Who is saved?

God only knows.

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The Problem Is… Jesus

Post #2 in direct response to Avant Garde’s comments on All Roads Lead to Heaven? (Newcomers, please join the conversation.)

Avant Garde: “…in the guise of questioning the denominations/churches of christianity, and saying “no religion but God leads to heaven”, you really meant “your” God the Son alone leads to heaven!”

You are correct. I really meant that only Jesus – God the Son – leads to heaven. Can Jesus reach people through religions that aren’t Christianity? I address this specific issue under C* below. Faith comes from God but “religion” and religiosity are human constructs.

Meanwhile, I should tell you why I believe what I believe. Maybe you will write me off. Maybe you will continue reading. I respect your decision and point of view regardless. I do not expect you to change your mind. That would take a miracle. But I do hope that you will understand me.

A. Someone is “wrong” from everyone’s perspective

Everyone assumes that someone is wrong when it comes to religion. There are the obvious examples of Christians saying that Muslims are essentially wrong and vice-versa. But what about “All religions are true”?

Even the claim that “no one is wrong” assumes a group of people who are wrong: those who deny that claim and typically implies “everyone is wrong” about the ultimate realities of eternity.

To claim “I don’t/can’t/shouldn’t make claims” is a non-committal cop-out… and is often, in fact, not true of the one who says it.

Christians make ridiculous claims, but that does not mean that these claims are either untrue or more ridiculous than the claims that everyone else is making.

B. The Bible tells us what Jesus claimed

Not all those who profess to be Christians accept the teachings of the Bible in the same way. There are many issues, such as a six-day creation, which seem to be open to a greater deal of interpretation. But on the issue of Jesus, there is much clarity. The Bible deserves fuller treatment, but I can summarize my basic belief: if God exists and he is good, then he would have used just such a means as the Bible to reveal himself to humanity. (Re: Bible’s self-testimony, “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless…” Psalm 18:30).

C. This is what Jesus himself claimed

Jesus was crucified for claiming to be God in ways that were true of himself and of himself alone. He spoke with authority over the written scriptures. He healed, loved, served and led others as if he were the ruler of creation.  For example, “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58).  ‘Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7).  His sacrificial death on behalf of humanity could only be done by him, for he alone is fully God and fully human. If humanity needs saving, then we have never had a clearer savior.

D. Jesus saves in mysterious ways

Some churches give the impression that all you have to do is say his name in a prayer. The truth is more personal. We are saved by faith. But this isn’t any sort of will-power that we muster up. It’s a relationship… which God himself initiates. Jesus himself said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Paul, one of the first generation of followers, wrote, “”For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8).

*Some have suggested that there are “invisible Christians,” who have a personal relationship with God through Jesus either without publicly professing such faith or without even consciously knowing this. For example, a Buddhist or a Muslim could be a Christian without knowing it by loving God and loving others. Many Buddhists and Muslims find such ideas highly offensive. The idea is convenient those of us who struggle with outreach to members of other religions and with the idea of hell.  The idea has strength in the precedent of Jews before Christ clearly having access to God the Father and being “saved.”

E. Either Jesus saves and he alone, or Jesus does not save at all.

If Jesus died for the sins of the world, then we need him, because we all fall short of deserving to be with God forever. If Jesus did not die for the sins of the world, then no one needs him except as an example of how to die for a fictitious cause. Either Christianity is the truest truth or it is the biggest lie. There is no middle ground. Maybe other religions have the possibility of being partially true, but because of the claims of Jesus, Christianity does not have that option.

F. These issues are a matter of faith.

I can testify but I cannot prove. (See previous post.)

Caution

There are people who profess to be Christians who disagree with virtually everything I have just said (including a particularly nasty group of radical Dispensationalists who do not believe that there has ever been spiritual salvation for the Jewish people).

Conclusion

I don’t know if I have convinced anyone, but I hope that answers the question.  If I have not, or if anyone has further questions, I am, as always, open to your input.

