Genuine Pluralism and Reformed Christology Revisited
- Friday, May 06, 2005
In a recent article titled "Genuine Pluralism and Reformed Christology," Sarah J. Melcher responds to Rita M. Gross and her call to pursue the goal of genuine religious pluralism. Gross asserts that the monotheistic religions have repeatedly failed in dealing with religious diversity in a constructive way. She contends that "the major persecuting religions of the world are monotheistic, and that their willingness to persecute is tied directly to their universalistic convictions, especially the conviction that their conceptualization of the deity is universally relevant and supreme."
Melcher's response is one of affirmation as she takes Gross's call seriously by exploring obstacles to genuine pluralism within her own monotheistic tradition, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Her desire is to encourage greater openness in terms of salvation regarding persons who are not Christian: an openness she feels is reflected in Reformed theology.
That openness must further be pointed out is unbiblical. Though biblical Christianity is indeed monotheistic, to lump all monotheistic religions into the same category is theologically and historically untenable. Moreover, different strains exist in the Reformed tradition. They cannot be lumped together either.
Understand that Melcher's critique is applicable even to those who do not hold to Reformed theology. The Protestant Reformation was grounded in what is termed today Reformed theology, but all Protestant denominations owe their existence and Christology to the Reformation. While those who call themselves Reformed and those who do not may disagree on certain points, all Bible-believing Christians believe that Christ is the only way of salvation. Thus, in terms of the issue at hand, all Bible believing Christians are in the Reformed tradition.
Melcher lays a foundation for her argument on an experience she had which served as an impetus for theological reflection on issues related to Reformed Christology. She explains: "A few years ago, I was asked to travel with a group of faculty and students to a Jewish-Christian dialogue event in Oswiecim, Poland. As part of the experience, faculty and students toured Birkenau, one of the death camps in the Auschwitz complex. As our guide was leading us through Birkenau, I moved closer to a Christian student who had been walking alone. I sensed that the student was struggling and I wanted to offer support. Together we learned that at least 1.2 million Jews died at Birkenau. As we were walking by ourselves, the student asked me, 'Do you think that the Jews who died here went to hell?' I was very startled by the question. After a pause for reflection, a line from a favorite Presbyterian hymn came to me: 'There is a wideness in God's mercy/ Like the wideness of the sea.' If I had answered in a way that was more in keeping with traditional Presbyterian doctrine, I might have responded quite differently to the student, perhaps quoting from the Westminster Larger Catechism (adopted by the Scottish General Assembly in 1647); 'They who having never heard the gospel, know not Jesus Christ, and believe not in him, cannot be saved, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the law of nature, or the laws of that religion which they profess; neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ alone, who is the Savior only of his body, the church.' I did not have the heart to reply to the student according to the official doctrine of the Presbyterian Confessions. In that place--in the setting of the Birkenau death camp--to respond in such a way struck me as an inadequate response to the horrific offense that had been committed there."
Agreement can certainly be had in terms of the horrific offense committed against the Jews. No person with any modicum of compassion or sense of justice can deny the atrocities perpetrated against them. At the same time, in terms of orthodox Christianity and the exclusiveness of Christ as Savior, Melcher's thoughts and response may be shocking to some. However, the sad truth is that far too many in the contemporary church identify with her in the above even in the theological sense. Experience often takes priority over the propositional truth of Scripture. Redefining the wideness of God's mercy to include those who do not profess faith in Christ is the product of postmodern thought and revisionism. But the greatest blasphemy is uttered when so-called Christians don't have the heart to affirm the exclusivity of Christ. Not only is Christ and His work denied, but the truth is suppressed. When the truth is suppressed, salvation is hindered. How prideful mere human beings are when they think their hearts are some how bigger than God's. How arrogant they are to sit in judgment upon God's word. To claim that Christ and the fact that He alone is the way of salvation strikes persons "as an inadequate response" is nothing more than self-righteous rebellion. How can the church be safe from doctrinal decline and spiritual erosion when her theologians are guilty of such treason?
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