Pluralism and the Particularity of Salvation in Christ (Print Edition)

In response to many requests, I am posting the print edition of an article written when I was much younger, “Pluralism and the Particularity of Salvation in Christ,” Transformation (1998), pp. 10-15. Ah, how time flies and I don’t seem to have grown wiser.

To download the pdf version of this print edition:

Pluralism Particularity Salvation Christ Transformation1998

Throughout this paper, it is my assumption that Christianity promotes and practices social tolerance and affirms plurality. What I dispute is the contention that social tolerance is possible only if Christians embrace a prescriptive form of religious pluralism. I shall further address the issue of prescriptive pluralism, henceforth referred to as religious pluralism within the framework of Christian discourse, and analyze the logic under-girding religious pluralism. In particular, I shall argue that religious pluralism is not only internally incoherent but that in seeking the least common denominator, pluralism offers a religious faith that is too dilute to meet religious needs. Finally, religious pluralism entails the abandonment of the central beliefs that historically define Christian identity such as normative revelational truths and the historical particularity of the incarnation of God in Christ. As such religious pluralists represented by major thinkers like John Hick and Paul Knitter have no basis to speak on behalf of Christianity….

 

…But why should God need to intervene in the human predicament in the first place? How does the Christian teaching of the Incarnation of Christ fit in? Following White I would like to propose the “Criterion of Moral Authenticity” as a means to shed light on this issue. To begin with, estrangement between God and man is overcome not by special knowledge but by a demonstration of perfect love. Given the magnitude of the human predicament, surely such a revelation demands a costly love which does not compromise God’s holiness. It has to be costly love to win over human sin and rebelliousness. But as White asserts, “Unless and until God himself has experienced suffering, death, and the temptation to sin, and overcome them, as a human individual, he has no moral authority to overcome them in and with the rest of humanity.”[Vernon White, Atonement and Incarnation (CUP 1991), p. 38] Continue reading “Pluralism and the Particularity of Salvation in Christ (Print Edition)”

Going Beyond Evangelical-Liberal Debates on Models of Atonement?

Question from an old friend:

“Is it not possible to accept that penal substitution is only one Pauline model of the atonement and that those of us who find it fails to communicate the Gospel in many cultural contexts prefer to use other models/metaphors (whether Pauline or non-Pauline)- without us all being denounced us “liberals”? Isn’t it also high time we moved away from such misleading and irrelevant theological labels as “liberal” or “evangelical” which are largely Anglo-American cultural imports?…there is no way Stott’s and Morris’s insistence that this [hilasterion] means “propitiation” can be defended in the light of both Jewish and recent Christian scholarship. In any case, you well know that words don’t derive their meanings from dictionaries but from usage in larger literary contexts.”

Answer:

1) Regarding atonement models – Of course I agree with you that there are many valid models of the atonement. Notice I mentioned that the classical Confessions did not ‘canonize’ any one model? I further argued that because of PSA, I can believe in CV? But that doesn’t mean that I cannot argue that PSA is foundational for the other models. Whether one agrees with me or not is a matter of theological exegesis. Everyone is free to take a position on this matter. Continue reading “Going Beyond Evangelical-Liberal Debates on Models of Atonement?”

Erasing The Wrath of God from the Cross (in two parts)

In this present climate of social and religious tolerance in the West, one would not have expected a major Christian denomination to ban books, much less delete a popular song from its hymnal. But in 2013, the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Songs for the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) decided to delete the song, “In Christ Alone” from its hymnal. It judged a line in the song to be problematic: “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied.”

Apparently, the committee considered the line to be offensive to modern sensibilities twice over – it not only refers to the “wrath” of God, but suggests that the cross is the place where divine wrath is “satisfied.” The committee overruled what has been for centuries the prevailing Christian understanding of Christ death. This incident confirms the prophetic insight of J.G, Machen who declared in 1923 that theological liberalism is not just another form of Christianity; it is “a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to belong in a distinct category.” Continue reading “Erasing The Wrath of God from the Cross (in two parts)”

Christ’s Victory Through Penal Substitutionary Death

In this post, I shall compare Penal Substitution Atonement (PSA) and Christus Victor (CV).

