If you haven't heard this question, you haven't talked to many non-Christians lately. It's a tough question. One that Christians haven't respected for very long. I'm not sure many are prepared to answer it, and yet it is a thoroughly relevant question for a generation of people growing up in the midst of a global economy, global politics, and global community. What about the other folks?
In John Burke's book No Perfect People he wrestles with the question. He devotes an entire chapter to the question noting the frequency it comes up in conversing with non-Christians. It is a great, great chapter by the way. Worth the price of the book (I think Brian McLaren might have said that on the cover - it's not in front of me).
Burke believes that this is so frequently asked by non-believers because it challenges their postmodern sense of tolerance and acceptance. How can a group that worships someone who claimed to be "The Way" and the only way be very fair? I remember this discussion coming up in a theology class at Lipscomb. How could God zap these poor Native American spiritualists who honestly and devoutly sought their "God" [Ie. the Great Spirit]? That just doesn't seem fair?
So it makes sense that that question quickly arises from the lips of the non-believer to test our "acceptance." How accepting are we? Many view Christians as very non-accepting and narrowminded. It puts up a barrier before conversations even begins.
The issue is no doubt a tricky one, and I doubt few who read this will agree with me, but I think that it is an unnessary hindrance to hold a doctrine of God that is so exclusive that no one outside of organized Christian religion can be saved. Some Christians like to take the out, "Well . . . only God can save and condemn." And that's a true statement, but why not go further.
Enter: Melchizedek. If this dude doesn't make you do some theological cartwheels nothing will. He shows up out of the blue in Genesis. God is working through Abraham, the extent of our knowledge regarding God's revelation is through Abraham. And he is the priest king. Not only a "godly" king . . . but a priest . . . someone who has a pastoral role with God. Hmmm . . . where does he come from? How does God speak to him? Who does he minister to? Where is Salem anyways? These are big questions that for some reason we just skip past and get to the neater, more familar stuff with Abraham, but Melchizedek doesn't go away. Jesus is even compared to Melchizedek in Hebrews. He comes up again. It's astonishing. Who is this guy and what has he done with my clear picture of Yahweh in the midst of his salvation history?
He creates a bit of a mess. And it's a mess that we should just leave a mess. "What about . . ." questions are fun to discuss, but they should never be allowed to be a hindrance to someone's coming to faith. If someone can't believe in a God that would damn Africans in a remote village . . . then Yahweh doesn't have to be that God . . . for them . . . at first. It's a beginning point. This stuff is more of the meat and potatoes to be savored and discussed once a relationship with God is established. Yeah there is a real subjectivity here, but how can it be avoided? Where are we going to go for the "truth"? A truth untainted by perspective and experience? Good luck finding that!
I challenge you to wrestle with the issue, What about everyone else? What about the other major religious faiths? What about those who haven't heard? Anyone interested in dialogue here, make a post and we'll pursue it further.
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