"Not a Mystery" - Ok With Absolutes...

RickNiekLikeBikes said:

I'm not much older than you but I don't find any problem with absolutes. Questions and mysteries do not mean that answers aren't staring you in the face. They're simply answers one doesn't like. For instance, to know that I am going to Heaven is an absolute and doesn't put God in a box. To those who do not believe that Jesus Christ died and rose again from the dead or that he is the only way truth and life, one does know that Heaven doesn't wait for them. This is not a mystery. We've become so in love with the mystery that we've forgotten to be comfortable with the truth.

Rick, thanks for the input - I appreciate your comments and friendly pushback. I'll offer some counterpush, in a spirit of friendship.

You pointed out something that I probably do too readily: lump cultural worldviews into generational blocks. You're right, even though we're both Gen-X'ers, there are plenty of divergent lenses through which our generation(s) see the world, life, and God.

It's tough - I don't think I'm uncomfortable with absolutes so much as I'm uncomfortable assuming I fully understand or recognize those absolutes. I do believe in absolute truth (and I believe Jesus Christ is absolute truth, the logos of God) but I don't believe I can accurately comprehend that truth, this side of the grave. Yes, I believe I can understand enough, but for me, that's not enough to impose such understanding over and above the understanding of others. The Holy Spirit convicts in Spirit and in truth, and I'm tired of trying to run off ahead of the Holy Spirit - inserting my voice where it isn't needed or asked for.

Rick you said, "To those who do not believe that Jesus Christ died and rose again from the dead or that he is the only way truth and life, one does know that Heaven doesn't wait for them. This is not a mystery." I disagree. I wrote in that post you commented on, "On Liberalism":

As for salvation, I have not rejected Jesus’ words in John: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (14:6) But I like C.S. Lewis’ inference from Mere Christianity: “the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”

And a lot of Christians, particularly from the Mainline Protestant denominations, affirm the reality of ambiguity. And it's not just Mainliners or traditional "liberals." A lot of Evangelicals are realizing the lines formerly drawn in the sand don't really make sense or even fully jibe with Scripture, in an increasingly globalized planet - a "flat earth."

Amos 9:7 reads:

"Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?" declares the LORD. "Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?"

God wasn't sending ancient Israelites out to convert local tribes to Judaism. Instead, God was actively invested in the lives of all nations, even before the coming of Christ.

For me, it's important that I do not make assumptions about what God's plans are for other folks. The results of this are often devastating to respectful, loving relationships between Christians and non-Christians. Does that mean I shouldn't care about the salvation or spiritual health of my non-Christian neighbors? Not at all. In my post on "Liberal Salvation" I wrote:

If we can begin to repaint the narrative of salvation through Jesus Christ in terms of responding to hope for personal completion rather than guilt over personal badness, perhaps the message can get through. It's not a new message, it's a very very old one: I need help getting through this life. I'm not powerful enough to save myself. I am messy, limited, and I am scared. In Jesus' name, may we all be saved from the dispair pumping thickly through this afflicted ecosystem.

This is because I think that the language surrounding "salvation" in evangelistic circles has become unhelpful and unnecessarily offensive. I acknowledge that at some level, the Gospel will always be offensive to some, because it demands change, transformation, and humble surrender. These are counterintuitive to the pride and hubris of humankind. But folks don't need to be made to feel like dirt to begin understanding a personal need for salvation. We need only begin with the humility to be open - to give up the fight for self-determination.

Thoughts? I know you and I will probably not see eye-to-eye Rick, but I enjoy the dialogue. What do you do, personally, with those outside of Christianity? Both with those faithful adherents of other religions, and those who have simply never heard the Gospel? I'll say up front that I don't believe other religions are inherently salvific (as in, "being a good '-------' gets you to heaven...") but I don't think there is anything in the Christian religion that is inherently salvific, either. It is gracious intervention by Godself that redeems us from the oblivion of self-service, fear, dysfunction, sin, hopelessness, apathy, and ultimately, mortality.

If I thought Scripture clearly taught "HELL" as the outcome for anyone who has not personally, willfully accepted Jesus Christ, I would sheepishly admit it. But I don't believe those lines are real.


Al said...

