Today’s guest post comes to us from Caleb Wilde.
If you haven’t found Caleb’s blog, you must! He calls it “Confessions of a Funeral Director: Working at the Crossroads of this World and the Next,” and it’s excellent. Caleb writes with wit and wisdom about life, death, theology, adoption, current events, and what it’s like to do a job that makes most of us shudder just a little. Caleb recently wrote a heartbreaking and beautiful post about the famine in East Africa.
Today Caleb shares his thoughts on salvation, exclusivism, and inclusivism. I hope it sparks an interesting conversation!
What Do You Have to Know to be Saved?
by Caleb Wilde
“You must know that you’re a sinner and that Jesus died for your sins.”
That’s what I used to think. Until I made friends with some first generation South Koreans at seminary, the majority of whom believed that Jesus died primarily to release them from shame and fear.
“You must understand that Jesus died and rose again.”
But, what about the thief on the cross who was going to meet Jesus in paradise that very day and yet had no knowledge about the resurrection scene of Jesus’ story?
“Basically, you must understand the Romans Road.”
Just like Moses, Esther, David and the other Old Testament believers who regularly read the book of Romans? Or, are you implying that all the Old Testament saints weren’t really saved?
“I guess God had mercy on them, since they couldn’t have known all the truths of the New Testament.”
What about all the unevangelized … the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and even atheists … who “couldn’t have known all the truths of the New Testament?” Does God have mercy on them too?
While it may be hard to identify what we “need to know”, I have two “need to know” suggestions, although the way I define them is not traditionally evangelical.
You Must Know Special Revelation
Carl Henry, Paul Helm, Wayne Grudem and other respected evangelical theologians of the past 100 years have stated or implied that revelation is mainly propositional. And it’s kind of all gone downhill from there.
Today, we evangelicals place “revelation” in a knowledge category, so that all talk about revelation is talk about the ideas/knowledge of scripture/Jesus.
One way to Christian exclusivism is through such an assumption.
Many exclusivists assume you must KNOW certain ideas about God in order to be saved in the here and now. And, if you don’t KNOW certain ideas about God, you have no opportunity. If revelation is mainly propositional and if you don’t know those propositions, you don’t have a chance to know God in a saving way, thus exclusivism.
All this creates a difficulty: it damns EVERYONE right now who has no chance to know Christian ideas.
Another problem with this assumption is that revelation about God seems to be mainly about His self-revelation (what I’m going to call His nakedness). Revelation is God’s nakedness with us, in that it happens around trust, vulnerability, humility, compassion, love; and not necessarily around intellectual adherence, creedal affirmation or blind faith.
It’s personal and Person, not primarily propositional and intellectual. And calling it “nakedness” helps us get at the heart of it.
What happens when “special revelation” becomes the very person of Jesus (even if we get his name wrong), and not a set of ideas? What happens when the revelation we need isn’t ultimately knowledge, but His presence abiding with us? What happens to exclusivism?
You Must Know the Truth
And by that all too many Christians assume you must believe a set of ideas … specifically “The Romans Road”. If you believe the truth (agree to a certain set of ideas), you’re saved … right?
But, again, – like revelation – by putting God’s Truth in an epistemological category, I think we’ve misplaced it. Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.” This is a classic exclusivist proof text but a closer look at it undermines some exclusivist assumptions.
This verse doesn’t state that “The Four Spiritual Laws” are “the way”; nor does it state believing the Apostles Creed, or a certain type of theology is “the way”. It states that Jesus is the Truth and He is the way to the Father … that Truth is the person of Jesus.
If Truth is Jesus, is it possible for someone to know the Truth when they know little to nothing about Christian doctrine? Is it possible that God has been naked with the humble, when the humble have little Christian knowledge about who He is? What if a person only has enough Revelation and enough Truth to trust God fully … is that enough? What if faith is what God is looking for in the human heart?
Clark Pinnock states, “It is not so much a question whether the unevangelized know Jesus as whether Jesus knows them … the issue God cares about is the direction of the heart, not the content of theology” (A Wideness in God's Mercy, p. 158).
I wonder, does the Truth reveal himself to the humble and broken … wherever or whoever they may be and whatever name they may call Him?
When truth becomes the person of Jesus and when revelation becomes based on Jesus’ nakedness, salvation is dependent, not on what you know, but on Who knows you.
Certainly, there’s a necessity for the cross, for the resurrection, and for an account of God’s history in scripture. But it may be a stretch to claim absolutely that it’s also necessary that a person know about all of it in order to be counted as a child of God.
Believing that while not all paths lead to God, we may find that Jesus is chasing all of 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 his calling. I believe that this incarnational pursuit of us is his generous inclusivity.
What do you think? What do you have to know to be saved?