    I want people to read the Bible expecting God to Speak to them, and to live under the Word which is God’s authority among us. To undermine the authority of Scripture, gags God. This has pastoral implications leaving our people blown about by the wind of every new mocking voice.

    Pastor well Hamo!


  51. Hi Gav

    I am enjoying the conversation and the learning.

    I would also argue for a high view of scripture and wouldn’t want people to see the Bible as on a par with a novel.

    Its partly why in our own core practices as a community we have chosen to make engagement with scripture our primary mode of encountering God.

    But I would also want people to encounter God in many ways and to listen to the spirit in many forms.

  52. Discussions on blogs are like “Herding cats”

    Here is my reflex response:

    God doesn’t speak through a sunset.

    A sunset testifies to the creative genius of God, who we know created the World because his Word teaches us that.

    poetry, movies, novels, a sunset…move you (i suspect) to thank the God who created them. It is not God’s speech though

    The shape of psalm 19 helps us to see that…

    the heavens declare the glory of God but his Word makes wise the simple….

    I count myself amongst the simple


  53. Yeah they are a bit like the proverbial herding cats, but I learn a lot nevertheless – and it does force you to respond with care because your thoughts are public.

    We may have a different take on how the HS speaks and how we encounter God, because I can recall numerous (countless?) occasions where I have sensed God’s spirit speak through forms other that scripture.

    Shall we open up pneumatology!?… 🙂

  54. Of course the other side to this coin is that Muslims hold the Qur’an to be the literal words of Allah as given to his Prophet Muhammad and that the Qur’an is the book of divine guidance and direction for mankind, the life-giving word of the almighty God.

    It is interesting however that the same debate that is occurring here has also occurred among Islamic scholars – and over roughly similar time periods. Other religions also have debated the place of their holy scriptures.

    Why are there so many parallels in this process?

    Why does the debate among religious scholars always arrive at a similar point – regardless of the religion with which you commence?

    And why is there always a definitive point of absolutes – from each religion at which some of the scholars conclude that ‘ours alone’ are the true revelation of God?

    If the bible is the true living word of God then why aren’t all Christians fundamentalists?

    Laws of Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Exodus enacted in today’s world would – well we just don’t do we. Is this because of the New Testament? Or the result of a change in how per believe one person should treat another?

    Which bits of the bible are the living word – all of it, or just the bits we can deal with?

    Deuteronomy 25:11

    When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets: 25:12 Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her.

    No Squirrel Gripping ladies – you have it from the big G himself!

    Exodus 19:15

    And he said unto the people, Be ready against the third day: come not at your wives.

    Girl Germs!

    Exodus 21:2

    If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.

    You can own a slave.

    Exodus 21:16

    And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.

    But you can’t be a slaver.

    Exodus 21:7

    And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.

    You can sell your daughter.

    Or buy someone elses. . .

    Exodus 22:18

    Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

    Witch burnings – waaahay!

    Exodus 22:19

    Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death.

    …Lips don’t unpurse, Must NOT make jokes about de-populating New Zealand…

    Exodus 23:31

    And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee. 23:32 Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. 23:33 They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me: for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee.

    There goes any hope of a Palestinian state or peace treaty.

    Numbers 31:14-18

    Moses became angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. Moses said to them, ‘Have you allowed all the women to live? These women here, on Balaam’s advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the Lord in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.

    No wonder the Vikings converted. . .

  55. Truth is O’up I am struggling through this conversation, because of my own limitations….but what I will say, and try to say it graciously….that I believe the Bible is self witnessing to its own authority as a revealer of God. Of course it does not contain the whole story of God…but I believe it is inspired and accurate in what it does represent of God.

    I also believe the Spirit of God is needed to interpret and understand the Revelation of God.

  56. i think that’s what i’m saying too Mark 😉

    it’s been good hearing what some others think – thanks for the grace you’ve all chosen to cover your engagement in.

    peace for the road ahead…

  57. Interesting conversation and it’s interesting to me because of how far the conversation has wandered from the original question can people be saved outside of Christ?

    Part of the problem in answering this question is in defining salvation. Is salvation merely going to heaven after we die? Then the question becomes will God admit people into this place called heaven after a person dies even though they don’t believe or even know Jesus? If salvation is what Jesus said he came to give, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” Then the question becomes can a person have a full life even though they don’t believe or even know Jesus? I believe the proper question is the latter and not the former.

