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Spring 1994    Vol. 23 No. 1    pp. 29–43 

Jesus and the Religions of the World

Victor Adrian

In the light of the new situation in our global world, where religions can no longer live in isolation from each other, it is imperative that evangelical Christians learn to understand other religious faiths, so as to better communicate Christ, the Light of the world! In the maze of developing theologies of world religions and in the context of inter-faith dialogue, we need to know what we believe about Jesus and how He relates to world religions.

Religious pluralism is incompatible with the New Testament witness to Jesus, and inclusivism is highly problematical.

THE CONTEMPORARY SITUATION

Until recently serious dialogue with non-Christian religions was undertaken by missionaries or occurred in occasional personal encounters on university campuses or at inter-religious conferences. Today the situation has radically changed. The immigration patterns from countries other than Europe, and the widespread academic pursuits of international students in our universities, have brought about an intensified awareness of other religions.

In the United States there are today some seven million Jews, five million Muslims, over a million Hindus, half a million Buddhists, and {30} about four hundred thousand international students. Most cities in the Western world are multi-cultural and multi-religious. The current experience is similar to that of the early Christians in their cities along the Mediterranean shores. They lived in a marketplace of religions. Paul in Athens engaged in debate and discussion with Greek philosophers about a pantheon of gods in the city. In the dialogue with those of other faiths a firm conviction persisted that in Jesus the Word had come in the flesh revealing the fullness of God and that the love of God and His redemptive purposes were expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. With this conviction all other truths were relativized.

Today great efforts are made to encourage inter-religious dialogue in order to cooperate in social concerns—justice, peace, economic well-being, ecology—in order to create a better world.

The poignant question raised in inter-religious dialogue is whether the Creator God who loves all people and desires all to come to a knowledge of the truth, limits his redemptive presence only to those who have heard the gospel and have an explicit knowledge of Jesus Christ. The dialogue has opened up a variety of positions and brought into the foreground one of the greatest challenges to evangelical theology, the challenge of various perspectives of a theology of religions. At the heart lies the question of how Jesus relates to the religions of the world and the nature of Christ’s and our mission in the world.

In the early 1960s, W. A. Visser’t Hooft, in No Other Name, explained that syncretism, much more than atheism, was the major challenge to the Christian church. In the light of the recent collapse of atheistic communism in the former USSR, indicating as elsewhere that it is impossible to suppress the religious aspirations of the human soul and its notion of the existence of God—he was probably right. Syncretism, in its attempt to create a universal religion, is based on the presupposition that there is no unique absolute revelation in history. It holds that there are different valid ways to reach divine reality, and that efforts should be made to find core elements of religions, creating one universal religion for humanity. After reviewing four ways of syncretism in ancient and modern history, Visser’t Hooft concluded that syncretism leads nowhere because it rejects the universal offer of redemption in Jesus Christ. He concluded with the admonition:

“It is high time that Christians should rediscover that the very heart of their faith is that Jesus Christ did not come to make a contribution to the religious storehouse of mankind, but that in Him God reconciled the world to himself.” 0

In the 1970s, a Christian Islamist, W. Montgomery Watt, regarded Islam as the greatest challenge to Christianity—greater than the presuppositions {31} of modern science. His words were:

It is hardly too much to say that the intellectual challenge to Christianity from Islam at the present time is greater than any challenge Christians have had to meet for fifteen centuries, not excluding that from natural science. 1

The Challenge of Religious Pluralism

Today, in the 1990s, a number of Christian theologians regard the ideology of religious pluralism to be the greatest challenge to evangelical Christian convictions and mission. 2 We are in the midst of a pluralistic, relativistic mind set, where apparently no one can determine which view of reality is true because all views are said to be reflections of their respective cultures and societies, and therefore historically relative. 3 Particular religions are not to be regarded as being either true or false, but as being different perspectives of truth historically conditioned. On that assumption Christianity cannot be regarded as absolute; Christology is radically reduced and no one can be regarded as the one redeemer of humanity and the way of life and the truth.

