Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Two Ways to Heaven?

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6)

Several weeks ago I shared a message in my series "Christianity and World Religions" on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity that I’ve received a number of emails asking me to clarify [Read the sermon here]. The gist of the questions dealt with the perception by some that my sermon was implying that there are two ways to heaven: one for Jews (through the keeping of the Torah); and another for Christians (through faith in Christ). To help clarify what I meant, let me share a few thoughts from a response I gave to one group:

If you read the sermon carefully, you notice that nowhere in it did I say that there are two ways to heaven. What I said is that the Bible is clear that God does not nullify or cancel the old covenant (Judaism) simply because there is a new one (Christianity). To describe this, the sermon referred to Romans 11:28-29 in the body of my message, but also Endnote #22 in the sermon also addresses it from the standpoint of Romans 4:3, 5, 9 & 22, as well.

These scriptures essentially say is that God finds a way to look at the good intentioned faith and works of Jews who are under the original covenant and -- to the extent possible -- credit them with "faith in Christ" where possible (the Romans 4 passage talks about faith being "reckoned as righteousness", which is a biblical metaphor for salvation). Most who hold this view, for example, would still say the Jews' keeping of the Torah is therefore counted as a form of "faith in Christ" by God, so it's still salvation "through Christ," even though these two methods of “faith” are not to be understood as equals.

What all this basically means is that there is, in reality, only one way to heaven – through God’s covenant with His people, and Jesus (conveyed through Christianity) is merely the fulfillment of that one way (Read Matthew 5:17). Judaism, therefore, is NOT a "second way" -- it was the one and only "original" way. When Jesus came, however, he demonstrated a better version of that one way.

Sermon #1 and #6 in the series also talk about the best way I’ve found to talk about this whole subject is in the context of the three ways Christians have traditionally viewed other religions: Exclusivist; Universalist; and Inclusivist [You can read about these three ways on page 4 in the body of the first sermon here and also briefly mentioned on page 4 in the body of the last sermon in the series found here].

What the view above describes is an example of the “Inclusivist” view which says that salvation does come only through Christ, but that it's up to God to determine what that is and what it looks like -- and if God decides to credit someone from another religion with a type of "faith in Christ" (even though we Christians might not call it "faith in Christ"), then that is God’s business and not ours. Our job is to share the gospel of Jesus and love people with the love of Jesus, not judge them based on their acceptance or rejection of our particular understanding of what "faith in Christ" is. After all, how do we know that they have really rejected "Jesus"? Perhaps they've merely rejected our Western culture's warped view of Jesus (which may or may not be the biblical "Jesus" at all).

Some have asked how this view relates to the John 14 scripture quoted at the top of this entry. I would encourage you to read Endnote #8 in the first sermon that addresses this by talking about the misreading that is often given to that scripture [Find the sermon here]. It essentially says what I've said above -- yes, "no one comes to the Father except through me" Jesus says. But what does "through me" mean exactly? Through the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth? Through faith in that literal person? Through faith in God that's illustrated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus? If "through me" means the first of these (that's the Exclusivist view), then 2/3 of the world is going to hell, which does not seem consistent with a God of love. But, if God can credit a person with "faith of Christ" in some mysterious way even if they are not a practicing member of the Christian religion, then that would certainly come closer to the meaning of the latter definition of "through me."

So, it's all in the interpretation of the scripture, acknowledging that the literal, surface reading may not be the “correct” one at all. After all, the context of John 14:6 has absolutely nothing to do with how one views the religious faith of others – it deals with Jesus' teachings about life after death for one who is already a follower of Christ. To therefore apply John 14:6 as a way to exclude other religions/faiths from heaven or salvation may actually be a fundamental misreading of that scripture [For further reading that addresses New Testament texts often used to talk about other religions click here - the book is called THE GOSPEL AMONG RELIGIONS - read page 7 for comments on the John 14 scripture referenced above]

The point of the Inclusivist view is not to water down salvation by faith in Christ alone, but to merely help us all not be too cocky or arrogant about it as some seem to do. This view allows God to be God, and not for us to presuppose our understanding of WHO will be saved and who WON'T is correct or more important that what GOD thinks (which we will not really ever know this side of heaven)

Clear as mud, huh? Hopefully this at least gives you some further thoughts to mull over. Sure, I acknowledge that the Inclusivist view could be wrong, too. But then again, it could be right. Or perhaps the truth is somewhere in between. This is simply why I believe this whole subject matter calls for a great amount of humility on our part. Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

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