One of the best comments about Bernie Sanders’ opposition to a nominee’s confirmation because he didn’t believe Muslims are saved comes from Michael Gerson:  “It is apparently not enough for some of the liberal-minded to help those on Medicare and Social Security; now people must be guaranteed eligibility for heaven as well.”  See also Lutheran Satire’s Hans Fiene on the subject.

Far from being a fringe position, as Sanders’ assumes, the notion that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation is a tenet of every branch of Christianity, except for liberals and a small number of universalists.  Even Catholics, who hold out the possibility of salvation for some non-Christians, do so because they see their good works as evidence that they have God’s grace, explaining it all so that it is Jesus who saves them even though they don’t know Him.

Most Muslims believe that non-Muslims do not go to paradise, though since salvation is based mostly on good works, there may be exceptions.

Sanders’ interrogation of Russell Vought has brought attention to the issue, with most observers–including liberals–defending the right of a Christian to hold public office, despite that religion’s “exclusionary” beliefs.

After the jump is an article on the number of people who believe in Hell.  It turns out that 58% of Americans believe in eternal punishment.

And yet, Hell isn’t talked about much these days, even in conservative churches.  I suppose it’s a difficult topic to preach about.  One can easily get it wrong, creating false impressions about God, Christ, sin, and salvation.

Dante helped me understand Hell.  His Inferno is an allegory in which the punishments symbolize the sin, as it completely takes over the life of the sinner.  Here the sinners freely embrace their sin and the torment that comes from rejecting God, just as they did on earth.  Another theme of his comes from St. Catherine of Sienna:  “The fire of Hell is the love of God as experienced by those who reject it.”  God continues to love these sinners by preserving their existence and letting them be what they have chosen.

You pastors, how do you teach about Hell?

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Chesterton on the Trinity


Yesterday was Trinity Sunday, following close upon Ascension (the incarnate Son taking His place in the Godhead) and Pentecost (the Holy Spirit poured out upon the Church).

Do you want to know a good Scripture verse to prove the doctrine of the Trinity?  “God is love” (1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16).  Love is a union of distinct persons.  If love is at the essence of God, then He is a union of distinct persons, only supremely so–a perfect, absolute union of the three persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Having a Triune God is very different from having a god of other kinds of monotheism.

I remember reading G. K. Chesterton on the Trinity, who makes this point in an unforgettable way.  I dug up a couple of his quotations on the subject, which you can read after the jump.


By Emeltet (Own work), Eglise Saint-Samson, Bobital, Côtes d’armor, France, La Trinité, rosace, facade ouest, [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Is saying Jesus is the only way to salvation hate speech and discrimination?


Russell Vought is a Wheaton College alumnus who weighed in on the controversy over the faculty member who insisted that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.  He disagreed.  He wrote on a website, “They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”

Now, at his confirmation hearing for his nomination as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, that statement came back to haunt him.

Senator Bernie Saunders called that statement of Christian orthodoxy “indefensible,” “Islamophobic,” and “hateful.”

Vought tried to explain, but the Senator kept trying to shame him for his belief and voted against his confirmation.

The Atlantic, no less, has a great story on the exchange.  Its author, Emma Green, defends Vought and argues that what Sanders was doing was imposing a “religious test” as forbidden by Article VI of the U. S. Constitution.  She goes on to explain why this is an important principle.

The episode also reminds us Christians that our convictions are out of synch in this time of intolerant tolerance and that we can expect to be vilified and possibly, at some point, punished for what we believe.

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From preoccupation with society to preoccupation with the self


Still more things I’ve picked up from Kenneth L. Woodward’s  Getting Religion:  Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama.  (See my earlier posts on Woodward’s book here and here and here.)

After the disillusionment with “the secular city,” liberal theology turned to a new frontier.  It was the Sixties.  Lucy was in the Sky with Diamonds.  The Maharishi was on television.  And in the academic world new frontiers of psychology were apparently opening up.

Liberal theology went “experiential.”  This, according to Woodward, “was the antithesis” of the social gospel “and reflected disillusionment with protest politics and social reform.  What mattered was transformation of self rather than of society; myth and metaphysics rather than morality; expanded (or altered or higher) consciousness rather than appeals to conscience” (p. 256). [Read more…]

“When the secular was sacred”


I grew up in a liberal mainline denomination in the 1950s and 1960s, going to the conventions and participating in the youth conferences.  Reading Kenneth L. Woodward’s account of this phase of church history in Getting Religion:  Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama explains a lot of things that I witnessed and had to go through.  (See my earlier posts on Woodward’s book here and here.)

Woodward, the religious editor for Newsweek, tells about the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on mainline Protestant pastors and church people.  In addition to giving them a truly righteous cause, it introduced them to the black church, which seemed to be a truly socially relevant institution, unlike their own church bodies.  The excitement soon extended to other kinds of social activism.  And then came the Kennedy euphoria.

It seemed to many mainline Protestant theologians that the secular world–not the church–was where the real action is.  Also the real virtues, the real meaning, the realm where God was truly working.

As Woodward puts it, “the nation’s liberal Protestant leadership came to embrace the secular as sacred:  that is, to assume that if God is to be found anywhere, it is in the secular world, not the church” (p. 96). [Read more…]

What conservative churches & liberal churches have in common today


More from Kenneth L. Woodward’s Getting Religion:  Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama. . . .

Movements take place outside of denominations, so one legacy of the dominance of “movement religions” over “embedded religions” is the erosion of denominational distinctives.  There is thus a new ecumenism among both liberal and conservative churches.

In contemporary Christianity, liberals have their ecumenical movement; conservatives have their para-church organizations.  Both of which minimize the differences between theologies and denominations, creating a least-common-denominator, de facto  type of Christian unity.

There are other areas in which conservatives “both countered and paralleled” the liberals (p. 141).  Both invested heavily in politics.  The liberal churches have been promoting liberal and leftwing politics.  (See the mainline denominations’ convention resolutions.)  The conservative churches have been promoting conservative and rightwing politics.  (And getting criticized for it by people oblivious to how the liberal churches have become far more politicized and were doing it long before there was anything like a “Christian right.”)   [Read more…]