The debate is framed around various questions. Does a high Christology lead to an exclusivist view of religions, namely that Jesus Christ is the only Savior of humanity through His incarnate life, death and resurrection, and that salvation requires the hearing of the gospel and the receiving of Jesus Christ through faith? Or are there some plausible inclusivist positions, such as, for example, recently advocated by Clark Pinnock who affirms both Jesus Christ as the Savior of all humanity through His death and resurrection (a high Christology) and at the same time affirms God’s saving presence in the modern world and in other religions? 4

There can be no doubt about the wideness of God’s mercy embracing all nations. The Abrahamic promise moved from the particular to the universal—all nations were to be blessed through him. Isaiah saw the suffering servant as a light to all the nations (Isa. 42:6); Daniel, in a clear and unambiguous vision, saw the uncut stone representing the kingdom of God demolish human kingdoms and eventually fill the whole world; the New Testament discloses to us a God of love, desiring that all people be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:3; 2 Pet. 3:9; John 3:17). In Jesus Christ God reconciled the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:19). Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus to a new lordship, God launched a new era of redemptive activity on the earth empowered by a pouring out of the Spirit of God, and anticipating the glorious triumph of His kingdom in all the world. The particular historical event of the coming of Christ had dimensions of universality! Both pluralists (those who deny {32} Christianity’s uniqueness) and inclusivists (those who include as saved persons those ignorant of Christ) must come to terms with this dimension of universality. Christ as universal Savior is the heart of the good news to all people and in its light the claims of religious pluralists cannot stand!

RELIGIOUS PLURALISM AT THE END OF ITS TETHER

In The Myth of Christian Uniqueness, a book edited by John Hick and Paul Knitter, a number of theologians, both Protestant and Catholic, “seek to create a new pluralistic paradigm.” It is a paradigm which rejects the superiority and uniqueness of Christian faith and its claim to universality, in favor of an equality of all religions. The writers have crossed the Rubicon from exclusivism (salvation is only in Jesus Christ) and from inclusivism (salvation is also in other religions and outside of an explicit knowledge of Jesus Christ—but not apart from Christ) to a radical pluralism (each religion has its own independent validity and way of salvation). These pluralists do not feel obligated to be governed by Christ’s revelation of God, nor by His claim to universal relevance nor generally by the testimony of Scripture.

Why are the pluralists embarking on such a course of inter-religious relations and dialogues? Their stated motivation is current global concerns. Creating a better world of liberation, socially, economically and politically, requires the cooperative participation of world religions. In our interdependent world, religions must learn to live together fruitfully and productively. This cannot occur if one of the religions claims an absolute savior, or a salvation with universal application. Pluralists claim that those Christians who continue to assert Christ’s universality sustain the old imperialistic mindset. In the past it led to exploitation and oppression. John Hick speaks of the pernicious side of Christian absolutism. A second reason for the shift to pluralism is that the resurgence of world religions and the explosion of knowledge about religions has created a new understanding and appreciation for some of the values of other religions. This has given second thought to the idea that Christ alone is the Savior of the world.

MODERN HISTORICAL CONSCIOUSNESS—A PRESUPPOSITION

A third major reason for the reassessment of Christianity’s relationship to other religions is the commitment to the modern historical consciousness. This is called crossing the historical bridge or the bridge of relativity. Gordon Kaufman constructs the scenario in the following way. 5 Religions emerged as human imaginative creativity searched for an understanding of human existence and human destiny. Each religion’s {33} perspectives were conditioned by its respective culture and historical situation. Every religion, therefore, was to be regarded as particular, not universal, and relative, not absolute. On the basis of the modern historical consciousness it is insisted that no one religion can make an absolute claim for any of its perspectives, whether of God, salvation, the world or humanity. There is no absolute in history! Christians are, therefore, to back off from their Christian absolutist framework, and open up to the insights from other religions.

The historic Christian faith claims that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not the product of human creative imagination but the product of divine action in history. The record of divine redemptive action in history in the Scriptures, is also a product of divine revelation, even though mediated through the minds of human authors who indeed belong to their own particular cultures and time.

One needs to ask the pluralists on what grounds modernity can tell us that God the Creator cannot invade human history to make Himself known in a redemptive way with universal application. The heart of the gospel is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. The Christian stands on the authority of the Lord who through His incarnation, death and resurrection, was the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).

