Wednesday, 05 November 2008
Guest post by icicle84
I am usually very careful about those sources based upon which I draw my theological views. Having attended a Christian university, much of what I hold as true (or likely true) came directly from ideas I was introduced to there (that I agreed or disagreed with). Usually I try not to let purely speculative works (especially fictional one) shape my view of God, but some, shall we say, spiritually-obsessed authors have managed to put forth complex theological issues onto paper in a way that makes you think a bit more deeply or from a different perspective.
One of those authors is Frank Peretti. His books This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness revolutionized how "pop-culture" Christians view spiritual warfare (angels and demons, prayer, the occult, etc). One of his children's books did quite well in making me re-think a position I may have held for a long time, had it not been for the book.
The classic apologetic/evangelistic question - "If there's a devoutly spiritual man in Africa who really wants to know the truth, and is seeking an omnipotent, omniscient One, whom he believes created the universe and is responsible for salvation, and acknowledges that he can't be saved by his own attempts to do right -- can this man be saved, if he never hears the name Jesus?"
In The Secret of the Desert Stone, Peretti tackles this question, and, I believe, does it in a way that isn't heretical by posing the hypothetical case of a tribe of devout "savages," in a remote part of Africa. They have their own name for God, and this is where I'll put my first point. Obviously, the "name," doesn't matter - and by "name," I mean the lexicographical construction.
In English, we say "God." In Spanish, they say "Dios." In French, it's "Dieu." In Hebrew, well many of us are familiar with "Adonai," "Elohim," "Jehovah," "Yahweh," or the sacred tetragrammaton, "YHWH."
But there are probably many people in each of those cultures who don't know the exact Hebrew (or, further back, Mesopotamian) names by which God initially revealed Himself.
This idea also applies to the name of Jesus. "Jesus," "Jeshua," "Jesu," "Iesous" - there plenty of different spellings of the name (if you got into Afrikaans, Sanskrit, Arabic or Russian, I'm sure I wouldn't recognize any of the characters, much less the pronunciations).
But the idea is the same - I hardly think that in the language of Heaven (whatever that is), that God refers to His son as "Jesus." The point is the idea behind his name. "YHWH rescues" is one translation. Salvation.
So, what would happen if, say, I were to know this savior, not as "Jesus," but as "Retter" - the German word for "savior?" And by "savior," I mean the one sent from God (or Elohim, or the "all-powerful-one") to rescue mankind from the evil present in all of us. The one in whom we must place our trust in order to be saved.
Peretti poses such a situation. However, the problem most will have is not the fact that these tribesmen don't know the literal "name" of Jesus, or that He was a carpenter who lived thousands of years ago.
The problem for most will lie in the method of the revelation. You see, these people didn't develop their theology about the "savior" due to some evangelist or missionary. They had never heard the name of Jesus, or the stories about how he turned water into wine, or walked on water, or even died crucified between two thieves.
Without going into all the details, the tribe's leader had had a supernatural encounter (theologians would call it an act of "special revelation"), where he had the realization (paraphrase), "Oh, NOW I see how it happened. I was a thief and murderer, with the enemy after my hide. But God (the all-powerful creator) sent a substitute to take the punishment for my wrongdoing. And that substitute is the one in whom I must have faith if I'm going to live a life that pleases the creator."
That's the gospel message, isn't it? The "names" aren't there, but since we've established that the power lies not in the name, but in the reality behind the name. We know that "whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." We also know that Paul, when exhorting people to "be saved," told them simply to believe in Jesus (savior, substitute, propitiation, messiah). It's that simple. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life." No mention of a necessary knowledge of Jesus' miracles, the method of His death, the lexicographical construction of His name.
Just believe in who He is. The substitute. The savior. The one sent by God to take the punishment for our sins. Just believe in Him. Salvation.
Is the faith displayed by this tribal leader a "saving faith?" If it's genuine, and produces good fruit, I say yes. But the real question, again, is whether God would give such a "special revelation" to one who was earnestly looking for Him.
What do you think happens to people who earnestly seek God but have never heard of Jesus?