Inclusivism

Like the pluralist, the Christian inclusivist also believes that God is made known through each of the world religions. However, where they differ is that the inclusivist believes that full and complete knowledge of the Divine can only be gained through Jesus Christ. To understand the dynamics of this inclusivist approach, it is necessary to journey back to the 1960s and the Vatican Council (of the Roman Catholic Church) who wrestled with the issue of how people from other faiths should be considered in terms of Christ’s salvation. The conclusion of the Council was that while its members believed that everlasting salvation could only be found through faith in Jesus Christ, special provision should be extended to those people from other traditions who:

‘through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or his Church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do [God’s] will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience [14].’

In reaching this decision, the Council also recognised and affirmed that whatever was true and holy in other faiths also reflected,

‘a ray of that truth which enlightens all men[14]

Central to this line of thinking was the idea that other religions should be thought of being at a stage that was ‘pre-Christian’ rather than ‘non-Christian’ as the Council believed that each one was ordained to find its fulfilment in Christ.

Of course, this inclusivist approach differs from pluralist ideas in that it does not suggest all religions lead to God but rather that although these other religions display something of the truth of the Divine, the complete truth comes only through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. The suggestion by the Vatican Council was that other religions may also be considered participants in this process occurs because Christ secures the possibility of eternal salvation for all people through his death and resurrection – and that, irrespective of how they came to believe in him.

Central to this way of thinking is the idea developed by the Council who proposed that Christ’s salvation is granted to people in one of two ways – these being

  • Ordinary way of salvation
  • Extraordinary way of salvation. [14]

These we shall consider in the next two posts…

[14] ‘New Dictionary of Theology’ (IVP, 1998) p 135

 

Exclusivism

In the last post we considered how pluralistic concepts are undone by the fact religions are not the same but very different in that they make exclusivist claims. Or put another way, they assert their religion or thinking is true and that everything outside of it is false or invalid. These sorts of claims are made by Islam, Judaism, Christianity and others, where each group believes that they have a revealed truth about God that others do not have. And of course, we might also add to this list Atheism because even though a belief system, they have their own particular creed that ‘God does not exist’.

Of course, Christian exclusivism asserts that God does exist and that the only way the Divine may be fully understood and accessed is through Jesus Christ. As a result, the believer’s knowledge and experience of God is mediated exclusively through Christ in ways that affirm this belief – a belief which necessitates that other religions be considered as false attempts to reach/worship God.

Now, although this position is the mainstay of exclusivist belief, the idea of other groups being false attempts to access God was not initially formulated by the Church with world religions in mind. One reason we know this is that most of these ‘other’ religions were unknown to the church at the time when Christian doctrine was first developed – the boundary of Christianity going no further than the limits of the Roman Empire. Limits that knew nothing of places such as India, Australia, and Brazil, let alone the religious practices of the people within these countries.

From church history it seems that these instructions towards people with ‘false’ ideas, relates more to the growth of religious ‘sects’ within the Church itself. Groups that threatened the orthodox position through their contrary ideas regarding the person and divinity of Jesus Christ. Eventually, as these heresies became more widespread, the early Church Fathers chose to identify and isolate these ‘sects’ within the Church.

Of course, this is not to suggest that the exclusivist position accommodates other faiths, for clearly it does not. However, it does help us to understand how the church has come to hold both exclusivist and inclusivist ways of thinking. The exclusivist approach centres on how people are given freewill and have the choice to respond to or reject the message of Christ. Where people have no knowledge of Jesus to inform this choice, the belief is that individuals are judged by God on the basis of how they responded to the general revelation of the Divine as it was mediated to them through:

  • Nature – the evidence of creation itself
  • Human conscience – a belief in the existence of a Divine Being

Naturally, the problem that many people have with exclusivism is they consider it arrogant because of the claims made by its followers in regard to it being the one and only truth, and that all other religions are wrong. This position is equally problematic because we live in an age where to make such a claim is to be considered divisive. Central to people’s discomfort with exclusivist claims are two main issues:

  1. Why might God choose only one way to reveal himself?
  2. Isn’t God unfair to only accept one route for people to be forgiven and restored?

These we shall consider in our next post.

 

At the risk of disappointing some who will think the pluralist argument outlined in the last post is a convincing one, let us now consider some of the major flaws that are within it.

The Blind Scribes

Although there are many problems with the pluralist illustration of the ‘Blind Scribes,’ I will concentrate on just a few. The first involves its conclusion:

‘..that if only the religious leaders were able to see, they would understand the truth of God’.

