Is the depiction of Jesus and other religions in The Shack true?

I received this question in the open forum at the end of Discussions on The Shack last Thursday. I am going to direct back to several posts that I have written in the past on this topic.

This is a question to which I struggle to respond clearly.

I have reached the end of the questions which I had planned to respond to on my blog. Are there any other questions you have about The Shack to which I might respond? Leave a comment below…

Of Justification by Faith and Works

I believe that we are saved by grace through faith and that our works as Christians come as a natural result of our faith being lived in our daily interactions. I recently read Of Justification by Faith and Works by William Law and was challenged to think harder about the relationship between faith and works.

Of Justification by Faith and Works: A Dialogue between a Methodist and a Churchman was written by William Law in 1760. You can find the complete text at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library with this link. Law’s best known work is A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, which was a deep influence on John Wesley and others in the Evangelical revival. (Wikipedia contributors, “William Law,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=William_Law&oldid=227402439 (accessed August 11, 2008).

Of Justification by Faith and Works is written in a dialogue format with a Methodist providing questions and a churchman replying with lengthy responses. The content is primarily around the relationship of faith and works in the doctrine of salvation. The Methodist accuses the churchman of preaching “soul-destroying doctrine” of “salvation partly by faith, and partly by works; or justification by faith and works.” The churchman uses several lines of thought in response to the Methodist including:

  • Faith is the whole gospel system, including the call to works.
  • “It is true of the savior to say, that he is freely given of God, to be the savior of all men; but it is not true to say of salvation, that it is freely given to all men.”
  • Repentance and faith are works.
  • Christ’s work within us allow us to do any good works at all.

I appreciated the dialogue in which Law chose to write this content. It helped provide a small but important counterpoint to the assertions that he was making. This technique also increased the effetiveness of his argument. In the end, I disagree with several of the conclusions that Law draws in this dialogue, but it made me think harder about justification, faith and works than I have in a long time. I recommend this text to someone interested in thinking seriously about justification and how it relates to faith and / or works. Be prepared for theological engagement and english from the 18th century.

Can one be saved by faith in God alone, without faith in Christ?

As I was picking up my things after teaching the Builders Class, I was asked this question by a member of the small group (Bible 101)that was coming into the same room at 10:45.

This question touches on the issue of Christianity and other religions and my first response would be to be in reference to some of my previous thoughts on the subject and the great comments added. You can find those posts here –

I do not have anything additional to add to those thoughts other than these references from Our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules as a United Methodist congregation:

The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church: Article IX—Of the Justification of Man

We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by faith, only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.

The Confession of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church: Article VIII—Reconciliation Through Christ

We believe God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The offering Christ freely made on the cross is the perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, redeeming man from all sin, so that no other satisfaction is required.

The Confession of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church: Article IX—Justification and Regeneration

We believe we are never accounted righteous before God through our works or merit, but that penitent sinners are justified or accounted righteous before God only by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

We believe regeneration is the renewal of man in righteousness through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, whereby we are made partakers of the divine nature and experience newness of life. By this new birth the believer becomes reconciled to God and is enabled to serve him with the will and the affections.

We believe, although we have experienced regeneration, it is possible to depart from grace and fall into sin; and we may even then, by the grace of God, be renewed in righteousness.

How would you interpret these articles? How would you respond to this question?

A Provocative Billboard

It is hard to miss this billboard on I-35 just outside of Emporia, KS.

Billboard on I-35 near Emporia, KS

I do not think that it is the most helpful way to connect people with Christ. However, I think that there may be a few people who would respond to this type of invitation. I think that one of the least helpful aspects of this type of sign is that it does not connect one with a local community of faith.

What do you think?

Christianity and Other Religions

I had a great breakfast at First Watch with Scott on Tuesday morning. He wanted to talk about an experience in which he felt that a church leader depreciated Christianity in relationship to other religions of the world. The relationship between Christianity and other religions is a topic that I find to be quite complex. Here is some of my response.

Christianity and world religions
Judaism has a distinct relationship with Christianity among all other world religions. The God to whom Jesus prays and speaks to as Father is the God of the Hebrew scriptures. God remains faithful to the covenant that was made with the people of Israel. Paul wrestles with this relationship in several chapters in the book of Romans.

Will persons of other faith traditions be saved? I am not sure. I do believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. I believe that the Christian hope is that all things will be made new in the second coming of Christ. I do not think that anything will remain that is old. I believe that Christ’s incarnation, life, death and resurrection is a part of God’s work for all of creation. What exactly this means for persons of other religions, I do not know.

As a pastor, it is part of my responsibility to be concerned with how it is with others’ souls. I believe that this is the responsibility of all Christians – to watch over one another in love (as Wesley would say). However, I believe that it is more important to first be concerned with the state of my own soul and my journey of discipleship. I believe that one should be more concerned for the state of one’s own soul than with making judgments on the state of others.

Thoughts about conversations with those of other religions

  • Do not ever belittle your own religion when confronted with another religion. There is no need to be bashful or reticent about your beliefs. However, at the same time be careful not to belittle another’s religion.
  • Focus on invitational conversations. In interfaith conversations there needs to be a readiness to both give and receive.
  • I believe that it is more important for Christians to focus on sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with non and nominally religious persons than with those who already have a faith.

I recognize that this is a broad topic and that this response does not even come close to touching all areas that would be needed. What would you add to this conversation? How do you understand the relationship between Christianity and other religions? What thoughts do you have about interfaith conversations?