Who is Saved?
I’m taking a class at Biblical right now called “Generous Orthodoxy”. The class is attempting to formulate in us a more “generous” view of those who we might have thought were outside the realm of Christianity … a pursuit that I greatly appreciate.
I’ve been watching Showtime’s “The Tudors” on Netflix for the past couple weeks. “The Tudors” documents the life of King Henry VIII of England and his breaking away from the Catholic Church, eventually forming the Church of England. Up until the last episode I watched, the only redeeming character was Sir (he was canonized in 1935 and is now a “Saint” in the Catholic Church) Thomas More, author of the great classic “Utopia.” In the last episode I watched, More was given the title of “Lord Chancellor” and upon receiving his power promptly used it to burn six Protestant “heretics.” Now, mind you, this practice of killing “heretics” isn’t a transgression that only sticks to the Catholic Church. Protestants did it too. In fact, many of the recipients of the Protestant persecutions were Mennonite (their stories are recorded in the book “Martyrs Mirror” and can be found online at http://www.homecomers.org/mirror/). As you can imagine, this persecution helps explain why Mennonites even today are a somewhat closed community. Something I’ve experienced firsthand.
And, we should NEVER forget all the people of other faiths that Christians murdered via genocide.
Burning people that we disagree with isn’t practicing Generous Orthodoxy.
The first night of class we embarked to define what “Generous Orthodoxy” meant. At the end of the class, I felt the need to question an assumption in the very term “Generous Orthodoxy” that I felt uncomfortable with: namely, that it was assuming Christianity was fundamentally propositional in nature. In other words, it seems that inherent in the term “Generous Orthodoxy” is an assumption that the most important aspects of being a believer is the ideas you believe. In fact, the very term “believer” has come to be associated with believing in doctrines; whereas, I think the New Testament uses the term “believer” to refer to a person who trusts in the person of Jesus and NOT a set of doctrines.
I think trusting in Jesus defines a person as a believer; and not the doctrines they accept.
Dr. Carl Henry, the dean of evangelical theologians in the latter half of the twentieth century, writes, “Divine revelation is a mental activity” (Towards a Recovery of Christian Belief; 55). Dr. Paul Helm, another evangelical theologian, writes, “Revelation is a cognitive concept. It has to do with knowledge, with an actual or possible mode of knowledge” (Divine Revelation; 27).
Roger Olson, summarizing Henry and Helm’s propositional theology, writes, “(it) is that form of theology that views revelation of God as primarily, not necessarily exclusively, a mental activity – communication of objective facts about God and God’s purposes” (Reformed and Always Reforming; 162). Propositional theology then assumes that the core of Christianity is informational; whereas I think the core of Christianity is relational and transformational. And, in a sense, it seems the term “Generous Orthodoxy” can share a similar assumption with propositional theology; the assumption that the core of Christianity is informational.
Clark Pinnock (one of my fav theologians), in opposition to Henry and Helm, writes, “Christian doctrines are not absolute truths, free of contextual factors in formulation or infallible in and of themselves. Theology is the never-ending search for the intelligible meaning of the story so far as it can be known. Therefore, it will need to be more dynamic and flexible than can be a propositional theology” (Tracking the Maze; 186). In other words, doctrines … I dare say even core dogma … are not absolute formations and can’t provide a reliable litmus test of “who’s in” and “who’s out” of the faith. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say – at least propositionally – when it comes to the Christian faith, there are no absolute truths in the modern sense.
Sure, being a Christian involves ideas about God, but it’s not the core of what makes someone a believer. Ask the thief on the cross. He didn’t even know about the resurrection. Moses didn’t even know about Jesus’ birth or death or resurrection (insert Dispensationalist finger wagging here).
Like the thief on the cross, when I became a believer, the defining change wasn’t new belief, but new relationship.
A Bible verse that is quoted so often that we breeze through it is John 14:6. The one when Jesus states, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” We like to use this verse to defend the exclusivity of the Christian faith … that one can’t go to heaven unless one believes in Jesus. Really, if we’re to be honest, many use this verse to assert that there’s not way God except through believing in the doctrines of Christianity. But, I see a radically different thing going on in this verse, one that makes this verse decidedly inclusive.
Jesus is redefining truth.
He’s saying that truth is a Person.
He’s NOT saying that truth is a set of ideas or positions.
This verse doesn’t say, “The core tenets of the Christian faith are the way, the truth and the life.” Or, “the Church is the way, the truth and the life.” I don’t see that.
When truth is Jesus, everything changes. The defining aspect of what makes a person “in” isn’t what they believe, but who they believe. In other words, I believe it’s possible (although not recommended) for a person to walk away from the Church, walk away from the Bible, claim themselves an intellectual atheist and still find themselves closer to Jesus than one sitting in church with Bible in hand, reciting the Apostles Creed.
When tenets, doctrines, dogma, propositions, theology, etc. define a Christian, the authority is in man’s, or the Church’s hands; but when connecting with Jesus, mystical as it may be, defines a believer, the authority rests in who God calls to the fold … and from what I can tell, in one way or another, he calls all.
Unsettling isn’t it … to think that you’re not in control of this whole believing thing. You can’t just intellectually assent to a set of ideas and gain your golden ticket to heaven. But, let me say that a person may doubt it intellectually, but if you met Him, you’ll never forget it … you can’t forget it.
Generous Orthodoxy, then, is a good place to start; but I don’t want to fall into the trap of using Orthodoxy as a litmus test of who’s in and who’s out. But, rather, I’d like to see us center truth around the person of Jesus … inseparable from Jesus. Believing that while not all paths lead to God, we may find that Jesus is chasing us down every path we go. And no matter how screwed up our orthodoxy … how screwed up our path, we can begin finding Him by taking one mere step towards him. I believe that this incarnational pursuit of us is his generosity.