Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Friday, July 25, 2008

This Jesus thing... what's in a name?

So, you're a yak herder in Nepal and one afternoon you fall asleep on the mountainside. Whilst sleeping, you have a dream and in your dream a messenger tells you that he's going to show you that worship is much simpler than you thought. You're excited to hear this, and he promises to show up in a vision every day for a little while. He does, and each time he unfurls a scroll with the names of many different Hindu gods. Each day though, he scratches a name or two off the list as he says, "you don't need to bother with this one." He keeps doing this until there's only one name left on the scroll. It's at the bottom of the list, a god of which you know nothing, named Jesus. The messenger tells you that this is the only God you need to worry about, the God above all gods and, as well, the God who became a man, died, and then beat death by exiting the tomb arisen. The messenger tells you that two men will come to your family and tell you more about this Jesus.

You go home and tell your family and they think you've drifted into insanity, so they send you to a cave so that you won't embarrass them. But during your cave stay, two backpackers show up and share Christ with your family. As soon as they start talking about Jesus, your father comes and gets you out of the cave, and the family sits together listening to stories about the God man late into the night, culminating in you and the whole family turning to Christ in faith. (true story)

What I'm wondering is whether this yak herder and his family would have been saved if the guys hadn't made it to their house. Well, OK, if pressed, that's not really what I'm wondering at all. What I'm wondering is whether people need to say the name "Jesus" to be saved.

After all, Abraham was saved by believing the revelation granted him, and God credited it to him as righteousness. He never said the name Jesus, unless you count saying Jehovah (LORD) as saying the name Jesus because, after all, the two are actually one. But if that's the case, then people don't need to have heard of Jesus to be saved; they simply need to respond to the revelation God has shown them.

"Yes" you might say, "but that's why we need to send missionaries, because not all have heard." Did you know that Paul walked down this very road of reasoning and came to the conclusion that, indeed, all HAVE heard. How? The testimony of creation of course, as explained here, and here. In the Romans 1 passage, Paul is quite clear that people are under the judgment of God for rejection revelation, even though they've never heard the name of Christ, because the reality of God's character is 'clearly revealed' through the created order. One might ask then, if this revelation is enough to condemn people, is it also enough to save people? In other words, can someone be saved by simply looking at the created order and calling out, worship, and expressing thanks to the one who made it, though they've never heard about Christ?

Agree or disagree?

What are the implications for our daily lives?

I welcome your thoughts!


At 25/7/08 22:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i say no. firstly because there are several verses in the new testament that speak of Jesus being the only way. secondly because what happend with abraham was part of the old covenant & we are now in the new. and thirdly because, what would then distinguish our God from the muslim one, etc.?

there is always the possibility of something being unwritten, but then wouldn't it be contradictory to Jesus being the only way (and we know His name isn't figurative for 'love' because God is love & then why would we need Jesus at all? what about cleansing & redemption?)

how would it affect our daily lives? well, we'd all be like bono... but poorer. ;) he's not a bad guy... but this coexist stuff is sometimes troublesome. i think God meets people where they're at & judges them according to their situations, giftings & abilities, & i think that 'boonies clause' is just that, for special cases. most of us have heard His name, & denied it. even probably most 'christians'.

i often wonder what will happen to the good people of the world who aren't christians, and often show us up. they are obedient with their actions but sometimes have defiant hearts towards God. but isn't denying your creator enough? God only knows.

At 26/7/08 00:32, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is something I've often wondered about, and yet don't have a very good answer to. I'm interested in seeing what other people have to say, though, for sure!

At 26/7/08 05:56, Blogger Thimbles aunt said...

My first thought is Psalms 19, but then of Romans 10. So I happily say "only God has the final say" since He looks on the heart. I know whom I believe.

At 26/7/08 12:46, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i believe in the Creator, Spirit and his Heart, b/c i asked him for help in Recovery of Alcoholism. As a Native brother, i see Jesus as Grandfather who has walked the Scared Earth Mother and i called him for repentace & it was all b/c of two sisters who shared w/me his love and support. Without their love i would never truely see, feel,hear his words, Jesus is my love.

At 26/7/08 13:52, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

Anonymous... thanks for your thoughts. I'd offer a couple of questions for you to ponder:
#1 - Paul's point regarding Abraham in Romans 4 is that all who have ever been saved have been saved by faith. Hebrews reiterates this declaring that the Old Covenant was set-aside precisely because of its inability to impart life. In other words, nobody was saved by the Old Covenant. One must conclude then, that even Abraham would have saved by the work of Christ who, transcending time, was slain 'before the foundation of the world.'