The pluralists have made the presupposition of modern historical consciousness the absolute, on the basis of which they judge other religions. This unproved presupposition needs to be challenged. It cannot be used arbitrarily to suppress the witness of Jesus Christ. We concur with Lesslie Newbigin when he said.

To affirm the unique decisiveness of God’s action in Jesus Christ is not arrogance; it is the enduring bulwark against the arrogance of every culture to be itself the criterion by which others are judged. The charge of arrogance which is leveled against those who speak of Jesus as the unique Lord and Savior must be thrown back at those who assume ‘modern historical consciousness’ has disposed of that faith. 6

As Christians we boldly reject the modern presupposition that God cannot act in history to reveal himself in an absolute way. We take our stand on the presupposition evident in the Scriptural witness, that God acted redemptively in a unique way through Jesus Christ. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ formed the focus of history and a new era of God’s redemptive purposes in the world.

Kaufman’s view is that human imaginative creativity in searching out the meaning of life and an understanding of reality is applicable to non-Christian religions. God bears constant witness to His existence in the heart and mind of every human being, as well as through his created order (Rom. 1:20), and in the providential gifts of sun and rain and crops (Acts 14:17) {34}. All people, therefore, being created in the image of God and being surrounded by witnesses to the existence of God, are engaged in a search for God (Acts 17:27). But, in reply one must point to the paradox. There is in humanity both a search for God and a running away from God; there exist signs of noble aspirations, and signs of suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. Consequently, world religions, as attempted constructions of reality, have centered more on human efforts to save themselves than on God’s efforts to save. Hendrik Kraemer, a student of the religions of the world, characterizes the heart of world religions as “religions of self-redemption, self-justification, and self-sanctification,” in stark contrast to redemption in Jesus Christ who of God was made wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). 7

The human condition in the world requires more than what pure human imaginative creativity can produce. In Jesus Christ God broke into human history establishing a permanent relationship with all of humanity. The gospel of Jesus Christ is universally relevant. Stephen Neill puts it precisely when he says,

For the human sickness there is one specific remedy, and this is it. There is no other. Therefore the gospel must be proclaimed to the ends of the earth and to the end of time. The church cannot compromise on its missionary task without ceasing to be the church. If it fails to see and to accept this responsibility, it is changing the gospel into something other than itself. 8

INTELLECTUAL COLLAPSE

Pluralists cross other bridges. One is the bridge of mystery. This step to mystery must surely be the last fatal step of pluralism. It is an attempt to move from the particularity of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ to a theocentric perspective—but a theocentric perspective where God becomes distant, indeed a mystery, and Christ is no longer identified with God in an absolute way. The pluralist makes God a mystery and relativizes any claim to be the only way to that mystery. Stanley J. Samartha puts it this way:

That Jesus is the Christ of God is a confession of faith by the Christian community. It does indeed remain normative to Christians everywhere, but to make it ‘absolutely singular’ and to maintain that the meaning of the Mystery is disclosed only in one particular person at one particular point, and nowhere else, is to ignore one’s neighbors of other faiths who have other points of reference. To make exclusive claims for our particular tradition is not the best way to love our neighbors as ourselves. {35} 9

The suggestion is to regard human responses to the revelation of mystery as plural, both in their way of articulation and in their way of experiencing salvation.

But what is God like? Can we know this ultimate reality? Or does He remain an unknown God? Panikkar rejects the idea of finding a common core in the different religions of the world. He sees religions as rivers having their separate identities. The Christian vision of God, he says, is not the Hindu vision or the Buddhist vision. His conclusion is that religions are mutually incompatible and irreducible. 10 Pluralism thus rejects the possibility of a universal religious system and accepts the irreconcilability of the religions of the world. This note of despair is captured by Tom Driver when he maintains that God is Himself pluralistic having different natures. The issue is, therefore, not simply that different religious traditions inadequately express who God is, but that there are real and genuine differences within the godhead itself. God, therefore, has involved Himself in a variety of ways in different human communities. 11 The logic of pluralism has ended in despair about any true knowledge of God! This is no less than an intellectual collapse and a cultural collapse which has abandoned the search for truth in its rejection of God’s revelation through Jesus Christ. 12

But do not Christians also speak of a mystery? Yes, but only in the context of God’s knowability! God is knowable through creation; He is knowable through Jesus Christ. Acknowledging God’s transcendence, the Christian believes and rejoices in His immanence, particularly through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Knowledge of God is true while finite; mystery remains because God is infinite. Our knowledge is true to the extent it conforms to God’ s self-revelation in Jesus Christ and in the Word. But of those who seek God through unaided reason (rationalism), or through the imaginative creativity of human religious consciousness (mysticism), or through spiritual disciplines without Christ (moralism), God remains remote, a mystery, a hidden God.

