Friday, August 26, 2005

Jesus the One Possible Way?

Today’s issue of The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing includes this disturbing commentary:

“For centuries, one of the doctrines at the heart of Christianity has been based on Jesus' words in John 14:6, where he states: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." But now, a new Newsweek/Beliefnet poll shows a shocking number of people who call themselves evangelical and born-again have come to reject those words.

The question in the poll read: "Can a good person who isn't of your religious faith go to heaven or attain salvation, or not?"

Of the 1,000 adults 18 years of age and older surveyed, 68 percent of evangelical Christians believe good people of other faiths can also go to heaven. Nationally, 79 percent of all those surveyed said the same thing, with an "astounding" 91 percent agreement among Catholics, notes Beliefnet.

Steven Waldman of Beliefnet believes the best explanation for these results is that Americans have become so focused on a very personal style of worship — that is, forging a direct relationship with God — that spiritual experience has supplanted dogma, or teaching based on the authority of the Bible.”

I think that Waldman is right about this. We have over-emphasized the relational aspect of the Christian faith to the detriment of the corporate and the covenantal. We are in danger of repeating the sin of Israel in the days of the Judges when each one does what is right in their own eyes.

Mark Noll in a recent Wall Street Journal piece draws similar conclusions from reviewing the new book “Dinner With A Perfect Stranger" by David Gregory. After noting the stress placed by the author upon a "personal relationship with Jesus", Noll wonders where such a belief arises. He concludes it grows out of the culture in which we find ourselves today one marked by a "the increasing demands of work, strain between the generations, political acrimony, international uncertainty and peripatetic lifestyles."

"Into such a culture a Christian message stressing the possibility of an enduring--and often less demanding--personal relationship with the loving Creator of the universe sounds very appealing. But does such an adaptation retain enough of historic Christianity's other dimension? Or does dinner with a perfect stranger fit a little too conveniently into our lives?"

Such a mindset mirrored in the Newweek/Beliefnet poll and "Dinner" is destructive to the Christian faith and the witness of the faithful.

As Noll helpfully notes, in early days, such an excess was hedged in by other equally important concerns, such as the stress upon the communal and covenantal aspects of the Church as the Body and Bride of Christ. We can only pray that such correctives will return to the forefront in our day.

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