Different religions: they can’t all be true? Or can you be a Methodist Buddhist?
WARNING: The linked post by Roger Wolsey contains theology and may require you to engage your brain.
I don’t think religious tolerance is good enough anymore. Certainly we need to move past intolerance and prejudice. In later life, my father embarrassedly told me stories of some of the physical fights and mutual rock-throwing between Catholic and Protestant schoolboys, and the vicious names they called each other in his generation. (Ironically, most of the combatants were not particularly faithful followers of either brand of Christianity – the battles were mainly culturally tribal.)
Tolerance is not enough. It’s what we do to something unfortunate, uncomfortable or unappealing. It’s inherently patronising. I believe we are called to actually value, learn from, and appreciate the best in all faiths (including those amazing folk who believe they don’t have any faith).
Does this mean I am apologising for my own faith? Absolutely not. If I was born in another culture, there may well have been other faith stories and wisdom I would be more familiar with, and better able to draw upon. But born in a Western Culture, even though not a religious home, I am most familiar with the faith stories and wisdom of Christianity and find it immensely helpful for my spiritual journey. I literally cannot imagine living without it. I especially appreciate how Christianity has been understood in the Methodist tradition – after shopping around among a few of the alternatives (check out our page, ‘What on earth is a Methodist?’, for more on this).
While some followers of The Way (of Jesus of Nazareth), as the original Christian community was known, have used Christianity to promote toxic messages, and have weaponised it against various ‘outsiders’, I find it an amazing, challenging and provocative call to radical love and inclusion. I especially appreciate its inherent ‘activism’ for social justice. While Christianity has been used (for a while) to defend slavery, apartheid, totalitarianism, patriarchy, anti-semitism, Islamaphobia and homophobia, many of the leading campaigners against these very same forces for hate, oppression and dehumanisation, have also sprung up from the Christian community, compelled by the life and wisdom of Jesus, and especially the understanding of us all being created in the image of God.
Of course, this is not a message unique to Christianity, which is why we should appreciate it where-ever it is found. But other faiths also emphasise aspects that (while I believe can still be found if we dig hard enough) have been long neglected or under-emphasised in large swathes of Christianity – for example, deep meditation, humble compassion, respect for all living things, connecting with all of nature, and others still in my blind-spots.
However, as Roger Wolsey argues, “Conservative Christianity asserts that, unlike other religions, the Christian God provided unique knowledge about himself [sic] for people. Knowledge that can only be found in the unique revelation of the bible. In my opinion, besides arrogantly asserting that God didn’t speak through other texts of other major religions, this viewpoint denies the messy variety and inconsistencies in much of that biblical revelation. Again there is no one consistent presentation of God in the bible. As I see it, the God of many conservative christians embraces one far similar to the anthropomorphised ancient Greek God of Zeus, or even the angry volcano God, than the more mysterious and compassionate God of those in whom we move and have our being (Act 17:8). Those Christians seem to support the view of God as a stoic, independent, sovereign, majestic, spartanesque, retributive, kick-arse king, believing certain passages of scripture that they read literally.”
But what about Christianity’s claim to be the one and only way? As the linked post by Roger Wolsey puts it, the message is often boiled down as: “Unless you believe that Jesus died for your sins and that he physically rose from the grave, you are a heretic, and will go to hell when you die.”
“There are numerous problems with this line of thinking from a progressive Christian perspective: 1. The lack of emphasis upon Jesus’ 30-33 years of life – his way, teachings, and example; 2. Reducing the faith to a cerebral matter of what individuals accept as accurate information; 3. The view that salvation is largely a matter of where we’ll go when we die; 4. The idea that it is Jesus’ death on the cross that allows anyone to experience salvation; and, 5. The notion that hell is even a Christian concept – it isn’t.”
In short, the post argues: regarding (1) and (2), one can believe ‘all the right things’ and not be able to love their way out of a wet paper bag, and it’s the loving that matters (1 Corinthians 13). Regarding (3) and (4), in Hebrew, salvation means healing, wholeness, and well-being – it’s not about accepting certain intellectual assertions. And, of course, Jesus was a Jew who practiced Judaism. In the Gospels, Jesus provided salvation to numerous people long before he was killed. In the Gospels, salvation is experienced when someone accepts God’s healing, grace and love and responds in ways that show it. Jesus also referred to this state of being as experiencing ‘abundant or eternal life’ and living in ‘the kingdom of God.’ Regarding (5), the author suggests ‘to hell with hell‘ – it’s not Christian nor Jewish; its a pagan concept.
The linked post by Roger Wolsey is essentialy a summary of his book “Kissing Fish: Christianity for People Who Don’t Like Christianity”, so if you want to dig deeper or challenge these ideas, his book might be a good place to start.
You may also be clobbered with the sixth verse of John 14 out of context. It is true it sounds pretty exclusive: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” until you realise it’s in response to a specific question from a follower of Jesus, Thomas, who asks how will they know what they should do to find God. Jesus’ clearly exasperated answer is simply to follow the way that he has been showing them – the way of unconditional love; nothing else is needed nor will do. Jesus was not talking to people of another religion, nor even talking about people of other religions. The closest he came to interacting with another religion was his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, where (uncharacteristically for his time and people) he treated her with respect and as an equal (John 4:1-42). And the story he tells of a heroic good Samaritan, as unpalatable as it was to his original audience, is a biblical meme for what we should emulate (Luke 10: 25-37).
