In my latest reading of Paul Knitter's No Other Name? A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes Toward the World Religions, I read Chapter VI, "The Mainline Protestant Model: Salvation Only in Christ".
the religions of the world be ground-preparation for people to accept
Christianity? Contra the mainline Prostestants whom he discusses,
Knitter appears to maintain that salvation is possible even in
non-Christian religions. But Knitter makes the point that non-Christian
religions recognize that there is something seriously flawed in how
human beings think and what they do. Some religions, such as Hinduism,
may even maintain that our sins carry some sort of debt that needs to be
paid, and that occurs through the sorts of lives that we get when we
are reincarnated. (I am speaking here from my own understanding of
Hinduism.) Does Christianity contain the answer to the problems that
non-Christian religions recognize?
My impression from reading
Knitter is that the mainline Protestants whom he discusses do not
believe that you go to hell for not saying the sinner's prayer before
you die. One theologian held that everyone at the end will get a chance
to receive Christ. Another maintained that people in non-Christian
religions can arrive at some state of salvation, albeit incomplete.
Even the thinker whom Knitter featured in his chapter on conservative
evangelicalism, Karl Barth, has been said to have had universalist
I struggle with evangelicalism, but I do agree with its
insight that there is something wrong with human nature----that we all
fall short of some righteous standard. I have difficulty going from
this insight to the proposition that God, therefore, will condemn to
eternal hell those who don't accept Christ as their personal savior.
I'd like to think that God is more loving than that, and that God is in
the business of solving problems, not just beating people up for having
them. One reason that I identify with the doctrine that we are morally
corrupt is that it means that I don't have to regard another person as
better or worse than me: that person has flaws, just like me and
everyone else. But God is above our flaws.
I also, on some level,
identify with the Christian notion that God is just: that God punishes
sin, and that somehow Jesus' death satisfied God's justice----either in
the sense that Jesus died in our place to appease God's justice, or in
the sense that we die with Christ, and so we have paid the penalty for
sin in that way. I agree with what one evangelical once told me: If God
did not punish sin, then he would not be God. Okay, I wouldn't
exactly phrase the thought that way, but the point is that God needs to
uphold some system of justice----in which right and wrong have
consequences, otherwise the cosmos would arguably be amoral. Again, I
have difficulty going from this to the notion that everyone who fails to
accept Jesus before he or she dies is doomed to eternal torment in
hell. Perhaps there are other ways for there to be consequences to
wrongdoing than eternal torment.