I think I look at mysteries different than Rick. I realize there are things that are knowable, but I don't know them yet. They are mysteries. I cannot explain them, I don't know the end of the story. That is not to say there is no explanation, but I am quite willing to admit that I don't know it yet. Something may well be an absolute, but not to me, yet, because I have not yet gained enough understanding.
I think my 'problem' if you will with some who claim that such and such a position is an absolute truth, is the arrogance that can be generated. Feeling that there is no other viable way of looking at the position, that there are no questions left to ask strikes me as being an untenable height that will someday lead to a great fall.
I would rather study, contemplate, and seek divine wisdom, and make a tentative decision--open to further understanding, and perhaps an about-face if necessary.
I admit, that leaves me with less absolutes, but perhaps less possibility of absolute error as well. In no way does it detract from those absolutes which do exist, it just admits that I know that I don't know everything.

Existential Punk said...

i think we are also responsible for what we know and understand. So, i may be in a different place than X is on something. i hope this makes sense.

Also, i am with you Pete on the absolute truth thing. Sounds like how McLaren explains it in his book, "The Church On The Other Side", which in my opinion, is the most down to earth explanation of postmodernism, if it can be defined! :); and i use it all the time myself!

i believe G-D can choose to meet anyone, anywhere, in any cultural and religious/lack of religion/faith contexts. To believe otherwise, for ME, boxes G-D into an awfully small box.

i personally have learned i love and enjoy the mysteries and questions way more than having ALL the answers nailed down.


Peter said...

Well said, Al. I recently read a comment on a blog elsewhere, that even if there ARE "non-negotiables" of Christian faith, it's unhelpful to state it because the universal church has never managed to agree on all those non-negotiables. Not at Chalcedon. Not at Nicea. Not at Vatican II. Not at Promise Keepers 2003 or CreationFest or anywhere else have faithful, God-fearing Christians managed to agree on a set of "non-negotiables." There is always ambiguity, left to [gasp] personal interpretation.

Peter said...

Adele, I loved this:

"i believe G-D can choose to meet anyone, anywhere, in any cultural and religious/lack of religion/faith contexts. To believe otherwise, for ME, boxes G-D into an awfully small box."

Well said.

Chris Brundage said...

I've often felt that even if things are black and white, utterly clear in themselves, we are all really nearsighted and can't see them well, which is sort of what you are saying (I think).

I disagree on one point: that there is nothing inherently salvific in the Christian religion. The death of Jesus, at the very center of Christianity, is inherently salvific. IMO.

I appreciate you wrestling with these things, Peter. Grace and peace to you today.

RickNiekLikeBikes said...

Ya know, a two hour cup-o-coffee would be a lot of fun. I love the conversation and I'm grateful you're willing to have it.

John 10:4 says "When he puts for all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. "

Verse 27 says "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

John 14:15 says "If you love me you will keep my Commandments"

I guess what I'm saying (and not nearly as eloquently as you do I might add), is Christians know the voice of their creator who is one God, who is the only way truth and life and only through whom eternal life is given. If one believes in a sun god and a water god and an earth god, they do not hear the voice of Christ the Shepherd.

What I'm not saying is that I'm the judge of that. Nor am I saying that I know someone's heart. I can watch and know the lambs in God's flock by their fruit (Matthew 7:16), but that still doesn't make me a judge of the heart.

I am saying that God knows the body of Christ and He knows His intention for it. I can also know God's intentions for it (prophesy) and for me (Holy Spirit living inside of me), but that doesn't mean that I know the mind of God. It does mean that I am an adopted son of God who does have an intimate relationship with his Father.

I am saying that I hope for the body of Christ that it isn't afraid to be right. Being right isn't the same as self-righteous...that's a whole different ballgame. But I do know in whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that day.

Conversely I'm not saying that I don't appreciate the mystery. My position doesn't claim stoicism as a tenet. I want to ask questions, tough angry questions, or mighty faith and joy-filled questions. Not only do I want to ask them, you and I are very much allowed to ask them. I think that's how the body of Christ works itself out, much like a muscled man might work his body in the gym. We train each other by asking questions. But, I don't stop with the question, I'm positive that there are answers to some or most of them and the Holy Spirit who searches the deep things of God (Romans something-or-other) does enlighten me sometimes and in those times I'm excited to share what I know with you or with whoever is listening.

Bottom line is we're not that far off from eachother. The only thing I might disagree with you on is that I think you and I can accurately understand "that truth". Furthermore I think it's ok to be confident with the truth. I'm don't quite stand in line with C.S. Lewis when he said "we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”
I think John 10 and others might disagree. However, I might just as well warn myself against proof-texting, but I think (in my own imperfect, questioning way) that because I know that I hear His voice and am one of His sheep, that the others also know His voice and this voice is distinguishable from all other voices.

