On Monday I talked about the seeming universality of the God concept, and the relative nature of religious traditions. One reality (God) behind all traditions that seem to be different only becuase experience of God must be filtered ("mediated") through cultural constructs. In Christian terms where does that leave faith in Christ? How can Christ be the savior, the one name by which we can be saved, if God is the same reality behind all religions? First of all I did not say that I think all religious traditions are the same. Nor did I say they are all equal. They are not alike becuase they are all tainted by the various cultural constructs we use to understand reality. We can't think about that which is beyond our understanding, the slight glimpse we get of it must be compared to that which do know. Secondly, I don't think all gods are God. I have been known to say "all God's point to God." That means the individual personages of various mythological traditions are place holders. They are not coterminous names or the same personage, they are sign posts that point beyond themselves to something else. That is true except for Jesus. By extension the God of the OT. The God of the OT can fool us.
First Jesus is a historical person who actually lived and breathed and walked the earth. I know there are despisers of who God fervently wish that was not true. They have brain washed themselves by concocting their own silly standards to convince themselves, but those are not the standards of historians. There's still an option for the skeptic to doubt the divinity of the person in history; after all it is an impossible thing. It's a incredulous thing. It's what Reinhold Niebuhr called "impossible possibly." They will have to do their doubting through the humanity of the historical guy becuase the evidence is simply overwhelming that he did live. I am going say to more on the incarnation as we get near Christmas. Getting on toward the end of next week I'll dwell more fully with that. Jesus is the unique point of the Christian tradition, without that we can just be Unitarians. We might as well, therefore, put our eggs in one basket so to speak, the Jesus basket as it were. Becuase he was a man in history Jesus offers a unique focal point for understanding the divine and his sacrifice on the cross as unique statement of solidarity between God and humanity. All the other figures of other faiths are either not divine (not suppose to be by their reckoning) or they were not flesh and blood. Zeus was not a real guy, he was a myth. Hercules might have been based upon a real guy or even two but he was not a object of religious devotion. There were examples of soldiers mainly who made votive offerings to Hercules because he was a symbol of strength but he is still a symbol. The real guy is forgotten and he's not the point of the Greek religion. He would be more analogous to a saint in the Catholic chruch rather than to Christ. Buddha was flesh and blood but he wasn't a "god." Hercules was not the divine logs, his death could never be a major symbol of God's solidarity with humanity. Alexander the great was a hybrid in that he was a historical figure but a legend grew up around the historical figure that he was a demi-god, he son of a god. He was not the embodiment of the universal logos. He was more like Hercules, more like a saint.
Jesus was not son of God in the same sense. Jesus son ship is eternal, and part of the Trinity and sort of what we might call "mega doctrine." He much more than just a saint-like figure to whom one can pray for intercession, he is much more than even though his role is intercessory. Jesus is the called the son of God in the Gospels not becuase he's vice President God but because it was an epithet of Messiah. The Greek Christians understood it in the demi god sense due to associations with Greek religion. It was the Platonic philosophy that triumphed in understanding the Trinity. Of cousre Jesus is also called the "only begotten son of God." That Greek word is mongenase meaning "foal." Or it might be translated "unique son." We are said to be children of God, ton technon theon. This means adopted children. We are children by adoption. Jesus was begotten by the father, not referring to his coming to be at a point in time, as the son of the Trinity is eternally generated, he's eternally being born and born constantly forever as the son. That's not the begotten part. The begotten part is the incorporation.
