One of My Pet Peeves

I have a friend who read the title and thought of a great Taco Bell story immediately. One that involved a cellphone, a rude customer, and me expressing my anger in an unhealthy way. But that’s not what I’m here to discuss.

Rude cellphone use, when it interferes with one’s ability to properly interact with people physical present in one’s environment, is one of my pet peeves still today. But the pet peeve under discussion goes by a few names. I think the most common one is spin.

Spin is when you’re asked a fairly direct question and your answer to it fails to actually answer it. It’s commonly employed by politicians. People who use it generally come off as having something to hide.

An example of spin can be seen in this video. William Lane Craig asks Christopher Hitchens a simple question: “What variety of non-theist are you?” Hitchens won’t answer, because none of the choices are convenient for his argument.

Spin isn’t limited to unbelievers. Christians do it to, especially where soteriology is concerned. Religious pluralism is a fairly hot topic right now, and many Christians, fearing reprisal from the culture, don’t want to adopt the “wrong” view according to culture. Yet we want to adopt the right view according to God, not the view that is going to win us the most points in the culture.

Dr. Randal Rauser, in this article, has been asked a direct question about soteriology: “So… what is it one must believe or trust [to be saved]? And how does it lead to works?” But does he answer it? Nope. He spins.

That question has a pretty simple answer. Paul gave it to us in Romans 10:5-13:

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

There it is. Believe in Jesus, and that God raised him from the dead, and confess all of that with your mouth, and you will be saved. It’s as simple as that, yet Rauser can’t seem to answer that question. He raises issues that, typically, critics raise. What about different views of God? He says that the early Hebrews were polytheists, and didn’t become monotheists until later. The Trinity, Atonement, and Incarnation weren’t raised until later so they aren’t essential. There are even several views of the Atonement, which one (Rauser wonders) is correct? And is believing the correct things about the Trinity, Atonement, and Incarnation necessary for salvation?

What that amounts to is that Rauser thinks that different beliefs for different times and places would have been fine. A street urchin 500 years ago wouldn’t be held to the same standard of knowledge as a twenty-something college student today. So, 500 years ago, with no access to the Internet and thus no way to research competing views of the Atonement, the urchin would be fine to believe what (if anything) his church taught about it. Presumably, however, today’s twenty-something would be expected by God to hold either a certain view of the Atonement, or at least a view that lies along the spectrum of orthodoxy.

This is where I think Rauser is missing the whole point. Faith in God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and living with him as your guidepost is always right. There are hints of that even in Genesis (see here). “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt 6:33). Only our critics find it necessary to get super complicated and throw things like, “What about people that have never heard?” up at us. Rauser is playing  into their hands.

And while we’re on that subject, Paul continued the above passage:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom 10:14-17)

Which means that our preaching the gospel is how the unbelievers are supposed to hear. And if they’ve never heard, then they’ve still disobeyed the gospel (as Paul argued in Romans 1-3). But then Paul questions if the unbelievers really haven’t heard the gospel, and comes to a startling conclusion.

But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”

But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”

Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” (Rom 10:18-21)

Which means that God has sent a call out to all of the people of the world. Isaiah records God as saying that he has made himself known to people not seeking him. But Israel, who has known of him all along, refused to take the hand he has offered. This leads to Romans 11, where Paul explains why the Gentiles now have the gospel extended to them (it plays back into the quote from Moses, above).

How the hearing of the word, the committing of one’s life to Christ, and the re-creation of the soul as good (rather than inherently evil) leads to good works can be discussed another time. But why couldn’t Rauser articulate these Scriptural truths to the original seeker? Perhaps, like Joel Osteen in the clip, he’s afraid of losing popularity with the culture.

Preaching the message that Jesus is the only way to God, thus (by definition) excluding “good” workers of all other faiths (or lack of faiths) isn’t popular. After all, this country is founded on freedom of religion, so that must be a prizeworthy ideal and a totally correct worldview. Those who disagree are just wrong. Right?

About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on January 8, 2011, in Apologetics, God, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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