Thursday, May 10, 2007

Father Dan on Salvation

Father Dan Martins has a great post on salvation today, that deals with the very tricky question of what to make of the last clause John 14:6 ("No one comes to the Father but by me" ). Here is part of what Father Dan had to say:

Must one be a Christian to be saved, to avoid Hell and gain Heaven, or are there alternative pathways? This, of course, is the very tempest into which the Presiding Bishop sailed before she even took office last year, and one of the bases for continuing assertions of her sub-orthodox christology and soteriology. The funeral service for President Ford in Washington Cathedral encountered the same storm when somebody (no one has claimed credit, to my knowledge) omitted the last clause from John 14:6, the gospel reading for the occasion. What was left out? "No one comes to the Father but by me" (Jesus speaking).

For some reason, this is a particularly interesting question to secular journalists and pundits and social critics who attempt to "cover" religion. By professional disposition, they are on the outside looking in. Yet, they can't really be on the outside--they're actually only on the margins--because they swim very much in the stream of our still vaguely Christian western culture. They may even have some formal religious connection, though uncomfortably so, and therefore likely coming under the heading of "non-practicing" (whatever that means).

What such erstwhile dispassionate observers often do, I find, to my annoyance, is posit a dilemma that looks something like this: Either one takes what is presumed to be a sort of strict constructionist view of John 14:6, which consigns to Hell anyone who does not at some point in this mortal life consciously and intentionally "turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as [their] Savior," or one takes the full-blown pluralist position that there are several equally valid paths to the Divine; Christ and Christianity being one of them, and possibly the default mode for those formed by the European cultural inheritance. But faithful Muslims and Hindus and practitioners of Native American religions et al are not at any disadvantage by virtue of their not being Christian.

Well, I don't like either option, and I don't think it's necessary to choose one or the other. The strict constructionist view does, in fact, make God awfully petty. It is not consistent what the larger picture of what else is revealed about the nature of God in scripture. I believe there is a Hell because the Bible tells me that human beings are created with free will and that the quality of God's love is such that He will not hang on to somebody who doesn't want to be hung on to. God is a seducer, not a rapist. But I don't believe Hell is populated with the souls of Lower Slobovians who, by accident of birth, never heard the name of Jesus. Nor do I believe that a practicing Buddhist or Sikh or Zoroastrian is necessarily Hell-bound simply by virtue of practicing one of those less-than-fully-true religions rather than Christianity.

But, is this the same thing as saying that there are many paths to God and each is equally valid?

No.


Read it all.

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