But this is a flawed truth because this is something that only the pluralist is capable of knowing, which raises questions in regard to what other presumptions have been made within the illustration. Indeed, what it inadvertently suggests is that just like the major religions, pluralism also deals in revealed truth. However, unlike the religious leaders who are considered misdirected in their ideas and thinking, it appears that the pluralist is the only one who sees things clearly and recognises the elephant for what it is.

Now, while this idea initially sounded reasonable, what we come to realise is that this claim is more outrageous than those made by the religious leaders. For only the pluralist is able to see everything perfectly in the same way that God might. Basically, the narrator claims to have a greater understanding and insight than the collective thoughts of Moses, Jesus, Mohammad, Guru Nanak or any of the other religious teachers for that matter.

Routes up the Mountain

Likewise, with the illustration of ‘routes up the mountain’ this too is also problematic because the pluralist assumes that his or her position from above the summit enables them to see what others cannot – the inference being that the observing pluralist narrator has parity with God for only s/he can see the one truth from the many. Of course, these illustrations are flawed in other ways because not all routes might lead up the mountain to the summit.

Perhaps far more compelling are the conflicting claims that different religions make in regard to one another which suggests that spiritual routes do not converge in the way that pluralists suggest. The notion that every religion ultimately has the same message and that believers achieve the same spiritual end point is something that most religious groups would rail against. One reason we know this is because…

‘…faith groups often make competing claims as to what is truth, usually in ways that contradict what other religions state and believe.’

This is clearly evident in the claims made about Jesus by Islam and Christianity in which Muslims consider him a prophet while Christians believe him to be God incarnate.

Some other thoughts…

From our earliest years we are aware of the rule by which one person’s engagement with a particular religion necessitates they must be solely devoted to that religion at the expense of all other possible religions – save that they convert to another or adopt a belief system though even doing this may have consequence for some. We know this because to be both a Jew and a practising Muslim at the same time is not only mutually incompatible in terms of the rites of passage it requires, but also the way worship is conducted. This alone should illustrate how ludicrous the suggestion is that all religions are in essence the same and does not even begin to touch upon those whose truth claims require the destruction of other faith groups that are different to themselves. All of which suggests that the issue of world religions is far more complex than these simplistic examples put forward by pluralists.

 

The question of which religion leads to God is a contentious issue for many. At its heart is the individual’s validity of belief. Now, while believers across the religious divide will happily debate moral evil, nature of suffering, natural disasters, death and illness (etc), a line is drawn in the sand when it comes to the idea that one religion has been singled out to receive God’s blessing and salvation over another.

With this in mind, the following series will consider the issue of belief from a pluralist and non-pluralist perspective. While ideas of exclusivity and inclussivity are considered from my own Christian perpective, it will hopefully be seen that the issues raised and questions asked do have application for most if not all of the religions and (non-deity based) belief systems. With this in mind, let us start with a consideration of:

Pluralism

Quite simply, the pluralist belief is that God is to be discovered in every one of the world religions. This is the idea that no religion has a monopoly about what truth is nor possesses the only way to access God. Rather, each has a partial understanding of God – an understanding that is incomplete without all being added together to form a collective truth with the other religious groups.

The pluralist believes that people from different religions worship the same God but just do not understand that this is what is happening. The revealed truth of each religion is no greater than that of another because all have equal value. And as pluralism is more of a theory than a revealed truth – because there is no religious leader associated with it – its ideas have often been explained through illustrations such as the ‘blind scribes’ and ‘routes up a mountain’ which we shall consider next.

The Blind Scribes

This imagines a scenario in which religious leaders from each of the major religions are blindfolded and led outside to an elephant. With each leader placed at a strategic point beside the elephant and asked to feel and describe what is in front of them…

  • The Jewish leader feels the elephant’s ear describes it as ‘a large leathery curtain’
  • The Hindu leader feels the tail and describes it as ‘like rope’
  • The Muslim leader puts his arms around the leg and says it feels like ‘a tree trunk’
  • The Christian feels the elephant’s trunk and says it feels like ‘a hose or large water pipe’

The pluralist explanation of this is that in the same way the blind scribes were unable to define the ‘whole’ elephant, so too, this is what happens in the major world religions. Each of the religious leaders such as Moses, Jesus, Mohammad, Guru Nanak (etc), attempt to explain God while not in possession of all the information – or elephant in this case. The pluralist argues that should the blindfold be removed from each of these leaders, they would see all how they are really describing the same God butfrom different positions.