#2 - This perspective still makes a distinction between, as you write, "our God" and the "Muslim one" because the real issue remains my response to revelation. Islam does reject the notion of Christ as deity, as well as rejection, as I understand it, the redemptive work of the cross. Because of this, it's hard to fathom one embracing both Islam and Christianity, as they are ideologically mutually exclusive, at least in their more orthodox forms.

Thanks for your thoughts

At 26/7/08 15:00, Blogger Rider said...

If I believe in the one true GOD of the universe then don't I believe in Jesus by default? GOD-JESUS-HOLYSPIRIT. I do believe in Christ and the gift of salvation, but GOD is Jesus and GOD sent the Holy Spirit so isn't it kind of a moot point, or at the very least very confusing to the non-christian.
Love your work,...Bill

At 26/7/08 18:40, Blogger Trent said...

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At 26/7/08 18:41, Blogger Trent said...

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At 26/7/08 23:33, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm confused about what we're debating here. richard seems to be confirming the need to be a 'christian' and therefore to have 'Christ'.

maybe the bigger question that needs to be answered is why we feel the need to continue to seek 'new knowledge' or 'interpretation' of the scriptures. of course greater understanding is important, but are we supposed to seek to know everything? and does this mean that all past generations and their interpretations were wrong and archaic (and invalid) because they didn't have these insights & 'revelations'? is the heart of man not generally the same all these thousands of years? so then does the Bible not stand the test of time?

i'm worried that this generation (of which i belong) spends way too much time pouting and pontificating in the complex periphery, missing simple concepts, and almost zero time putting words, or anything, into action. where is the love? the word gets thrown around a lot. tons of books written and read - does that mean we've all mastered THE book?

and i realize this could be a simple matter of curiosity and friendly discussion... but it could also signify the greater trend of a watered down gospel and rejection of traditional doctrine. what's so wrong with traditional doctrine, & how arrogant are we, the newbies, to think we are right?

At 27/7/08 07:47, Blogger Odyssey said...

This is a great discussion. But at the back of it all we always we need to remember WHO we are talking about. This is after all the God of the universe. The yak herder story is key in one perspective... the backpackers came with the message of Jesus to the family. Has anyone ever heard of someone receiving such a vision and no one comes to them in Jesus' name with the message to fulfil the vision? THE God brought this family His Name that they may be saved. Is there any evidence in this example of other visions without the revelation? I have never heard of any. In fact it would be an impossibility to hear of one because as soon as we know of it we would share Jesus name and "spoil the purity" of the vision, if you get my meaning. Therefore we are discussing something impossible to "prove". So where does that leave us?

Simply and with absolute assurance it leaves us in God's righteous, just, merciful and grace offering hands. He knows our hearts and if we know anything of His we can trust whatever He says and rest comfortable that the things we cannot know are certainly covered. His command to us is to share His Name with the world. I trust He is not wasting our time but instead that has been His eterenal plan to illustrate His love for us, through the lives of His followers, no matter how imperfect we may be.

At 27/7/08 08:31, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

Very quickly before running off to other things... I didn't cast this post to debate the centrality of Christ, but rather to challenge our perspective and thinking on formulaic demands about how people know Him.

It doesn't seem, to me, to be a waste of time to discuss this, because it strikes at the very core of how deep we believe God's grace goes in the world, and how active, with or without our participation, God is in revealing Himself to all mankind. Can we believe in an active God, plus grace and love that is, as Ephesians 3 says, "beyond our understanding", and still maintain the centrality of Christ in our life callings? I would say that the centrality of Christ becomes greater, not less, as my view of God's grace and activity grows.

At 27/7/08 09:47, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah, well in that case, no, of course it doesn't matter how people arrive at their faith, only that they do. and yes, as you've mentioned, according to paul, (and Jacob, and both Josephs, etc.) God reveals himself to people in different ways, all the time, without human interference. apparantly, muslims coming to christ in england lately have been seeing visions too.

i must have misunderstood because the need for Christ has been debated in my own church recently and it is fresh on my mind. with 'the message' and other forms of diluting, i'm hearing more 'love' gospel and less Christ.

i think the world operates on many levels, just like free will & pre-determination/omniscience coexist & shouldn't affect our need to 'live', things being beyond our understanding & God working without us doesn't negate our efforts. as you've said, it makes the intricate weave of the universe all that more beautiful & awe-inspiring.

