Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Problem of Exclusivity 2

A second problem that I have with hard exclusivism is the reality of hell. This is one of those topics that when brought up to Christians most just assume the reality of a lake of fire in the center of the earth where all the non-chosen will be sent to live in eternal torment. While I disagree with the literalism of many interpretations of hell, I think Christians must deal with the reality of really really believing in hell.

One of the best illustrations that I have come into contact works something like this. In order to really really believe in hell, you would have to foresee a future where you would live in a wonderful mansion on top of a hill. You would live with all the creature comforts that a human can enjoy, every wish and desire is met. The only drawback to the life of bliss that you are living is that there is a concentration camp at the bottom of the hill where your fellow man is being tortured day after day. That doesn't exactly sound like the life of bliss that I look forward to upon my exit from this world.

I am not saying that the existence of hell, or judgment should come under attack. I personally read the Scriptures as having clear indications that a life of rejection of God leads to personal judgment. But what I am saying is that most Christians are too quick to assume that they are in and others are out, and those who have not assented to a specific message are destined for a life of indescribable torture at the hands of God.

Really really believing in hell must bring us face to face with this reality. I wonder how many Christians have really ever thought this one through. I also wonder how many Christians have actually looked up all the references in the Scripture on hell, and asked themselves what the Scriptures actually say.

I have found that too often our visions of hell are more influenced by popular culture than they are by what the Scriptures actually say. None of this means that I don't believe in hell or judgment, but rather I would call all serious Christians to an examination of what the Scriptures actually say. And my challenge is this. To really really believe in hell you have to deal in some way with that concentration camp at the bottom of the hill.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Problem of Exclusivity

"There can be no doubt that certain types of evangelical theology have caused considerable anxiety in this respect by their apparent insistence that only those who respond to the explicit verbal proclamation of the gospel will be saved... But this is flawed theology, which limits God's modes of action, disclosure, and saving power."

--Alister McGrath

Most evangelicals consider themselves exclusivists, without ever realizing some of the pitfalls of their position. While conservatives will be willing to defend the hill of exclusivity till death, maybe a softening of the position is long overdue. Hard exclusivism teaches that only a direct response to the verbal proclamation of the gospel is effective in atoning for the sins of the hearer. But I agree with McGrath that this limits the breadth and scope of God's saving power. There are certainly Biblical examples of those outside the line of salvific history that are considered part of the family of God [Melchizedek, Abimelech, etc.]

This is not to say that pluralism should rule as king, or even inclusivism that views all paths as leading to salvation through Christ. We must begin to recognize the saving power of Christ that extends beyond our abilities. The eternal purposes of God will be established. Perhaps a better way forward is to begin to recognize the saving power of God, that can extend beyond an explicit elucidation of the gospel.

Does general revelation take the place of specific revelation? I don't think so personally, but what I do believe is that God will judge each individual on the basis of their knowledge and their personal response to God.

While I am personally not an inclusivist, I am also not a hard exclusivist. I recognize that the work of God is possible outside of my preconceived notions of how a person is to be saved. I do not believe that salvation lies in any religious path to the divine, but I do believe that God will judge all people individually, and he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy

Christians often times become obsessed with creating dividing lines of who is in and who is out. I believe our stance on that particular question should remain a stance of the agnostic. God alone will judge, our time on earth is better spent doing unto others as we would have them do to us, than on deciding who fits into the "in" category. Christians love to draw lines in the sand and defend their territory, but perhaps a better way forward is to first recognize our similarities, and our mutual need for the work of God in our lives.