It’s not that we set out to be counter-cultural for its own sake, though doing so may indeed be worthwhile. It’s just that we’ve been called as witnesses to a reality that simply is entirely counter to the culture. We are not anti-world, but we’ve been called to live into a vision of the world that is often opposite the world we see everyday. It’s not that we get kicks out of saying that what the world thinks is wrong; it’s just that what most of us often think actually is wrong. Examples? We can’t save our lives by seeking security from every risk; we can’t find lasting pleasure by seeking it directly; we aren’t acquitted simply because we choose not to see the evil effects of our way of life; our problems can’t be solved apart from the grace of God – that is, his stooping down to be present and active among us. We believe that apart from grace, redemption just won’t happen, no matter what we call it and how we try to get there. So be counter-cultural this weekend, not because it’s cool or because it makes people notice you, but because you really do believe in a vision of reality that is different from the dominant ideologies and assumptions of our time.
I was reflecting in Matthew 5.43-48 recently and I noticed a few things. In particular, I noticed some of Jesus’ assumptions about how to evaluate our behavior. I think if we used these as a grid we’d be well on our way to knowing what to do in most situations:
1. Our actions are to be based not on immediate benefit but future reward.
2. Our actions are to be different from people who aren’t followers of Jesus.
3. Our actions are to be modeled on God’s impartial love for those who don’t deserve it.
While this is true in general (and often affirmed in theory), let’s remember that in context Jesus is talking about loving our enemies – those who insult and degrade us, who attack us, who try to rip us off or take advantage of us. If our actions were to be based on immediate benefit, we’d rectify the situation as soon and as efficiently as possible. In short, we’d get them back; we’d seek revenge; we’d even the score. If our actions were to be like everyone else’s, we’d do the same. The whole world recognizes and practices a form of justice (or karma) in which those who attack us earn a counter-attack from us. And if our actions were based on anything except God’s impartial love, we would once again fight back – no one would blame us or think twice; in fact, revenge is considered the only respectable and even acceptable option much of the time. So when our response to attack is to fight back, we should examine ourselves in light of Jesus’ assumptions about our actions – Are we seeking future reward from God rather than immediate benefit? Are we doing anything different from what everyone else would do? Are we modeling our actions on the impartial love of God for people who deserve the opposite?
Think about how all of our relationships (from close to casual, both personal and communal) would look different if we lived this way. Of course we could offer many more examples, but the main thing in every situation is to keep in mind the three points mentioned above. Peace
Thanks for some great discussion on part two of If Jesus is the only way, what about people of other faiths and those who never hear the gospel? The question we’re dealing with is who can be saved and how that happens. Specifically, is it possible for people to be saved apart from Jesus? If not, is it possible for people to be saved through Jesus even if they don’t know he’s the one saving them? More than ever after the discussion on the last entry, I’m convinced that this whole debate gets muddied up because we’re unclear on what “being saved” actually means. I include myself in this, and I admit that whatever answer I offer now probably suffers a bit from this lack of understanding or clarity. Nevertheless, here’s how I’d answer the question:
I do believe that no one can or will be “saved” apart from Jesus. I think he alone broke the stranglehold of sin under which we were all enslaved. But does God save people apart from conscious faith in Jesus? Even if no one can be saved apart from Jesus, can they be saved apart from knowing they are saved by Jesus? I don’t know that God has told us this will happen, so I can’t say yes with great confidence. But based on what God has revealed in Scripture (as laid out in part 2, including some of the comments), I do believe it might happen. I’d even say I think it will happen (IMHO!). I do not think it would contradict the character and ways of God revealed in Scripture’s witness to Jesus Christ.
So does God save people apart from explicit faith in Jesus? We don’t know, but we don’t know for sure that he doesn’t and we wouldn’t be shocked if he did. Most importantly, we believe that God has come to all of us in Jesus, offering salvation in both the next life and this one. Our task is to faithfully respond to what we believe God has revealed.
I also promised to deal with objections to this position (technically called inclusivism), first from Christians and then from non-Christians. There are three primary objections that I’ve heard from Christians against the possibility that God might save people who never identify themselves as Christians in this life. Continue reading
The Bible witnesses to God’s universal love (Jn 3.16; 1 Tim 2.4; 2 Pet 3.9) as well as a particular path to salvation. How do we resolve this tension? Scripture teaches that this particular path comes to a head in Jesus. But is this unfair to those who never hear of Jesus, or only receive an unfaithful witness, or grow up in a different faith system? What about them?