Pluralists cross another bridge, the bridge of justice (the ethical/ practical bridge). Outraged by the suffering of the oppressed in the world, pluralists set the criterion by which to judge a religion, which is the commitment to social justice and human liberation. The goal of religions, according to Knitter, is to fire up liberation movements. Rather than find a common theological ground, or a common essence in religions around which to rally, or a mystical core, pluralists turn to the liberation theologian’s preferential concern for the poor around which all religions are called to unite. All are to engage in the problem of humanizing existence in the modern world.

This process of humanization is the final stage in an evolutionary process for the pluralist theology theologian. From the early church-centered {36}approach (salvation is only in the church) the process has moved to a Christ-centered perspective (salvation is in Christ, also outside the church), to a theocentric perspective (God is a mystery to be worshipped validly in a variety of ways), to a kingdom perspective (a common search for the liberation of the oppressed). Inter-religious dialogue is not to be centered on Christ or God, but on the different ways of liberating the oppressed in the world. The claims for authenticity can only be made on the basis of praxis, or doing the truth. It is questionable whether a unity can be found in what doing the truth means. What is patent is that in pluralism, evangelism has little priority; salvation as social liberation becomes the center.

More significantly, one needs to ask why abstract words such as justice, love and liberation have a more ultimate status as a criterion than the concrete life of Jesus Christ in His perfections expressed in human history? Christ’s definitions of love and justice as demonstrated in His life and death relativize all other interpretations. 13 Social justice according to Christ is an important concern to Christian believers, even as is the call to bear witness to the truth in Christ. One can only agree with John Stott and his affirmation:

We must agree that contemporary issues of social justice should be of enormous concern to all Christian people, since we acknowledge the dignity of human beings as persons made in God’s image. We should therefore be ashamed that evangelical Christians during this century have tended to be in the rearguard, instead of in the vanguard, of social reformers. We have no quarrel with the proposal to assess religions, including Christianity, according to their social record, since we claim that the gospel is the power of God to transform both individuals and communities. 14

JESUS IS THE WAY

While rejecting the major tenets of pluralism, evangelical Christians affirm some of its goals. We affirm the need to seek greater understanding of the religions of the world; we agree that we can learn from inter-religious dialogue; we reject a colonial imperialistic mind set; and we affirm a concern for global harmony and for social justice in all the world. But we also affirm the cruciality of witnessing to Jesus as the only Savior who through his life, death and resurrection opens the way to God! We believe in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ because of his claims and because of the testimony of the apostles. We challenge all to examine his life and His perfections. {37}

Jesus’ Uniqueness

Jesus claims a unique identity with the Father and a unique mission in the world, namely to reveal God to all humanity. His words are, “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom his Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27). The universal invitation which follows this remarkable statement is a call to come to him personally, to receive him, trust in him, enjoy him and receive rest from him. These claims climax Jesus’ answer to the challenging question of John the Baptist, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:3). Jesus’ answer is unambiguously clear. He alone has intimate understanding of the Father’s mind and will; He alone can make the Father known. Unlike other leaders of world religions Jesus speaks of a staggering intimate relationship to God.

Toward the end of His ministry Jesus made another stupendous claim. Anticipating his death, resurrection and ascension to the Father, Jesus answered the query of Thomas about the way to God in the words: “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Through his death and resurrection Jesus in his own person became the way to God. Entrance to that way means embracing him, identifying with him. Salvation is Christocentric! Christ’s claim is that he in his person is the truth—the fullness of God dwells in him. Jesus frequently addressed the truth question in religion. God was to be worshipped in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). It is the truth which would liberate and set free (John 8:31-32). That grace and truth came in Him (John 1:17). Jesus also claimed to be the life—the life of God which renews, empowers and endures. In his pastoral prayer Jesus defined this eternal life as knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ who God sent (John 17:3).