At 27/7/08 10:22, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I say yes.

This is a topic of discussion that I mentioned to a family member when she attempted to save me through Jesus.

I asked her a simple question of what happens to people who do not come across the Bible, Jesus' name through missionary work, or come in contact with any form of scripture. Does God abandon these people? Am I to believe that God is going to abandon millions or billions of people due to location, location, location, or a dream/vision of coming into contact with the name Jesus?

What if I prefer to love God as God, and pray to him versus to Jesus(since they are one in the same.) What if I prefer to love God through the holy spirit?

These questions were listened to, but not very well appreciated as I was not loving and knowing God the right way. I had to know him through the name Jesus.

I suggested that the name is important to some, but possibly arbitrary to others, if they prefer to have a direct relationship with God.

Even though she politely and gently disagreed, she made references to versus from the Bible which included those who are saved if they are not lucky to come in contact with the Bible or the name of Jesus.

I am hoping someone might enlighten me to these passages. They pertained to God revealing himself to us if we realized his power and love in nature and life.

Obviously, I will be paraphrasing here, she included a, "You can be saved with this respect and direct worship of God(if you never KNOW the name Jesus), but if you happen to learn about Jesus and choose not to worship through him you will not be saved."

I do not believe that God loving and saving us comes down to the luck of the draw.

God is love, and many will continue to worship him, and have never heard the name Jesus.

The best part is, it's not up for us to judge, but simply love everyone as we want to be loved.

This is a fantastic topic.

At 27/7/08 11:27, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think what your sister said holds true. there is a difference between someone living in the jungles of south america who's never heard of Jesus or God but has an appreciation for a creator, and someone, like yourself, who has heard of Jesus but refuses to acknowledge Him. it's not luck of the draw, it's 'personal preference' in the latter case (and even in the former, if they happen to come about their own theory of evolution instead of creator). God has all of us covered in ways we will never understand.

p.s. though the trinity is 'one & the same', Jesus & the spirit are there on our behalfs as mediators, protectors, they are there for a reason.

p.p.s. if they are one & the same, wouldn't having a relationship with Jesus be a direct relationship with God in a different manifestation?

p.p.p.s. how would it look in the Father's eyes to deny His son? can you have a good relationship with someone you completely disagree with?

i don't mean to sound hostile, just questions to ponder, with brevity.

At 27/7/08 13:46, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is such a wonderful discussion.

The barriers that exist between populations, including language, geographical location, education, social and financial standings are truly luck of the draw, since we do not control what we are born in to.

I cannot fully know what or how other cultures/people who have never been exposed to an idea of God, or the name of Jesus, develop in the form of worship. It may be evolution, it may be a higher power represented by the sun, it may be the innate power of nature they think about, pray to , or show respect. In essence it is towards God without using the name Jesus, and Richard showed how Jesus respected this Abraham in his example.(I would prefer not to get into a discussion of evolution, but do not know why Christians do not give credit to God for giving our bodies the ability to evolve and adapt.)

I spoke with my wife on the way to Church today about this discussion, in hopes Richard would be covering the subject. Unfortunately he wasn't speaking today.

Yes, having a relationship with Jesus, can be viewed as having a direct relationship of God.

Since God and Jesus are one, I would hope he would see our direct love and respect for him as that, and not as a slight against a different name or representation of him. If we love God, we love Jesus, whether people know it or not.

This issue is an important one, and can be very divisive. Would God not prefer us to love him in any way he has shown to us, based on the position in life he has given us? Can we not love and respect others belief in the SAME God, if they have never heard of Jesus?

My opinion is God knows, and will judge us based on our faith, based on our actions, love and respect of all people.

Unfortunately, many of us(in which I am not excluded) have no idea what the 6.3 billion people living outside of North America are living like. God MAY have a different path for these God fearing and respecting folk, and they may never even hear the name Jesus. They also may be just as righteous as Abraham.

At 27/7/08 16:27, Anonymous thomas said...


I wonder if there is a better way to phrase this question?

