Thanks for the e-mail – I had forgotten about your site…
I get this sneaking suspicion that I may be a part of that group of particularly annoying Christians. I hold to what I believe is true, because I believe that Truth exists. Not that anything I believe automatically becomes true – I have changed my opinion several times concerning many issues – salvation among non-Christians not being the least of these.
Christianity is a salvation-based religion. It teaches that no man is perfect – meaning that all have done wrong, if only once – and that the punishment for wrongdoing is death. Thus, all men are equal, in that, by themselves, all men are dead in their wrongdoings. Christianity teaches that God sent Christ Jesus, his only begotten Son (also God – let’s not get into that right now) to pay atonement for the wrongdoings of the world, so that we might evade death and receive life through Him.
So to say that “being a non-Christian theist is better than being an atheist” is woefully ignorant of the basic fact of Christianity. To be anything but one who believes and has trusted in the death, burial, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus is to be dead. There is no difference, then, between an atheist and a non-Christian theist.
This, I believe, touches on a major misconception about Christianity: it is not about doing good things. My friend explained it to me this way once:
If I am dead in my transgressions, I cannot do anything to the better or worse of mankind or myself. But when I come alive (spiritually) – freed from my sin and death – I do good things as a result, much in the same way I breathe in and out because I am physically alive. Doing good things is a byproduct of the hope that resides within a Christian.
As for “some brands of Christianity,” I would contend that many are not Christianity at all, because Christianity – by definition – requires Christ. I do believe that anyone can find Christ on their own – Jeremiah 29:13 reads ” ‘You will (V)seek Me and find Me when you (W)search for Me with all your heart. ‘” Thus one can be a Christian without using the term “Christian” – a pygmy in Africa or something – but one cannot have salvation without Christ. No one else was perfect. No one else paid the atonement.
Christianity is not exclusive because it is a religion of death – quite the opposite. Christianity is intrinsically exclusive because to teach anything other than Life – and the true method therein – would be just like a living body not breathing. It is impossible.
I hope this makes sense to you – it took me a long time to figure out. Please, feel free to respond with questions/comments. I really don’t want to engage in a debate or even semi-debate. I’ve found that internet based rivalry produces no good at all. I will try to point you towards resources that I know of – there have been entire books written on these things and the chances of my explaining it better online are very low. Thank you for the mail.
“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
– Jesus, John 14:6
At least so far, you don’t seem like a “particularly annoying Christian.” You come across as intelligent, non-judgmental, and willing to change your mind. It’s hard to be annoying when you have all that going for you.
I also believe that truth exists. Where we may differ is that I think what I believe is true only insofar as I have the ability to find the truth.
My understanding is that those who say a non-Christian theist is preferable to an atheist are not talking about salvation or Christianity. Rather, they are talking about morality. The idea is that morality only comes from religion, and therefore someone without religion can’t be trusted. I think this opinion is based on ignorance, and I do what I can to show that morality can have sources other than religion.
I understand what you are saying about Christianity and good works. I also understand that there is a bit of a disagreement between Protestants and Catholics (for example) on this issue.
I also understand what you mean when you say that good works are a byproduct of Christianity as opposed to a requirement of it. One problem I have encountered in the past with a few Protestants is that they take this idea to an extreme — they turn their nose up at good works by non-Protestants because such things are not necessary for salvation, and (in extreme cases) look past their own sins because they are saved. I think — and I hope you will agree — that this is also a misunderstanding of Christianity.
I’m happy to honor your request not to debate, because I really don’t see anything for us to debate. I appreciate your offer to recommend books on the subject, but I have already read many of them and prefer to have my discussions with individuals at this point.
Thanks again for writing!