Definitions:
Christus Victor (CV): Gustav Aulén gives a summary of CV in his classic work, Christus Victor:  “The work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil…the victory of Christ creates a new situation, bringing their rule to an end, and setting men free from their dominion” [Gustaf Aulen, Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement, (MacMillan, 1969), p. 20]

Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA): Martin Luther whose sympathies for CV is well known, offers a succinct description of PSA, “[Jesus Christ] became a substitute for us all, and took upon Himself our sins, that he might bear Gods terrible wrath against sin and expiate our guilt, he necessarily felt the sin of the whole world together with the entire wrath of God, and afterwards the agony of death on account of this sin” [Martin Luther, Sermons on the Passion of Christ (Rock Island, 1871), p. 29]. See related posts on PSA given below**

Following Luther’s example, Christians should welcome the diversity of models of atonement as they seek to understand the full significance of Christ’s death on the cross. This being said, I would still like to explain why Penal Substitution Atonement (PSA) is foundational for other models of the atonement. Continue reading “Christ’s Victory Through Penal Substitutionary Death”

God, Christ & Humanity: Christian & Muslim Perspectives (Part 2)

Part 2: Jesus Christ-Eschatological [Final] Prophet And Incarnate Savior: A Christian Proposal To Muslims

Muslims assert the utter transcendence of God. Divine revelation therefore takes the form of revealed commandments rather than a revealed person. The issue that separates Christians and Muslims is whether or not the claim that Jesus Christ as the decisive revelation of God compromises the utter transcendence of God. Resolving this issue requires an inquiry into the prophetic calling of Jesus. We need to ask whether Jesus ministry went beyond mere proclamation and constituted an adequate, if not decisive, act of divine salvation for humankind. Continue reading “God, Christ & Humanity: Christian & Muslim Perspectives (Part 2)”

Christology and Sociality in Bonhoeffer (Part 2/2)

Bonhoeffer never conducted theology merely as an academic exercise. He insisted that acquired knowledge cannot be divorced from the existence in which it is acquired. Theology is an expression of belief since “only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes�? (CD 69). For Bonhoeffer, there can be no abstract Christology.

Christology and Sociality in Bonhoeffer

II. Participation in Christ: An individual response

Bonhoeffer never conducted theology merely as an academic exercise. He insisted that acquired knowledge cannot be divorced from the existence in which it is acquired. Theology is an expression of belief since “only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes” (CD 69). For Bonhoeffer, there can be no abstract Christology.

“An abstract Christology, a doctrinal system… renders discipleship superfluous, and in fact they positively exclude any idea of discipleship whatever, and are essentially inimical to the whole conception of following Christ… Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ” (CD 64).

The question of how Christ takes form among the disciples here and now becomes decisive. Continue reading “Christology and Sociality in Bonhoeffer (Part 2/2)”

Christology and Sociality in Bonhoeffer (Part 1/2)

In their protests against established religion, many youths today cry aloud the slogan, “Hostile to the church, but friendly to Jesus.�? The question, however, is, which Jesus are they friendly with? Is it the Jesus of the liberal theologian, the liberationist, the Gnostic or even perhaps the Jesus of Hollywood? Bonhoeffer would certainly approve of their insistence on the centrality of Christ, unclouded by traditional religious trappings. We must, however, be fully aware of the great temptation to substitute the Christ of tradition with a Christ who is constructed out of some current concerns or personal fancies.

Christology and Sociality in Bonhoeffer

I. Concrete-relational Christology

In their protests against established religion, many youths today cry aloud the slogan, “Hostile to the church, but friendly to Jesus.” The question, however, is, which Jesus are they friendly with? Is it the Jesus of the liberal theologian, the liberationist, the Gnostic or even perhaps the Jesus of Hollywood? Bonhoeffer would certainly approve of their insistence on the centrality of Christ, unclouded by traditional religious trappings. We must, however, be fully aware of the great temptation to substitute the Christ of tradition with a Christ who is constructed out of some current concerns or personal fancies.

