The Tentative Apologist
4/23/10 at 05:59 PM 1 Comments

Is salvation a matter of believing the right things?

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Ken Pulliam asks a most reasonable question in the blog, a question concerning the relationship of belief to salvation:

"What do you think that a person must believe in order to be saved? I am having difficulty categorizing your position, you seem to be much different than the evangelicals I am familiar with. That is a good thing, actually, because they tend to be very dogmatic, very exclusivistic and in some cases quite smug about their position as one of God's elect."

It is a great question. What must a person believe to be in saving relationship with God? But if you think about it, the question makes some assumptions which are, well, questionable.

So what's the problem? Christianity, like other religions, purports to offer a redemptive relationship with ultimate reality. In that respect to ask

What must a person believe to be in saving relationship with God?


What must a person believe to be married to one's spouse?

But to ask the second question is a bit strange. Marriage surely includes some beliefs about one's spouse, but beliefs aren't at the center of a marriage. The person who suffers dementia may have no particular beliefs about their spouse anymore. So might the person who has amnesia. A person may believe "My spouse is the most wonderful person in the world" one day and believe "My spouse is a perfect rotter" the next. But through it all those two people are married.

Insofar as the marriage relationship parallels the saving relationship, the same implications follow. A person's theological beliefs may wax and wane in all sorts of ways, and yet through it all they may remain in saving relationship with God.

This is not to say that right belief is not important. Obviously it is. Paul wrote:

"That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9)

But note two things. First, there is no guarantee that belief such as is described in the above verse will ensure a saving relationship with God. As Jesus warned:

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matthew 7:21-23)

Second, Romans 10:9 may provide sufficient conditions in terms of salvific belief, but it hardly purports to provide necessary conditions. That is, it may be sufficient to believe "Jesus is Lord" in order to be saved by God, but is it necessary to believe this? To argue that seems to go far beyond what the data would warrant.

But wait, how do I reconcile what I've said with Acts 4:12?

"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

No problem. People are saved only by Jesus. That's what the text says. But the text does not say "Salvation is found only by believing propositions p, q, and r." And to look back to Jesus' warning above, evidence for a saving relationship is more surely found in a faithful life lived than a set of correct propositions believed.

So to come back to Ken's question, I cannot provide a simple answer on the terms I have been given because I don't think the foundation of a saving relationship with God is found in belief at all.

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