Routes up a mountain

This approach considers how all religions are on the same journey to God. With each religion located at different positions around the base of a mountain, they are unable to view one another as they ascend from the north, south, east and west. As each group makes its way towards the summit, they do not see the others who are also climbing from their different positions – the view being obscured by the rock face in front of them.

From this, the pluralist asserts that all religious groups are actually on the same journey to God, just by different routes. Indeed, they reason that if the religious leaders were able to see the mountain from a position above the summit, they would realise how all of these routes converge on the same point. In other words, people taking different journeys but all arriving at the same destination. An idea thast is compelling for many as it appeals to modern society’s desire for balance and political correctness because it:

  • makes few intellectual demands on the believer.
  • accepts all religions as equally true and valid.
  • has a morally superior air of tolerance and acceptance of all people

We will explore this further in the next post.

 Last week’s post considered why the Holy Spirit would choose to live within humans, affecting their thoughts and actions in order that they might do God’s will in the world. Today, we consider what this action looks like in regard to human activity and God’s influence in the world.

Roy Hession observes that ‘the first great design (of God) is that everyone who repents of their sin and places their faith in Jesus Christ will receive a second birth and become a new creature for God . In this, the Holy Spirit becomes the agent of new birth… (which)… is achieved as God’s Spirit comes to personally reside in the heart of every person who takes a step of faith with Christ.’ (3)

From this, it is easy to see how each person who believes in God and is empowered by the Holy Spirit receives not only eternal life but becomes a convert with potential to increase God’s influence in the world by their personal witness and activity. Elsewhere, Hession notes that..

‘it cannot be too clearly stated that..every (person) who has been born anew through faith in Christ will also receive the Holy Spirit (as) a deposit of Christ’s’ ownership. Which begs the question:

‘What is it then to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Is it simply to be filled with One who is already there in out hearts? ‘ Or is it something else?

This, we will consider in our next post.

 

3 ‘Be Filled Now’ (p10) Roy Hession

We closed the last post with the question of whether it is feasible to believe that part of the Godhead somehow resides and lives within the believer via the Holy Spirit? Moreover, by what necessity this third member of the Trinity is called upon to affect such a relationship with Creation?

Roy Hession (1) observes that believers would do well to ‘bow down in worship before this august member of the Godhead because the Holy Spirit is committed to carrying out all the designs of Heaven in regard to earth. In this, the Father gives all authority to Jesus (2) but the actual implementing of that authority on earth is through the outworking of the Holy Spirit as He impacts and affects people to do God’s work on earth.’

In this respect, the Holy Spirit (1) is the ‘executive of the Godhead and in this capacity we see him moving and acting right through the Book of Acts – which might be more accurately termed as the ‘Acts of the Holy Spirit’ rather than the ‘Acts of the Apostles.’ And yet, the latter explains something of the relationship between the Holy Spirit and humans in which both are necessary and required to bring about God’s plan for the world.

So what of our queastion as to whether it’s feasible to believe that God who created the universe and heavenly realms might choose to live within humans, affecting their thoughts and actions to do His will in the world? Well, yes and no.

To those who have not encountered God nor experienced the Divine living within them, the answer is no. However, to those to whom God has been revealed and they have accepted His Presence living and acting within them, the answer is yes.

Given that oxygen is unseen, yet flows in and out of our bodies, it seems obvious that there is no reason why God’s invisible Spirit might not operate in a similar way albeit that he never forces us to do anything that goes against our will.  The fact that God gives authority to the Holy Spirit who is tasked with implementing Divine action on earth, it makes complete sense that the invisible entity does (out of necessity), fill, direct and inspire humans to be about the work of God in this world – and that through  ‘residing’ within them. We will take a deeper look at what this looks like in our next post.

1 ‘Be Filled Now’ (p9) Roy Hession

2 Matt 28v 18

Continuing our series on the reasons why christians believe God places His Holy Spirit within them, we consider the issue of God’s Holy Spirit as  Person. This was hinted at in the last post in which we considered the christian belief that the Holy Spirit inhabits people and influences them to understand God’s plan. Namely, how the Holy Spirit reveals that Jesus is the second Person of the Trinity and that through His crucifixion and resurrection, believers are assured of God’s forgiveness.

However, Roy Hession takes this a step further to show that the Holy Spirit is much more than this. In his book ‘Be Filled Now’, Roy Hession observes that:

‘the Holy Spirit should not be merely regarded as an influencer (as He is) the third Person of the Trinity. As much a person as God the Father and God the Son. He is consistently referred to in the New Testament not as it, but as He.

