How should we handle alternate spiritualities?

Monday Musings for April 18, 2022

Good morning, Musers,

Today’s musings address an issue akin to — but not exactly equal to — the idea of religious pluralism. Some people aver that God exists... but that all religions are different paths to the same God. Some people aver that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe it sincerely... because your sincerity will win the day, and God will take you home.

Ideas like these make evangelical Christians cringe — and why not? We are convinced that Christian particularism is true. We take Peter at his word when he said about Jesus that “salvation is found in no one else” (Acts 4:12). That teaching was both plain and emphatic.

But Christian particularism has a dire outcome... too dire for many Christians. Since the vast majority of people who have ever lived have never heard of Jesus Christ (I estimate 90+ %), the vast majority of people will spend eternity suffering in hell... and that’s as dire as it gets!

But is this a reasonable outcome from a God who says of salvation, “Come now, and let us reason together... though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)... from a God who wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth? (1 Timothy 2:4).

“But,” you may argue, “God is holy... and he can’t have sin in his presence.” My response to that is, “Who says? Who says God can’t have sin in his presence?”

Now, the premise that God is holy is well established. But the conclusion about God not being able to be somewhere does not obtain. You see, it’s illogical to say of an omnipotent and omnipresent God that he cannot be somewhere. Why would someone attach such a defect to God? To make Christianity harder? To make it more grave?

But that’s not the worst of it. The idea that God can’t be in the presence of sin is found nowhere in Scripture. Redemption is not the story of God hiding from sin. It is the story of God dealing with sin... of God being up to his neck in sin! This is the perfect example of an evangelical “add-on” ... and add-ons are as bad as “leave-outs.”

Does this mean that God’s holiness doesn’t matter... or that we all get a pass and wind up in heaven? No. But you should know that most of the early church fathers subscribed to some version of universal redemption. Most of our evangelical distinctions didn’t show up until many centuries after the early church fathers — and some didn’t show up for millennia!

When parsing these types of questions we should ask, which of their propositions best represent the teachings of the Bible — and of Jesus, more specifically. Jesus loved sinners. He hung out with sinners. He died for sinners. He was God... not God’s errand boy (John 10:30).

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day “added” to the law. With that process, they made each convert “twice as much a child of hell” as they were. (Matthew 23:15). So, whatever else we do, let’s not do that! But let’s not go too far the other way. There is still a path of righteousness and a path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13). Let’s learn the truth and teach the truth.

 

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