God only knows.
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.)
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).
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.
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
“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.
What If You Had a Super-Power? Wait… You Already Have One.
I can’t tell you how many small group ice-breakers and conversations I’ve had centering on the topic of super-powers. And this isn’t just a conversation for the boys. Everyone loves this one. Who wouldn’t want to choose their super-power?
The sticking point in the mythos of any super-hero is that the hero never chooses his (or her) power. The power chooses the hero. It is never asked for. It is often rejected, neglected, and misused. Shoot, if you’re Spider-Man or the Hulk, your power doesn’t even work on command. “With great power comes great responsibility,” and responsibility is something our culture deals with poorly.
You have great power. You probably just didn’t know it. Blogging. At the push of a button, you can listen in on any number of people’s deepest thoughts and desires. You can do so without the interference of corporeal existence (it’s without your body, dude!). More importantly, you have effectively unlimited time to meditate your response. No more not listening. No more putting your foot in your mouth due to lack of forethought. Your words have the power to give life or to take it away, to encourage or to discourage. Choose them wisely.
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.