“Jesus is ‘the way, the truth, and the life,’ and all who follow Jesus’ way, teachings, and example — the way of unconditional love, of radical hospitality, of loving-kindness, of compassion, of mercy, of prophetic speaking truth to power, the way of forgiveness, of reconciliation, and the pursuit of restorative justice – by whatever name, and even if they’ve never even heard of Jesus, are fellow brothers & sisters in Christ and his Way.” (Roger Wolsey)
For me, thanks to Bo Sanders, the biblical approach to other religions is best modelled in Acts 17, when Paul walks into the Areopagus (Mars Hill in Athens, Greece) and he:
- honors their religious culture and traditions (‘I see that you are very religious’);
- quotes their poets and philosophers (obviously having previously read and learnt from their artists and thinkers); and
- includes them in the ‘we’ (in both verses 28 and 29).
This blog, in part, was prompted by a respectful discussion about whether it was offensive in a gathering that included people of other faiths to include an old favourite (ecumenical) hymn with the repeated lyrics, ‘One church, one faith, one Lord’. In the past people have been insightful enough to see that ‘Thy hand, O God, has guided thy flock from age to age’ is not the claim of a single Christian denomination alone, but what has been achieved together – despite all our differences among Christians of various brands and traditions, we are still one church, of one faith, with one Lord.
My prayer is that today we may draw the circle even wider, moving beyond ecumenicism among different Christian churches to inter-faith relations that appreciates (despite our differences) all faiths share different insights into one great faith, we can relate together in friendship and genuine respect as one great community of faith, and with one great spirit of God to guide us.
5 responses to “Jesus, Salvation & Other Religions”
I’m honored that this piece that I wrote is one that you found helpful and evocative for Christians today. Love your additional insights and invitation for people to take these matters to heart and ponder them and perhaps shift as we need to.
The following is a better working web link for the blog that you are referencing:
“Conservative and fundamentalist Christians subscribe rigidly to the substitutionary or penal theories of the atonement – that Jesus died as our proxy/substitute and took on a the violent death that each of us should receive, and/or that Jesus received the punishment that’s intended for each of us “wretched sinners.” First of all, there has never been a Church Council that has declared that any one theory of the atonement is “the one, true, right one.” Second, the theology that is associated with those theories of the atonement posits an angry, judgmental, wrathful, blood thirsty God & understands humans as incapable of anything but sin and evil. Put me on record as rejecting that pagan god – 100% percent.”
I would like to put a big X through this statement as it is not reflective or supportive of Christians at all. The most important recognition from the very first man and woman is simply that of Romans 3:23; 6:23. Recognise sin put Jesus on the cross not God. The view should be that Jesus willingly came for the purpose of fulfilling the Will of God. What was that but the justification, redemption and reservation of mankind to Himself. “Wretched sinners” we are. “The wages of sin”……..
It takes death to restore us because sin made it that way from the very beginning, without sin in this world Jesus would not have had to die and with the thanks of all those saved Jesus has met our judgement for. us that we do not consumed by the second death. Isaiah 55;6 ; 45:22 calls us simply to turn.
Turn so you do not burn… this is a salvation statement not a murdurous statement.
The law tells us we are sinners but it doe not fix our problem.
With the law instituted for the Nation of God these reflect very much our need from day 1. Jesus born through this nation into this world is the fulfilment for all mankind and the blessing of God for all mankind as God promised Abraham and gave vision to Jacob. Genesis 12:3;28:14
God made sure with no doubt that we would know through whom Salvation would come.
There is nothing we can do to make ourselves Good enough for God. Sin brought about death that mankind could have relationship with God. It was an act of God as there is nothing man can do to fix the record of his sin. Yes we are called to forgive unconditionally but this does not remove our record. Take a look again in the writings of John and the knowledge of Jesus of His Purpose. God spoke through John of a new message which was not really a new message but an old message but it was new because Christ Jesus made it new for all mankind that we could be all be made new. New Creatures. John 1:12-13; 3:3-8. John also wrote enough that we could believe and be assured of our Faith and The Love and work of God is the assurance of our Faith.
God loves us and He wants us to joins together in that Love but it will not happen if leave Him out.
God’s plan, God’s way. Exodus 34:14; Isaiah 43:10 “I believe! I believe! Look at the Love that Jesus spoke to Peter of, of which Peter would have understood at Pentecost as He surely did not get it at this meeting with Jesus and their dialogue. Jesus made sure he, Peter did not again deny Him three times and restored Him in overcoming His denial. Peter of anyone would have known like John what Jesus has done for them and all mankind the fulfilment of His Promise. Therefore in conclusion for the believer we can see God asa Promise Keeper and Loving God who is in all of our conversion. Romans 12:2
We do in essence need to move from God’s wrath because if we make who God is and what Christ Jesus has done for us something else, then, do we not exist in this position of remaining in the righteous anger and wrath of God and in the position of being murderers. God has made us to have also a righteous indignation to what is wrong and anti-Christ. If we deny Christ and get it all wrong we are in effect leading all astray and to their death, the second death.
The Way of Life – Eternal life is God’s Way. John 14:6
Thanks for your thoughtful and passionate response. This is an issue that often draws strong responses.
Nice to See Solid Rock Truth! outdoes Man religions teachings falsely on quick sinking sand!
Thanks for engaging in this discussion. We have found there is often at least an element if truth in many different perspectives. God often appears in unlikely guises.