That being said, I am simply a confident Christian in front of my non-believing friends. I don't "deal" with them really. In the way that I truly do not understand, I know that I'm not out to save the world for Christ as if I could go about saving people anyway. Christ will save the world for Himself.

Therefore I am a confident, but loving, non-judgmental friend to them. They're my friends and I love them dearly. I simply am not afraid to be me as they are not afraid to be them. Interestingly enough, I find that many of those around me who do not know God are more judgmental towards me than I to them. Their quest for "tolerance" as evolved into a terrible intolerance of me and other like me for some reason. Christians all over the world and through-out time understand this every time they gaze at their scars or their prison bars. I hope I don't sound self-righteous...I'm simply an imperfect person who claims to know the truth. I'm simply a confident Christian and hope that the world sees me as such. I hope I don't make them feel like dirt. I'm with you, too many have. But that doesn't make true any less true. If nothing can separate me from God and if God is for us who am I to work hard against us?

I am also in full agreement with you on the fact that Christianity itself isn't salvific. My goodness is it not salvific. We all come to the table together as sinners, as those with questions, as those who need a Savior and as those who are thankful to have been called "His sheep."

A caveat--because I am by nature a question-asker, It's magnificent to find someone who enjoys a conversation full of them. It sometimes troubles me that "you" are few and far between. Your words are succinct and your thoughts resonate even if my thoughts aren't entirely your thoughts (sayeth Rick...ok bad joke).

God Bless You. I apologize for the length and I'm not sure I'm quite as succinct, but I hope that I've at least done the conversation justice.

Al said...

Rick, your comments prove and demonstrate a few things:
--a cup of coffee (and a few refills) would be great. It would provide enough time to see that indeed, you are correct when you say: "Bottom line is we're not that far off from each other."
--iron sharpens iron, and as we each share the revelation we have received and the confidence we have in certain things, we are better able to help each other understand our individual perspectives.
--you are the opposite of the arrogance I have observed from some quarters. I appreciate the fact that you use phrases like 'I think', and 'I might' which always encourages more discussion, more heart searching, and ultimately more truth being discovered. You are my kind of people!
And no, I don't think you were too long in your response.

Peter said...

Chris, you said:
"I disagree on one point: that there is nothing inherently salvific in the Christian religion. The death of Jesus, at the very center of Christianity, is inherently salvific. IMO."

Probably semantics, and I was PROBABLY trying to sound shocking. I agree with you that the death (and resurrection) of Jesus is inherently salvific. But as far as the PRACTICE associated with the religion and organized structure of Christianity - I find much that is good and much that I am thankful for - much that I will always adhere to... but nothing that is redemptive in and of itself.

Christian practice is, in some ways, merely homage to Jesus. And Jesus commands more than homage.

Peter said...

Rick, I'm blessed by your post - particularly by the character and kindness you display. Al is right, iron does sharpen iron, and you are far from arrogant. Thank you.

You said [too kindly than I deserve]:
"I guess what I'm saying (and not nearly as eloquently as you do I might add), is Christians know the voice of their creator who is one God, who is the only way truth and life and only through whom eternal life is given. If one believes in a sun god and a water god and an earth god, they do not hear the voice of Christ the Shepherd."

I agree that Christians know (or should, by nature and practice, know) the voice of their creator - who is God. I would still push back - however - that the human heart is designed to respond to its creator, no matter how blinded we are by sin and brokenness.

From firsthand experience with people of many faiths, I believe they are often (even usually) responding to truth in those religions that are common to the Judeo-Christian view of God. Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims all share conviction for goodness and justice, and a passionate curiosity to know the hidden spiritual depths of the universe. This is not to say all religions are equal or even parallel, but they are all attempts to respond to the same human condition.

You'll probably disagree with me, but I've come to believe that God whispers truth wherever it will be heard - that means, even including those other religions, science, nature... wherever we're paying attention.

Still, well-said, Rick, and you gave a good reminder that it's no sin to be confident in one's faith. I've gotten so used to apologizing (with good reason) for arrogant sins of my past that I probably tend to assume everyone needs to. That's likely untrue.

Thanks again Rick. I also agree with Al that coffee would be good - too bad he's in Canada, you're in Iowa, and I'm in Oregon. Perhaps the stars will align...

RickNiekLikeBikes said...

Iron does sharpen iron, and my paradigms are shifting as we speak and I'm grateful--praise God for you.

