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May 31, 2012


Mere Monotheism is Insufficient

To say that God is One is to say that God is not made up of parts. He’s not assembled from little pieces of divinity. God is One. You can find this affirmed in the most ancient Hebrew confession of faith, the “shema” recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear O Israel the Lord your God, the Lord is one.” Now most monotheistic religions have no problem with this text. Even Mormons will agree that the “god of this world” is one.

You will, however, begin to meet with opposition when you turn to texts that show that not only is God one in nature or being, but that there is no other God besides the God who reveals himself in scripture. Deuteronomy 4:35, says that “The LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.”

This truth is crucial to affirm in the present age. Faith, as the bible defines it, is not a matter of personal preference. We’re not told to choose the religious path that works for us. The God who revealed himself to Abraham and then to his offspring through the prophets and then finally and fully in Jesus Christ as recorded and taught by the Apostles - that God is God and there is no other. To bow down and serve another god; to seek out, a path or vehicle to the divine other than the one that God himself reveals is, necessarily to seek a false god.

To say that there is no other god apart from the God revealed in scripture is necessarily to speak of his relationship with the gods proclaimed by other faiths.

If the truths regarding God’s nature found in scripture were consistent with the claims made by Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists and Muslims then it might be possible to say that we’re all on a journey together toward the divine and our different paths will converge in the end because the deeper we dig the more we discover that we’re all worshiping the same God.

The problem is that the only way to maintain that stance is to stop digging because as you study you discover that the biblical claims about God compared to the claims made about Buddha, Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna, and even the Muslim concept of Allah and the Jewish concept of God apart from Jesus Christ are mutually exclusive. That means they cannot all be true. “I am the way and the truth and the life” Jesus says in John 14:6, “there is no other way to the Father but through me.” If you believe that this is true and what is said in Deuteronomy 4 is true then necessarily you must also believe that Buddha, Shiva, Krishna, Allah as the Koran presents him, and the god presently worshiped within Judaism cannot be God and the paths they offer do not and cannot take you to the Father.

(The passage above is an excerpt from a Trinity Sunday sermon I preached three years ago)


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13 comments

Do you think that it is possible to move closer to Jesus or at least behave in a way he approves of non consciously?  Let’s assume that the beliefs of Christians and Hindus are materially quite different (I can’t believe I have to state this, but there’s so much bogus syncretism amuck.)  So what’s up with righteous Hindus?  If a Hindu does something kind and charitable, doesn’t that serve Jesus in some way?  And is there a difference between a someone who reads the Bible and rejects Jesus explicitly for immoral reasons versus one who never really gathers much fair exposure to Christianity?  Is there such thing as the invisible Church and does it include people ranging from children to Hindus who don’t have or proclaim rich, orthodox mental images of the Holy Trinity?  That’s not to excuse bad Churches.  How do we avoid idolizing belief?

[1] Posted by The Plantagenets on 5-31-2012 at 06:52 PM · [top]

So Matt+, you not only believe that God is one, you also believe he is the One!

[2] Posted by MichaelA on 5-31-2012 at 09:09 PM · [top]

Hi The Plantegenets

” If a Hindu does something kind and charitable, doesn’t that serve Jesus in some way? “

I think our own Articles of Religion address this question:

“XIII Of Works before Justification.
Works done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ; neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School-authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.”

I think the best analogy for good works done apart from Christ is the tower of babel.

Obviously it was a “good” structure…externally speaking. It would have required men to use the natural skill and talents that God had given them with excellence…but apart from a heart surrendered to God, the tower of babel, while a magnificent structure externally, was an act of proud defiance internally.

In the same way those outside of Christ do “good” works…often exceeding our own…but this does not accrue to their merit since their hearts remain defiant and rebellious toward the living God. God may use them as a man uses a beast to accomplish his will in the world - but it is by bit and bridle and not from a circumcised heart that they work so their works, though “good” have the nature of sin.

[3] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 6-1-2012 at 03:39 AM · [top]

So is C. S. Lewis’s portrayal of Emeth (and Aslan’s response to him) in The Last Battle fatally flawed?

[4] Posted by Jeremy Bonner on 6-1-2012 at 04:12 AM · [top]

Yes. I think so. CS Lewis was a great man and great thinker. He wasn’t inerrant and his words were not breathed out by God.