There is something radically exclusive in Jesus’ claim to be the only way to God. Outside of Him there is spiritual darkness, lostness and death. This radical exclusive claim is sustained in Scripture. When the resurrected Lord encountered Saul on the way to Damascus, the Lord defined Saul’s future calling in terms of this exclusive claim when he said, “I am sending you to them (the Gentiles) to open their eyes and turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18). Paul views those outside of Christ as without hope and without God when he reminds the Ephesians, “Remember that at that time (before knowing Christ) you were separate from Christ, excluded from the citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ {38} Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:12-13).

The blood of Christ is critical in any hope of reconciliation with God. The theology of the Cross is central to having access to God. Other religions are consistently characterized as darkness from which one has to turn away to the living God through Christ. Salvation in him involved a turning from “idols” to serve a living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9). The New Testament did not view religions as heading in the right direction or as vehicles of salvation. Only Christ was the way.

This exclusivist perspective governed the Book of Acts, beginning with Christ’s vision statement for the church in the world, in which the church was empowered by the Holy Spirit for the mission of Christ. The Book of Acts unfolds the drama of that mission from Jerusalem to Rome. In that process we see glimpses of the church’s view of Christ. Peter witnesses to the resurrected Lord’s activity in healing the cripple as an instance of Christ’s unique redemptive ministry in the world. Peter makes a courageous confession of Christ: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given by men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The early church consistently maintained this exclusive way of salvation.

The uniqueness of Christ also consisted in his unique lordship. His triumph on the cross, his resurrection and his ascension, placed him above all principalities and powers, and as head of the church (Eph. 1). Christ would build the church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. His kingdom would grow like a mustard seed. He would fulfill the vision of Daniel in which the uncut stone representing the kingdom of God grew until it filled the whole world (Dan. 2), and incorporating peoples from all nations (Dan. 7). The Book of Revelation, anticipating Christ’s culminating triumph in history, is an absorbing picture of the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham that through Him all the families of the earth would be blessed and his followers be like the sand of the seashore:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and they were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice ‘salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb’ (Rev. 7:9,10).

Christ’s person, redemptive activity, and rule are unique. {39"

The Inadequacies of Inclusive Approaches to Non-Christian Religions

Formulating the "dilemma" from an inclusivist perspective

The exclusivist perspective on non-Christian religion holds that salvation can be found only through faith in Jesus Christ. It cannot be found in human philosophies (rationalism), in religious experiences of other religions (mysticism) or in piety and moral attainment (legalism). Neither general revelation or the religions of the world are able to lead people to salvation. On the basis of Romans 1—3 it is maintained that nobody has lived up to the knowledge of God accessible through general revelation. Salvation is only through faith, by grace, in Jesus Christ. Because salvation is only in Jesus Christ, Christians are called to proclaim him everywhere. Faith comes through hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Those who have not heard of Jesus Christ and, therefore, have not put their faith in him, are people whose future is best left in the hands of a righteous and merciful God.

The inclusivist denies that there is no hope of salvation for those who have not heard the gospel or that salvation is not accessible to all! For him the credibility of the God of Jesus Christ is at stake. How can a God who loves the world, who wants none to perish but desires all to come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved, and who poured out His soul on the cross in Jesus Christ to save the world—how would he not make salvation available to all! At issue is the credibility of the genuine desire of God for all to be saved, as well as his justice and fairness. This is the way Clark Pinnock addresses the dilemma,

Many are asking today whether it is conceivable that the God who reconciled the world in Jesus Christ would allow the majority of humankind to perish without having been told of His love for them, or having an opportunity to receive or reject salvation. I am not the only evangelical who does not believe this makes good sense of God’s gracious way with humanity and who wants a better explanation. {40} 15

WIDENING THE DOOR: THE CHALLENGE PRESENTED BY THE INCLUSIVIST

In order to relieve the tension between God’s universal salvific will and salvation only in Jesus Christ, the exclusivist argues for the accessibility of salvation to all. Salvation is indeed through Jesus Christ, the only Savior, it is said, but the faith that saves does not require explicit knowledge of Christ. The process of being saved without an explicit knowledge of Christ is based on the following premises:

That Christ, the Word (Logos), is universally active as the illuminating light in every person (John 1:9).