It's because he was a real historical figure that he can fit both roles uniquely, both pointing beyond himself to the one true reality behind all religions, and also himself being the employment of divine in the flesh. When I say by extension this brings in the OT God, what I mean is that the eternal generation of the son implies the father. The embodiment of the divine implies the transcendent divine that is pointed back to. That does not mean the images used individually in the OT are so closely identified with God that they are literalized. They remain metaphorical is obvious becuase they are so diverse. So the OT not only has the unique presentation of the one true God but also reflects the same relative nature that all religious traditions do of pointing beyond itself to the true reality behind them all. This is acknowledge in the Bible. Genises 14:18 we read "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine; and he was priest of God the Most High." He's priest of God but Israel doesn't exist yet. He's dealing with Abraham, before the sons whose names would grace the twelve tribes. Of wast religion is he a priest that he is priest of God most high? Obviously there's something different in the relationship between God and religious traditions that we don't get. The God of the OT is the object of worship Jesus taught us to worship but he not teach us to literalize the metaphors of the OT. Nor did he sort out for us the canonical status of the books therein. We are not bound to think of God as the big meaning of the OT smiting and condemning and so forth. There's a very different picture of the OT God that emerges which I will discuss on friday.
I should discuss salvation and damnation and things such as this. That is rather crucial in dealing with the issue of "one true faith." Many good and well meaning people do not feel the need to be saved. Some wonder why is it not enough to jut be good and well meaning. Surely God knows that we are well meaning, if God looks upon the heart, so why do we need to conform to the ideological strictures of a particular religious view? Wouldn't God be extremely unjust to condemn someone who was well meaning? And aren't Christians really unfair to assume that all but those who follow their views are not well meaning?2) Unfair because believers in other religious traditions will not be saved?This is an often heard objection and it is not without merit. Why should God send someone to hell for all eternity, simply because he/she was born in a culture that is not open to Christianity, perhaps has not herd of Jesus, and perhaps even at a time before there was any possibility of hearing (say before Christ came to earth). Such a person would have no chance of being saved. Closer to home, a person in another culture who is very committed to the religious tradition he/she was brought up in, why should such a person suffer eternally just for being who they are? That is basically what it amounts to, everyone is proud of their own culture, and everyone identifies with his/her own religious tradition in a very personal way. Why should someone be condemned just for being who they are, being born and raised in the culture they were born into?
Sice hell is eternal, and sin is finite, it seems unjust to punish someone in a mannar that far exceeds the crime. Moreover, isn't the punishment unfair in the first place? Just to go to hell simpley for not being a Christian, this is very unjust becuase it means that who the person is and what they live for, and the nature of their intensions aren't even considered. To just whisk people off to hell forever, where there is no learning process so no chance to correct mistakes, is unjust."Gospel" means "Good News." The Good News is not that people are going to hell. The Good News is that God cares and provides a way to orient our lives toward him so that we can know him in this life, and in the world to come. I don't believe in hell as eternal conscious torment. I think the eternal aspect of it is the cessation of existence, forever. Those in hell cease to exist and they are forever gone. That's the eternal aspect not the conscoius torment. I will deal with that at another time. If one wishes to be reading up on it in the mean time my views on the subject are recorded here.
Jesus himself never speaks directly of hell, but always in parables. The other statements of Hell are mainly in euphemistic passages or in apocalyptic passages such as the book of Revelation. But I suggest that for some crimes hell is deserved. The slaughter of innocent people, the disruption of thousands of lives, the Hitlers of the world, and those who rationalize the deeds through "following orders" deserve to suffer the consequences of their actions. Evil has consequences, and those who commit evil should suffer the consequences, and they will.I have no direct knowledge of what hell is. It is based upon the Greek mythological concept of Tartarus which got into Hebrew thinking through Hellenization. There is no "hell" in the Tennach or the Pentateuch ("OT"). In the Hebrew scriptures there is only mention of Sheol, or the "the grave" to which everyone goes. But in the books of Revelation it does speak of those who work inequity being "outside the Kingdom of God." I don't' believe that hell is literal fire and brimstone, I do believe it is some state of anxiety or separation from God."All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God." From a human perspective, relatively speaking from one human to another there are, of course, well meaning people. There are good people all around us, from a human perspective. Relative to the Divine however, no one is good, no one is capable of meriting salvation. We all have our sins, we all have our human frailties. We are all caught up in "height" (our ability through the image of God in which we were created to move beyond our human finitude and seek the good) and "depth" (our nature burdened in the sinful wickedness to human deceit). These are Augustinian terms and they basically mean that we are both, good and bad, saint and sinner. God knows the heart, He Knows what we truely seek. God is merciful and is able to forgive our trespasses. But, if we are really well meaning toward God we will seek the turth. If we are seeking the truth than God will make it plan to us.
