Who is saved

The Covington News - - Religion -

“He drew a cir­cle to shut us out. Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout; but love and I had the wit to win; we drew a cir­cle that took him in.” — Ed­win Markham, Amer­i­can Poet

A re­cent sur­vey re­leased by The Pew Fo­rum on Re­li­gion and Pub­lic Life re­vealed that 70 per­cent of re­li­gious Amer­i­cans be­lieve their own re­li­gious tra­di­tion is not the only way to eter­nal life. Here was the break­down: main­line Protes­tants (83 per­cent), mem­bers of his­toric black Protes­tant churches (59 per­cent), Ro­man Catholics (79 per­cent), Jews (82 per­cent) and Mus­lims (56 per­cent).

If I were part of the poll, my an­swer would prob­a­bly have been thrown out. An­swer­ing both “no” and “yes” is dif­fi­cult to tab­u­late. I agree with Clive Sta­ples Lewis’ po­si­tion here. He wrote, “The Bi­ble is clear that there is no sal­va­tion out­side of Christ, but it is not clear that you have to know Je­sus in or­der to be saved by him.”

In his very pop­u­lar chil­dren’s se­ries, “The Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia,” Lewis il­lus­trates his the­ol­ogy. In the se­ries, Lewis imag­ines how chil­dren of this world would re­spond if mag­i­cally trans­ported to a world of in­tel­li­gent an­i­mals where Christ is re­vealed as a lion named Aslan.

The last of the seven vol­ume se­ries is ti­tled, “The Fi­nal Bat­tle.” In it Lewis imag­ines the end of Nar­nia and the pas­sage of the good char­ac­ters — the chil­dren and good crea­tures of Nar­nia — into Aslan’s Land, or heaven. The chil­dren are sur­prised to find a Calormene there. The Calormene were a peo­ple who had wor­shipped the false god Tash and had been en­e­mies of Nar­nia. The Calormene him­self is sur­prised to be wel­comed in Aslan’s Land and tells his story to the chil­dren.

“I fell at [Aslan’s] his feet and thought, surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is wor­thy of all honor) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nev­er­the­less, it is bet­ter to see the Lion and die. … But the Glo­ri­ous One bent down his golden head and touched my fore­head with his tongue and said, ‘son, thou art wel­come.’ But I said, ‘Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the ser­vant of Tash.’ He an­swered, ‘Child, all the ser­vice thou hast done to Tash, I ac­count as ser­vice done to me.’ But I said also (for the truth con­strained me), ‘yet I have been seek­ing Tash all my days.’ ‘Beloved,’ said the Glo­ri­ous One, ‘un­less thy de­sire had been for me thou shouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.’”

Lewis be­lieved all those who seek God sin­cerely can in fact be saved by God, even if they are largely ig­no­rant of the re­vealed truth of God.

I think the name the angels gave to Joseph and Mary for our Lord sug­gests Lewis is cor­rect. Je­sus’ name in He­brew would have prob­a­bly been, “Ya-Shua,” which means “Yah­weh’s Sal­va­tion” or “Yah­weh Saves.” Lit­er­ally, to be­lieve in the name of Je­sus is to be­lieve that some­how, some­way, God will save his peo­ple. If, to be­lieve in the “name of Je­sus” is to be­lieve that “God saves,” could you not also say that to be­lieve that “God saves” is to be­lieve in the “name of Je­sus?”

Surely this is how God’s peo­ple of the Old Tes­ta­ment found sal­va­tion. Two-thou­sand years be­fore the rev­e­la­tion of Christ, Abra­ham loved, trusted and fol­lowed God. Abra­ham be­lieved God saves, even though he had not yet met Je­sus.

If the Pew poll had called and asked, “Is there sal­va­tion out­side of Chris­tian­ity?” I would say “no” and “yes.” No, there is no sal­va­tion apart from Je­sus. Je­sus said, “I am the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Fa­ther apart from me” (John 14:6). But yes, there prob­a­bly will be those who sought God and trusted God in this world, whom Je­sus will save, and who will meet him for the first time in heaven.

The Rev. John Don­ald­son is the pas­tor at New­born and Mans­field UMC’s, and may be reached at john.don­ald­son@ngumc.net.

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