When the question is posed as you've put it, even though generous in spirit as an attempt to "challenge our perspective and thinking on formulaic demands about how people know [Christ]" our discussion seems to still turn on definitions of who is "in," and who is "out." A question of, "can we be saved through response to the common grace of God's creation?" presents an excellent opportunity for argument and discussion (in pursuit of which I would love to waste a lot of ink/coffee) but even in the most generous spirit it still hinges on the question of who can we define as saved and who can we define as damned? (No matter how large or how small we make our borders).

Is there a way to challenge our "salvation formulas" and perspectives without falling into the inside/outside discussion - of "can we/they be saved if...?" I have some thoughts and would be interested to see if anyone else had any ideas along this line...

At 27/7/08 18:19, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think you have hit on the sticking point for most on this issue. "Who's in, Who's out?" Perhaps where we fail is in looking at the picture from such a close perspective that we can't take all of it in. We see our culture, our denomination, our church and so on all the while not acknowledging the grand scale of God's work. Certainly His reach is beyond our small vision. The difficulty for myself arises when poeple want to believe in God in spite of Jesus and His followers. Once God reveals Jesus to anyone, then what? If we believe at any level that they are the same, then we are faced with the very words of Jesus that "I am the way, the truth and the life." If one then rejects Jesus... well I think there lies a great problem. Rejecting Jesus must by simple logic be rejecting God.

As always it cmes down to what choice do we really make in our own hearts, for God or against. Is He God to us (as in Lord of all), or a convenient device to make us feel better about the life we live without any true surrender to our Creator?

At 27/7/08 19:36, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We see our culture, our denomination, our church and so on all the while not acknowledging the grand scale of God's work. Certainly His reach is beyond our small vision."

Very well put.

If anything, I believe Richard's question challenges us to be inclusive, and possibly discover that those who do not know Jesus, can still bond with those who do.

Those who recognize God, without the knowledge of Jesus, are just as righteous in the eyes of God, as those who know God as Jesus.

This precedent is set by his example of Jesus and Abraham.

I am unsure how to approach the subject of learning about Jesus, accepting or rejecting him as the son of God, which washes out your previous connection to God. The easy answer is that the non-acceptor will not be saved, nor can they go back to their previous valid worship of God.

One example that comes to mind is my time spent in college volunteering at an orphanage in Russia. The children, babies to late teens, were truly just hoping to get a meal each day. The teens if lucky enough to leave the country, often ended up sold as slave labor or prostitutes.

These children needed help from the hand of God more than anyone I had ever encountered. Could these children who I spent time with for 6 months(with a language barrier) even believe in a God, with the hell they live in everyday? We went to teach them about Jesus, and help them.

For the few who believed in God, but saw no relevance in the story of Jesus, have no value in God's eyes? Could a 10 year old who we revealed Jesus to make that decision in such a hell, and will God truly punish these kids who have been punished so much in life already.

I may have said yes prior to my time there. I know God will save these kids, as they need and deserve the love and safety in heaven more than anyone.

At 27/7/08 20:06, Anonymous Julianna said...

Regarding formulaic demands on how people come to know Jesus...I attended Dallas Seminary and one of my top 3 favorite books read there seems applicable to this situation/question. It completely rocked my world and is called "Spirit of the Rainforest" by Mark Richie. It is set in Brazil among a remote tribe with shaman leaders. (Would probably be found in a travel biography section more than religion) It's about the strange ways Christianity comes to these people. The end, when Jaguar spirit is defeated by the "Great good Light" (God) for this man's soul, was pretty moving. I realized that I was going to be standing next to that Brazilian tribal man in heaven and it didn't matter if he'd said the exact words "I accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Saviour." God knew he had.

At 27/7/08 20:30, Blogger Odyssey said...

We have subtlely moved to the question of why does God allow suffering? That has to be our single greatest frustration as we start to discover answers to the big questions of life. What does indeed happen to those so unfortunate as to be born into the worst the world offers? I recall a message I heard many, many years ago in which the speaker repeated a theme throughout that we live in a broken world. As he strove to make the points in his teaching everything came back to that hard reality. How that plays out for mankind in the world in his daily life is often harsh beyond measure. This is where we the fortunate few to live in the more "civilized" West have the luxary of contemplating such subjects. Much of the world is simply trying to survive.