We must approach Christology as a divine given. Our integrity as faithful Christians stands or falls by the belief that in Christ we are given divine revelation that has become tangible and visible in history. Continue reading “Christology and Sociality in Bonhoeffer (Part 1/2)”

JESUS CHRIST – ESCHATOLOGICAL PROPHET AND INCARNATE SAVIOR (Part 4/4)

The Gospels make clear that Jesus was not only bringing a special message. He personified what God reveals. He was not only an ‘emissary’ but the personality in and through whom God is known. Whereas in Islam the Quran is the very ‘text’ of divine truth, the New Testament is the access to the Christ-expression of God. The Scripture has its being by derivation from the prior and primarily reality of ‘the Word made flesh’

JESUS CHRIST – ESCHATOLOGICAL PROPHET AND INCARNATE SAVIOR
A CHRISTIAN PROPOSAL TO MUSLIMS (PART 4/4)

The Gospels make clear that Jesus was not only bringing a special message. He personified what God reveals. He was not only an ‘emissary’ but the personality in and through whom God is known. Whereas in Islam the Quran is the very ‘text’ of divine truth, the New Testament is the access to the Christ-expression of God. The Scripture has its being by derivation from the prior and primarily reality of ‘the Word made flesh’

Indeed, the life of Christ confirms a prophethood that is deepened, if not climaxed, in a one-for-all incarnate revelation of God. Continue reading “JESUS CHRIST – ESCHATOLOGICAL PROPHET AND INCARNATE SAVIOR (Part 4/4)”

Thomas V Morris: The Two-Minds Model of the Incarnation or Possibility of Incarnation (Part 2)

It must be pointed out that the charge of incoherence of the Incarnation assumes we know the exact nature of human and divine properties to be able to assert that there can be no joining together of human and divine properties in an individual.

John Macquarie’s response to such a presupposition is pertinent, “Part of the trouble with the doctrine of incarnation is that we discuss the divinity and even the humanity of Christ in terms of ready-made ideas of God and man that we bring with us, without allowing these ideas to be corrected and even drastically changed by what we learn about God and man in and through the incarnation.�?

Thomas V. Morris’ landmark book, The Logic of God Incarnate suggests the two-minds model as one possible demonstration of the coherence of the incarnation.

Thomas V. Morris: The Two-Minds Model of the Incarnation

For Part 1 – The Possibility of Incarnation LINK
Ng Kam Weng

Ahmad Deedat in one of his debates with carefully chosen pastors – meaning, those who are ill-equipped to match him – retorted that Christ cannot be God since he displayed human characteristics like hunger and need for sleep. At a more sophisticated level, A. D. Smith says: “If Christ is God, then he cannot have begun to exist at a certain point in human history because God (and his Son) are necessarily eternal. But then nothing can count as a man, a creature, which does not have a beginning in time and which is thus coeval with God.”

These objections are of course variations of the common charge that the idea of an incarnate God is incoherent. It must be pointed out that the charge of incoherence assumes we know the exact nature of human and divine properties to be able to assert that there can be no joining together of human and divine properties in an individual.

John Macquarie’s response to such a presupposition is pertinent, “Part of the trouble with the doctrine of incarnation is that we discuss the divinity and even the humanity of Christ in terms of ready-made ideas of God and man that we bring with us, without allowing these ideas to be corrected and even drastically changed by what we learn about God and man in and through the incarnation.”

However, even if one should grant an open mind to resolve the tension between the divine and the human properties, the task of demonstrating the coherence of the incarnation remains. Thomas V. Morris’ landmark book, The Logic of God Incarnate suggests the two-minds model as one possible demonstration of the coherence of the incarnation. Continue reading “Thomas V Morris: The Two-Minds Model of the Incarnation or Possibility of Incarnation (Part 2)”

The Possibility of Incarnation (Part 1)

Assuming that we accept the coherence of the concept of the Incarnation (set out in my earlier article dated 15 April 2006), I now proceed to consider the possibility of the Incarnation and explore how God can become genuinely human and yet remain God.

To begin with, God becoming human (a divine individual) means acquiring a human soul that interacts with the world through its bodily senses and functions as the centre that organizes rational thought processes and exercises will power of choice and action. That such functions are limited is of course a normal but not essential (relating to essence) quality of human existence.

The Possibility of Incarnation (Part 1)
Ng Kam Weng

For Part 2 – Thomas V Morris: The Two-Minds Model of the Incarnation LINK

 

The doctrine of incarnation affirms that God became a man in order bring salvation to mankind. As the Chalcedonian Creed says, “Our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . truly God (qeos) and truly man (anqrwpos) . . . in two natures. . . the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person.”

Assuming that we accept the coherence of the concept of the Incarnation (set out in my earlier article dated 15 April 2006), I now proceed to consider the possibility of the Incarnation and explore how God can become genuinely human and yet remain God. Continue reading “The Possibility of Incarnation (Part 1)”