Saturday, January 27, 2007

CAN A ROCK STAR CHANGE THE WORLD?: He just might, if his name is Bono

I was surprised last fall to read that when asked which public figure they saw as the best example of Christian witness, an overwhelming majority of Christian college students (both conservative and liberal) put Bono, the lead singer of the rock band U2, at the top of their list. Yet when I gave it some thought, I had to agree. In fact, over the space of the last several years, I’d come to the same conclusion on my own. He seems to be everywhere that it counts, and his approach comes closer to following Christ’s example than many so-called Christian leaders who seem too caught up in politics and inter-denominational bickering to focus on doing God’s work. I’m also not surprised that many find fault with Bono’s approach, deriding it as too ecumenical, too commercial and too secular to be considered a “true” Christian witness. I would have to disagree with this, since Christ has always used some very unlikely types to achieve great things. True, he hardly lives a blemish-free life, and by his own admission lives pretty well above the norm, yet he puts his energy behind his words, and gets a lot done in the process. But if you still have your doubts about Bono's faith, and if you'd like a better idea of where his head is about Christ and grace, read this short piece that appeared in The Nation in 2005. There's nothing watered-down about this man's faith.

I recall reading the transcript from a keynote address he gave at a National Prayer Breakfast last year. In it, he jokingly admitted to having a messianic complex and wanting to save the world. He also acknowledged he had grown up with a real aversion to organized and institutionalized religion, something he witnessed firsthand growing up in Ireland with one Catholic parent and one Protestant parent. He said he felt that religion often gets in the way of doing God’s work, and once again I have to agree with him. He spoke of how he grew up asking for God’s blessing in following his own dreams, and then learned to simply do God’s will because it was already blessed. Just look what’s happened since he figured that out. He’s now one of the most recognized figures in the world, and for many, the face they associate with leadership in the fight against disease, starvation and crushing poverty among the least fortunate of the world.

The most recent of his endeavors, and probably the most loudly criticized by some of his detractors, is his founding of the Product Red project. I’ve heard it criticized as too commercial, too crass and too entwined with the downside problems associated with free markets and globalization. Yet the money from this project, which goes into The Global Fund to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, has totalled many millions of dollars and helped many millions of people around the world. Rather than rail against the system, Bono simply decided to take the system, with all it’s faults, and turn it back on itself. Rather then sit on the sidelines and criticize, he stepped into the fray, took the bull by the horns, and used the considerable power and economic wealth of the free-market system to do a tremendous amount of good for those who can't participate in it. As he noted, people are going to shop anyway, so why not use a system that’s already in place to do some good?

Bono provides us all with a wonderful example of what you can do if you just get busy and do God’s work. It doesn’t have to be pretty and perfect, and you won’t always be able to create a “clean” and untarnished sequence of events to get the work done. But if you get to work with whatever system there is, and do God’s work, He’ll be there to see that it bears spiritual fruits.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

REASON IN THE BALANCE: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law and Education

It's nice to read the work of someone who really thinks through their position before putting it down on paper, as Philip Johnson has done with this fine book, the purpose of which is to show that basing law, education and science purely on naturalism produces very questionable results. Johnson notes that it produces societies of people who lose all notion of acting in the common good and instead turn inward and focus on creating their own personal space and prosperity to the detriment of society as a whole. Naturalism rejects the notion of any concrete moral guideposts, and therefore people who subscribe to it feel no obligation to act on anything except their own subjective and ever-changing beliefs. It's a good and fair point he makes, and even a number of atheists over the centuries have noted that mankind would probably lose all moral sense of direction without some sort of faith in their lives.

This isn't to assume that the faith community is without flaws...it certainly has its share of skeletons in the closet. But overall, naturalism and its focus on subjective laws has brought us such horrors as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao Tse Tung (all fervent believers in "natural" law). These men were responsible for nearly 100 million deaths in the 20th century alone and acted that way because they had no moral absolutes to follow, only their own subjective guidelines. If anyone wants to attack the injection of faith into the public psyche, they do so at the risk of ignoring the overall track record of the naturalistic world-view and its fallout, which overall is quite a bit worse off than any faith-based system in history. In the end, Mr. Johnson simply shows that the naturalistic world-view that's largely accepted by an increasingly secular world provides us with a flawed foundation for building a healthy society. Simply pointing out all the flaws with faith isn't a very convincing argument for naturalism, especially when we look at the shape our society is in today because of the increasingly secular influence of naturalism in all facets of our lives. It's important to note that this book isn't pushing for a theocratic society by any means; it's not a religious tract. It simply lays out the flaws inherent in basing an entire societal system on purely natural law, while leaving room for broad but consistent "universal" values that might benefit the common good.

