From: Dr. Blake Nelson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Thu Sep 18 2003 - 20:53:09 EDT
Well, you raise a really big issue that others can
speak to as well, here are some thoughts interspersed.
--- Steve Petermann <email@example.com> wrote:
> > I think the simple answer is that you cannot look
> > salvation as a mechanistic sort of thing that you
> > describe like physics.
> This I agree with. However, I'm not sure the bulk of
> Christendom would agree
> with you. Mechanisms are all about constraints.
> Obviously statements like
> "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes
> to the Father but by me"
> seem pretty mechanistic.
The problem lies in what this statement means. Aside
from translation issues, the broadly understood
christian tradition is that everyone comes to the
Father through the Son, the second person of the
trinity. This is a theological point, but it is
critical to christianity and why the creeds go to
great lengths to specify that Jesus was both fully
human and fully divine. Yes, you only come to the
Father through Jesus, through the Son, but that does
not historically mean in the Christian understanding
that everyone who has not heard about Jesus is damned.
In modern understanding, even leaving aside
universalism, mainline protestant denominations and
the RCs and I believe E. Orthodox, none of those say
that you must profess belief in Jesus of Nazareth as
the Christ in order to be saved regardless of whether
you ever heard of Jesus of Nazareth, etc. One needs
to look at the theological understanding of salvation.
It is the most simplistic to say that only those who
profess that Jesus is their Lord are saved, but I
don't think that that is necessarily borne out by
scripture and the converse is certainly not true by
Jesus' own words.
So the first problem here is theological and more
importantly the misunderstanding that is probably all
too rampant of various theological positions on
salvation. There are lots of detailed discussions on
Salvation, one of them being The Mystery of Salvation:
The Story of Godís Gift. A Report by the Doctrine
Commission of the Church of England. I only mention
this one in passing since it is in print and I have
looked at it recently, even though I am not Anglican.
> Even your "second person
> of the trinity" sounds
> pretty science like(the second law of
> thermodynamics). Then, of course,
> there are all the different salvation "formulas" the
> get bandied around. And
> what about the creeds?
Well, the creeds emphasize that Jesus of Nazareth, the
fully human being is also the Son of the Father, the
second person of the trinity. So it is science to the
extent that theology is scientific. As to His role,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
* * *
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and
These creeds do not specify who salvation is for and
how it is accomplished. Indeed, this is a dividing
point among christian denominations at various levels.
Likewise, the later Chalcedon definition was for the
purpose of clarifying that Jesus was both fully human
and fully God. It's only statement re slavific action
of Jesus is: "Before time began he was begotten of the
Father, in respect of his deity, and now in these
"last days," for us and behalf of our salvation, this
selfsame one was born of Mary the virgin, who is
God-bearer in respect of his humanness."
It is only in later creeds, such as the Athanasian
Creed that the mechanism of salvation gets more
definitely expressed. That creed, states in relevant
parts: "WHOEVER wishes to be saved must, above all,
keep the Catholic faith For unless a person keeps this
faith whole and entire, he will undoubtedly be lost
forever." Now, that is not a direct statement about
God, either. The creed goes on to say "He, therefore,
who wishes to be saved, must believe thus about the
Trinity. It is also necessary for eternal salvation
that he believes steadfastly in the incarnation of our
Lord Jesus Christ. Thus the right faith is that we
believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the
Son of God, is both God and man." Of course, the
creed goes on to say that "At His coming, all men are
to arise with their own bodies; and they are to give
an account of their own deeds. Those who have done
good deeds will go into eternal life; those who have
done evil will go into the everlasting fire. This is
the Catholic faith. Everyone must believe it, firmly
and steadfastly; otherwise He cannot be saved. Amen."
Of course this creed is not one of the ecumenical
creeds, written around AD 500.