So how should we understand this? Is it feasible to believe that part of the Godhead somehow resides and lives within the believer via the Holy Spirit? And by what necessity is this third member of the Trinity called upon to affect such a relationship with Creation?

These questions will be considered in the next post as we explore the Acts of the Holy Spirit.

In previous posts we have considered whether God living in the person in an ethereal way can be explained by human psychosis, wishful thinking or perhaps God’s Holy Spirit?

As we have seen, the root of this problem lies in the believer’s understanding of what is going on – for example, the Christian who prays for food and is given some, credits God with this blessing. However, the starved sceptic who doesn’t pray and receives food does not credit God but the kindness and generosity of those at the food bank. So what reasons might Christians have to believe that God’s Spirit lives in them in this way. One minister  observes it this way:

‘The place and function of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and of the Church is vastly important (as) it is a basic truth that no man can know God except in the face of Jesus Christ. It being also true that no person can see that face and acknowlege him as Lord, except by the revelation of the Holy Spirit (2). Moreover, the instruction ‘Be filled with the Spirit ‘ still stands as binding on every believer (who) ignores it at the peril of missing the fruitfulness and joy which such fulness brings.’ (Roy Hession)

So here is our starting point. The fact that people become Christian rests on their collective experience into which they acknowledge God as opening their eyes and indwelling them in a way that causes them to experience and understand things that were hidden from them before. We’ll consider this more deeply in the next few posts…

 

1.John 1v18, 2 Cor v4-6

2. 1 Cor 12v3

The notion that the Holy Spirit lives and acts within the Christian believer is a useful one. However, problems arise when the christian’s behaviour falls short of that which is expected of someone in whom God’s Holy Spirit is thought to operate.

Over the centuries, many prominent and trustworthy Christian leaders have often done amazing things for God only for them to be later on corrupted and fall away from the Church. Given that the Holy Spirit supposedly acts as an Advocate within each person to guide them in God’s ways, then we must presume that when things go wrong and communication is awry, then one or more of the following factors must be at play:

  • God is active
  • God is silent. Unable to hear what God is saying, the person is forced into a decision which has disastrous results.
  • The person actively seeks God
  • The person willfully rejects God and eventually ends up going against what the Holy Spirit with detrimental results.

Of course, at the heart of whether a person is open to the leading of the Holy Spirit is the issue of human freewill. It is this willingness to cooperate or rebel against God that determines what outcome will follow. In the case of the mentally unstable, it is not too hard to imagine how delussional episodes might cause some believers to think they are experiencing some form of spiritual attack which (in the worst case scenario) requires them to take action against a person or thing they believe to be spiritually afflicting them.

This probably explains incidents in which murderers like Peter Sutcliffe cite God as the initiating force for the atrocities they commit. In doing so, it also causes many people to question the goodness of God as they naively believe the Divine would direct such a person to be the instigator of perverse thinking and outcomes. However, the willful behaviour of humans that defame, kill and injure is best understood in the context of the Divine Himself as explained in John’s letter  which observes that  ‘God is light; in him there is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1v5).

 

We ended the last post on the question of how to make sense of Old Testament passages in which God speaks to His people, ordering them to kill and destroy the neighbouring communities?

Of course, the immediate question that arises is to ask who issued this instruction? Did God’s really speak these words to the people? Or is it more the case that God’s people – human as they were and easily prone to revenge – presumed the Divine would uphold their grievance against those groups who had fought against them?

True, the cultic practices of these other groups were often contrary to the purposes of God and cited by many as an abonimation against the Creator. However – fast forward two thousand years – and we encounter a seemingly different God in the person of Jesus Christ who loves, forgives and restores people everywhere, irrespective of whether they are Jewish or Gentile.

Indeed, it is during this time that Jesus outlines and affirms that God’s ultimate intention for the Jewish people is for them to show through their relationship with the Divine that their Creator’s love extends to all whom God has made. No favourites. No outcasts. Just broken people on whom God’s love and favour rests.

How different is the type of thinking about God (as revealed in the person of Jesus) to the One in which the Divine acts out of fear, instructing his followers to destroy other people groups. Indeed, this desire to exact revenge on other groups seems to owe more to the wanton actions of those within Israel who perceived that anyone outside of the community posed a threat and should be destroyed?

Did God really order the destruction of other people? Or is it the case that God’s people presumed this was what God wanted? After all, for God to be on their side, he must want the same outcomes as they do, surely?