Of particular interest is the section dealing with the effects of naturalism within the law and how it affects our morality. In one of the most telling and powerful passages in the entire book, Johnson states: "We are arriving at an absurd condition that might be called libertarian socialism. Everyone has a right to live exactly as he or she pleases, but if something goes wrong, some abstraction called "society" is to blame and must pay the bill for the damages. Everyone must be free to make risky choices, and everyone must be protected from unpleasant consequences by social insurance that is ultimately provided by 'the government,' which is to say nobody. In consequence, there is a moral deficit of huge and growing proportions."

And in a nutshell, that's the whole point of the book, although it also deals with naturalism in science and education. In effect, by refusing to consider the idea of God, or the existence of objective moral values, societies will instead follow subjective laws that shift and change with the times. Secular types like to point out that this is necessary to deal with changing values, but I'd submit that it's no different than confusing motion with progress. What seems to be a minor distinction is actually a category mistake of monumental proportions. Moral absolutes keep us grounded and provide the basis for a stable society. Naturalism does not allow for this, and as a result societies steeped in natural law are built on unstable foundations and it's only a matter of time before they collapse. Based upon Mr. Johnson's analysis of the situation, this country appears to be headed in that direction.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

HUBRIS: A Book Review

I bought this book for my father, a staunch Republican and Bush man, and was floored to hear his response after reading it. He was in complete agreement with the authors' assessment that the Bush administration and other neo-cons took us to war on some very flimsy premises simply to extend their questionable political vision to an angry and unstable Middle East that is ill-equipped to deal with free-market democracy and Western influence. My father was a lifelong and high-ranking member of military intelligence and has followed Middle Eastern issues through military publications, books and journals since the mid-1960s. He has no illusions about what took place, and this book only confirmed it for him.

Bush and the hawks in his administration used 9/11 and the fear of terrorist attacks as a tool to justify an invasion that they'd had on their agenda since their first days in office. This isn’t conjecture, by the way... it’s a well-known fact by now. The problem arose in trying to tie Iraq and Saddam Hussein to bin Laden and his terrorist organization. The evidence was flimsy, and they knew it. In spite of the glaring lack of evidence, they forged ahead anyway, scrutinizing mounds of raw intelligence in the hope that something would rear its head and provide them with enough “scare” value to garner support for the war. They found three questionable leads, and rode them (as well as a few other notable ones) all the way into battle: the claim that Saddam was trying to import yellow-cake uranium from Niger, the purchase of aluminum tubes that were said to be used in making a nuclear reactor, and the claim that Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 hijackers, had at one point made contact with an Iraqi intelligence official. All three claims turned out to be false leads, and this was known well before going to war. But the Bush administration pushed on anyway because, as noted, they’d already made up their minds. What has happened since is history, and I suspect it won’t be kind to President Bush, particularly when he seems to view the deaths of many thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women and children as “a comma” in the history of the Middle East.

The war in Iraq is a very "modern" war, at least for America...a war where the military is being used to some degree as a tool of the super-rich and super-powerful (and possibly super-arrogant, although I hate to believe that) to effect economic, political and ideological change in a region of the world where the neo-cons felt it necessary to preserve American access to resources and supply chains beneficial to American interests. It was also done as a means to establish a strong foothold in the heart of the Arab world (one conveniently located next door to Iran). To achieve these ends, they had to sell the American people on an unnecessary war by appealing to our deepest fears, rather than simply being honest with us. In their rush to arms, they overlooked sound but contrary intelligence, built their case on shaky and unsubstantiated intelligence, and saw terrorists behind every palm tree where others saw nothing at all.