[5] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 6-1-2012 at 04:41 AM · [top]

Jeremy,

I don’t have the Last Battle in front of me, but I don’t think it is fatally flawed.  What we are told in the Bible is that only faith can save, and that faith must be in Jesus as the person who sacrifices his life to pay the price for our sin.  There is no other way (John 14:6)

Now, many Christians believe that the parts of the Bible that speak about this leave open the possibility that a person in a non-Christian society with no missionary contact could yet come to have faith in Christ’s sacrifice even whilst knowing very little about it, if the Lord chooses to open their heart to it.  After all,  this happened from time to time in the Old Testament. As best I recall, this is how C. S. Lewis saw Emeth the Calormene.  i expect you are aware that his name means “truth” in Hebrew, implying that he has somehow come to know the truth.

Its a complex subject and I have only sketched the outline. But I think its important to note that this doesn’t seem to be what Plantagenets was referring to above(Plantagenets, I might have misunderstood you, and apologies if I have).

Plantagenents wrote: “If a Hindu does something kind and charitable, doesn’t that serve Jesus in some way?” which isn’t referring to faith at all; rather, its referring to works, i.e. what a person does.  If the Scriptures teach us that people who were saved in the Old Testament were saved by faith (see Hebrews 11), then why would we think that a Hindu could be saved by any means other than faith?

Taking Hebrews 11 a bit further, it reminds us that Abraham had saving faith when called to leave Haran (Hebrews 11:8) - that is BEFORE the Abrahamic covenant. So also Rahab, who was a prostitute and a Canaanite (on whom sentence of destruction had been ordered by the Lord) at the time her faith manifested (Hebrews 11:31).  And of course we under the New Testament are the same - good works will not save us, only faith in Jesus Christ.  So I don’t see how a Hindu is going to be saved by doing good works, when it didn’t work for Rahab and it doesn’t work for me.  But a Hindu can be saved by putting his/her faith in Christ.  And perhaps that can faith can be gained as it was by Rahab, when the Lord illumined her heart and opened her eyes to the truth, even though she had no knowledge (that we know of) of His teaching.

I say “perhaps”, because I don’t know that the Bible ever explicitly teaches this, it just gives us a few hints.  What it does teach us explicitly is to carry the message to all.

[6] Posted by MichaelA on 6-1-2012 at 04:46 AM · [top]

Oops, posted before I saw Matt’s reply.  Whether my point is right or wrong, I agree with Matt’s at #5: Lewis was not an Apostle and he can be wrong!

[7] Posted by MichaelA on 6-1-2012 at 04:47 AM · [top]

Hi MichaelA

I think you are right about the last battle. I should not say it is “fatally flawed”. That implies the whole book is shot through with error. I don’t believe that. Rather I believe that what seems to be his understanding of the efficacy of the faith of the “good pagan” is fatally flawed - namely that those without conscious knowledge of Christ can be saved through the benefits of Christ conveyed through other religions.

Rather I believe:

1. No one by nature seeks God (Romans 3)
2. Therefore those who seek are being effectually called, drawn by the Father through the Son (John 6:44)
3. Those who seek God shall find God(Matt 7)
4. There is salvation in no other name (Acts 4), to worship any other name is to worship the demonic (1 Cor 10:20) and only one person through whom all have access to the Father - Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Therefore those who seek will find and know Jesus himself consciously
5. God can reveal Jesus to seekers through the missionary work of the church (Rom 10) or directly by revelation
6. But either way - directly or through the church - to save the seeking Pagan God will introduce him consciously to the truth of his Son (Cornelius - Acts 10 - is a great example of the way both can work together and how knowledge of God apart from Christ is insufficient - so is Naaman)

[8] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 6-1-2012 at 05:10 AM · [top]

Matt+, I had better not comment any more on what Lewis meant in the Last Battle; its years since I have read it, and I can’t be sure I am remembering it correctly.

I agree with all of your points and I think we are saying the same thing.  Like you, I think that Naaman was saved (by faith of course), but I find Rahab is an easier example to use because Hebrews 11 tells us plainly about her.

[9] Posted by MichaelA on 6-1-2012 at 05:36 AM · [top]

“Works done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ; neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School-authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.”

I am having difficulty understanding, I guess.  What should Christians say about the good works of non-believers.  For example there are Muslim charities.  They feed the poor, they operate hospitals, they do many things that Christian Charities do. No doubt they make the lives of many individuals better.  Yet we know they do so with the goal of maintaining faith in Islam or converting those they help to the teachings of Islam.

Should Christians support these efforts?  Is there a way for Christians to work with non-Christians in areas where Christians and non-Christians mix, like India or Africa;  or do we always run the risk that the good works of non-Christians will lead Christians or potential Christians astray?