I think that one point has been missed yet...well maybe not "missed" but simply not covered here yet. God the creator when creating man created the "soul" which can only be filled by God...some have called this a "God-Shaped Hole." Men seek to fill that hole with religion, living a good life, charity, philanthropy, the Peace Corps etc. Some try to void themselves of sinful things like greed and malice and such--Buddists are known for this. We're stuck trying to fill a hole only God can fill. Religions like Buddism begin and end with man, what man is, how man achieves a higher plain and so forth. Christianity is the only religion where there is nothing we can do to earn salvation from within ourselves...it is done to us, given to us and thrives in us by God's will. All other religions amount to man doing all they can to achieve "heaven" or "Nirvana" or "Utopia". But in that pursuit many attempt to remove much of life from themselves where I and Christians typically want all the abundance God has planned for me/us. Bottom line--Good people don't go to heaven--saved people do. Good people can't go to heaven because we judge everything against what we perceive as "good." I'm not about to push people on one side or another based on this swervy line.

I know what salvation is because God has revealed what it is. Many men might prove their good works in front of you, but while that may tie them to their religiosity, to their faith, if that faith doesn't include faith in God by the power of the Holy Spirit and belief that salvation was paid for by the blood of Christ who died and rose again from the dead, then their "faith" amounts to nothing. Their belief that there is a "higher being" a "higher power" a "deity" or "creator" amounts to little more than evidence of their God shaped hole. Many world religions know there's a better way, but until they know that the better way is not arbitrary and not subject to change, their religiosity doesn't amount to much either.

And yet you will never find me as the judge of someone's heart. You will never find me ridiculing someone's search for a higher truth. You will find me, when the time is right, trying to steer them to the highest truth, a truth which doesn't require absolution from life, but a better and more wonderful engagement within it. I cannot judge the condition of man because I myself am one.

The bible is so not arbitrary. God has been so exact and so purposed, effectual and involved within time, even as he stands outside of it. While I'm not sure why God required the destruction of a nation as he did in the O.T., I do know that it was so. Furthermore while I understand that God does specifically call a people "His", and I can know them by their fruits, I am unwilling to judge against someone's speck while my own plank still exists. God changes and molds hearts, I'm simply fortunate to sometimes be there when it happens. I relish someone's search for truth...I can't and won't hate them for that. But because God did not give me a Spirit of Fear and timidity, but one of courage in Faith, I will confidently and joyfully and lovingly profess what I know to be true: Only God fills the 'hole' . And only we in Christ by His Spirit know what that truly means.

Man I'm glad I found you guys.

Peter said...

Great dialogue Rick, and I forgot to affirm in my last response that we probably DO agree on more than we disagree on. Oh how we are drawn to dissonance and controversy... like flies to poop. (Sorry, watched Triumph the Insult Comic Dog on Conan O'Brien last night - too many poop jokes)

You said:
"But in that pursuit many attempt to remove much of life from themselves where I and Christians typically want all the abundance God has planned for me/us."

I'm not entirely sure it's a good thing that modern Evangelicals seek "abundance" within their spiritual context. For more than a thousand years, the mystics and church fathers sought God in the rejection of the world, natural desires, "light" and aquisition. They found God in "apophatic darkness." In solitude, silence, and poverty.

I don't believe that's the ONLY way to seek God - but it's certainly a time-tested way. The alternative hasn't fared well in modernity, and the benefit of our collective "fruits" could certainly be debated. Maybe we could learn something from the Buddhists?

Your discussion of salvation is absolutely Biblical. "Being good" doesn't "save" anyone. I can agree with that. But here's my problem: is mental agreement - cognitive assent ALL God requires for salvation?

I don't have my Greek translation program on this computer so I won't do due-diligence, but I am aware of arguments that the "believes" in John 3:16 means far more than that cognitive assent. Otherwise, don't we have the very definition of "cheap grace?" I am saved because I pay lip service to Jesus as Lord, but my neighbors are damned because they haven't spoke the words?

I won't try to lay out a great Biblical argument (although I think there are some) but I "believe" there is something to be said for people's salvation - in Christ - through their response of faith to him - without KNOWING who he truly was. They had no christological, doctrinal or theological treatises to guide their belief and understanding. They only responded, in faith, to the truth they perceived.

My gut tells me this is still happening today, all over the world.

And of course, I could be very wrong.

RickNiekLikeBikes said...

I'm wondering if I should feel guilty because I think Triumph the dog is hilarious? Oh well...I digress.

I agree with you about our response to Christ. I've never heard the term "Cognitive Assent" but it's a perfect term for what it is. I'm glad you brought up interpretation within John 3:16. The verse must be put in context with John 3:1-15 to get the message (verse 8 for instance must be a strong addition to an interpretation to faith in 3:16).