What's most interesting about this book is that it's not a partisan hachet-job. A large number of the sources cited within the book were members of the administration, or friendly to it. Their current view of the war is offered in hindsight and reflection; it's honest, but a bit too late to make any difference. The book is aptly titled. If you only read a handful of books on the buildup and fallout of the Iraq war, make sure this is one of them.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND HATE: The true goal of the Founding Fathers

Over the past several years, I’ve noticed an alarming number of endlessly-circulating emails that I essentially see as a form of “hate mail.“ They’re intolerant, belligerent and highly-judgmental, and to make matters worse, they’re very short on real facts. Those facts that the senders do manage to get right are often taken entirely out of context and twisted around to serve their purposes. But the most alarming thing of all is that they’re circulated by people who consider themselves Christians.

I’m talking about the emails dealing with removal of prayer from school, removal of the Ten Commandments from courthouses, and a number of other things these senders see as an affront to their faith. These emails tend to blend a rather militant patriotism and nationalism with Christianity, and in the end it’s their Christian faith that ends up being corrupted. While I think we should all defend our faith, we should never compromise the basic tenets of our faith to do so. Christ’s commandments to us to love one another, not to judge, to show mercy, to forgive and to consider the needs of others at all times is clearly lost on the originators of these emails as well as the people who proudly forward them to all their friends. It’s hard to refrain from getting annoyed when I read these emails because they're based upon uninformed worldviews and twisted truths, not fairly-considered or concrete ones. As a Christian, I lament the decline of our faith and its ability to publicly guide the lives of the American people and their leaders. But these emails do nothing to further the message of Christ, and often serve to alienate the very people we, as Christians, should be reaching out to. The best way to defend your faith is with solid witness, by living as Christ told us to, not by proudly throwing a misguided roundhouse punch into cyberspace, as many of these emails do.

I happen to think the 10 Commandments provide us with excellent and objective guidelines for living and I personally honor them as the moral guideposts in my life, but I still don't feel anyone has a right to force Judeo-Christian values on people of other faiths simply because Christianity is the majority religion in this country. That was never the intention of the Founding Fathers in spite of the fact that they were overwhelmingly Christian. We're not a theocracy, never have been one, and I sure don't want to become one because nothing in this world is more volatile and corrupting than mixing politics with religion. Show me one single example of where it has ever worked and not been an oppressive force.

Every past theocracy, even Christian ones, have been horribly oppressive and violent towards those who don't adhere to their views. Remember the Middle Ages and the Inquisitions? Remember the Crusades, when Christians marched toward the Holy Land, murdering Jews and even other Christians along the way, and did so in the name of God? Remember the churches of Europe hanging, burning and beheading "heretics," Christians whose doctrinal views were far less varied than some that exist today within this very country? That's what happens with theocracies. Once a governing body starts believing that God supports their actions, anything goes.

You say that can't happen here? Then just take a look at some statements made by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, two men who have made it quite clear that they want to establish a specifically "Christian" government in spite of the fact that the Founding Fathers created a constitution that clearly would not allow it. Normally I'd take their comments with a grain of salt, but then I read Robertson's quote stating "I'm supposed to be nice to Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Methodists. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist." If Pat Robertson's brand of Christianity is the basis for governing this country, then how am I supposed to feel when my church is attacked as being the "spirit of the Antichrist?" Who gets to decide whose "version" of Christianity holds sway over the others? With all due respect, I sure don't want Pat Robertson making that decision. And what about people of other faiths? It appears as though they'd be looking at far worse treatment.

If for some reason the notion of a Christian theocracy is okay with you, think about this reverse scenario: If somehow Islam became the majority religion in the next twenty years, would you want Sharia law forced upon you by our governing bodies? Would you want to see your kids kneeling toward Mecca three times a day in school, even though your kids are Christian (or worse, ostracized and punished for choosing not to)? Would you want to see Christian symbolism banned from the public square in favor of Islamic symbols? Of course not, and you'd have every right to fight it based upon the Constitution's 1st Amendment. It's vitally important to understand that the amendment doesn't say that we can't bring religion into the public square, it simply says that the government is bound not to favor one over another, a caveat that should effectively prevent our government from getting in bed with one particular religion at the expense of others. That's the most critical point, the most misunderstood part of it.

Here's what you need to consider... the very Amendment that protects you from ever being subject to Sharia law also protects other citizens from being subject to any specific Christian interpretations of the law. It's a double-edged sword because it protects everyone, and favors no one, a point that many ultra-right-wing American Christians don't seem to understand (or want to understand). By demanding more government support for their faith at the expense of others, they’re violating one of the founding principles of this great nation... that any person from any land could come here and find opportunity, freedom, and the right to practice their faith of choice without government interference. I would like to add that they should also be able to do so without being denied that right by American Christians, many whose faith has been corrupted by blending it with fervent nationalism, an incompatible mix at best.

