2. The anti-intellectual, anti-science stance of some Christians
3. Christianity’s views of other world religions
4. Questions related to the role of God in human suffering
5. The way Christians view homosexuality
The first two points were discussed last time. The third criticism of Christianity is that our views of other world religions are “un-christian.” Many of us grew up not knowing people of other religions, maybe not even other Christian denominations. It was easier to unquestioningly accept assumptions that people of other faiths were ignorant and misguided heathens and that they would on Judgment Day be consigned to hell for not having chosen the one true religion.
The GTA is a multi-cultural centre. The more people we know who are devout members of other religions, the harder it becomes to believe that all such people will suffer eternally in hell because they did not call upon the name of Jesus Christ. This is particularly true for young adults who have grown up in a more multicultural, pluralistic world than previous generations.
A soldier who served in Afghanistan saw Muslims stop what they were doing in the middle of the day and fall on their knees in prayer. He saw their devotion to God and observed how they live their scriptures. He became increasingly sceptical of Christian claims about the fate of people of other religions. He wrote:
One of the things I have always had trouble swallowing with the Christian faith is that we have a God of compassion, a God of love, a God of forgiveness, but if you don’t say, “Jesus you’re my saviour,” you’re gonna burn. Flat out …. That’s not forgiving, that’s not compassion, that’s coercion, that’s blackmail. People all over the world ….could live the best life. They could be compassionate, they could be understanding, they could do their best to help their community, to help other people, to serve their nation …. but you’re going to tell them that this person who lived an idyllic life of straight moral value is going to go to hell just because he didn’t say, “I love Jesus?” There’s something there that is not right. There is something about that puzzle piece that doesn’t fit in with what Christian faith is trying to sell.
How much do we know about people of other faiths? Some worry that if we preach or talk about other faiths, some might lose theirs. Knowing about other faiths can actually help us to grow stronger in ours. Muslims pray five times a day and give 2.5% of their income to the needy. Hindu philosophy of non-injury helps us see love in new ways. Buddha’s existential struggles relate to suffering and death and give us a deeper appreciation of Christian doctrines of redemption and resurrection. We need to better understand in order to be able to talk to our neighbours, co-workers, and friends.
Pressuring people to accept Christ seldom leads to a desire to become a Christian. There is nothing wrong with sharing our faith, sharing the good news. The problem is sharing in an arrogant, disrespectful, hurtful, insulting, insensitive way. During the first century, Christians were a minority. Paul speaks to Greek philosophers and doesn’t insult them (Acts 17). He identifies one of the unknown gods they worship with God of the Bible. Peter offers advice to Christians in how to share their faith (Peter 2:12)
….live such good lives among the pagans that …. they may see your good deeds – Show proper respect to everyone (v. 17) – Be compassionate and humble ….
Christians (conservative and evangelical traditions) answer the question of eternal fate of faithful Jews, Muslims, and Hindus by saying that such persons will be damned because they do not avail themselves of the gift of salvation offered in Jesus Christ. Humans are born into sin and sin separates us from God here and in eternity. A holy and righteous God cannot admit persons who are still sinful into heaven. God provided salvation through his Son. Salvation from sin and death are available to all. All must trust in Christ for salvation.
In the fifth century, St. Augustine championed this view. It was restated by John Calvin in the sixteenth century. In its harshest and most consistent form, it excludes even infants who die who have not received Christ. It excludes anyone who never heard the good news. It excludes those with mental disabilities who did not receive Christ. Many Christians allow exceptions in these cases, but most consistent ones do not. This is Christian Exclusivism.
The second answer to the fate of faithful Jews, Muslims and Hindus is the opposite of Christian Exclusivism. It’s Christian Universalism. The belief is that all persons, not just faithful Jews, Muslims and Hindus, will ultimately be reconciled to God and are bound for the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who hold this view also believe in hell as a temporary place, with the primary focus of redemption rather than punishment. Hell’s purpose is to lead people to repentance. They claim that many important theologians held this view. The challenge appears to remove human freedom to reject God. The Bible teaches that God has given human beings freedom to resist God’s grace, to reject God’s will, and to do what God finds abhorrent (e.g. totalitarian dictators and others who made themselves out to be gods and were responsible for the murder of millions).
The third alternative is Christian Inclusivism. This teaches that Jesus is the Son of God who came to offer salvation for the world. It teaches that salvation of the human race is made possible by Jesus. This salvation can be given by God regardless of whether an individual personally knows Jesus Christ. God can offer this gift based upon the criteria God chooses. This view notes that the Christian gospel teaches that salvation is a gift given by God. Humans can do nothing to merit salvation, they simply trust in it. They receive it as a gift of God’s grace. Our part is simply faith. The question to adherents of others religions is, do they have faith? They may not have complete knowledge of what God has done in Jesus Christ, but they can have complete trust in God.
This view offers evidence that those in the Bible who came before the time of Jesus also were saved by faith, a faith that did not include Jesus, for he had not yet been born (Hebrews 11:4-40). Inclusivism reminds us that the Christian gospel tells us that we are saved by grace. In the New Testament, grace refers to God’s kindness, love, care, work on our behalf, blessings, gifts, goodness, and salvation. It is undeserved. God’s grace is pure gift. We are saved by God’s initiative because of God’s love, God’s righteousness, God’s kindness, and God’s mercy.
For those who don’t understand or have not made sense of the gospel, but have sought God, to love God, to do what God desires, the very act of seeking God is an expression of faith. Inclusivism is the official position of the Roman Catholic church and is the generally accepted view of most mainline Protestants, including the Lutheran Church. This view maintains that salvation is by and through Christ, and that is received by faith. It makes clear that salvation is a gift from God, given and not based on human actions or even as a result of theological knowledge. It is given by God through Christ to whomever God wishes to give it to. It is based on Jesus’ ministry. God seems to desire to give salvation to all who would listen and trust in his mercy.
So why bother to share the gospel? Why have so many missionaries risked their lives to offer Christ to people who do not know him? Is the only reason we share the good news is that we believe God will eternally torment people in hell if we don’t tell them about Jesus? Is avoiding hell the only reason to become a Christian? Is Christianity really only about getting a ticket to heaven?
We tell others about Jesus because we believe that in him we see and understand who God is and who we are meant to be. We tell others about Jesus because we believe he teaches us about love, mercy, and the grace of God. From him we learn sacrificial love. We experience forgiveness and mercy. We believe he is the way, the truth, and the life. He has changed our life so that the richest and most meaningful parts of life are somehow made so by him. We want others to know that God already loves them and that Christ offers us both the truth about God and God’s will for humanity. In Christ we hear the good news of God’s sacrificial love, of forgiveness of sins, and hope of everlasting life.
We do not share Christ because we believe God eternally torments those who love him but don’t understand to call upon the name of Christ. We get it right when we demonstrate respect, humility and love. We get it right when we listen to and learn from people of other faiths while humbly sharing our own faith with them. We need to look for points of contact and commonality as we share our reasons for our faith in Christ with gentleness and respect.
In my next blog we will look at questions relating to the role of God in human suffering and un-christian attitudes in politics.