Over the years I have come to this place to explain the brokenness of the world in which we live... If God is omniscient (all knowing) then quite simply this is His best plan to collect to Himself a few that can and will respond to the perfect love He offers us. That in turn forces us to examine the evidence available and determine who He is and who we are in relation to Him. Does God cause the evil of this world? Certainly not the God I know. So then we move the question of why is the world a broken place? Might it be that we demand it? As sad and disheartening as it sounds all the evidence points to mankind's shortfall, not to God's. In fact it is only His love and grace which allows the evil to continue that He may draw more to Himself. Only the contrast is enough to reach our wayward souls. I know I cannot explain or give any certain judgment on those in the most dire straits in this life. That is gratefully for God's perfect judgment. For my life, the Jesus I have known is the answer to our failings. Each individual life is called on by God to give an account. We are in no place during our time here to dare ask what God will judge of another's final fate. We may look and observe what their life offers to those around them, but judgment is God's. I rest in the knowledge that God is just. But I put all my hopes in His mercy to spare us what we deserve and in His grace to give us what we don't, all the while throwing myself at His feet in worship to the One who deserves it.

At 27/7/08 20:30, Blogger Odyssey said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 27/7/08 21:32, Anonymous GDG said...

Julianna and odyssey,

I did not expect to have a true discussion so I kept my post anonymous, but I should have labeled them. They were the ones involving my family member trying to save me, another reply, and my experience in the orphanage setting.

I appreciate your views, and will be picking up the book this week. I am a new member of Bethany Community Church for a few different reasons, but it truly did start with my family member speaking to me about this exact topic 2 years ago, and a friend truly taking a risk when he asked me to attend. So with my new beginning in this church, I was amazed that Richard has brought such an important topic.

I did not mean to sway the blog off topic towards why God allows suffering, but I can see why it may look that way.

The idea I was hoping would come across was if God would punish these children for not accepting Jesus when we exposed them to it. Is it even important if they were already lucky enough to have recognized God as their savior, without Jesus being involved?

I simply have my own opinions and the God I love would never punish these children more than they already have been. Jesus or no Jesus.

At 28/7/08 00:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

how is Jesus not relevant to suffering children? He asks them to come to Him specifically. and i think God judges us according to our innocense/naivity or lack thereof. and i don't think it's for us to split hairs. we will never know 'who gets in', we barely know if our pew-sharers really will & it's not for us to judge. isn't this discussion the same deal on a larger scale? our job is to be light.

At 28/7/08 08:34, Anonymous thomas said...

A couple thoughts to try and clarify my own question, and some of the other comments above. (Does anyone else out there ever get a little frustrated with the blog-comment format?)

As far as the in/out question - my problem is not that there are some that are in and others that are out. I affirm completely the centrality of Christ - and realize there are some who will reject Him. My issue is that for much of this discussion we have put ourselves in Christ's role - doling out grace and judgment as we see fit. The way we structure our discussion and questions tempts us into making judgments that are not ours to make. It's great for philosophical arguments and theorizing but is it central to what we as Christians are called to?

I think one way to avoid this situation, as I've tried to think about this - a way to transform the question I guess - is rather than focusing on the revelation we don't have (we just don't have a lot of info about the salvation of Amazonian tribes) and on the revelation we do have in the cross of Christ.

In the cross God has loved us while we were still sinners (Paul in Romans), or as theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes it (and I'm paraphrasing here) God has acted as a friend towards me even when I acted as an enemy towards Him by violating his commands - God has come for His enemies, and the key to the cross is that it is no one's private possession - rather it demands that we see our enemies as people for whom God has given His all.

The cross of Christ challenges any salvation formula - it completely deconstructs the inside/outside question - and it does it in a way that I don't think any other event/belief/theory has been able to do in human history. It is hard for us to remember that even though only one thief accepts Christ for who He is, Christ died just as much for the one who rejects Him as the one who accepts. We get so comfortable with the cross, we want to define its limits, but it totally destroys any such attempts. We focus on defining the one as saved and the other as damned because that comes easily to us - but the reality that Christ died for both calls our own judgment into question - it calls our inside/outside questions into question. That reality is part of why I believe in Christ because the whole idea is so utterly insane by human standards.

I don't think this meditation on the cross is a way of dodging the complexities of our globalized multi-cultural world - a way to shift back into more comfortable evangelical/Christian territory - the cross is not comfortable! (All though we sometimes make it so). It does not offer an easy formula and is such a mysterious and challenging event - and in our response to the cross we perhaps find some clues for our response to the world to how we think God feels about (and acts towards) yak herders and Amazonian tribes who have not heard His name. I think Odyseey is saying something along these lines with the affirmation of God as final judge.