That the Founding Fathers were largely Christian is beyond dispute, and while the United States was a nation comprised largely of Christians, the founders did not set out to build a "Christian nation" specifically, and in fact went out of their way to avoid a theocracy by creating a constitution that would allow religious freedom for anyone of any belief, even if they chose to be a heathen. Because of persecution in theocratic England and other parts of Europe, where Christians in power held sway over other Christians and often persecuted them to the point of death, the Founding Fathers wanted to create a government that allowed all to follow their beliefs without any opposition created by government, without a government that favored one faith over another. It was a grand and noble idea, but for it to work, it had to treat all religions with the same respect. It had to be universal.

As Thomas Jefferson (a deist, but definitely not a Christian) noted in his autobiography:

The bill for establishing religious freedom was finally passed...and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal...and was meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection, the Jew, the Gentile, the Christian and Mohametan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.” In other words, a country that accepted anyone of any faith, or no faith at all, a country that would never create laws favoring one faith over another.

As Christians who believed every person had the right to choose their faith, the founders did, in fact, create a "wall of separation" (Jefferson's exact words, by the way) that prohibited the Government from favoring any one religion over another. All were free to worship any way they pleased, and should never be prohibited from doing so. A lot of the conflict surrounding this issue today comes from secular groups like the ACLU, which targets Christianity while appearing to protect the rights of non-Christian faith traditions. The ACLU has mangled the spirit of the Constitution, which promises "freedom of religion." The ACLU seems to think it said "freedom from religion, especially Christianity" and appears determined to "protect" everyone from being exposed to Christianity in the public square. If you have a problem with prayer being removed from school for those who wish to participate, then by all means stand up for it, and while you're at it, fight to allow anyone of any faith to pray in school as well. Are you willing to do that? I would hope so, because that's exactly what the Constitution calls for. If you're not willing to do that, then all this griping about removing school prayer and the 10 Commandments from the public arena starts looking like so much hot air. Now you're starting to see the problems that arise when we stir up our American nationalism with Christ's calling. Overall, the two positions are not very compatible. Either you fight for everyone's freedom of religion, or you're part of the reason the ACLU got involved in this issue. One of the reasons the ACLU got involved was precisely because many Christians wanted their faith to remain in schools at the exclusion of others.

I personally feel that the ACLU’s demand that we remove all prayer from the school is overstepping their bounds, but only wrong as long as we honor the Constitution by allowing any one of any faith to pray according to their faith. What does it hurt, as long as everyone has the same rights and anyone can opt out? I think the ACLU is going overboard to prevent people from having any exposure to faith, which is clearly not what the Constitution calls for. But to demand that we allow Christian prayer in school at the exclusion of other faiths is also wrong, and clearly violates the expressed purpose of the 1st Amendment, which reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The 1st Amendment is truly a double-edged sword, which most people don't want to deal with. While we should have the right to exercise our religious freedom anywhere at any time, we must also respect the rights of others to do the same even if it's a faith we don' t agree with, since the Amendment so clearly states that Congress can make no law that favors one religion over another. Sadly, many people who call themselves Christians don't seem willing to accept that...it's "Christianity only" for them, a very clear violation of the 1st Amendment, and a very un-Christian act as well. Christ never, ever, demanded that anyone accept Him. All were free to choose. Our job as His followers is simply to share the Good News, and share it with unconditional love. That's the power of our witness. Christianity was never meant as a means to hold "worldly" power over anyone or anything. We are told to humbly exist within whatever power structure is in place, "to be in the world, but not of it." We are to build a spiritual kingdom within our hearts, not try to control and reshape worldly ones (which, by nature, will inevitably lead to our corruption).