    This makes me more comfortable with the statement that Paul makes, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Removing the religious stigma of the word, sin simply means missing the mark. So Paul, the one who was sent (“apostle”) by Jesus (if you believe the written account) to proclaim the good news of Jesus to Gentiles says, “All have missed the mark and fallen short of the glory of God.” I read this statement, therefore, as all of us as individuals and all the cultures that are made up of individuals are missing the mark and fall short of the glory of God.

    I only assume this is true of every culture. I don’t know that for sure since I’m not educated on every culture on Earth. But, I look at my own culture. We have and consume a lot of stuff. We create wealth on an enormous scale. Yet, we have a high percentage of relational, mental, and behavioral problems. We are missing the mark as individuals and as a collective that we make up.

    The answer I give to can people be saved outside of Christ is I don’t know, that’s not for me to answer, that’s up to God.

    All I know is the task that Jesus gives to me as his disciple is to “Go and make disciples of all nations…” If you believe the written account, he also told his disciples that my job as his disciple is “to be my witnesses in all Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” There is something missing in all the nations and they need to learn about Jesus in order that they may live life to the full. As Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…”

    All of this does hinge on whether I believe the story of the Bible or not. It seems foolish to me, however, that God would send Jesus into his world, live with us and then go through with an event Jesus agonised over and prayed not to do if there wasn’t something about the execution, burial, and resurrection of Jesus that was life-changing for the entire world.

    In conclusion, when it comes to judging whether someone is “saved” or not, in my experience I get myself in trouble when I try to do God’s job instead of concentrating on my own job.

  58. I just returned from a funeral of a Christian man a good way to get some perspective on some of my own Blog ramblings. One of his last sentences spoken “I trust in the righteousness of Christ!”

    Now Grendal…Fundamentalists read the Bible out of context…the context of genre… and the context of Salvation History…the Bible gives us a framework to free us from that kind of misreading and rescue us from the Levitical laws…

    All Christians aren’t fundamentalists because it is the wrong way of reading the Bible…but then again “fundamentalist” is one of those slippery words which keeps changing it’s meaning in general usage.

  59. AndI wake up and read your comment and suddenly I am queasy! 🙂

    Seriously – when you ask ‘who is Jesus?’ what are you asking. Its quite a larger question and it might help to be a little more specific.

    Christology 101 coming up! 🙂

  60. Umm… son of God?…

    I don’t know what you’re getting at Lance, so I don’t quite know where to go with your question.

    I think you probably already know what I’d say too, so I’m wondering what it is you are wanting to know.

    Cut to the chase and I will probably give you more satisfaction. I am not going to write a long tome on christology for no reason 🙂

  61. Gav, these are questions that I ponder from time to time when I hear people outlining the point of view you are giving. Perhaps you can help me with them.

    When Paul wrote about the veracity of Scripture wasn’t he talking about the (what we now call) Old Testament?

    Did Paul know when he was writing that it would be later called Scripture?

    If God only speaks through the Bible, when did he stop speaking directly to people, as recorded through the Scriptures?

  62. ?Great questions that demand a richer answer than a blog space can provide, Let me have a crack…

    Part 1

    When Paul wrote about the veracity of Scripture wasn’t he talking about the (what we now call) Old Testament? Did Paul know when he was writing that it would be later called Scripture?

    It is worth starting with 2 Peter and keep it in mind for 2 Timothy 3:14-16

    Peter says

    “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty… And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. ?Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

    There are two sources of Scripture identified here

    1. The OT prophets

    2. The witness of the Apostles

    3. 2 Peter includes a third source of Scripture: Paul’s letters (though they can be difficult and have been twisted by ignorant and the ustable people still Scriptures )

    “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. ?16? He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. 2 Peter 3:15

    Why can the living Peter call the living Paul’s letters Scripture? It is because of his Apostleship (as one untimely born 1 Corithinas 15) given by God at his conversion, affirmed publically at the Council of Jerusalem Acts 15.

