The generation that grew up with Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street, was also thoroughly indoctrinated in public education and through the media to think all religions are the same. Tolerance, the deistic doctrine of our day, is not only a strategy for getting along but also a moral commitment. The implication for the emerging generation is enormous: it means that evangelism and evaluation of those from other faiths are strained if not impossible. Hence, what I think is the emerging question of our day:
Terrance Tiessen, who frequently joins the conversation on this blog, addresses this very issue — the universal truth of Christianity for every single person alive — in his book, Who Can Be Saved? Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions. His two questions are How does God save people? and How do the religions fit into God’s purposes in the world?
What is your basic view? (Options listed below; and go ahead, say what you think and think along with us.) Which of the views do you think permissible or consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ, or what is taught in the Bible? Do you see this question to be a raging, burning question? How serious of an issue is this today?
Because this issue is so fundamental to my students, and because I think it needs to be addressed with care and compassion and critical thinking, I will be devoting a post a week to this book until I finish or the conversation folds up. I’m persuaded that readers of this blog have proven that they can converse with civility, and so I want to dive in with the request once again that we treat one another the way we treat one another over coffee.
Tiessen begins like a philosopher, putting on the table all of the important terms. These are important because they will appear throughout our series — and I’ll add them to our new Bloglossary. He is a compatibilist and monergist: that is, he believes God is in control and always achieves his own intent. He is also a “critical realist”: he thinks we can know the truth, but we grasp truth with humility. He then sets out his 30 theses.
What are the options? Are they the classical three: inclusivism (all can find salvation in Christ, even those who have not heard), exclusivism (only those in Christ find salvation), and pluralism (all can find salvation, regardless of one’s faith)?
Very helpfully, Tiessen contends that these three are under attack as a paradigm, so he proposes his own — and we will list them with a brief decription:
1. Ecclesiocentrism: only those who hear the gospel through the church’s witness can be saved.
2. Agnosticism: we don’t know whether the unevangelized can be saved or not.
3. Accessibilism: God does save some of the unevangelized, but he has not raised up the world’s religions as instruments for achieving this.
4. Religious instrumentalism: the various religions of the world are instruments of God’s saving work through Christ among the various peoples of the world.
5. Relativism: any of the religions have saving power in and of themselves, apart from Jesus Christ.