Gdg - in Romans 2 Paul talks about God taking our human histories and backgrounds into account - He doesn't stack the deck in favor of unbelief, or set us up to fail when we meet Him - rather in Christ we will be judged. Which I think is why the cross and Jesus is central to this whole discussion in that in Christ God has come along beside us, joined in our suffering, and transformed it. Jesus is so important because He is God's love most fully expressed - He defines the character of God acting in the world - surprising, challenging, offensive, forgiving, loving...It is not because Christ offers a particular salvation formula that we believe; rather it is because He has broken down the barriers between man and God, He has transcended the in/out questions like I've tried to describe above, He has joined in our suffering, He has conquered death, He is an advocate on our behalf, and grants us hope. I don't know if I'm answering your questions at all - I'm maybe just trying to explain how those of us who affirm Christ as the way to salvation do so not because we feel like it's the right formula among many different formulas but rather because the person of Christ has confronted us and destroyed all such formulas and presented a new model of relationship between God and humanity...

And to some of the other questions and comments out there I would say (er...type) something but this comment is already way too long as it is (once again, frustration with the blog-comment format).

At 28/7/08 09:02, Anonymous ptr said...

I love this topic. Personally, I believe that a person may have a relationship with the one true God and not know his name is Jesus. One passage that has helped me understand this is Romans 2:14-16 where Paul, when discussing how Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the same law, says:

"When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and conflicting thoughts ACCUSE or perhaps EXCUSE them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus." (RSV)

further on in verse 26 he says:

"(26) So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?...(29) He is a real Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal."

When you substitute 'law' with 'Christ' (the new law), it seems to me that all people (Christian and non-Christian alike) are judged by the words of their heart, not their spoken name affiliation. As Jesus himself said, many will come to him saying "Lord, Lord...we went on missions trips, we read our Bibles, we tithed 10%, we know your name"...and he will say "depart from me, I never knew you."

There is no name by which man can be saved than Jesus. I most certainly believe that. But, on the day of judgment, I believe that, just as a shepherd knows his sheep and the sheep know their shepherd, those who followed the spirit of Christ on earth (while knowing his Hebrew name or not) will recognize Him and fall at His feet as He will recognize His own.

At 28/7/08 09:58, Anonymous Anonymous said...

amen thomas.

ptr, when you put it that way, i don't know what to think. it reminds me of the good samaritan. but the parable also reminds us of our feebleness in accomplishing Jesus' standards & therefore our need for Him. it all comes back to God & Christ.

there's a very good explanation on wikipedia.

At 28/7/08 10:10, Anonymous GDG said...


Thank you for your considerate post. I am still trying to decipher whether you and odyssey believe one must use the name Jesus in order to reach salvation. I understand that you have accepted the path to salvation though Jesus Christ, but can we not simply live as an example to others who haven't? Even with the possibility that God has his own plan for them, including a direct relationship with them, without the name Jesus.


Those are some of the scriptures that my mother in law quoted me in reference to people who have not yet been reached with the story of Jesus Christ.

However, she made it clear that IF these same people come into contact with the word, and choose their old way with God, they are indeed rejecting Jesus, thus rejecting God.

So as Richard's post asks, what if the missionaries never met the yak herder, and his family? Is their truth in her answer that, the yak herders family would not have been saved had they rejected the word of Jesus?

At 28/7/08 11:24, Anonymous thomas said...

Gdg - in terms of trying to decipher whether I (and Odyssey - although I speak only for myself here) "believe one must use the name of Jesus in order to reach salvation" I guess I want to say that the name of Jesus is not something we "use." That sort of language continues the sort of "salvation formula" - as if "Jesus, come into my heart" was a magical incantation (for evangelicals like myself anyway) to achieve our desired goal of eternal life or escape from suffering that I want to avoid. And it is why I am (gently) critical of the way Richard phrased the question above and the way many of us have dealt with it - the very structure of the question leads into the comparison of formulas and definitions. Like I said it lends itself to philosophical/theological argument but perhaps misses the point of the revelation that we are debating.