In part one I shared some preliminary points. Today I’ll offer ten “theses” and follow it up later (today or tomorrow) with a summary conclusion. Enjoy. 🙂
1. This debate often rests on and feeds an unbiblical portrait of salvation. See more on this in the last post here.
2. “Judgment” on this level is God’s call and God can be trusted to do the right thing. It’s not our job to figure out who will “go where” at history’s end. It is God’s, and whatever God does will be loving, gracious, and just. Continue reading
For the rest of the week I’ll be blogging on a very important question: If Jesus is the only way, what about people of other faiths and those who never hear the gospel? In our world the claims of Christianity seem very exclusive and arrogant. Are they? More importantly, what exactly has God revealed about these issues? I’ll be sharing my thoughts in four posts. For now, two preliminary points:
(1) Salvation is about more than what happens to us after we die.
Our question assumes that God is most concerned about getting individuals into heaven when they die. But is this really biblical? Two quick points: First, salvation is God’s plan for the entire universe – not just human beings. Salvation is about all of God’s creation being rescued from the disastrous effects of sin. Second, even from a human perspective, salvation isn’t just about “where we go” in the end. That is obviously important, but salvation is about freedom from the power of sin and death right here and now. Please understand, I’m not trying to deny the importance of the future, but I am trying to remind us that asking whether a person is “saved” has as much to do with how free they are from sinful ways of thinking and living as it does where they’ll go when they die. As my friend Tyler puts it, “Following Jesus isn’t about getting out of hell and into heaven. It is about joining God in his project to reclaim of all of creation for his kingdom.” This whole debate is fairly thoroughly infused with an unbiblical portrait of salvation. Just keep this in mind.
(2) We must all ask ourselves if we’re willing to submit to God’s authority and trust the witness of Scripture.
Like all hot-button issues, many of us come to this question with our minds already made up. And if they’re not made up, we at least know what we want the answer to be. Some of us sense our culture’s negativity toward “evangelism” (or our own distaste for it) so we look for excuses not to have to share our faith. This is not okay. Others of us feel that Christianity is under attack and we have adopted a posture of defensiveness and closed-mindedness. This is not good either. We will all be tempted to make Scripture say what we want it to say (or set it aside altogether). This is no less true of me than anyone else. Let’s keep this in mind too.
Tomorrow I’ll post ten theses about this topic as well as a summary conclusion. Then I’ll post answers to objections from those who think my position is too strict, and after that I’ll post answers to objections from those who think it’s too loose. Feel free to share any and all thoughts at any point in the discussion. Even disagreement is welcome, but be kind.
I know this sounds cheesy, but I believe it’s Jesus. I think Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection saves us completely, and I know of nothing else adequate to the task. Yesterday I talked about how sin works – the process of corruption that results in our world of broken families, political instability, a crisis of spirituality, and injustice all around. Read that one first because without it this won’t make full sense. There I described this process as having five essential steps: we reject God (rebellion) and replace him with something else (idolatry), with the result that we come to increasingly reflect our new idols and thereby lose our full humanness (corruption); we set ourselves a trap from which we cannot escape (bondage), eventually giving in totally to sin or at least resigning ourselves to a “realism” that is actually hopelessness or nihilism (depravity or despair). Here I want to show how Jesus’ death and resurrection save us from this fivefold curse.
1. Jesus reveals to us that God is truly Love and as such can be trusted safely. Remember the root problem of sin is that we doubt God’s love, we fear that he’s holding out on us, so we rebel against him and take our fate into our own hands. If God is love, this rebellion is altogether unnecessary. Continue reading
The God of Jonah changes his mind. Actually, the text says God repents (3.10). That’s the word used there, I believe. It’s translated “relent” but that’s only not to tick off the Calvinists. I’m not trying to be argumentative (thanks to today’s NT reading), but this verse doesn’t sit well with the picture of God whose plans are set in stone, less still one who controls every little thing. The picture of God here is radically relational – he genuinely interacts with us, so much so that our actions call out unplanned responses from within him.
The God of Jonah does things we think are wrong. I love 4.1: “But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.” Continue reading
That’s about all I can think when I read some of the OT stories. I’m not even talking about the violence that seems not to jive with Jesus. I’m just talking about how weird they are. It seems to get especially strange in the stories about Elisha in the first few chapters of 2 Kings. If you haven’t read them in a while, you should. I don’t have anything interesting or profound to offer. I’m sure if we studied all their historical and especially literary features, they’d come alive for us. But of course most of the time (like now) we don’t have time, so we’re left with nothing more than their weirdness. I guess I have a point to make: stories like this only make sense as part of a larger story. Continue reading