Friday, December 7, 2012

Why I'm not a Particularist

                Last week I talked about pluralism and why I cannot ascribe to the idea that “all paths reach the same summit.” Pluralism is a particular religion with a particular truth claim which is, at heart, atheistic. Today, I’d like to alienate still more readers by arguing the other side of the coin. Today, I’m going to explain why I think there will be non-Christians in Heaven.

                First, the Bible sets the threshold for salvation exceedingly low:
Luke 7: 50 Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
Luke describes a prostitute who comes to Jesus and pours perfume over his feet. The Pharisee with whom he was eating scoffed at Jesus for allowing a “sinful woman” to touch him. After a parable about debts, Jesus extols the prostitute’s actions and declares that her sins are forgiven. When the Pharisee questions his authority to forgive sins Jesus speaks the above words of 7:50. What was her faith in? Was it faith that Jesus was light from light, true God of true God; that he was begotten not made? Was it that He would die on the cross and three days later rise again? No, she knew nothing of this. Her faith was the simplest and barest of hopes that she might be accepted, not because of her own righteousness, but because of God’s grace and Jesus’ mercy. Jesus did not quiz her on theology before forgiving her, he saw the faith she had in the love of God, and that was enough. Faith in the grace of God saves us.

Acts 2:21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'
Paul quotes this same passage, originally from Joel, in Romans. In Joel the promise was restricted to the survivors still left in Jerusalem after a great invasion. Peter, speaking here in Acts, extends the promise to all the Jewish people. Paul then specifically extends the promise to all people saying in verse 12 “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile--the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,”.

Pluralism says that God is like a wise old man sitting up on top of a mountain, waiting for the people of the valley to come up to him so that he may bestow upon them the gift of salvation. Any way you can scale the mountain is fine because though there are many paths, there is but one summit. I believe that this analogy has one major flaw. It gives us too much credit. We, in our sinful and broken frame of mind and body are purely unable to scale the mountain. We have fallen too far, our instincts are too base and animalistic, the mountain is too steep, and our arms are too frail. Evil is too sticky, and greed is too pervasive. There is a categorical difference between holy God and finite humanity that we are wholly unable to cross. God, however, is able to cross that gap.

The Pluralistic “God” is not a god of love; how can he be if he never raises a finger to help the penitent who seek him? The true God of love came down off the mountain to unite His divinity with our humanity, bridging the gap between God and humans and lifting us up to the summit of salvation. He made a way for us. That way is recorded in the Bible and is the content of the Christian gospel, or evangelos (good news). This is what John refers to in John 10:19
I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.
So then, asks the skeptical pluralists, what of all the poor people who don’t know about the Christian gospel or who aren’t equipped to realize its truth? They are all just callously tossed into Hell? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not the judge and it’s not my place to decide that; however, I will give you my non-dogmatic opinion.

I believe that God loved us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us. I believe that He did this for love, so that we might commune together. That said, I cannot fathom that He would love us so much as to die for us, but then turn His back because we weren’t equipped to pass a pop quiz on theology. The Bible speaks over and over again about how it is by faith that we are saved, that all who call on the name of the Lord are saved, and I wonder what that really means.

Maybe “faith in God” is not synonymous with “believing the historic story of the factual details of Jesus’ life.” Maybe you don’t need to know the name of a gate to be able to cross through it. Maybe our faith is in the grace and love of God. Maybe our confession need not be of every sin called such in Scripture but rather of our human frailty and inability to achieve salvation on our own. Maybe trust means throwing as much of yourself as you can into the hands of God, as much as you know of Him, with as much abandon as you can muster.

C.S. Lewis, in The Last Battle, tells of the end of the world when all the righteous creatures of Narnia go to commune with Aslan and the great King Beyond the Sea. As they go, they see a man from Calormene going with them, and they are confused. Didn’t this Calormene deny Aslan? Didn’t he follow the evil god Tash? Aslan says to the Calormene “Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me . . . For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn.”[1]

The idea is that what truly distinguishes the believer from the non-believer is not a body of knowledge or factual acceptance but rather what is in the heart. It is the difference between those who rely on their own merit and those who rely on God’s grace and love; those who are focused on their own fulfillment, desires and goals vs. those who are focused on God’s glory, His desires, and His kingdom. It might be termed a difference between humanism and theism, or, since those terms are already used for other purposes, anthropocentrism and theocentrism.

So then, one might ask, what is the purpose of evangelism. Tell me, if two men are lost in a forest and one has a vague notion, by the sun and stars, which direction to go; while the other has in addition to this, a map and compass; even if both make it to safety, which one will have an easier time of it? Which one will make it out quicker and be able to turn around and help rescue others? This is the difference between salvation and Christianity. I believe that you may be saved without knowing all the theological facts; I also believe that it is better to know the theological facts, to read explicitly in the Bible what God’s goals are so that we may be working towards the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.

So, last week I explained why I’m not a Pluralist; now you know why and how I am not a particularist.

[1]  C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle. (New York: Harper Collins, 1984) 205.

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