Paul said "To those who through persistance seek glory, honor and immortality he will give eternal life.But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the good and follow evil there will be wrath and anger...first for the Jew and then for the gentile; but glory honor and peace for everyone who does good. For God does not show favoritism. All who sin apart from the law will perish apart form the law and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.
Indeed when Gentiles who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirement of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences bearing witness and their hearts now accusing, now even defending them..." (Romans 2:7-15). New American Standard and other translations say "their hearts accusing, now excusing them..." Most Christians are afraid of this conclusion and they down play this verse. Often Evangelicals will come back and say "he makes it clear in the next passage that no one can really follow the law on their hearts." Well, if they can't, than they can't. But if they can, and do, than God will excuse them. God knows the heart, we do not. The verse clearly opens the door to the possibility of salvation (although by Jesus) thorugh a de facto arrangement in which one is seeking the good without knowing the object one is seeking (Jesus). In other words, it is possible that people in other cultures who follow the moral law written on the heart know Jesus de facto even if they don't know him overtly. Paul backs up this conclusion in Acts 17:22 Paul goes to Athens as is asked by the Athenian philosophers to explain his ideas to them.
These were pagan followers of another religion. Paul stood up and said to them, "Men of Athens, I see that in every way you are very religious for as I walked around and observed your objects of worship I even found an alter with this inscription 'TO AN UNKOWN GOD' Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you."He basically says that they are worshiping God, they just don't know who he is. That's why he says "I will make it known to you." He doesn't say "you have the wrong idea completely." Most Evangelicals dismiss this as a neat rhetorical trick. But if we assume that Paul would not lie or distort his beliefs for the sake of cheap tricks, we must consider that he did not say "you are all a bunch of pagans and you are going to hell!" He essentially told them, "God is working in your culture, you do know God, but you don't know who God is. You seek him, without knowing the one you seek. He goes on,(v27)"God did this [created humanity and scattered them into different cultures] so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out and find him though he is not far form each one of us."This implies that God not only wants to work in other cultures, but that it is actually his paln to do things in this way. Perhaps through a diversity of insights we might come to know God better. Perhaps it means that through spreading the Gospel people would come to contemplate better the meaning of God's love.
In any case, it does mean that God is working in other cultures, and that God is in the hearts of all people drawing them to himself. Of their worship of idols, Paul said "in past times God overlooked such ignorance but now he commands all people everywhere to repent" (v30). Now what can this mean? God never overlooks idolatry or paganism, in the OT he's always commanding the Israelite to wipe them out and expressly forbidding idolatry. It means that on an individual basis when God judges the hearts of people, he looks at their desire to seek him, to seek the good. That their status as individuals in a pagan culture does not negate the good they have done, and their ignorance of idolotry does not discount their desire to seek the good or the truth. IT means that they are following Jesus if they live in the moral life, even though they follow him as something unknown to them. IT also means that all of us should come into the truth, we should seek to know God fully, and when we do that we find that it is Jesus all along.
Heb. 8:10-12 "...I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will a man say to his neighbor 'know the Lord' for they will all know me from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more." This passage promises a "personal relationship with God."The word for "to Know" is the Greek Term Ginosko, which means personal experiential knowledge. To give one's life to Jesus means to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus said (John) "My sheep know my voice..." Personal relationship means that it is more than a set of rules, more than an ideology or a belief system, but a matter of the heart, the emotions, religious affections. IT may not be through dramatic miraculous effects (although I do believe that that is open to all Christians) but it is deeper than mere rule keeping, and does make for a satisfaction nothing else can match.God acts upon the heart. Salvation is a matter of "knowing God" not of mere intellectual assent. What does it mean to know God? It means that being a Christian is a matter of experiencing God's love in the heart and of loving God and others. It is also a matter of being "led" by God through impressions upon the heart, and not merely a set of rules or a list of beliefs that one must check off. IT is the development of "religious affections."The excitement of knowing God is unequaled by anything else in this life.