It should be noted that at the time it was established, the USA was largely a nation of Christians, and other religions fell into a very small minority. Christian prayer in schools was a no-brainer then, but it's far more complicated now in our pluralistic society. Things have changed considerably and while I personally see no problem with school prayer, I don't think we have a right to insist that it be "Christian prayer only" in spite of the fact that I'm a Christian. If you're going to honor the specific demands of the Constitution, then what's wrong with allowing personal prayers in school for anyone of any faith, and show no favoritism for any particular one, even if Christianity is the majority faith? And if some don't wish to participate, then that should be honored and respected as well. It should be noted that all "Christian specific" language was intentionally removed from the Constitution after much consideration, and that the God they mentioned was meant in a more universal sense, an acknowledged Creator, but not necessarily the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

I do believe in the broader concept of "one nation, under God," even if that means accepting that my neighbor's God isn't the same as my own. I also believe that if people wish to get school prayer back into the schools, and insist that Judeo-Christian symbolisim such as the Ten Commandments be placed upon government property, then they must be willing to allow any other faith tradition to exist alongside ours and do exactly the same. If we're not willing to allow that, then we're suppressing minority faiths and we're not honoring the Constitution. See what I mean about the conflicts between faith and nationalism? The truth is, my commitment to God is an absolute that far exceeds my commitment to my country because there are so few areas where I find any true compatibility. In the end, I think all the arguments about school prayer and removing religious symbolism from the public square are just much ado about nothing, and here's why...

Ultimately, this is the real truth, and it's all I need to know.... I live in a free country that respects all faiths, even those I don't agree with. The laws of this country allow any of us to personally worship Christ—or Allah, or Buddha, or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster—anywhere we please, in any public place, at any time, without anyone telling us not to. We can do this personally without restriction of any kind. We may not be able use these public places to lead others in organized group prayer, but no one can infringe upon our right to personally pray and honor our God at any time, anywhere, and in any manner we choose. This is the freedom we should value, because I am completely free to do this, and so are you.

Furthermore, I often wonder why American Christians even feel such an overwhelming need to put their faith on public display. Christ never exhorts us to make public displays of piety, and in fact discourages us from doing so in Matthew 6:5-6. "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly."

When someone from the government starts telling me I can’t pray anymore, or have to worship some god not of my choosing, then they’ll have a real battle on their hands. As long as I still have that right, and as long as my neighbor, be they Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, Hindu or whatever, has the same right, then all is well in these United States, at least with regards to the practice of faith. When we deny them that right while promoting our own, we not only deny a basic right granted by the Constitution, but we behave in a manner that shames our faith in Christ as well.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

THE QUESTION OF SALVATION: Written in stone, or in need of better interpretation?

There’s probably no more divisive subject in comparative religious debates than the question of salvation. Christian triumphalists like to think that they hold the trump card, but does a closer inspection of the Scriptures prove them wrong? Some would argue that it’s not as crystal clear as some literalists would like us to believe, and after a careful reading of several key scriptures on the subject, I’d have to agree. The triumphalists always point to John 14:6, when Christ announces, “I am the way, the truth and the life. None come to the Father except through me.” I don’t have the slightest doubt that this is absolutely true...I believe that Christ was God incarnate, and because He came in the flesh and lived as a man, only He is uniquely qualified to judge the hearts of mankind. But is Christ merely declaring that He’s the intercessor and judge, or that we must specifically know Him by name, and confess in His name within our physical lifetime, to find salvation?

I've always loved the story about the missionary who meets a native in the jungle, and shares the Gospel with him.

The native listens carefully, and then asks, "So if I know this, and don't act on it, I'll burn in a fiery Hell?"

"Um, uhh... yes," says the missionary.

"Then why'd you tell me?" wailed the distraught native.

This little story illustrates the oft-quoted (and quite clich├ęd) case of natives living far from civilization who have no contact with the outside world. “What of them?” the critics ask. “What sort of God would condemn them to a life of separation from Him simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time?” And what about all mankind who lived before the life of Christ? Is the entire population of the ancient world going to Hell except for a tiny handful mentioned in the Old Testament whom God found to be “righteous?” If Christ died a substitutionary death for all mankind, past, present and future, how do we reconcile this with some people’s insistence that they must call on Christ by name? To insist on this point is to deny salvation to anyone who came before Christ, including the entire Hebrew and Ishmaelite nations.

These are legitimate questions that any believer or non-believer has a right to ask. Unfortunately, most Christians don’t know how to answer this question, and those who think they do often pull out that tired old trump card by stating that if you don’t call upon Christ by name, you’re going to Hell...period. Rather than reaching out with an understanding hand as a Christian should, they immediately build a fence ... a very un-Christlike act. But the truth of the matter isn’t quite as clear as some would like to think.

