Monday, May 05, 2008

Salvation Outside of Faith in Christ?

“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)
"And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)

A modern heresy is gaining traction with popular “evangelical Christians” and churches that seem to be more likely to grab onto Christian fads and trends. These men, who are neither truly evangelical nor truly Christian (for one must first be a Christian in order to be evangelical), are promoting a view of the saving work of Christ that has been described by one proponent as the Anonymous Christian (also called “wider mercy”) view. Whether or not this idea first gained popularity in our modern time based on the influence of any one man, I do not know, but I have found it significant that Karl Rahner, a Roman Catholic theologian, put forth his view in this way,
“We prefer the terminology according to which that man is called an ‘anonymous Christian’ who on the one hand has de facto accepted of his freedom this gracious self-offering on God’s part through faith, hope, and love, while on the other he is absolutely not yet a Christian at the social level (through baptism and membership of the Church) or in the sense of having consciously objectified his Christianity to himself in his own mind (by explicit Christian faith resulting from having hearkened to the explicit Christian message) We might therefore put it as follows: the ‘anonymous Christian’ in our sense of the term is the pagan after the beginning of the Christian mission, who lives in the state of Christ’s grace through faith, hope and love, yet who has no explicit knowledge of the fact that his life is orientated in grace-given salvation to Jesus Christ.”1

While Karl Rahner was a Roman Catholic, ideas that are similar to his have been spewing from the mouths of self professed evangelical leaders and found their way into the theologies of much of modern Christendom. I have personally heard Tony Campolo make comments that put him into this same category of validating the “anonymous Christian” type of theology. Furthermore, the famous “coexist” slogan that was made popular by Bono of U2 fame has a similar theme. This view of the anonymous Christian, as it seems to me, jumps way past the bounds of orthodoxy and right into the heresy of universalism or some form of it.

To put this concept another way; someone who has never heard the gospel, or perhaps they have heard it but they haven’t been won over to believing it yet, but they live in some sort of moral way, they have been (or will be) effectively covered by Christ’s atoning work even though they would not claim to believe in Christ or know about Him. Furthermore, they would even forcefully claim to not believe in Christ as He is revealed in Scripture. This is, on its face, an affront to the exclusivity of Christ, and proponents of this view would be ambivalent as to whether a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, or a practitioner of another religion would be condemned because of his or her sin. These post-evangelical theologians attempt to lean on God’s love and His grace as an all enveloping crutch while using their own unwillingness to pass any clear judgment on anyone based on the Scriptures that teach the exclusivity of Christ as their cudgel. They lean on a misunderstanding of God’s grace and God’s love and, in so doing, they distort and destroy the very attributes that they look to. For God’s love and grace are revealed in His Word in relation to His holiness, judgment, and wrath. All of these attributes have parameters that we have been made aware of in the Scriptures. Therefore declaring that the saving grace of God might be applied to some or to all men outside of exclusive expressed and evident faith in Christ is a travesty that destroys the faith that was once for all handed down to the saints.

Now while many people (I don’t know if I could say “most” with any sense of conviction anymore) inside of evangelicalism would find the above type of anonymous Christianity to be nothing less than a heresy, and rightly so, there is a subtle cousin of this same theological construct that exists within what would seem to be an otherwise orthodox paradigm. This takes the doctrine of the exclusivity of Christ and seems to hold it up when declaring that practitioners of other man-made religions are condemned because of their sin. However, when it comes to the subject of those people who have never heard the gospel, they seem to get wobbly in the knees and attempt to make some provision for those men to be saved other than by grace through faith in Christ.

This may sound like a harmless and loving type of minor theological view to hold, and I’ll grant you that when compared to the blatant heresy of full blown anonymous Christian view it does seem rather harmless. However, claiming that there is a way of salvation other than by faith in the revealed Son of God that may be possible for the unreached heathen to qualify for, again cuts the legs out of the exclusivity of faith in Christ and the power of His gospel.
23 ...He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (John 5:23b-24)

And while the first generation of those who hold to this view perhaps may have no other doctrines altered to the point of heresy, I am very afraid that those who follow after them and grab hold of this false application of the need for the gospel to be preached in order for men to be saved will be all the more likely to embrace an anonymous Christian view of the gospel which is no gospel indeed.

And for those men, I feel somewhat hesitant to say, I cannot imagine that they understand Christ and His sacrifice aright. And if you don’t understand the Son rightly nor understand correctly what He has done, you will not be saved from your sins.
"He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36)

The Son commands repentance and faith in Him. That command has been made, and man must respond rightly to that command or be subject to the wrath of God. All men everywhere are subject to the wrath of God and are only delivered to have peace with God (cf. Romans 5:1) through faith in Jesus Christ.

1Rev Norman Wong Cheong Sau, “Karl Rahner’s Concept of the ‘Anonymous Christian’ An Inclusivist View of Religions” (quoting: Karl Rahner, “Theological Investigations Vol 14” translated by David Bourke (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1976), p 283. )

Click here to find my youtube dialogue (video & audio) with a proponent of the lesser view.

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