Posts Tagged “Christian exclusivity”

The Pew Forum recently released the results of a follow-up survey to one they’d released earlier this year, on how Americans view salvation. The first survey had been controversial among evangelicals who were shocked to hear that so many Americans did not view Jesus as the exclusive arbiter of salvation. Reporting on both survey results continues to center on what it shows about evangelical Christians; for example, this appeared in the New York Times (WebCite cached article):

In June, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a controversial survey in which 70 percent of Americans said that they believed religions other than theirs could lead to eternal life. …

The evangelicals complained that people must not have understood the question. The respondents couldn’t actually believe what they were saying, could they?

This second survey’s main conclusion is:

A majority of all American Christians (52%) think that at least some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life. Indeed, among Christians who believe many religions can lead to eternal life, 80% name at least one non-Christian faith that can do so.

Predictably, evangelical Christians are disturbed a second time over these results. They claim exclusivity of salvation through Jesus, based on one Bible verse, that being John 14:6 (“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me’”).

After reading this reaction I found myself wondering, “Where is the problem here?” What is not credible aout 52% of American Christians believing there’s more than one path to salvation? Many of these American Christians belong to denominations that do not claim exclusivity. For instance, a large number are Roman Catholics; in RC doctrine, many non-Catholics are referred to as “separated brethren”; it is assumed that it is possible for them to be saved, despite not being Catholic. There is also a Catholic doctrine of salvation for those who were never presented with the message of Jesus. Many other denominations have similar views — that members of rival denominations, or those ignorant of Jesus, may face a higher hurdle to salvation, but might still be saved nevertheless. Moreover, prior surveys typically peg evangelical Christians at around 25% of the US population, or about 30% of US Christians.

It’s quite reasonable that most Americans would believe that their religion and/or denomination is not the exclusive arbiter of salvation. I simply could not see how this very-reasonable result could be problematic.

After reviewing more articles on this survey, and some evangelicals’s responses to this survey, I finally noticed a subtle clue in a few places. For instance, Baptist theologian Albert Mohler is cited in a USA Today story (cached):

Mohler sees behind the statistics the impact of pluralism and secularism in U.S. society and the challenge of facing family and friends with “an uncomfortable truth.”

(Mohler has more to say on his own blog, if you’re curious.)

You see, that’s what it’s all about, folks. The fabled creeping advance of secularism into American society. It’s an evil that must be curbed at all costs!

The unstated presumption here is not merely that everyone in the US ought to be Christian, it’s that we must all be uniformly Christian, and claim exclusivity of salvation for our own faith. In short, folks, it’s an implicit argument for dominionism — a movement among Christian evangelicals, to remake the US into an Old Testament-style theocracy, in which everyone is forced to become a Christian fundamentalist. Under dominionism, being anything else would amount to a death sentence, and death would be the prescribed penalty for many other transgressions, such as working on the Sabbath.

Do not be fooled, folks. These people are playing for keeps, and they’re clamoring for rulership over the US.

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In his defense of Christian exclusivity (i.e. that there is no salvation without Jesus Christ), Cal Thomas trots out an old apologists’ argument:

It finds most Americans believe there are many ways to salvation besides their own faith. Most disturbing of all is the majority of self-identified evangelical Christians who believe this.

Apparently they must think Jesus was a liar, or mistaken, when he said: “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father but by me.”

Thomas implies here that it’s scandalous that anyone might think Jesus could have lied … so — since we know this accusation is such an outrage that it cannot possibly be true — then of course he is the only way.

Unfortunately Thomas forgets a few things:

  1. Do we even know there was a Jesus who said such a thing? (As it turns out, Cal, Jesus’ existence is not the least bit certain).

  2. Even if Jesus did exist, do we know he said such a thing? (No, Cal, we only have this from the evangelists, who wrote decades afterward … not the most reliable accounts.)

  3. Third, if Jesus lived and if he actually said them … ? Yes, Cal, he may actually have lied.

You read that right. I did, indeed, dare say it: Jesus may have been a liar. But that assumes he lived, which is not certain, and that he said this, which in turn is even more uncertain.

It’s time people stopped letting their assumptions and their outrage guide them.

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