Let’s start by reading Paul in Romans 2:1–16, and pay particular notice to verses 13 through 16. Here we find Paul addressing issues that appear to be in conflict with the generally-accepted literal meaning of John 14:6. Paul, speaking about non-Jews, states “...for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.”

It’s important to note the line “...but the doers of the Law will be justified...” and then in the very next sentence we read that when Gentiles without the Law instinctively follow the Law which God has written in their hearts, they are “justified.” This statement appears to address the issue of those who don’t know Christ, but who instinctively follow the moral code impressed upon their hearts. But is being “justified” the same as our current understanding of being “saved?” I don’t claim to have an absolute answer to that, but as we continue, it might appear to be so. We also know that prior to the arrival of Christ, men could find their salvation through faith without specifically knowing Christ. Noah and Abraham are prime examples. God found Abraham righteous because Abraham believed in Him, humbled himself and committed his life to serving his God. Yet if you accept a tight literal reading of John 14:6 as some insist, Abraham is in for a big surprise come Judgement Day. Noah, too, unless God made some special concession for the two of them, which is highly unlikely since the Bible explicitly states that God is impartial and doesn't play favorites.

So how do we reconcile this issue of salvation through Christ alone? Remember, Jesus clearly states that He's the gatekeeper, the final judge of a man's heart, and I believe this to be absolutely true. However, I also believe we might be trying to force this idea into a very tight definition, and here's why...

First, we must understand that God forgave sin and iniquity for all those ancients (pre-Christ mankind) who called upon Him in a manner consistent with the purpose of Christ’s atoning death on the Cross. Remember, in addition to their repentance and confession, an atoning sacrifice was also required. Christ tells us that all who seek Him in faith, repent of their sins and put their lives in His hands are saved. Christ is part of the eternal triune God, and therefore His judgment extends to all, not just those who lived after His earthly life two thousand years ago. His intercession on behalf of mankind truly does extend to all—past, present and future—who seek Him in a manner consistent with His will for us (a very critical point).

The clearest example of this is found in Psalm 32:1–5. David laments how keeping his sin to himself causes his separation from God, but through confession and repentance he is restored and his sin is wiped away. “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit! When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; and You forgave the guilt of my sin.”

Sin is what separates us from God. Our salvation from sin, the restoring of our communion with God, is a gift delivered to us through repentance and confession, with an eternal Christ as our intercessor. It’s no coincidence that Jesus’ name in Hebrew—Yeshua—literally means “Salvation,“ a salvation which David receives through acknowledgment and confession of his sin. But here's the kicker that most people never think about: Jesus was his intercessor. David was justified by Jesus. David came to the Father through Jesus, part of the triune God, although not yet born in the flesh. The same was obviously true for Noah and Abraham. When Christ tells us in the New Testament that "...none come to the Father except by Me," it's a sweeping statment that covers all mankind, not something that starts from that point forward. He's the intercessor for all of us, even those who who lived long before the Incarnation. It's a startling thought for many people, yet the truth is borne out by Scripture, which speaks very clearly about people in the Old Testament being justified by faith alone.

Which brings us back to the question I posed earlier in this piece: Can a person find salvation and eternal life in Christ without specifically knowing about the Christian faith, or by calling on Christ by name? Based upon a clear reading of Scripture, without adding or taking anything from it, the answer appears to be "yes." According to Paul, mankind’s conscience has God’s will—here referred to as the ”law“—impressed upon it in such a way that a person without specific knowledge of Christ can still choose to follow it faithfully and be justified in God’s eyes. This law, of course, requires repentance and acknowledgment of a sinful nature, as well as this person humbly submitting themselves to God’s will, the same as Noah and Abraham did. When God accepted their repentance and confessions, they emptied themselves out to receive His salvation and do His will, and in receiving salvation, they came into communion with the complete triune God, which included Christ and the Holy Spirit.

If this thought troubles you, I would suggest you carefully read the noted passages again. By any honest reading, they appear to address the issue quite clearly without forcing any skewed interpretation onto them. Simple logic tells us that if ordinary men such as Noah and Abraham, who existed long before the Jewish nation came into existence, can find their way to God and receive salvation by following the ”law“ stamped upon their hearts and approaching Him in a particular manner, then this method must be equally valid for others who have no specific knowledge of Christ. To insist otherwise is to force God into a very small box by insisting that we know the limits of His mercy.