The Holy Spirit, in his activity, is not tied to the Christ event but is active universally in the structures of creation and in the sphere of world religions. 16 By this Pinnock does not mean that world religions are vehicles of redemption as such, but that there is enough light of general revelation in most religions for people to put their trust in God’s mercy. 17

Such a faith does not have Jesus Christ as its object; it is a trust in God. But when such a faith is exercised, unbeknown to the believer, the redemption of Jesus Christ is applied to him. The individual is saved by what Clark Pinnock calls the faith principle—such a faith principle is the basis of universal accessibility. 18 Pinnock sees such a faith principle defined in Hebrews 11:6, “and without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Pinnock has considerable optimism about this way to God. He maintains that all over the world there are people who fear God and on that basis are accepted by him. Norman Anderson, much less optimistic about the extent of those who come to the Lord this way, though still inclusive in approach states:

I have no doubt whatsoever that the presentation of the gospel, by voice or writing, is the normal way by which people are reached and won; but I do not believe that we have any biblical warrant to assert that this is the only way. On the contrary, I believe there is much in the Bible and experience to point to the fact that God can, and sometimes does, work directly in men’s hearts to convict them of sin and prompt them to throw themselves on His mercy. 19

Pinnock regards such a faith a pre-Christian faith, which will find its fullness either in hearing the gospel preached and accepting Christ in this life, or in a post-mortem encounter with Christ. The instances of those who come to salvation by the route of this faith principle focus generally on people such as Melchizedek, Job, Jethro and Cornelius, the centurion.

John Sanders, after presenting very carefully the whole pattern of inclusivist perspectives in church history, concludes in a tentative way as follows:

I would consider the wider-hope views superior to restrictivism, especially because they better represent the loving, saving God we find {41} in Scripture—the God who was crucified for all sinners. Universally accessible salvation theories flatly reject the notion that God created billions of people without any possibility of salvation. Consequently, they help in providing a theologically satisfying answer to this aspect of the problem of evil. I do not claim to have proved any of the wider-hope theories in any hard sense of the term, nor to have presented evidence that any of their proponents have provided incontrovertible arguments. I am merely suggesting that these positions have more biblical warrant and theological possibility than either restrictivism or universalism and that the wider-hope also has a venerable history in the church. 20

Reservations about the Inclusivist View

There is something very attractive in the idea that God is active redemptively throughout the world, in the created order and in world religions, drawing many people to himself. We know, however, that when the Greeks would see Jesus during his earthly ministry, he promised that he would draw all humanity to himself when he was lifted up (John 12:32). His optimism in drawing many to himself lay in his accomplishment on the Cross! His optimism and promise of an expansion of His kingdom lay in the proclamation of the gospel throughout the world, as a testimony to all nations (Matt. 24:14). His optimism lay in sending the Holy Spirit, not only to empower his disciples with the impulse of mission, but also to convict the world of guilt—the sin of not believing in him (John 16:9). The overwhelming testimony of Scripture, about the turning of many to the Lord, is through the conviction of the Holy Spirit resulting in a faith which takes hold of Jesus Christ!

This is not to say that powerful testimony is not borne to our God about his power, love and graciousness, through the created order, through God’s witness in the hearts of men and women, and through his loving and providential care of rain, sunshine and crops (Rom. 1:19,20; Acts 14:17). The problem of an unbelieving world, according to Romans 1—3, is not that God is not universally present, nor that there is lack of the clarity in his general revelation, but in the fallenness of humanity, who suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness. Liberation comes through a faith in Jesus Christ!