[10] Posted by Mitchell on 6-1-2012 at 11:45 AM · [top]

I think it depends on what the support would do. Would it add legitimacy to Islam or some other faith - does this charity add to the attractiveness, the draw of that faith. If so, I would say don’t support it. There are plenty of secular or Christian charities out there.

At the same time we can still say: this Muslim charity does good work. That does not mean that the Muslim individuals who do the work earn any merit before God. It is an externally good work with no salvific benefit.

[11] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 6-1-2012 at 12:16 PM · [top]

Thanks to all for your fairly extensive responses to my question about the hypothetical righteous Hindu.  You’ve made me think more about the extent and problems of human sinfulness and levels of faith.  This is indeed a complicated area with many ways of saying the same thing.

Do you support this synthesis taken from the Intervarsity Press Commentary on John 14?

The Westcott mentioned was the Bishop of Durham.  According to Wikipedia, he sent four sons to India as missionaries.

http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/ivp-nt/Jesus-Speaks-Both-Relation

The second half of the verse clearly speaks of Jesus as the only way to the Father. This fact simply flows from who he is and what he has accomplished through his incarnation and upcoming death, resurrection and ascension. This verse scandalizes many people today since it seems to consign to hell large numbers of people who have never heard of Jesus, let alone those who have heard but have not come to believe in him. There are a variety of views on this topic among Christians. Some views deny the uniqueness of Jesus and have a too optimistic view of human nature, while others have a too restricted idea of God’s ways of dealing with this world, which he loves. Only through Christ can we “apprehend God as the Father, and so approach the Father. . . . It does not follow that every one who is guided by Christ is directly conscious of His guidance” (Westcott 1908:2:170-71). This verse does not address the ways in which Jesus brings people to the Father, but what it does say is that no one who ends up sharing God’s life will do so apart from Jesus, the unique Son of God who is, not just who conveys, truth and life….

Jesus assures them that I will do whatever you ask in my name (v. 13), a theme that will be repeated throughout the farewell discourse (15:7, 16; 16:23-24, 26; cf. 1 Jn 3:22; 5:14-15). Praying “in Jesus’ name” does not refer to some magic formula added to the end of a prayer. It means to pray in keeping with his character and concerns and, indeed, in union with him. The disciples, through their union with Christ, are taken up into his agenda. This agenda, as throughout his ministry, is to bring glory to the Father (v. 13). This verse has been understood by some Christians to be a blanket promise that Jesus will give them whatever they want. Such idolatry of the self is the very opposite of eternal life. “Whatsoever we ask that is adverse to the interests of salvation, we do not ask in the name of the Savior” (Augustine In John 73.3). Rather, the promise is made to those who will pray in Jesus’ name and for the glory of the Father. As such it is a great promise for the advance of God’s purposes in oneself, in the church and in the world.

That which is called for on the part of the disciple is love: If you love me, you will obey what I command (v. 15), or, more literally, “you will keep my commands” (tas entolas tas emas teresete). Again Jesus describes himself in a role commonly, though not exclusively, associated with God, the giver of commands. This statement is not so much a promise that the one who loves him will keep his commands as it is a definition of love itself. Jesus is referring not only to his ethical instructions, which are very few in this Gospel, but to the whole of his teaching (vv. 23-24), including his way of life. Accordingly, John will instruct his disciples later, saying, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 Jn 2:6; cf. 1 Cor 4:17). Now the hallmark of Jesus’ “ways,” his “walk,” was complete dependence on and obedience to the Father, only doing and speaking what he received from the Father. Such a life is itself an expression of love, since love, for John, is the laying down of one’s life (1 Jn 3:16). Thus Jesus himself has modeled the life of love he describes here in terms of obedience (cf. 8:29; 14:31). Love, like faith, is the engagement of the whole person, especially the person’s will.

[12] Posted by The Plantagenets on 6-1-2012 at 08:27 PM · [top]

Would you work on the lowest priority at work, doing a great job but allowing the higher-priority projects to fail and expect to be rewarded?

“I am the vine and you are the branches”.  When we are obedient to Jesus’ commandments and listen and obey the Holy Spirit then our works are good in Gods’ eyes.  When we “do our own thing”, even though our works might be good in helping others, etc. they are smelly to God because they aren’t part of His plan.

[13] Posted by B. Hunter on 6-15-2012 at 11:28 AM · [top]

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