If you don’t believe that Jesus is God, why not Tom Cruise? Or FM-2030?

If you’re not sure Tom Cruise is crazy, check out his interview expressing his hope to “create a new reality… with enough love, compassion, and toughness.”  I miss Jesus already.  (Helpful explanations of his jargon here.)

Yet Scientology is part of the larger movement of transhumanism, and they’re not even the craziest ones in the movement.  Not to be confused with transsexuality, which this is not the place to discuss, transhumanists hope to incorporate advances in technology and “spirituality” to become immortal, post-human entities (and sometimes cyborgs).

I originally entitled this post “Science Fiction + religion – God = 😦 ” but changed when I realized that some might infer atheist non-cult-members, many of whose views I greatly respect, as being lumped along with self-theist psychos. I value dialog with people of other beliefs, but even I have my limits and and some point have to cry, “Dude, that’s loco!”

Worship someone, please, but not your future self.

God’s Facebook

In contemporary terms, this is what religious — and especially theological — folks tell you when they want to tell you about God: come see God’s facebook page!

We can describe Him.  What He likes.  Or She, depending on who’s describing.  What He doesn’t like.  What movies He approves of.  What political issues.  Whether He’s pro-zombies or pro-pirates.  Etc.

We can describe Him, but these different versions don’t match.  There’s one hundred variations what God is like.  Who are you going to believe?  On what basis?

I can describe Him, tell all about Him.  But knowledge about is head knowledge.  Knowledge of, true experiential relational knowledge is of the heart.

 I can describe my mother.  But the older I get, the less certain I am that I truly know her.

Maybe you know about God.  But do you know God?  Have you seen Him face-to-face, and not just facebook-to-facebook?  I will someday.

“Tell me all your thoughts on god, ’cause I’m on my way to see her….”  — Dishwalla

Be a Blessing!

God’s original promise to Abraham was to make him the father of all nations, “so that through you all nations might be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).

Orthodox Jews want to fulfill that promise, but the believe that they must bring all Jews back to God first.

Why wait?

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27-28

I hear a lot about Christians going around and cursing people: not “cussing them out” cursing, but “calling down fire and brimstone” cursing.  I don’t think that Jesus leaves us any room for that.

Why pray for riches for yourself, which do not satisfy, when you can pray: “God, make me a blessing to others!”?  Your co-workers.  Your spouse.  Your children.  Your parents.  Random dude on the street.  Use your imagination.

The world is changed by such simple, small prayers as these.  You might not make any headlines, but you will make someone’s day, if not someone’s eternity.  What could be more satisfying than that?

All Roads Lead to Heaven?

“We’re right and we’re the only ones!” shout the Pope, the Baptist preacher, and the cult leader in unison across the trenches.

Then, at Starbucks, in the classroom, in the locker room I hear, “All religions are equal.” Equally right, which means equally wrong, so live it up.

What if there is a third option? What if all of us are wrong, but some of us are less wrong than others?

What if only one person has ever had it 100% right: Jesus. The only human who has ever had a true understanding of reality, of God, or of anything else. Hold on, He was God. The rest of us are finite and screwed-up. But Jesus offered to bring to God any who would follow Him.

Christ saves, not any church, Roman Catholic or otherwise. For some of us, like my best philosopher friends, following Christ means becoming Roman Catholic. For others of us, it means becoming irreverent renegades. Or Baptists.

Different Christian groups, with their different emphases, offer different aspects of the truth about Christ and His teaching: love, grace, the awesomeness of God, the importance of His Word, loving the poor and the oppressed, community, tradition and history, and the reality of how messed-up we are all in this life, etc. If we only turn to our traditions, and not also to their Source, we’ll leave out important aspects of the Truth.

