Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Christianity and Other Religions

More on the general topics of the previous post:


The fact that Jesus Christ is God forms the beginning of my views on how Christ relates to religious plurality. Others such as John Hick may reject this idea, but it seems to me to be the consensus of biblical and traditional sources which I regard as having authority in such areas. To reject this idea as Hick does because it gives a consequence one does not want is clearly question-begging. Against people like Hick or Samartha, truth should not be sacrificed for the sake of supposed practical benefits. There is such thing as absolute truth (to deny this would be to undercut that very denial, since it itself would have to be an absolute truth) and religions make claims of absolute truth, hence the truth or falsity of the claims of various religions matters indeed. Christ being God, he speaks truth and hence to reject or relativize his truth for some other gain is foolhardy to the extreme. Every religion, then, cannot be on a par since they make conflicting truth claims and hence at most one religious figure making these conflicting claims can be correct. At most one can be the ultimate authority who should not be relativized or rejected.

Since Christ is God, though, to reject Christ is therefore to reject God. Contra Hick and some other pluralists, then, Christ the one true God in the flesh. A theocentric vision of world religions such as advocated by Panikkar or Knitter, then, does not do justice to the Trinity, for it leaves out the Second Person in favor of the First (other thinkers would leave out the Second in favor of the Third). But the Trinity cannot be so divided, for we have one God working in the world who is not only Father or Holy Spirit but also Jesus Christ, the Son.

As God, then, Christ is unique – every other revered human’s life or teaching is at odds with Christ’s at some point or admits to being no different from other humans (unless it is by degree). As God, Christ’s life and teaching are perfect and of divine authority. Hence, everything inconsistent with those is to be rejected – he is the unique way, truth, and life. To treat Christ as if he was on par with other human religious leaders, then, as some pluralists do, is simply wrong. Mohammed, Buddha, or whoever else there may be do not teach all things consistently with Christ and since Christ is God, they are not and he is ultimate revealer and mediator, not they. He is the measure by which they are to be measured and none of them meet the standard.

The religious systems organized by and around these other figures, then, since they are not endorsed by Christ and conflict with his authority (I am putting pre-Christian Judaism to the side for the moment), do not have God-given authority since they lack Christ’s authority. These other religious systems, then, contain much that may be false, harmful, or keeping people from accepting Christ. With those who see religions as God-instituted systems for salvation, we can say that there is some truth in them and remnants of or distortions of memories or interpretations of actual revelation from God, but against those same thinkers, we must also say that the religious system itself as a whole cannot be seen as instituted by God in the way that biblical religion has been since these systems clash with rather reside in the authority of Christ. Jesus approved of the Old Testament as authoritative and of God and himself as the culmination of rather than contradiction of that revelation. Christ and his church then are seen in the New Testament as the continuation and fulfillment of Old Testament promises, the church as the continuation of and enlargement of God’s same covenant people. While not everything was revealed immediately in the Old Testament and was fulfilled and broadened in the New, this, unlike in other religions, was a matter of partial understanding or incomplete revelation, not misunderstanding or distorted revelation.

Other religious systems, then, contrary to some Roman Catholic thought, are not fulfilled by Christ or his teachings. Rather, as agreed by thinkers such as Tiessen, we can acknowledge that there may be true aspects in other religions which, when removed their contexts in those other systems, understood rightly and stripped of errors and reinterpreted in the light of Christ, the rest rejected or given entirely different content, then we may have something useful which finds a home in the context of Christian proclamation of Christ. Christ, therefore, is not the fulfillment of other religions, even if they contain some pointers to him or material that may be true or useful when transported into a new context. Rather than having, as in the Old Testament, partial revelation which is then completed by Christ, these other systems have much that must be rejected, though they may have useful points of contact to be used in dialogue or evangelism.

Humans are sinful and in need of redemption, which Christ alone provides since God provides salvation and Christ is God. Christ, in part, saves in virtue of his role as representative of his covenant people, who he cures from the curse of the Law, sin and death by taking these onto himself on the cross. Some Jews, who naturally belong, are removed in virtue of unfaithfulness, while some Gentiles are added in virtue of being incorporated into that people, who are understood as the body of Christ, the sign of which is faith. It is in Christ, then, that the defeat of sin and death become a reality, not in some other religions. And rejection of Christ, far from being a mere choice of religious ways to God, is rejection of God himself and either a cutting off or staying out of Christ and hence out of the covenant people and hence outside of the scope of Christ’s saving work. Such a person, then, devout in their own religion though they may be, has hence put themselves outside of salvation since, as already stated, salvation is from Christ himself for he is himself the God who saves. Far from being a way to God or a way to salvation, Christ is the way to God, the way to salvation – one, unique, unequaled and unsurpassed, Savior of his people.

So Christ is God’s ultimate, final revelation since he is God himself. Even if someone is able somehow to respond in faith to God and be part of the covenant people, part of Christ, without outwardly or knowingly being so incorporated because they have yet to hear the gospel (responding to genuine revelation and the internal call of the Spirit, not some other religion), such a person would still need the gospel and the church’s proclamation of Christ as well as outward knowing participation in the body in order to develop properly as a saved person. Initial salvation does not abrogate the need for growth in sanctification and the becoming of who we were really and truly meant to be in Christ.

Because of this, then, leaving people without the gospel because God will “take care of them” (as I have heard some people with inclusivist or pluralist leanings sometimes state) or because we accept their own faith in their own religion is illegitimate. The human destiny, after all, only finds its culmination and fulfillment in Christ and Christ alone. A knowledge of the gospel is more beneficial for a saved person than being without it, assuming inclusivists are correct that some unevangelized persons might be saved, which would require a grafting into Christ, into the people of God, without explicitly knowing it. For in knowing the gospel, we come to Christ in a more intimate, more explicit way and hence, since Christ is that ultimate revelation of God, we come to know God in a more intimate, more explicit way as well. We come to know God and his ways in a more perfect manner in Christ.

We ought, then, to engage in dialogue with other religions both so we can be better informed as to the religious beliefs and commitments of others and hence be able to understand them and their situations better so that we can better serve and witness to them, and also so that we can come to understand our own faith better and understand the uniqueness and supremacy of Christ and his difference from all other teachers or religious figures throughout history. It will also help persons of other religions to know more about Christ and our own convictions concerning him and can help them to be clearer on what they think and how it relates to Christ and the proclamation of him. If the Spirit moves such a person, that person may even come to accept Christ through this process or at least be more open to some lesser forms of God’s revelation, though they might not be to the point of salvation yet.

Tolerant engagement in both dialogue and proclamation, then, should be how we are related to persons of other religions in light of both the supremacy of Christ and the plurality of religions around us. We must both make peace with others who disagree with us in order to get on in the world and yet also not shy away from the truth which is found in Christ and Christ alone, making disciples of all nations and bringing them into a saving knowledge of that same Christ who is the unique Savior and God over all.


Adam Pastor said...

HSTESTONGreetings Ian Spencer

On the subject of the Trinity,
I recommend this video:
The Human Jesus

Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you to reconsider "The Trinity"

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor

Ian Spencer said...

Hi Adam, in all honesty with my busyness, I probably won't have a chance to watch something that's several hours long unless it actually contains something other than retreading all the familiar anti-trinitarian arguments that have been used for so long. I'm afraid I find almost all of them rather poor, many relying on misconceptions about the nature of the trinity, what is required for the justification of the doctrine, and what would count against it. My study of the development of the doctrine and of the Bible itself has only strengthened my belief in the Trinity. If there's anything new in the video, though, I'd be glad for you to give me the argument here for discussion.