Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Only Way?

Is Jesus "the only way?" Well, as the humble swordsman Indigo Montoyo famously said in "The Princess Bride": "You keep saying that...I do not think it means what you think it means."

Below is a brief article from the blog of pastor Brett Nicholson of The Edge @ Bethel Temple, Evansville IN. I cannot kick off this discussion any better, so let him begin for us:

"Core to our calling as a church is to “make the case for the faith” to our generation. This is inspired by a study of the book of Acts and how Paul went about the task of missions. In that spirit, July is dedicated to equipping us to answer the question: “Is Christianity fact or fairy tale?”

We’ll begin with the question I think is the toughest.

“What makes us think Jesus is the only way?” Without question, of all the claims we make as believers, this one gets under people’s skin the most. Or, to put another way, “So if I don’t believe what you believe, I’m going to hell?” Ever heard that one in a conversation with an unbeliever? In the age of tolerance, it’s a pretty hard sell to say ours is the way and others are just out of luck. How do we answer?

There’s no question the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is the only way. But, I guess my goal is to fully appreciate and embrace the beauty of it rather than succumb to the temptation of grudgingly accepting it (in the back of my mind thinking God is too narrow). Better yet, I need to be able to articulate a solid answer when the question is posed. Therefore; my goal is to take a deep, hard look at Jesus’ claims to being the one and only way to eternal life."


Robert said...

How come I learn more from this blog than I actually do in a worship service? Please keep up the good instruction.

sac1066 said...

I have been following along for several months now, finding the courage to jump. Here I go...

Christainity's how to guide (The Holy Bible) tells us Jesus is the only way. What about believers of Islam from 300 hundred years ago or even today who were born, raised, and died, believing that Islam is the only way. They believe in a higher power. They believe in doing right in Allah's sake- we are all Allah's children. Are they left out? Has God/Allah made a way for them?

I have always been disturbed that, because I was born in a "Christian nation," I would see heaven. (if i kept my nose clean) Do you know how arrogant that sounds to anyone who believs differently? (Jew, Hindu, American Indian...) I think it sounds arrogant and I believe in Jesus being the Son Of God.

There are people who have died on this planet, never hearing Jesus' gospel. Do they get a quiz from Peter at the gate? "Is that your final answer?"

What if... Jesus was for the Jews? And they blew it! The rest of us are in trouble. (I know, I know...Go ye therefore and teach all nations...) We are believing in a faith that was/is never ours to begin with. Jesus is not the ticket for the Gentile, He is only for the Jewish believers.

OK, I am swimming in the deep end for sure. But know this, it is about faith. There is no proof you can touch one way or the other. My final answer is this: I have faith to believe that God has made a way for ALL (then, now, and when)to come to Him. I Dont know how it works, I just believe it does. We are God's creation (humans) and He is big enough to figure it out. I can explain to someone what i believe and how i came to that conclusion. But, i cannot give an answer if those who do not know, burn in Hell. I cant be just the luck of the draw, can I?

Joe B said...

Well no wonder you were hesitant to jump in Sac, you just left your first comment and already your house is surrounded by an angry mob of fundamenlist-exclusivists!

Hey, thanks for your contribution Sac. Sac states a position broadly called Inclusivism. The evangelical world, at least on the surface, is Exclusivist (stated as pastor Brett put it “So if I don’t believe what you believe, I’m going to hell?” Those who think God is too nice to punish evil at all are called Universalists.

I hope our Itinerant Calvinists drop in. They are exclusivists with an angle they can articulate better than I can.

Let the gams begin!

Scott said...

I suspect that I fall into the Exclusivist camp, as I *DO* believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one can get to the Father except through him.

However, I think it is also possible that we have too narrow a construct as Americans about what that means.

For example, I think of how the missionaries (chronicled in movies like "End of the Spear") explained the gospel to the Waodoni tribe in the Amazon basin. They didn't just read portions of the New Testament and expect them to get it -- When language was used, it was the Waodoni's language. For instance, they called God "Waengongi" (what the tribe already called the great spirit) and said he "marked his trail with carvings" (the Bible). Jesus was described as someone "who was speared, but didn't spear back." And the belief system was acted out with selfless actions and radical forgiveness.

I'm pretty sure that the Waodoni understood the basic concept, but it would have looked pretty dissimilar to what I learned in Sunday School. Do I believe those people became what we'd call "Christians"? Of course, and you wouldn't find many who would disagree.

I don't think it matters if you call God "God" or "Waengongi" or "Allah," but I *do* believe that Jesus, the son of God, is the only way to get there. That's a pretty basic tenet of Christianity. Actually, it's THE basic tenet of Christianity.

At the same time, I also love this quote: "I guess my goal is to fully appreciate and embrace the beauty of it rather than succumb to the temptation of grudgingly accepting it (in the back of my mind thinking God is too narrow)." Amen.

And is God big enough to possibly make a way for those that have never heard the Christ-story? Of course he is. That's why he's God. And I'll leave it up to him. :-)

Craig said...

Glad to see folks chiming in here; I was beginning to feel like the nerdy kid who was always sitting up front, waving his hand in the air. . .

OK, then. . .

"What makes us think Jesus is the only way?"

At first blush, I'm tempted to ask if that's a trick question. I mean, Jesus Himself said He was. John 14:6, and all that. And, if we weren't paying attention, in Acts 4:12, Peter reinforces the point for us. I mean, for Christians, that's pretty much the basic-basic answer.