I see in other religions aspects of the truth about God also: the peacefulness of Buddhism; the discipline of Islam; the wild diversity of Hinduism; the restful rituals of Judaism. But I see also important differences. In every case, God is either less of a Person (Buddhism and Hinduism), or less personal (Judaism without Christ; Islam). But do other religions lead to heaven? That is the difficult question facing all Christians today.

I offer a strange possibility which should offend people on both sides of the debate. I think that we’re asking the wrong question. Does any religion lead to heaven? No.

No religion leads to heaven. God leads to heaven. He does so through Christ, but many times the -ianity (or the -ians) gets in the way. Religion — our beliefs, our practices — these are all means to an end: Him. There are many false ways, some in and some outside of Christianity, but only one Shepherd. Many who have correct beliefs, but who did not trust Christ, will be in hell (James 2:19). Is it possible that many who have incorrect beliefs, but who trust Christ, will end up in heaven? I think so, for who among us can claim a 100% understanding of God? I am saved by Who I know, not by what I know. But is it possible to trust Christ without knowing that it’s Christ? I don’t know. But I need to love, listen, speak, and pray as if every moment counts toward that end.

Information vs. Relationship

The academic study of religion teaches you to love God the way psychology teaches you to make friends and the way that biology teaches you how to make love to your wife: it doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a professional student.  But the academic disciplines supply us with information and with ways of seeing things, some but not all of them helpful in reaching our ultimate goal: closeness with each other and with the Eternal.

What we believe is important, but secondary to who we follow.  Information is no substitute for Person.  Just like in any relationship, you must never fall in love with your idea of someone more than in the actual Person!  We are saved by God, not by our theology; by Who we know, not by what we know.

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that… and shudder.”  James 2:19

Atheist-Christian Dialog: On What Basis Good?

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

After two-weeks of e-mail back and forth, Skeptigator and I have posted the polished results of our conversation: On What Basis Do You Decide What is Good?  The venture is as much mine as it is his, but for sheer simplicity’s sake, the conversation is posted in full only on his site.  That way, we can both reply to one stream of comments.

However, I will give you at least the cliff note’s version here.  That should give you a flavor for what you’re in for with the full version of this conversation and with future conversations on other topics.

Introduction

Skeptigator’s original question to all of us was: Does atheism lead to humanism?”. He concluded that it had for him and that, even if “humanism” was difficult to define, it had to include emphasis on human responsibility for fixing the world’s problems via reason and science.

My question: If humanity is to solve the world’s problems, how are we to decide which problems are worth solving? And do those ends justify any means? In other words, how do you determine moral goals and the moral actions necessary to fulfill them? On what basis do you decide what good is? Or is there no basis?

My conclusions:

Skeptigator and I agree on four basic things: that we should alleviate human suffering; that reason should play a role in that process; that we should all be willing to work together in practical ways; and that this is a conversation worth having. I commend him for his desire to alleviate suffering everywhere, regardless of any benefit to himself.

The details of our disagreement stem from one primary source (surprise!): the existence of God. And not just any God, but a God who is engaged in human history and knows our suffering on a personal level. An intellectual solution to physical suffering is insufficient. “Every one of us is made to suffer,” Annie Lennox says. It is true, for which of us has not known our fair share of physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual woe? Our problem is bigger than we by ourselves can fix, although we are a part of the solution. The God of Jesus knows, cares, helps us now, and promises that final justice is on the way.

The second less obvious source of disagreement is human nature. Skeptigator, by his own admission [in original “Does Atheism Lead to Humanism” comments], sees no need to define it. I do. I have no business believing that we need God unless I believe that we are needy! By ourselves, we cannot do good. “If history has shown us anything, it is that you can kill anyone,” said Don Corleone. And we will kill anyone, I might add. Christians, Muslims, atheists and everyone else in power throughout history have always abused that power; and they always will, until this world ends, because we are human. We will always seek power, always abuse it in the name of the greater good, and always insist that this tendency is the problem of an isolated few.

