Biblical studies: December 2004 Archives

The Birth of Jesus

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I want to recommend another series by Mark Roberts, this time on the birth narratives of Jesus, particularly dealing with their historicity. I like to wait until Mark is done with a series before I read it, so I can get the whole thing at once. He usually sends an email to his mailing list announcing when a series is done, and he hasn't sent that with this series, but it looks like it might be done. If not, it's at a good enough stopping point that reading it now will feel complete enough. Mark does a lot of stuff well, but this is the kind of thing he's best at. He interacts with much of modern scholarship, both at the academic level and in popular publications like the recent Time and Newsweek pieces. I'm looking forward to reading it more thoroughly when I finish this volley of grading, which needs to be done by noon tomorrow. Maybe I'll update this post if I have any further thoughts after reading it.

One of the most common questions I've heard from Christian undergraduates is whether people who have not heard the gospel could be saved and whether people who are genuine followers of the truth within another religion might be saved. There are two separate questions in here, and I want to separate them out and then look at how Romans 10 gives an answer to both questions that's really hard to resist without simply denying what Paul is saying.

First I want to distinquish between the two views. Universalism is the view that everyone will be saved. Universalists may think everyone will be saved on the basis of their religion's own merits. This is the position of many Unitarian Universalists. Some call it pluralism, and others call it inclusivism, though both words have also been used to describe other views. I'll henceforth call it inclusivism. Those who call themselves Christian universalists generally think everyone will be saved on the basis of Christ's death. That's what's Christian about it. The inclusivist view considers each religion's own basis for salvation as the basis for its members' salvation. Such a view is really unworkable without a radical relativism about religious truth, which is itself philosophically unworkable, for reasons I'm not going to bother dealing with in this post. I just consider that to be the assumption behind any reasonable discussion about religion. On those grounds alone I think the view is a dead end. Still, the passage I'm about to consider resists this view quite plainly, so I'll resist the urge to explain philosophically why inclusivism makes no sense. My main concern in this post is with how Paul's line of thought in Romans 10 resists both inclusivism and Christian universalism, which is generally exclusivist on that issue. I think most non-universalists have never encountered an exclusivist unviersalist, so I'm going to spend a little time explaining what the view is and why most passages used to argue against universalism don't really say anything about universalism at all but just conflict with inclusivism. Then I'll move into Romans 10 to show why both inclusivism and exclusivist universalism are at odds with what Paul says there.

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