    Church history tells us that Peter and Paul were martyred together so in both their lifetimes their writings are considered Scripture because of their Apostolic witness. Hence the creeds say the authentic Christian Church is Apostolic, ie. founded on the witness of the Apostles to Jesus.

    Paul knew he was writing as an Apostle “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus…2 Timothy 1”

    2 Tim 3 14-16 is at least refering to the Old Testament Scriptures but I think there is a strong case (cross referenced to 2 Peter to include the apostolic witness too, which was still open a the time of Paul writing)

    Paul says, “And of this gospel (the Gospel of Jesus Christ) I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher” 2 Tim 1:11

    Scripture includes:

    1. The Old Testament Law and the Prophets

    2. The eye witnesses of the Apostles commissioned by Jesus (The Gospel)

    3. The Letters of the Apostle Paul

    That covers most of the Bible leaving James and Hebrews and a couple of others up for discussion about if they should be considered Scripture.

    I don’t know if this scratches your itch but it is a start?


  63. If God only speaks through the Bible, when did he stop speaking directly to people, as recorded through the Scriptures?

    Caution is required Here, I think I want to say

    God speaks prinicipally through his written Word.

    The first big Shift though is from Moses to Joshua in OT. God Spoke directly to Moses, and then to Israel through him. Then Moses writes down God’s Word and God’s people become people of the Book.

    “So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel. Deut 31:9

    Joshua leads the people by God’s Book:

    “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.”

    God’s people are people of the Book through which he speaks to future generations a living Word.

    So the writer to the Hebrews alerts us to another big shift in Jesus “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son”

    Jesus becomes the final instrument through which God principally speaks to us, the Apostolic witness the means through which God communicates Jesus to us….

    That’s more than enough to chew on for a minute or two….This part desreves more thought this is my reflex answer…

    Chew Hard


  64. I wonder if you were to come at these passages believing God may speak to people outside of the Scriptures would you see them differently?

    What I’m trying to find out about your belief’s is if you can nail down a certain time when God shut up shop and left us with Scripture. Was it when the last apostle died (which I can’t remember of the top of my head) or some other time?

    You say God principally speaks through the Scriptures. How else does he? You’ve talked about creation earlier, where does God speaking start and stop?

    I’m asking these questions genuinely, not trying to have a go, but I’ve heard people using the same arguments that you are and I’ve never been totally convinced. It feels like they’ve decided to believe one thing and then work to find something to back them up.


  65. The Qu’ran states that whilst Mohammed was stained with sin, Christ was without sin. I definitely agree that God doesn’t speak through the Qu’ran in the same way as He does through the Bible, but I don’t think we should attempt to limit His voice either. In a country where reading The Bible will have you killed, I truly beleive He will place His voice where it can be sought after.

    Great reading, thanks Hamo 🙂

  66. The Scriptures themselves tell us that God speaks apart from Scripture, through the Spirit (e.g. the NT prophets, which I understand to be different to the OT). However, Scripture is normative, which means the Spirit never contradicts the Scripture. Also, do we not find the NT frequently using the phrase ‘the word of God’ not as referring to Scripture, but to the message, or possibly even the act of his speaking?

  67. Actually, I don’t know your answer to the question of who Jesus is because I’ve never heard it. I guess I was trying to come down from our ivory towers and strip the conversation back to the basics of who Jesus is. And, in light of your questions, I was genuinely curious to see what your response would be to someone who was sincerely asking the question. Sorry if you thought I was trying to trick you or something but I’m still taking Christology 101.

  68. Ok – no prob – I didn’t think you were trying to trick me – I was just wondering what you’d like me to focus on because it such a huge broad area. I thought you may have had an angle you were seeing as important.

    To keep it succinct I would say I have an orthodox view of Jesus – son of God, incarnation of God, sent to save, pre-existent with God, totally human, totally God…

    There is nothing particularly unique in my view of Jesus, but if anything I would have a lower Christology rather than a high one, because I tend to want to emphasise the humanness of Jesus.

    I think in the past we have so emphasised his Godness that he has seemed inaccessible to ordinary people.

    That said I don’t for a moment question his true Godness.

    Does that give some shape to my understanding?

  69. So many good questions, and thoughts so little time to engage with them….

    The Qu’ran says Jesus didn’t die on the Cross it was somone else ….did he or didn’t He?


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