But of course (and especially in conversation with those who don't share our Christian commitment), that leads pretty directly to the question, "Why should I care what Jesus says, or what Peter (or anyone else) says about Jesus?" And that's a harder question to answer, at least to the satisfaction of our non-Christian interlocutors. On one level, the answer boils down to an 'existential' one - 'I know whom I have believed'. . . And I suppose, questions like that are the reason there's such a thing as apologetics. . .


On a different tangent, this also brings to mind St. Augustine's famous saying that "Not all those whom God has, does the Church have; and not all those whom the Church has, does God have." Always a salutary thing to keep in mind the distinction between church membership and salvation. Or, as my bishops are coming to the realization, even between baptism and salvation. . .

My favorite living author, Peter Kreeft, has explored the notion that a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Buddhist, or whomever, might be saved, but that, however (by whatever mysterious process) that would happen, he is saved by Jesus. Interesting idea; of course, we Western Christians want to dig into the details of how that would work, but it seems to me that an Eastern Orthodox approach works better - "Eez meestery". On some level, we have to admit that saving humans is God's business, and He knows His business better than we do.

Which certainly doesn't take us out of our duty to Preach the Good News - we're accountable for what we do know, as are (and have been) all human beings.


And Scott, you make good points; reminds me of what Don Richardson has said (in books like 'Peace Child') about 'redemptive analogies'. . .

Joe B said...

Okay, here's my final answer until someone enlightens me further: It is a classic case of asking the wrong question.

I know you'll say that's a copout, but folks, I've been pilloried for my "copout" for 15 years--it's hardly a comfortable place to stand.

I am NOT speaking for Rev Brett here, he would never say this. But look at his article: the UNbeliever asks the question, right? And what does he do? He tries to "embrace the beauty of it" instead. Why? Instinctively a man who knows God up close knows not to sit in his chair!

Exclusivism puts man in God's judgement seat; Universalism pulls God's seat out from under him; Inclusivism tempts ignorant Man to fill in the blanks reserved to the all-knowing God.

"This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, kai tote hcei to telov! [Mt 24:14]

So I stand by my weeni-ness: Who gets saved & who gets burned is the wrong question to debate. The question is "what IS the gospel, are you gonna preach it, and what does that silly greek sentence above actually mean??"

Joe B said...

Kreeft rocks. Also noteworthy (and controversial) on this subject is Dallas Willard who cites Romans 2 to say "everyone worth saving gets saved, and they are saved by Jesus."

I'm not significant enough to be controversial. I can't wait til some magazine publishes an article by some big name about how baaad I am.

Craig said...

"a man who knows God up close knows not to sit in his chair"

I couldn't have said it better myself. . .

Joe B said...

That pricless gem just came out as I was writing. I make a lot of attempts, sometimes I hit a three.

By the way SAC1066, that was a great comment. Do we know each other? I even googled it...if I did that on CSI Miami a picture of you and all your victims would have popped up on the screen.

sac1066 said...

"All of my victims" notwithstanding, all this time i thought i knew nothing of who God is. Somehow, through His grace, i got up off His throne and got out of the way.

Sometimes it is so easy to judge. There was a time when i thought it was my job.

You will never know what that sentence means to me now.

Thank you.
sac1066 is scott a carver
Aurora, Colorado

Eutychus said...

"Sometimes it is so easy to judge. There was a time when i thought it was my job."

This is the quote of the year, 2009. Sorry Joe B, the trophy has passed to sac 1066.

Scott said...

Joe, if it's the wrong question, don't blame us for trying to answer it. You are the one that posted the question in the first place. :-)

One of the things we try to do in studying God, and studying the Bible, is trying to understand him. If we are humble in our search for knowledge, then we aren't necessarily putting ourselves in God's judgment seat. Yes, some do, indeed, try to put themselves there. But I do think it's possible to try to answer that type of question and not sit in that seat. Any answer I give will most likely include the phrase, "But in the end, it's up to God."

I have very much come to appreciate that phrase, "everyone worth saving gets saved, and they are saved by Jesus." Will Jesus save some people that haven't prayed that sinner's prayer that I learned as a kid? Possibly. I don't know. It will be through him, though, one way or another.

Having said all of that, it would be a danger for us as followers of Jesus to assume that people of Islam and Judaism don't need to hear about Jesus from us. It is still my job to preach of the kingdom of God as here-and-now through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I can't ASSUME anyone is "saved," neither the Muslim in Iran nor the guy sitting next to me in a pew on Sunday morning.

As to Joe's mention of Matthew 24 (the NIV translates that Greek as "and then the end will come"), that whole chapter has often confused me. At least it started confusing me once I got out of my "every verse is written to me as a 20th-century American" mindset.

Is that chapter talking about some Tim Lahaye-style eschatology, or perhaps even espousing a Preterist view that the "end" that Jesus spoke of was coming very, very soon for the 1st century Jew?

Probably a debate for another time...

Joe B said...

Against the backdrop of obsession with the issue of who gets into heaven and how to avoid hell, every discussion tends to look alike. No wonder Brett's hypothetical unbeliever must ask "so if I don't believe like you I burn in hell?" instead of "how may I inherit eternal life?" Who can blame them if they stumble over the very obstacle we put before them?

Nowhere does the bible command that anyone believe in heaven, or dread hell. Jesus said "You search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life. But they speak of ME."