Not everyone who claims to believe that Jesus is Lord is saved. Jesus said - even if one calls Him "Lord Lord! (Matthew 7:21-22)" over and over again, that is not a fruit or evidence of salvation (Matthew 7:18-22). There's a demon-possessed woman in Acts 16 who actually says great things about Paul and his mission. Even so, Paul knows to watch out for diviners, sorcerers, fortune-tellers, and rightly casts this demon from her. I watched a Psychic on T.V. trying to "rid" the room of ghosts by using the name of Jesus Christ. I can't judge his heart, but I thought back to that verse in Matthew 7.

Jesus makes the point here that just as there are false teachers, there are the professors who do not have possession of the truth as they claim: Those who insist that they know God but in fact do not.

If we are indeed saved (redeemed, converted, born again) then we were once DEAD in sin, and now we are alive in Christ...the living God. His Spirit lets us know we are His. His sheep hear and know His voice.

It is not enough to say He is Lord. I am in strong agreement with you that faith breeds more than cognitive assent. Religious gatherings, prayer, tithes, fasts, serving food at the mission and giving money to the poor, even attempts to ease the sufferings of others, mean little without God--The God--The God we know in Truth--The God in whom I put my faith. A Christian shouldn't ask "What Would Jesus Do?" as if He's dead. Christ's sheep know to ask "What is He doing?" They then follow their Shepherd. Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is what we live in. We are HIS if we are saved (1 Cor 6:20).
I am not saying that I am the one that gets to pick teams on a kickball game. I am not the captain of the team. I simply understand the criteria of what makes up the team.

So while a Buddhist friend might mirror the best of life -- even better than most Christians -- if he doesn't know God by the power of Christ through the blood of the risen Savior, then he is not saved. But no one's story happens in one single day. God may be leading him to Himself, I don't know. And the Christian man who you perceive is only giving "lip-service" may indeed grow in Christ over time as well - or he may not be one of the 'sheep' whom God has called. Maybe he’s simply saying “Lord Lord.” But just because we perceive that one is only giving "lip-service" to Christ doesn't mean that's true. I can discipline behavior, I can experience a man's heart...but I can never judge that heart. Because one sins or is cynical or is spiteful sometimes does not give or take away Salvation simply because another man or woman receives a bad impression from someone. One could be wrestling with God and struggling today, or he could be lethargic and tired (appearing to others to be giving lip-service to his/her faith), but then make and be a great servant leader the next year.

It’s too easy for the church to shoot its wounded. The body works to heal itself and disciple it. Our sometimes disparaging conversation about God’s body may indeed be counter-productive...divisive even. I would try to guard us against that. However, Discipleship may mean tough-love...but that means a relationship must occur. Discipleship may mean an ever present gentle love as well. Again, a relationship takes time and so does gentle love. I’ve known quite a few church-hoppers looking for “just the right thing” while at the same time hounding each congregation already in their dust with criticisms. They certainly had no interest in relationships with them and in turn, how do they intend to be disciplers? I simply expect that I build you up in the Lord...that if somehow I bring you down a notch, that I also be willing to bring you back up again. And yet, I’m concentrating hard on that frickin plank in my eye and I’m so grateful I have a Savior. God is found contemplatively...I’ve found him there. Many of my days have been profoundly difficult. I’ve also found God as I engage myself fully in my day. I'm not really the "evangelical" type I don't think. Abundance doesn't seem to me to be a health and wealth thing to me necessarily. I simply experience abundance...whatever that means.

Either way, I respect and enjoy your thoughts and opinions. God bless you.

RickNiekLikeBikes said...

I just thought of something. Psalm 119:105 says "Thy Word is a lamp until my feet and a light unto my path." That light doesn't shine on a mystery but the truth. Other wise it might say, "Thy Word is like a Light Shines, but not very clearly."

Peter said...

Well said Rick.

As for "Thy Word..." I agree. But I still see that Light "as through a glass, darkly."

Al said...

When I was a kid, I remember the Psalm 119 verse being explained as a light that shone just on the immediate area in front of you (on your feet), and a larger sense of the path ahead of you. I think that describes how life goes--there may be clarity (or a sense of absoluteness) on the immediate present, and at times a clarity for the path ahead. But that doesn't mean that I have clarity for your path, or that I understand the whole picture.
I think the concept of a mystery suits in this way--clues appear, understanding grows, but it isn't completely apparent until the end when the mystery is revealed. I also think we see through a glass, darkly. But I am very grateful for the clues that are being revealed, for the light that does shine on my path, for those things that (I think) I am quite sure about.

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