Salvation through a “faith principle” not linked in some conscious, even though dim, way to Christ, is problematical. The Hebrews 11:6 passage which speaks of a faith which pleases God, is clearly linked to the reward—the promise of what is to come, of what has yet to be fulfilled. 21 The faith of Abraham focused on a future city whose builder is God (Heb. 11:10). He and others with him lived by faith in promises not yet received (Heb. 11:13). They longed for a better country, a heavenly one. That {42} promise was linked to the fulfillment of Jesus Christ (Heb. 11:39). In the same way the faith of Moses is dramatically linked to the coming of Christ. His courageous decision of faith led to suffering “disgrace for the sake of Christ.” That link is justified because of a faith which looked ahead to his reward, fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Walter Kaiser, in his book Toward an Old Testament Theology, finds the center of unity of the Old Testament in the element of promise—a promise which looked for fulfillment in the coming of Jesus Christ. 22 From the beginning of the Old Testament, promises build up hope for God’s people. The earliest promise is the coming of One who would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). Jesus could speak of Abraham as having seen his day. The Book of Hebrews points to the Old Testament temple and the sacrifices as foreshadowing the redemptive reality in Jesus Christ. The faith which saved Old Testament believers, however dim their perspectives of the hope in Jesus Christ, was part of a stream of promises of a restored future through the coming Messiah.

It is, therefore, a problem to see the faith of Old Testament believers serve as a paradigm for the faith of people in other religions. The promise and fulfillment motif in the Old and New Testaments was unique. This is not to say that the universal search for God does not have its origin in God who is wrestling for the souls of men and women throughout the universe, nor that that search finds its satisfaction in Jesus Christ alone (Acts 17). Augustine captured this reality in confessions when he wrote, “Thou hast created us for Thyself, oh God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”

It appears to me that defining a saving faith unrelated to some conscious knowledge of Jesus Christ or some grasping of the promises of God for forgiveness and reconciliation, seems speculative. I believe John Stott is on course when he writes,

What we do not know, however, is exactly how much knowledge and understanding of the gospel people need before they can cry to God for mercy and be saved. In the Old Testament people were certainly ‘justified by grace through faith,’ even though they had little knowledge or expectation of Christ. Perhaps there are others today in a somewhat similar position. They know they are sinful and guilty before God, and they cannot do anything to win His favor, so in self-despair they call upon the God they dimly perceive to save them. If God saves such, as many evangelical Christian tentatively believe, their salvation is still only by grace, only through Christ, only by faith. {43} 23

NOTES

  1. W.A. Visser’t Hooft, No Other Name, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1963), p. 95.
  2. Colin Chapman. “The Riddle of Religions.” Christianity Today, May 14, 1990, p. 16.
  3. Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1989); Clark H. Pinnock, A Wideness in God’s Mercy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992).
  4. Diogenes Allen, Christian Belief in a Post-Modern World (Westminster: John Knox Press, 1989), p. 9; Alan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster Inc., 1987), p. 25.
  5. A Wideness in God’s Mercy, p. 15.
  6. Gordon D. Kaufman, “Religious Diversity, Historical Consciousness, and Christian Theology,” in The Myth of Christian Uniqueness, John Hick and Paul F. Knitter, eds. (Mary Knoll: Orbis Books, 1988), pp. 3-16.
  7. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, p. 166.
  8. Hendrik Kraemer, Why Christianity of all Religions? (London, Lutterworth Press, 1962), p. 94.
  9. Stephen Neill, Christian Faith and Other Faiths (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), p. 31.
  10. The Myth of Christian Uniqueness, p. 76.
  11. The Myth of Christian Uniqueness, p. 103.
  12. The Myth of Christian Uniqueness, p. 212.
  13. The Myth of Christian Uniqueness, p. 162.
  14. The Myth of Christian Uniqueness, p. 166.
  15. John Stott, The Contemporary Christian (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), p. 303.
  16. Foreword in John Sanders, No Other Name (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1992), p. xiii.
  17. Clark Pinnock, A Wideness in God’s Mercy, p. 78.
  18. A Wideness in God’s Mercy, p. 111.
  19. A Wideness in God’s Mercy, p. 157.
  20. Norman Anderson, Christianity and World Religions (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), p. 175.
  21. John Sanders, No Other Name, p. 281.
  22. F.F. Bruce, Commentary to the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1964), p. 290.
  23. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978).
  24. John Stott, The Contemporary Christian, p. 319.
Dr. Victor Adrian, of Winnipeg, is the former General Secretary of Mennonite Brethren Missions/Services (1983-1992). He earlier served as President of the Ontario Theological Seminary, Toronto, ON.

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