Tuesday, February 26, 2008

who will be saved?

This will be my penultimate Lesslie Newbigin post (well, for now). The question of who will be ultimately be saved has generally had three or four main responses within Christian theology: exclusivism - only those with explicit faith in Christ will be saved, inclusivism - salvation is through Christ but not limited to explicit faith in Him, pluralism - God has many salvation projects, there are many paths to God etc, and universalism - everyone will be saved in the end. I wrote a very basic essay on this question a few years back. Richard Sudworth picks up these categories in his book Distinctly Welcoming arguing that we need to move beyond them. Here is some more classic Newbigin touching on these issues:

'We must look first at the strictly exclusivist view which holds that all who do not accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour are eternally lost. We shall look later at the question of whether this is in fact what fidelity to Scripture requires us to hold. There are several reasons which make it difficult for me to believe this. If it were true, then it would be not only permissible but obligatory to use any means available, all the modern techniques of brainwashing included, to rescue others from this appalling fate. And since it is God alone who knows the heart of every person, how are we to judge whether or not another person truly has the faith which is acceptable to him? If we hold this view, it is absolutely necessary to know who is saved and who is not, and we are then led into making the kind of judgements against which scripture warns us. We are in the business of erecting barriers: Has she been baptised? Has he been confirmed by a bishop in the historic succession? Or has she had a recognisable conversion and can she name the day and the hour when it happened? We are bound to become judges of that which God alone knows.' p173

He then argues again that we have usually asked the wrong question:

'I believe that the debate about this question (how should we regard other faiths) has been fatally flawed by the fact that it has been conducted around the question "Who can be saved?" It has been taken for granted that the only question was, 'Can the good non-Christian be saved?" and by that question what was meant was not "Can the non-Christian live a good and useful life and play a good and useful role in the life of society?" The question was, "Where will she go when she dies?"... The quest for truth always requires that we ask the right questions. If we ask the wrong questions we shall get only silence or confusion. In the debate about Christianity and the world's religions it is fair to say that there has been an almost unquestioned assumption that the only question is, "What happens to the non-Christian after death?" I want to affirm that this is the wrong question and that as long as it remains the central question we shall never come to the truth' p176f

He offers 3 reasons why this is the wrong question :

1. 'it is a question to which God alone has the right to give the answer... nothing could be more remote from the whole thrust of Jesus' teaching than the idea that we are in a position to know in advance the final judgement of God.'

2. 'it is based on an abstraction. By concentrating on the fate of the individual soul after death, it abstracts the soul from the full reality of the human person as an actor and sufferer in the ongoing history of the world...the question we have to ask is not 'What will happen to this person's soul after death?" but "What is the end which gives meaning to this person's story as part of God's whole story?"'

3. 'it is a question that starts with the individual and his or her need to be assured of ultimate happiness, and not with God and his glory.'

He summarises his view thus :

'The position which I have outlined is exclusivist in the sense that it affirms the unique truth of the revelation in Jesus Christ, but it is not exclusivist in the sense of denying the possibility of the salvation of the non-Christian. It is inclusivist in the sense that it refuses to limit the saving grace of God to the members of the Christian Church, but it rejects the inclusivism which regards the non-Christian religions as vehicles of salvation. It is pluralist in the sense of acknowledging the gracious work of God in the lives of all human beings, but it rejects a pluralism which denies the uniqueness and decisiveness of what God has done in Jesus Christ.' p182f


Anonymous said...

Thanks Jon, good to see you putting old essays online.

Mission is univeral in the sens that God's plan of redemption involves the whole of the cosmos. The covenant people are calling to be a blessing to the world. But what about thsoe who don't accept membership into Christ's covennat community... If we follow Paul (at least my reading) then do we not say that they are still in their sins, in the kingdom of darkness and will face the judge of the whole earth who will judge everyone on the basis of works.... Is this questioing not legitimate. Pauls hows concern for God's glory but also of the plight of Israel part in the eschatological plan. 'I could wish myself accursed...'

Jon said...

Well, I think Paul says we will all face the judgement seat of Christ, not just those outside the covenant community.

I think I would want to make a distinction between those who have explicitly rejected Christ and his offer of a place in the covenant community, and those who have not heard, or had an inadequate or downright distorted presentation of the gospel.

It is not an illegitimate question, but it is one that ultimately only God can answer. We must resist the temptation to put ourselves in the judgement seat. Jesus teaching warns us against judging and also seems to say that there will be plenty of surprises on judgement day.

This is not to say that we should not be passionately concerned for people to know Christ, just that "What happens when they die?" should not be the main question in our minds or our motivation, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

yes agreed we all face judgement (sometimes this is missed off in evangelical theology)

And evangelism is for God's glory, and God is only one who knows truth of this in its totality. Yet does not salvation for the covennat community mean, in some sense, saving from the eschatological wrath to come. Are Christians those who 'realise' they are saved or those who are 'actually being saved?' . Saved from what?
Just re-read romans 3:21-26? All sin and fall short... but those who have faith in CHrist are redeemed.
1) Who are those who have faith in Christ?
2) Is post mortem evangelistaion a possibility?

I would answer, (1) the covenant community (church) (2) Don't know but not really mentioned in scripture.

It sound like we should devote a session of pipe club to this.

Jon said...

I can probably only answer with more questions!

Does not salvation for the covenant community mean in some sense saving from the eschatalogical wrath to come?
In some sense yes, but I'm not sure what :)
and probably not the primary sense which I would take to be salvation from sin and it's consequences.
I'm not sure what I understand by the eschatalogical wrath to come. Many passages which speak of God's wrath seem to be talking about his giving us over to sin and letting us get on with it.

Christians are those who trust in Christ for their salvation. Salvation from what is the massive question. I would say salvation from sin and its consequences, not primarily hell or the wrath of God. (the charicature of God the son dying to save us from God the Father)
I do not take this to mean that only Christians will be saved in the end.

who are those who have faith in Christ? explicit or implicit? the church - visible or invisible?
post-mortem evangelisation/salvation maybe a possibility, who knows what will happen when we come face to face with Christ?

Tom Smail is interesting on all this in his book 'Once and for all'

I should go to bed