The third significant issue is what began this whole conversation: humanism’s basis for determining good. Reason, human experience, and science are useful tools, but are not sufficient for establishing morality and purpose in life. Neither are they sufficient for establishing a consensus, even a wrong one. Disagreement is in our nature. Human reason has its limits, which we are wise to acknowledge.

In the end, we’re both skeptics: him about God, me about us. The burden of proof is on me, but I have none. Evidence and testimony, sure, but no proof. The only one who can prove His existence is God Himself. He refuses, for the time being, for our benefit. Faith will have to remain faith: “the evidence of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Skeptigator’s Conclusions:

Faithfool obviously has a religious faith and I obviously do not. Faithfool in his quest for understanding (and I dare say a budding skeptic but that’s perhaps wishful thinking) wanted me specifically to further explain where I derive my sense of morality.

The purpose of this conversation was to offer a unique way of discussing the source of morality if you do not have a religious faith (at least from my perspective). I think Faithfool and I could have gone for much longer than this however I believe we’ve each had enough space to make our cases. I do hope that this conversation will add to a growing number of conversations between people of faith and those without. As Faithfool pointed out recently to me, “we are not the only ones having this conversation”.

I do want boil down my primary answer to Faithfool’s question, “On what basis do you decide what good is?” Essentially my answer came down to “we are”. The combination of humanity’s experience, rational thinking and a scientific worldview is an extremely powerful tool or set of tools for understanding reality and the correct moral actions. I believe that this offers a better alternative to blind faith (a bit redundant I admit). I believe that moral actions have always been determined by human reason and that religion all too often captures/justifies immoral behavior at a certain point in time and that fossilizes and becomes incontrovertible dogma.

I am willing to accept uncertainty since a scientific worldview will never offer complete knowledge or certainty. I am willing to accept the possibility that we will make the wrong choices however and perhaps more importantly unlike many religious faiths we have a self-correcting mechanism in place.

Learning to Love the Opposition

What We Can Gain By Agreeing to Disagree

Most blog conversations, like most real-life conversations, represent like-minded individuals giving each other feedback.  I love it when a friend of mine posts a comment along the lines of “What you said was awesome!”  I can’t get enough of that.  In fact, the blogosphere might have even more affirmation than real life.  Maybe that’s why we love to be plugged in so much.

But what I really can’t get enough of: respectful disagreement expressed with clarity.  No matter what your religio-political-philosophical worldview, I hope you can agree: we can learn a lot from each other, especially when we disagree.

I want your atheism to help me be a better Christian, showing me the ways in which my faith and practice are lacking.  I want to see Buddhist Katy helping Mary Kay to be more Jewish.  I want Michael Moore to help W. to be a better Republican.  Why?  Because if we’re ultimately concerned with pursuing what is true and good, we help each other in that pursuit, even if our conceptions of truth and good differ as much as our ideas for how to live in light of them.

This is probably easier to show than to tell.  In the coming days I will be co-posting the first in a series of “Dialogs with an Atheist,” courtesy of Skeptigator.  I guess he and I got bored with limiting ourselves to in-depth discussion with those who are like-minded.

Every disagreement is a challenge.  Every challenge is an opportunity.  The bottom line: I don’t want to agree with you; I want to understand you.  If I can do that, I will have truly learned something and, I hope, gained a friend.

Taoist Wisdom

To attain knowledge, add things every day.  To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” — Lao-tse, Tao Te Ching

I am not Taoist, but man that seems like a good idea.  It’s different from my definition of wisdom (1), but jives well with the symptoms of wisdom (2).  What I love about other religions and view points is that they can give me a fresh perspective on my own.  Taoism reminds me of what should be aspects of my Christianity, but which I forgot along the way.

1: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  Psalm 111:10

2: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”  Isaiah 30:15

I cannot rest by simply desiring to.  But I can rest because of the trust that I put in God.

Published in: on July 10, 2007 at 5:26 pm  Leave a Comment