Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Aren't all religions the same?

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.


Sara Toombs-Prewitt said...

Adam, I'm Sara and I met you at the '95 MCHS reunion. Your post today really touched a nerve. I believe that it's doctrine that turns newcomers away from the church. They hear "members" trashing other denominations, is this what comes one another? I was raised with a Church of Christ paternal family and a Baptist maternal family, needless to say the family gatherings were never dull and still aren't. Personally, I don't understand how we can all love the same God and read from the same scripture yet, make up ludicrous rules and call ourselves a church and consider our church better or more christian than the one just down the street. My husband is a newcomer and he listens to gospel talk radio in his truck at work, he now believes that Catholicism is a cult. He wasn't raised in church and has no idea of the many different doctrines there are out there. I try to tell him that Catholics worship differently than we do...they are worshiping the same God, right? They do believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and He came down, lived and was tempted as a man, and died for our sin. Does that not make us brothers and sisters in Christ with them? Aren't we all Christians striving to be holy? Why must we break ourselves into tiny bickering groups divided such by doctrine that we can't come together for the greater good. Prayer in schools or displaying the ten comandments or outlawing same sex marriage, I could go on...those are just some of the big ones. The feel that this is a very important topic, I just wish that more people were interested in the unity of christians.
Please tell MaryBeth that I said hello. Later.

Metz said...

Hey, thanks for the post. There is an amazing passage from the lips of Jesus in John that seldom gets read in churches, and when it is read, few people really fathom the real implications. At the end of John 17, Jeusus prays for the unity of all believers. It is so contrary to what many churches (particurlarly fundamentalist churches) understand "unity" to be.

I am confident that the emerging generation is much more heaven-bent on unifying Christians. I always found it interesting in my years growing up in church that grace was to be applied to the worst of sinners - liars, murderers, child molestors, whatever, you name it, God's grace could extend to them . . . however, for some reason I have never (and I mean never) gotten a sufficient answer for, grace could not extend to insufficient doctrines (insufficient always meaning, "Not agreeing with me."

The Reformation brought many, many great things that us Post-Reformatin Christians have been the beneficiaries of, but it hasn't been without costs. Probably the biggest cost was the unity of the church.

The Apostle's Creed makes the affirmation, "I believe in the one Holy catholic church." (Catholic used here as one, unified church, not Roman Catholic as today). It's a shame that so much disunity and outright hatred has entered into cross-denominational arguments. You have the traditional arguments standing between us, then you add things like ordaining gay clergy, and the pot gets really murky.

It scares the crap out of some Christians to throw caution to the wind and embrace fellow-Christ followers regardless of their "beliefs." They follow Christ. What more can we ask. That's all I do. The best I can - which is erroneously flawed, but the best I know right now. Perhaps my Catholic, Lutheran, and other Christians friends can help me walk a little straighter, a little closer, and a little more direct to the path of God.

All churches could use a little dose of John 17 in their services, dialogue, and prayers. The movement will be slow, no doubt, but hopefully it can be forward and not backward.

Dave said...

This question about other religions just won't go away for me. Lately I've been reading the Baghavad Gita (Hindu holy book), and was trying to get a sense for if there were true elements there, and what those would be. I later found out I was reading the Hare Krishna cultic version!

On the one side, there is this sense that you would want to know the greatest truth, and that what you believe shapes how you act.

On the other side, the question of culture and trust and hearing stories from foreign lands can be quite confusing. How should we/they know who to trust? So there is this other element of faith that would be nice to believe - To whatever extent a person knew or understood and responded by faith, this is what counts before God.

Clark Pinnock is an inclusivist who gets a lot of grief for his views
John Hick is a Universalist, and he gets even more (though in most senses he is not even a Christian)

Also, the web and global travel open up all sorts of opportunities for us to meet people from other faith backgrounds, and read their thoughts, and learn not to demonize them but to see them as real people who are wholly convinced of their beliefs...