What’s so ‘good’ about the ‘Good News’?

‘But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many…where sin abounded, grace abounded much more’ (Romans 5:15-20).

My close friends will know I’ve been struggling with some big questions recently. One of them has been around the Christian understanding of salvation. Salvation, in its loosest sense, is the understanding that our sins doom us to punishment of some kind (maybe eternal torture, or maybe just nothingness)… unless we accept God’s gift of grace through Jesus.

I’ve always struggled with the fact that, if the beliefs of many hard-line orthodox Christians are true, then an all-loving, all-powerful God has left the responsibility of ‘getting people into heaven’ in the hands of other people. That is, flawed creatures called human beings, plagued with all sorts of vices like laziness, naivety, and conceit. I am definitely included among these.

I can’t help but see four main problems with this.

First of all, if a ‘Christian’ can’t get to you and tell you the ‘good news’, the hard-line view of salvation would imply that you are done for. Oh dear, that’s a whole lot of people screwed right there… I guess it doesn’t matter how hard they sought Truth, or God, or how they lived their lives. You didn’t say the sinners prayer, so… off to Hell with you all! This includes babies and little children, the mentally handicapped, and anyone who simply never heard of the Gospel either because of their Geographic location, or the complacency of the Christians living around them.

Second of all, if someone does have contact with Christians, but rejects any of their attempts to convert him to their religion because the Christians in question are very un-christ-like (that is, they proclaim Christ with their words but undermine Him with their lifestlyes)… well, he’s screwed too! He’s rejected the Christian’s because of their behaviour, and to many this means he has also rejected Jesus. Oops! Off to Hell with you too buddy, and all people like you! (Including, interestingly, Gandhi. After being captured by the Bible, he attempted to attend a South African church, who threw him out because he was ‘dark’. Gandhi never lost his love for Christ, but he was very disillusioned with what he perceived as ‘Christianity’ at the time).

Thirdly, it is far too ‘black and white’, and limits the scope of God’s redemptive powers to the words and actions of whatever ‘Christian’ happens to be around at the time. It does not allow for God’s mysterious tendency to be at work in peoples lives in ways that we simply cannot imagine or foresee. It assumes that God speaks to, and is at work in, only those who have heard a our version of the Gospel message. It assumes that we know God’s whole plan, that we understand the way God thinks, and that God has help nothing back from us.

Fourthly, it leaves no space for the fact that everyone is on a journey – no-ones spiritual journey is static. CS Lewis puts it like this:

“The world does not consist of 100 percent Christians and 100 percent non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand. There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it. For example, a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain other points. Many of the good Pagans long before Christ’s birth may have been in this position. And always, of course, there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together. Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non-Christians in the mass.”

Now, this is simply too much for many hardline Christians to handle, and many would be inclined to strongly disagree with Mr Lewis on this point. They would probably begin by quoting a scripture like “No-one comes through the Father except by me” (John 14:6), and then infer that surely coming ‘through’ Jesus means accepting Him in the way that they (the Christian in question) understands it. This is usually by some public recitation of a certain creed, and perhaps a prayer of repentance and submission to Christ, said out loud.

Now, I do not deny these things are good. In fact, I came to be a Christian in much the same way, and it seems to have worked for me. The problem arises when we become so consumed either by fear (for the souls of our friends) or by pride (that we’ve got all the answers and everyone better listen to us) that we begin to let our lives be dictated by one or both of these two forces. Many people motivated by these forces tend to preach a message that doesn’t seem to be very ‘Good News’ at all

So what exactly is ‘good’ about the good news?, for every scholar’s interpretation of Scripture, another scholar has another interpretation. Most Christians can that ‘accepting’ or ‘following’ Christ is key to finding life, happiness, and to escape from some kind of punishment that we all deserve for the bad things we do.

But here is the crux of my problem.. what does it mean to ‘accept’ Christ? What does it mean to ‘follow’ Him? People are still trying to figure that out today, and while there are definitely some general points of agreement (repenting of sins, following the moral teaching of Jesus, giving to the poor etc) there are also many points of disagreement.

Now, I’m not saying we ditch the Bible altogether out of exasperation… but I am suggesting we read it in accordance with the same Spirit that drew us to Christ in the first place.. that is, we take it with a pinch of ‘spiritual salt’. So often our first reaction is either to leap to the first interpretation we find, or to accept someone else’s (usually our pastors) because this is simply a lot easier than the alternative.. that is, deep and contemplative prayer and dialogue with people of opposing views.

I don’t have any answers yet.. in fact, I just have more questions. I am leaning towards more ‘inclusivist’ ideas of salvation (just Google ‘inclusivism or go here for a list of articles or here for a particularly good one). I know for sure that whatever conclusions I come to (if any) will be Jesus-centered. They will revolve around a God who is just, loving, and who obviously cares a lot about redeeming humanity, because the Cross cannot have been an easy thing to do.


~ by humblemonkey on August 9, 2008.

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