Developing Personal Relationship with God.
This is very simple. God keeps it simple so all of us can do it. John tells us "...that whosoever believes on him shall be saved." (3:16). Belief is the first step. But believe doesn't just mean intellectual assent, it means to place our faith in him, to trust him, as said above to place ourselves into his death, to express our solidarity with him.
Paul says "...That if you confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the Dead, you will be saved, for it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved....everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10:9-12).
Note that the resurrection is stipulated as a criterion of belief, and notice that it also says believe in your heart. Belief is not mere intellectual assent but is a decision of the will to trust in God. Does this mean we must believe in the resurrection to be saved? It at least means we must believe in the thing the resurrection points to, the new life in Christ, that we trust God to give us this new life and that such life is found in him. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. What does it mean to call upon the name of the Lord? It means, to place our trust in God and in Jesus as God's Son, as our savior.
The name of Jesus then becomes our expression of solidarity with God, that we state clearly that we choose God's way, we want to change our lives and we are ready to accept God's terms for life; that we respond to the solidarity he shows us by committing to solidarity with him.In Acts 2: 38 the mob asks Peter what they must do, in response to the miracles of Pentecost and Peter's sermon on Jesus being raised form the dead. Peter tells them "Repent, and be baptized everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ that your sins may be forgiven." Does this mean that baptism is a pre-requiset for salvation? I don't believe so. They were really asking a more general question than "how do I get saved." IN response to Peter's sermon they were asking in a general way "well, we curcified the Messiah, what can we do about it."
Peter tells them two things, repent (change your mind, express sorrow for sin and determine not to sin any longer) AND be baptized as an expression of surrender to God (in keeping with the Jewish custom). The key here is to repent, turn from the present course of life and follow Jesus. Baptism is something we should do. It is an expression of our faith, and a symbol that we place our hope in God, die to the old way, it is an outward symbol of placing ourselves in solidarity with God and in Jesus death. But the important thing here is to repent. And, "you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."Latter in Acts when Peter takes the Gospel to the gentiles for the first time, the house of Cornelius. He tells them (Acts 10:43)"... everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." With that the Holy Spirit comes upon them while Peter is still talking. He does not tell them to be baptized, nor does God wait for that to give the gift of the Holy Spirit (which is the renewing of the spirit, the "born again" experience and empowering for service to God). So here again the common link is belief, which implies a commitment of trust.Eph 1: 13 "Having believed you were marked in him with a seal the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance unto redemption of those who are God's possession."Romans 5 "since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access into this grace..."Therefore, "getting saved" is very simple, although it may be the hardest thing you will ever do. Just place our trust in Jesus and give your life to God. Actively determine to believe (place trust) in Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross, God's expression of solidarity with humanity.
It doesn't matter what formula you use, just pray, tell God you are sorry for your sins and you want to change and follow him, ask him to save you and to come into your life, and tell him you want to commit your life to Jesus. Don't formulate preconceived notions about how you are supposed to feel, just try to be sensitive to how you do feel. Read and study the Bible and find a chruch where you feel at home and where they beleive the Bible. It is important to develop friendships with believers, but don't burn your books, don't become obligated to obey some preacher man in everything he would tell you, if a group insists that you need their particuarl group to be saved, or if they impose a bunch of rules don't stay with them. God will convict you about what you need to change. Just try to be open to him. Of course some things are obvious, stop sinning try to be good to peole and spread the word about what Jesus is doing in your life.B. Personal Testimony Hesitate to give my "testimony" because it's private, and I don't want skeptics trying to disect it, and also because all conversions are different, most aren't dramatic, and I don't want people expecting that if they pray to be saved the same things will happen to them that happened to me. It is different for everyone, God tailor makes conversions special for each individual. But it does seem logical to at least mention it.