We are continuing our review of the book by the United Methodist minister Martin Thielen entitled What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? His next chapter is entitled “Jews Won’t Make It to Heaven” and he subtitles this chapter “The ultimate destiny of non-Christians is in God’s hands, and God can be trusted to do what is right.” [By the way, this expression “God can be expected to do what is right” is used by Thielen several times in his book. One suspects this is his go-to conviction when he faces some uncomfortable dogmatic statements of Scripture]
Thielen surveys three views of other religions: (1) “All religions are the same” [which they aren’t, of course], (2) “Other religions are false” [a view he strongly rejects], and (3) “Other religions are to be respected” [which he advocates].
MY RESPONSE: Thielen rejects the view that only Christianity is true, that Christ is the only way, and that other religions are false and lead people away from God. He even quotes the liberal Jesus Seminar leader Marcus Borg who says that a text like “There is salvation in no one else” (Acts 4:12) is to be understood as poetic and devotional. Borg writes: “To say, ‘Jesus is the only way’ is also the language of devotion. It is the language of gratitude and love. It is like language used by lovers, as when we say to our beloved, ‘You’re the most beautiful person in the world.’ Literally? Most beautiful? Really? Such language is the poetry of devotion and the hyperbole of the heart. Poetry can express the truth of the heart, but it is not doctrine. . . . [He concludes,] We can sing our love songs to Jesus with wild abandon without needing to demean other religions.” (from Borg’s The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, pp. 221-222).
This quote by Borg did not surprise me. He’s the one who said in a seminar at the University of South Carolina in 1998: “The notion that God’s only son came to this planet to offer his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and that God could not forgive us without that having happened, and that we are saved by believing this story is simply incredible. Taken metaphorically, this story can be very powerful. But taken literally, it is a profound obstacle to accepting the Christian message.” He has also written: “I think the resurrection of Jesus really happened, but I have no idea if it involves anything happening to his corpse, and, therefore, I have no idea whether it involves an empty tomb, and for me, that doesn’t matter because the central meaning of the Easter experience or the resurrection of Jesus is that His followers continue to experience Him as a living reality, a living presence after His death. So I would have no problem whatsoever with archaeologists finding the corpse of Jesus. For me that would not be a discrediting of the Christian faith or the Christian tradition.”
There is a massive difference between respecting other religions and denying the exclusivity of the Christian gospel. Fascinating that Thielen made no mention of Jesus’ statement “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me!” (Jn. 14:6). Perhaps he has a low view of the gospel of John (as do the “Jesus Seminar” scholars like Markus Borg).
Why bother with evangelism and missions if there is salvation in other religions other than biblical Christianity? Thielen has sadly abandoned the gospel in this chapter. Enough said.