December 14, 1996
A caller alerted me to the fact that apparently there's a president of
a Baptist college who believes Jesus is not necessary for salvation. If
I'm understanding his view correctly, this would make him a
pluralist--someone who says that other religions are legitimate and
appropriate avenues to God and that the work of the cross is not necessary
at all for salvation. We Christians happen to believe in Jesus because
it's "our thing." Jesus, though, could be completely out of the
picture and salvation could still be secured through other religions.
As a point of information, this would be different from the "inclusivist"
Roman Catholic view. On this view, Jesus' work on the cross is necessary
for forgiveness, but one need not believe in Jesus--and could outright
reject Him--and still enjoy the benefits of the cross. The forgiveness
that comes through Jesus can be mediated through the sincere pursuit of
other religions. Therefore, all people, regardless of there belief
systems, are potentially included_ergo the word "inclusivist"--in
God's Kingdom. To put it most directly, the good Buddhist is cleansed by
the blood of Christ (though one might as why he needs the blood of Christ
if he's good already).
My caller asked this question: Should a person who is a religious
pluralist be allowed to continue as a president of a Baptist college? I
think the answer may be obvious when we ask the question another way:
Should a non-Christian be allowed to run a Christian institution? It seems
the answer to this question must be "no."
You've probably noted, of course, that I'm presuming the president of
this Baptist college is not a Christian simply because he's a pluralist,
which may seem like a bold thing to say. I have a very good reason for
this presumption, though, and it has to do with what it means to be a
The word "Christian" has a definition. It has a broad
cultural meaning, but that's not what I'm talking about here. Rather, I'm
talking about a theological definition. It seems to me, at bare minimum,
being a Christian in a genuine, theological, biblical sense requires
believing a particular thing to be true about Jesus. And the thing we
believe to be true is not that Jesus is my savior. Rather, the
thing we believe is that Jesus is the Savior, and because He is the
Savior, He can therefore be my savior. Because Jesus is the Savior,
He can save me.
If you reject that Jesus is the Savior, then you're rejecting
the foundational tenet of Christianity.
There are other things, to be sure, that are necessary to believe in
order to call yourself a Christian. But you've got to at least
believe that Jesus is the Savior. This is the beginning. This is the
foundation, that Jesus did something for us we absolutely need to have
done for us, something we would perish without. We turn to Jesus because
we need Him, that is, we desperately require something only He can
give--forgiveness. If He doesn't give us forgiveness, then we're in hot
water--or, I should say, hot fire.
Now, this seems so basic to Christianity I feel a bit foolish
belaboring the point. The Bible teaches that Jesus is the Savior. He is
not just the savior for me; He's not just a savior for others--one
of a number of possible rescuers, like a team of lifeguards might be. The
Bible teaches--and Christianity is built on this teaching--that He is the
Savior of the whole world, and without Him the world could not be saved.
If this is a core teaching of Christianity--so vital that denying it
effaces the religion entirely so that it no longer is the same thing--then
what are we to make of someone who denies this truth? If someone believes
that members of other religions are as easily saved through their own
religion as Christians are through Jesus, what does this tells us about
the beliefs of this person concerning the nature of the work of the cross
and the person of Christ?
If you say people can be saved without Jesus, then Jesus is not the
Savior. These people either save themselves (making each of them a
savior), or they are saved by others. Is this possible?
If Jesus is a savior, then what does He save someone from? The Bible
makes it clear that Jesus saved me from the judgment I would have
received if He hadn't save me. Therefore, if one repudiates their need
for Jesus, then Jesus isn't saving them and they stand in the path of
God's judgment. What could be simpler? What could be more clear?
Now, if you believe other people can be saved through other religions,
then you certainly don't believe that Jesus is the Savior. And if
you reject that Jesus is the savior, it really calls into question whether
He's even your savior, because if other people could be saved
without Him, why couldn't you? You need Jesus to be saved because you're
lost without Him. If you're lost without Him, so is everybody else who's
in your same position, a sinner. That, by the way, includes everybody
else, according to the biblical account. Therefore, everybody else needs
Jesus, and it doesn't make any sense to say that everybody else can get to
heaven without Him, but that you happen to need him.
If you do say that, it's the same as saying Jesus is not the
Savior, and if you reject that Jesus is the Savior, then you're
rejecting the foundational tenet of Christianity. You are, therefore,
denying the heart and soul of the faith, and it doesn't seem to me that
you can then call yourself a Christian.
This is not that hard, friends. In order to call yourself a Christian,
you must fulfill certain foundational and fundamental requirements, and
there's nothing more foundational or fundamental about Christianity than
that Jesus is the Savior. Not a savior, not my
savior, not the savior of some, but the Savior, the Savior
of the world. And because He is the Savior, He is capable of saving
all of us. Because He's the Savior, there is no other savior, and
we can't save ourselves.
Which is precisely why the apostle said, "There is salvation in
none other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by
which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)