Our day needs its best theologians, historians, biblical scholars, missiologists and pastors to sit down at table to discuss world religions. The issues pressing for answers are enormous in significance, and that is why I’d like to open a series on why God has allowed different religions? And, of course, the very question assumes the truth of Christianity. A fine book introducing us to this question is by Gerald McDermott, professor at Roanoke College in Virginia, and author of God’s Rivals. Here is his question:
If the true God is the Father of Jesus Christ, why did this God permit the rise and flourishing of other religions? The two options that have shaped much of the conversation are not nuanced enough: the fundamentalist view that equates the religions with the demonic and the religious relativist view that sees religions are equally true and false, each only approximating the divine.
What we are in need of is competent studies and clear studies. Some want to address these topics but don’t realize how complex the issues are and how important it is to write with utter clarity. Gerry McDermott does just this.
Today we look at chp 1, “The Scandal of Particularity”: Why has the true God come to only some people at some times?
Good stories to introduce the chp. The “scandal” simply put: “the Christian God did not reveal himself fully in all times and places, but has restricted that revelation to certain particular times and peoples and places” (21). For 1000 years the Church basically argued that those who were outside the church were not saved (extra ecclesiam nulla salus). But a string of important theologians thought differently: Abelard, Pope Gregory VII, St. Francis, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, some Anabaptists, Richard Baxter and then Pius IX said that “no salvation outside the church” referred only to those “culpably” outside of the church.
McDermott dismantles the typical taxonomy: exclusivism (Jesus is the only Savior), pluralists (many saviors), and inclusivism (Christ is sole means but knowledge of him may/is not required). McDermott shows that many scholars today believe inclusivism captures other religions by (1) one religion — say Christians contending that righteous non-Christians will find union with the Christian God — or (2) annihilates the fabric of other religions — many don’t want to be united with God since they don’t think there is such a God (say a classic Buddhist) or the view advocates a kind of religious dynamic that advocates of one particular faith don’t believe. Furthermore, religions each are inherently exclusivist.
Some today are arguing, not for a pluralist capturing of other religions but for different salvations. Some Buddhists find nirvana, some Muslims Paradise, and some Christians find union with the Triune God.
McDermott argues that the theologians who advocate for different salvations, which strikes me ultimately as a modified pluralism, don’t cite Scripture to support their view and, in fact, find too much in Scripture against such a view.
McDermott shows that the Bible itself began to struggle with the scandal of particularity and that some major early theologians had diverse and profound answers for the scandal. Next post … Surprising knowledge of God among Bible people outside Israel and the church.
Because we are visiting with family this week and early next, I will be here sporadically so some comments could take a little longer to approve.