Ahhh, Easter. A co-opted Hebrew or pagan holiday used by Christians to remember the life giving reconciliation of Jesus Christ. Lots of ink has been spilled in honor of this day. I'm about to start reading Willimon's take on such a question, right now.
When you start talking about salvation people are quick to divide the world into two camps. We think of those who are saved, and those who aren't. Most folks make sure they are in the saved camp, but have varied opinions on the rest of the world.
So, I offer some help for you, as you remember the life-giving power of Jesus Christ - a bit of a scale when regarding Christian viewpoints on salvation.
Things to remember:
- Salvation is about eternity. Not the eternal future, but the eternal now. In America, Christians have a tendency to worry about whether your soul is going to Heaven. Sure, I'm worried about that, but it has a lot more to do with whether the Kingdom of God is present NOW than whether I say the right things (in my humble opinion). So when I talk about salvation, I am talking about salvation of the past, present, and future.
- My little scale is not original, I picked it up somewhere in seminary, and if you know where it came from, please let me know.
- My little scale is only from Christian perspectives. Theoretically, I could understand a Christian believing any of these stances for faithful reasons. These are perspectives Christians have of the question, "Who will be saved?" - not a judgment call on any perspective, or normal people (non-Christians). Agnostics, atheists, and anyone non-Christian don't have the framework (for good or bad) to ask the question yet, so its a moot point. (How can a god that doesn't exist save you? Or why do I need salvation? I'm fine tyvm!)
- This is about you. I'm not providing this to help you define others, but to help you define yourself and think about God's grace in your life. If you are one of the unfortunate Christians who must continuously remind yourself of God's grace, you'll probably look to assure yourself through reason how you know you are saved - thus, this question.
Okay. So, who will be saved? How exclusive/inclusive is Jesus Christ? Check out my handy scale (# of people saved, far left being "nil" and far right being "everyone") :
exclusivists <=> inclusivists <=> pluralists <=> universalists
Exclusivists - Exclusivists believe those who live in the Name of Jesus Christ will be saved. Salvation is a matter of knowing the name of Jesus Christ. Scriptural references usually deal with statements of salvation offered by the early church in determining who is in and out of the community of faith. They take literally the admonition that we must proclaim with our lips Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, or no dice.
This is great, if you live yourself in the name of Jesus Christ. Sucks for those who didn't grow up in the West or before Jesus Christ walked the Earth. It causes some theological questions concerning how God can condemn those who aren't born into the West or never come out of the Bushes of Africa or whatever backwater country isn't fortunate enough to have the name of Jesus professed. One great positive of exclusivity is that there is a dire sense of urgency to spread the name of Jesus. Because even exclusivists typically will admit that God wants everyone to have the chance to accept Christ for themselves. And to paraphrase some Paul - how are they going to hear about Christ if we don't preach him!? Some would say this Christian perspective offers the greatest power to the individual (ergo, least power to God in the choice of salvation). All you have to do is say the word...just say the word...call the name and salvation is yours. Its God's choice, sure, but the human only has to reach out and take it.
Inclusivists - Inclusivists believe those who live in the Spirit of Jesus Christ will be saved. These folks can use the name of Jesus Christ, but also have another tool for salvation - living in the Spirit of Christ. If someone, for example, lived a Christ-like life and desired holiness, but did not actually know the name of Christ - for an inclusivist, this is all thats needed. Scriptural references usually involve the conversation between the Jew/Gentile Christian community in Acts and Jesus' promises of the Holy Spirit coming in ways that we cannot define.
Okay, so the Spirit of Jesus works in mysterious ways, but does that even answer the question of who will be saved? It doesn't offer much assurance on the face of things because any proclimation of salvation is completely subjective to the person. An inclusivist has a hard time comparing apples and oranges. Each person is a judgment in and of themselves - only God can compare the potential to a Christ-lived life and the person. The inclusivist cannot state for someone else how Jesus will manifest, but can rest in the assurance that God does speak to and offer the choice of salvation to every human.
Pluralists - Pluralists believe those who live in the Spirit of God will be saved. It might sound like I'm splitting hairs - but there is a difference between the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of God. For a Pluralist Christian, Jesus is truth. But surely God's truth is not limited to Christ. An inclusivist can still say God's truth is only found in Christ, but there is no telling who is interacting with that truth. For a pluralist, they can cut to the chase and say, well, duh, God provides truth for any who seek God. This way, a good Jew will be saved. A good Muslim will be saved. A good Hindu or Bhuddist will be saved. You get the idea. Whats really important isn't Jesus at all, but God. And that truth IS available to all. Pluralists use the inclusivist argument of availability of God's grace and redefine what the truth is. Sure, Jesus is truth - but he's part of a greater truth of God.
But even this causes problems. For Christians, why be Christian if there are other paths? Is the truth of God equally dessiminated among all the major world religions? All religions? Or just a few? And what does God want from humans? Is this the same for all of them, or different depending on the context? And if Jesus is part of a greater truth - that puts Jesus below God somehow. Or at least on par with other methods of salvation (the Koran, enlightenment, etc.) For pluralist Christians, Scripture takes on a more contextual and spiritual feel that is empowering and adapted to specific time periods. But pluralists can still uphold moral specifics defined within God's desire for salvation.
Universalists - Universalists believe those who live will be saved. It doesn't matter what name you speak or who your God is. The truth is God will save creation - even the rebellious aspects of it. This Christian perspective places the most power into God's hands by saying that regardless of your choices (or anyone's, for that matter) eventually everything will be straightened out. No one will be lost. Scripture references always deal with God's abundant love and less with what people have to do. Living a "good" Christian life is more about responding to God's love than trying to win God's affections.
Whats the problem with believing God will save everyone? Well, it sounds just straight blasphemous to most of the Christians who have been working so hard to be so good. Universalism will usually get you ostricized. It also often gets side-tracted into defending a God that does not need you to defend him. A universalist can say in certainty that there are no walls to God's love. Even the ones you put up will be knocked down, eventually. Universalism flies in the face of free will. One problem with it is that universalists still have to define Hell (or the lack of it) with certainty or they have to throw away part of their Bible.
So, with that said, what do you think Jesus was/is? You think I didn't give a fair shake to one of these Christian perspectives? Which one are you? I'd love your thoughts...