Even if we accept this creed as authoritative for
belief about God's action here (and not all
christendom does), it still says nothing about
salvation of ETs if we take it seriously. Nor does it
address salvation of, inter alia, those who lived
before Christ, which the major traditions accept at
least some or particular individuals as capable of
> I know, I know it is possible to contest all my
> objects with some
> theological nuance. The bottom line in the point I
> was trying to make is
> that Christianity is becoming less and less
> compelling for a many people.
> Why is that?
I think it is due to several factors.
First, ignorance of dogma and theology. There is so
much misunderstanding of what terms mean, in addition
to how those terms are applied. Most atheist screeds,
for example, talking about how ridiculous christian
belief is a strawman caricature of christianity and
are just plain theologically ignorant and wrong.
Sadly, there are people whose beliefs probably
coincide in a folk religious way with those strawman
Second, I think that it is not due to "rational"
reasons why people leave. Among other things, there
is in modern culture several competing factors that
perhaps have caused the falling away, including the
ability of consumerism to distract people nearly
endlessly from important questions, the unfamiliarity
with terms in and forms of worship due to the
aforementioned ignorance, the concomitant lack of
ability to relate what goes on in church to daily
> Although I'm not member, I see a
> virtual revolving door of the
> newly disillusioned going through the local
> Unitarian Universalist church.
> My questions may sound like scholasticism but that's
> because the premises
> lead to a plethora of follow up questions. And they
> are, by the way, not
> irrelevant to the thinking persons I know. The
> scholastics may have been
> able to "reason" through each question but in the
> final analysis was
> anything compelling about their system? Did they
> convince by their
> gymnastics of logic?
Here is part of the problem, while belief in God is
rational and reasonable for a whole host of reasons
apologists through the ages have proposed, the
affective commitment of belief does not necessarily
follow from rigorous logic. While it takes too much
time to go into, among other things, the coherence and
triangulation of multiple indicators make belief in
God eminently rational, but each of those arguments on
its own can be ignored, etc. It seems to me when you
take the holistic case it is compelling, but
christianity originated not as a systematic theology
but in the act of commitment to Jesus and following
Him. That is in many ways an alogical choice. Or
arational as William James refers to it in the Will to
Believe, which I think encapsulates part of the
problem very well and which I wont go into here at the
> Christianity may not be that
> fragile as a whole now,
> but what about 100, 500 years from now. The
> populace is becoming more and
> more educated and critically thinking.
I have found that as a professor, more education does
not necessarily lead to more critical thinking.
Sadly, I think the average student today is not
well-equipped for critical thinking.
Regardless, critical thinking is certainly no threat
to christianity and if employed more would hopefully
weed out more bad theology.
> scientific worldview is sweeping
> the globe. All it will take is something new to come
> along that speaks to
> their needs but is less intellectually objectionable
> and there may be a mass
Well, it has swept the globe and swept Europe a long
time ago. There is nothing about the scientific
worldview that is inconsistent with christianity
unless one sneaks into the realm of metaphysics out of
Here is the main problem -- people like Dawkins and
Sagan spread scientism which is just plain silly as a
philosophy, it is even more absurd than logical
positivism of which it is a pale caricature. The
problem to begin with is if you think critically about
it, there is no such thing as a "scientific worldview"
nor is there such a thing as a single, unitary
"scientific method". The idea that there is some set
of methods that you can use for quantum physics and
literary interpretation that is certainly wrong. As
Comte pointed out there is no such thing as *the*
scientific method. To the contrary the methods of
each discipline of science are largely different,
indeed, each discipline's methods have changed over
the years, and indeed, there is no one method of
knowing that can be applied to all questions of life
as the scientism proponents like to suggest (which is
showing either lack of critical thinking, ignorance,
outright duplicity, or insanity on their part). As
Kant pointed out so long ago there cannot even be a
rule of good judgment, because if there were it would
take good judgment to interpret the rule.
Scientism is just plain bad philosophy and uncritical
thinking. I am all for people thinking critically
about what science means and does and what it doesn't.
It is only in bad theology or ignorance of theology
that a scientific worldview has much of anything to
say about religion.
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