Additionally, we must consider the true meaning of the Scripture in the Gospel of John that speaks of Christ “descending to the dead” after His crucifixion. In the Anglican catechism, this is explained as the point when Christ offers salvation to all the souls who’ve lived and died before His time. In other words, all of God's children, past, present and future, can receive salvation through Christ, who died for all, not just those born after His earthly life. Some denominations claim this verse describes Jesus in Hell, but keep in mind that the Jews didn't believe in Hell, only a place called Sheol, which was an underworld for all the dead awaiting the final judgement, a judgment that's described throughout the Old Testament as restorative, not destructive. It's logical to assume that if Christ died for all mankind, then at some point He must offer salvation to all, regardless of when they lived.

Another point that must be raised is salvation for the Jewish nation. Many Christian denominations adhere to the notion that the Jews are lost for rejecting Christ. The apostle Paul, using the entire 11th chapter of Romans, assures us that this is not true, that God has only hardened their hearts to allow the rest of the world to comprehend the fullness of Christ, and then all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:25-27). God is faithful, Paul says, and will keep His promise to the Jews, because “the gifts and the callings of God are irrevocable.” I’ve always felt that from a doctrinal standpoint, The Letter of Paul to the Romans covers all the major points about Christianity pretty thoroughly. If you’re a reader with doubts about salvation and who’s eligible, I’d highly advise you to read Romans from front to back, as well as the Old Testament book of Isaiah, which speaks often of God’s servant gathering the flocks from all parts of the world.

It’s important to note that for all of us who have been exposed to the Gospel of Christ, we are bound to recognize Jesus as the Incarnate God. There’s simply no ducking this issue. But for the righteous who lived prior to the birth of Christ, and for those anywhere who have never been exposed to the Gospel yet acknowledge a single sovereign Creator, trust the ”law“ written upon their hearts, and confess their sinful nature while putting themselves at His service, I have to believe that the loving Christ I believe in will provide for their salvation in much the same manner that He’s provided for mine, particularly since they’ve come to understand His purpose without actually knowing His name. When Christ tells us that none come to the Father except through Him, I believe it completely. He’s the judge, and only He knows the secrets in the hearts of Man, which is why I trust Him to judge them lovingly and fairly.

In a discussion I had with a cousin of mine on this very subject, he made a point with which I strongly agree. He pointed out that throughout the Old Testament scriptures, particularly in the Book of Isaiah, we read of a God with a very grand plan for all of mankind. It will include the Gentiles and descendants of Ishmael, as well as people from all the nations of the earth. In other words, my cousin said, God has something very big in store, and it far exceeds our understanding of the issue, an issue that we always tend to oversimplify. When you read the Bible in its entirety and pay attention to the issue of salvation for the world, it becomes very clear that something quite astonishing appears to be in the works, something far beyond our abilities to imagine it. This subject is revisited in the Gospel of John, when, in a subtle echo of the verses from Isaiah that speak of gathering the flocks, Jesus states:

“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”
John 10:14,16

Let’s look at the key lines here. “I have other sheep which are not of this fold, I must bring them also...and they will become one flock, with one shepherd.” It’s a powerful statement, and carries a lot of hidden meaning. It hints of something quite big, some grand unifying act, to come in the future, and this statement alone should give us pause before we start insisting with certainty that anyone who doesn’t call on Christ by name is on the road to damnation.

Please read again carefully what Christ says: “I know my own and my own know me. I have other sheep which are not of this fold. I must bring them also.” What’s going on here? The only thing we know for certain is that He’s speaking of people outside of His current group of followers. Is Jesus referring to non-Christians, but people of faith who truly understand Grace and follow the distinct nature of the one true God? We can’t tell from this statement alone, but it hints at something beyond our comprehension. It is statements like this that should prompt Christians to refrain from making any final, triumphal announcements about who finds salvation and who doesn’t. We simply aren’t provided with enough information to make that final of a statement. Remember, we’re not called to be judges, but to serve, and the reason we’re not called to be judges is because we’re not even remotely qualified.

To wrap up my thoughts on this subject of salvation, here’s a very short and succinct point made by C.S. Lewis in his classic Mere Christianity. In the end, when all our secrets are stripped away and we are exposed for judgment, he says: "There will be surprises."

Of that, I have no doubt...