Question: What do we do with the fact that there have been billions of people who died before Christ came to be among us on this earth? Or what about those who never learned about the saving power of Christ? How is it fair that these never had a chance for salvation? What guidance do the Scriptures give us on this issue, and what has the historic Church said about it?
For many years I have been fascinated by the Wesleyan theological tradition — which happens to be the theological tradition of the United Methodist Church and many other denominations. And in studying this, I discovered that the historic Methodist approach to this issue is a bit different from the ideas commonly heard in the evangelical world today.
As evidence I point to these paragraphs from Bishop Mallalieu’s article “Some Things That Methodism Stands For” published in 1903. He is discussing Methodist beliefs about the atonement. Bear in mind that Bishop Mallalieu’s whole thesis in this article (and the book from which it was drawn) is “back to the Bible and the Wesleys”. In the second paragraph he addresses these issues. (The bold type was added by me.)
Again, Methodism has always had a theory of the atonement. At least it has steadfastly believed that in the fall of Adam all his posterity has been disastrously affected; that moral depravity has touched every soul; that this depravity has been universal rather than total. Then it has held that the atonement is coextensive with the needs of man, and that the claims of Divine justice have been so fully satisfied that God can be just, the moral government of the universe vindicated, and at the same time all can be saved who comply with the easy terms of redemption’s plan. All prison doors are open, all chains and shackles unloosed, so that any soul may be delivered from the bondage of Satan, and come to enjoy the freedom of the sons of God.
Experimentally, Methodism, from the very first, has had a plain, practical, Scriptural faith. Starting on the assumption that salvation was possible for every redeemed soul, and that all souls are redeemed, it has held fast to the fundamental doctrine that repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ are the divinely-ordained conditions upon which all complying therewith may be saved, who are intelligent enough to be morally responsible, and have heard the glad tidings of salvation. At the same time Methodism has insisted that all children who are not willing transgressors, and all irresponsible persons, are saved by the grace of God manifest in the atoning work of Christ; and, further, that all in every nation, who fear God and work righteousness, are accepted of him, through the Christ that died for them, though they have not heard of him. This view of the atonement has been held and defended by Methodist theologians from the very first. And it may be said with ever-increasing emphasis that it commends itself to all sensible and unprejudiced thinkers, for this, that it is rational and Scriptural, and at the same time honorable to God and gracious and merciful to man.
The basis for this view is here: (more…)
I haven’t had much time to blog lately — as you may have noticed. This fall was unusually busy. I served on the teams for 2 Emmaus Walks and a Keryx Prison weekend. In addition to that I served on a Vital Church Initiative consultation team — with another consultation coming up next week. When all of this was added to my other involvements, it simply became too much to try to continue with my usual Internet activities. The Steele’s Answers and Hidden Life blogs have not been well tended either — even though they don’t demand as much time from me. (I find writing much more time consuming than editing.)
I like to post every day when I can. But, there are times when I can’t, and I don’t think blog breaks are bad thing. (more…)
Some Things Christians Could Agree Upon Even If They End Up Having To Agree to Disagree (About Gay & Lesbian Issues)
The controversy in the Church over the morality of same gender sex has flared up again lately with the appearance of a new wave of books on the subject. Now evangelical and (otherwise) conservative authors are advocating the moral acceptance of same gender sex — for those who are so inclined. (This includes one book that I find rather interesting myself.) And, there has been a strong and angry reaction against this — causing one publisher to be removed from the National Religious Broadcasters. While the controversy has entered a new stage, it still appears that Christians are bitterly opposed on this issue. In the United Methodist Church, there has been talk of schism over the issue — though I personally doubt that that will happen. All in all, Christians seem no closer to being able to agree with one another about the morality of same gender sex than they ever were.
There are two opposing views. I call them Side A & Side B. “To put the difference in simple, perhaps overly simple terms: SideB believes that gay/homosexual sex is immoral. SideA by contrast believes that gay/homosexual sex is morally equal to heterosexual sex.”
And, one might wonder, in the face of a disagreement so bitter, divisive and deep, whether there could possibly be any common cause among the disputants. Are there, in fact, some things Christians could agree upon, even if they find they disagree on the morality of same gender sex?
Well, yes. As a matter of fact, I think there are. (more…)
How would we want other people to think of you? Wouldn’t you want them to think the best?
For some people it becomes an obsession: wondering what other people think of them. It is a source of anxiety and shame. Most of the time the truth of the matter is: they don’t spend much time thinking about us at all. And, how much does it matter anyway? Should it?
That can be a disturbing line of thought. Many people I know were raised in a hellfire and brimstone religion, where the angry judgement of God was a prominent theme. Human sinfulness & depravity was held up as the basic fact of human nature. We are sinners. And, God is holy. God is offended and angry over our sin. God must condemn us. It is only right.
And, this message, resonates with something deep inside us. We know we are not the people we should be. We are often ashamed of ourselves. And, God must know of flaws and errors that we don’t. We are quick to condemn ourselves. Why wouldn’t God condemn us?
In fact, it is hard for us to imagine that God would think more highly of us than we think of ourselves. Isn’t it?
That is why the message of God’s love is always so hard to believe. If we are sometimes tempted to worry about what other people think of us — how much more worrisome the thought of what God might think of us. (more…)
I tweet a lot of links and many of them are critical of dictation and inerrancy approaches to the Scripture. I love the Scriptures and I love preaching and teaching the Scriptures, so this may seem strange. In fact, they are closely related to one another. In a sense, I don’t really have an intellectual campaign against Biblical inerrancy — my objections are empirical. My only objection to fundamentalist and inerrancy approaches to the Scriptures is that, in detail, they don’t work.
Recently Greg Carey, professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary posted a blog entry entitled “Where Do ‘Liberal’ Bible Scholars Come From?” It’s a good piece, and I think he is making a good point: Bible scholars become “liberal” (to the extent that they do) from reading and studying the Bible. The Bible itself undermines the fundamentalist view of the Bible. Carey writes:
Though I understand it differently, I love the Bible as much as I ever have. I’m just as passionate for Jesus and for the gospel as I ever have been, though I understand them differently too. But I can say this: Reading the Bible is a terrific cure for fundamentalism. That’s exactly how many of us so-called liberal Bible scholars got our start.
Then Peter Enns picked up on this and began a series at his blog: “I was always taught the Bible says X, but I just don’t see it.” (more…)
In a church that I pastored years ago, one of the church leaders expressed surprise when I gave sermons based on Old Testament texts. He had pretty much written off the Old Testament — at least, from what he knew of it — and I hadn’t. In fact, I enjoy preaching from an Old Testament story or text.
I’m pretty open that I do not expound on the Old Testament the way a Jewish rabbi would. Yes, I try to understand the Old Testament in its historical context. But, for me that is just a beginning point. I also want to understand it (for the purposes of Christian preaching) in light of what God has revealed to us in Christ. (more…)