Thursday, January 22, 2009

Discussion in class on 1/22/09

All day I have been processing the discussion we had in class this morning, and I feel compelled to write a bit about it. Somehow our discussion of "Man or Rabbit?" became a theological discussion of Lewis' possible universalism.

The passage in question is this:

We all know there have been good men who were not Christians; men like Socrates and Confucius who had never heard of it, or men like J. S. Mill who quite honestly couldn’t believe it. Supposing Christianity to be true, these men were in a state of honest ignorance or honest error. If there intentions were as good as I suppose them to have been (for of course I can’t read their secret hearts) I hope and believe that the skill and mercy of God will remedy the evils which their ignorance, left to itself, would naturally produce both for them and for those whom they influenced.

When I first read that, my discernment lights flashed a warning signal, but I had no idea that such an idea would be so widely disputed in class. Perhaps I had strong feelings about it because I myself have asked this question many times, and we discussed it a bit in Religion 241 (Historical Theology 1500-present). Basically, there are three ways to look at "other religions:"
1. Pluralism- the belief that many paths lead to God
2. Exclusivity- Jesus is the only way
3. Inclusivism- Christianity is the best way, but other religions can adopt from principles of Christianity and can be saved
Here's a little more info about that-

I would guess that Lewis would agree with inclusivism, but as we discussed in theology, these terms are all jumbled and intermixed. Essentially, "inclusivism" is really picking and choosing parts of religions that are "good" and "true." What, then, is good or true? A Christian might say, "The Bible is good and true." Well, then that is really exclusivism because you're saying that Christianity is really the only way to God. It gets more confusing but I don't want to get into that hardcore. In my class we came to the conclusion that exclusivity was the most appropriate stance to take. Inclusivism has a lot of "boundary" issues: where is the boundary between a "good" religion and a "bad" religion? What is the distinction between certain religions? Do only some other religions provide salvations? To me, it sounds a little like, "Christians get first prize, then other religions get 2nd and 3rd prizes. You all win!" Then that sounds universalist/ pluralistic.

I think the Bible is pretty clear that Jesus is the only way to God. I also agree that we can't judge people's eternal salvation. I additionally believe that God judges people based on what they're given. Thus, if someone is not exposed at all to Christianity, I believe God would be more merciful to that person than to someone who had been exposed to Christianity hundreds of times and had rejected it. But, I think the passage in "A Man or Rabbit?" and our class discussion brought up some serious concerns.

We have all sinned and fall short of the "mark," and Jesus paid the price for that sin so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. I'll put the Socrates and Confucius thing to the side, although we did discuss those who don't know about Christ in class as well. But J.S. Mill who simply "couldn't" believe in Christ, Lewis believed God would forgive him for that. I looked up J.S. Mill, as I had never heard of his ideas of Christianity. He said this: Christianity was "essentially a doctrine of passive obedience; it inculcates submission to all authorities found established." Now I'm not God, and I don't know what God will do, but on that, the Bible's pretty clear. It almost sounds a bit subjective (ironically) to just dismiss certain matters of unbelief and say that one certain belief won't be forgiven, and yet another will not be. We have objective TRUTH: Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life!!!

I don't think we should go up to people and be like, "You're going to Hell." We don't have that type of authority to make that judgment. And it gets dangerous when Christians develop an "us vs. them" mindset, because something happens to our own souls when we condemn others as "out" and we are "in." But that doesn't mean that belief is "optional." If so, what's the point of spreading the Good News at all if we don't need it? The Good News is eternal, not just for this life. Why would Jesus have sent His disciples on the Great Commission if He didn't think people needed to hear the Good News not just for the sake of this life but for eternity?

I agree that there are certain "divine mysteries" that we can't understand, but that can also be applied to anything. My brother has this question, for example, "Why should people think about God if we can't understand Him?" Why do we seek for truth in anything if everything's just a "divine mystery?" God didn't have to reveal Himself to us, but He did, and with His Word, God gave us some insight into these divine mysteries. Yes, of course, we can't understand the universe fully nor should we try to. Jesus' atonement is a gift for a right relationship with the Father, but it is necessary for people to accept it. If you're offered a gift and refuse it, well, then you've refused it. I don't know if people will get a second chance to accept Christ after death, and I don't think God intends for us to know that. From our perspective, however, Jesus is the way to God, and we shouldn't make projections about God's forgiveness of certain unbeliefs.

I don't begin to think that I know what God will do with J.S. Mills or African tribes who have never heard the Good News or hypocritical Christians, for that matter. I just know that the Bible teaches the idea of objective truth, which is contrary to our pluralistic postmodern society. C.S. Lewis' comment in "A Man or Rabbit?" just set off alarms in my head, and our discussion in class frankly shocked me. I don't claim to be an apologist or know the exact theological reasons for the doctrine of exclusivity, but I find it important. This comment represents a far deeper issue. Yes, C.S. Lewis was imaginative and not purely a theologian, but in writing about God, theology is just as much a part of that as imagination or creativity or anything else. You can't just write essays about God and be like, "Well, you're putting too much emphasis on the theology." It's like writing a story about French culture and getting the culture all wrong. You could say, "Don't worry about the details, you understand the point." Obviously that doesn't make any sense. Theology is a part of writing about God, and it is very important, especially when dealing with such a crucial subject.

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