What I'm trying to describe in some of my comments, and I don't think I'm necessarily doing the best job, is that the character of God you (and others) are describing is a God who is loving, who is fair, who meets people where they are at and does not hold them to standards that do not take account for their historical or geographical or personal circumstances - a God who destroys all such formulas for salvation. I guess through all these words I'm trying to say that God you're describing is Jesus. And He refuses to be used - rather He confronts and consoles and offends and extends welcome - He is this living, surprising, challenging person that defies us to set the limits on what He can and cannot do.

This is part of the reason Christ is so appealing and so real - I don't think there is any other belief system or conception of God that explodes our inside/outside, hospitality/violence, salvation/damnation interprative structure (hermeneutic, worldview or however else you'd like to describe it) like the cross of Christ.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians that Christ crucified (a God who dies on behalf of those who oppose Him) is a stumbling block and foolishness to the wise in the world. A number of commenters have said that they "love this topic" - but perhaps it is more that we love arguing about this topic - we love drawing lines and playing God (myself included) in determining definitions. The cross dismantles arguments, and in turn dismantles our very selves as we view it - it calls us and our image of what God looks like in the world into question. It does not provide formulaic/argumentative certainty in terms of eternal salvation, but it does provide a vision of new life - it provides an image of God's movement in the world - and perhaps the mystery and challenge of that image is what we are to apply to the questions of yak herders and Amazonian tribes and sexually abused children and the mentally challenged etc. Which is why in any discussion like this I think the cross must be the central focus - I don't know of any other way to transform our human eagerness to define, to determine with certainty for ourselves, the limits of what we/God can do.

I realize I probably haven't really answered your question - although I've tried my best. I refuse to make proclamations of certainty on the salvation status of the people of the world, but I can only refuse to make such proclamations through Christ. And so I proclaim Christ. Does that make sense? Or at least help you make sense of what I'm trying to speak to here in my various comments?

At 28/7/08 12:06, Anonymous GDG said...


I love the fact that you at least discuss your point of view, while so many Christians will refuse to even consider the bigger question that Richard is posing, even among themselves.

Can we take solace in the fact that those who have accepted God, automatically accept Jesus, whether they like it or not?

I do not believe we are second guessing the cross, or Christ or God, but using the abilities to better understand and act how God would want us to.

What keeps coming into my mind, is who the lowest of the low, the sinners, the prostitutes, and the tax collectors who spent the most time with Jesus(whom HE accepted, thus they accepted him) would be in our society.

I am having trouble expressing my thought about this, but compare these same people to the ones I came across in my own journey.

If Jesus were here today, there is a good chance he would be spending time with them, and not me. He would accept everyone, enemy or not, and die for their sins whether they accepted him or not. He would care, however, that they believed in God in any name...Jehovah, Jesus, Holy Spirit, or however it comes to each person.

At 28/7/08 12:07, Blogger jonatron said...

i agree

At 28/7/08 16:42, Blogger Odyssey said...

Wow, you all had a busy morning! I would just like to add for my part that I think I'm on the same track as Thomas. There is one family experience I might share that may help put this question into some perspective from my on experience...

My parents-in-law went thru an especially difficult time in their marriage several years ago and my wife spent countless hours on the phone with her mother empathizing, consoling, and counseling. As the lunacy of the whole soap opera came to a climax in one of their phone converstaions, my wife was emptied of anything more to offer her very Catholic mother than to throw herself into Jesus arms. At that suggestion her mother went into a screaming rage shouting repeatedly, "NO, NO, NO." This was after I had been a part of the family nearly twenty years myself and spent countless hours discussing with her parents the differences between their personal Cathiolic faith and the faith of myself and their daughter. (Let's be clear and understand I am not bashing Catholics. I know true believing Catholics. This is about their beliefs.) Anyway, it was still rather shocking to my wife that her mother when pressed to actually call on Jesus' name reacted so negatively. Sadly it only affirmed to us the vast gulf seperating our beliefs about God and His Son. Here we have (to this day still) a very religous proclaiming person that at the name of Jesus strongly revolts. I would be hard pressed to rest with any assurance in seeing either of them in eternity. Can I be wrong and does my personal judgment matter? Certainly yes, I can be wrong and no, my judgment matters for nothing. But for myself it seems a good illustration of "believing in God" but when that moves beyond religion to the actual manifestation of God in Jesus, there is something missing. We fear for and continue to pray for their slavation in spite of their religion.

I don't pretend to offer that as a definitive example true in all cases. For myself I simply tend to believe that when God actually brings the truth of His Son to any individual, they hear the message and then reject it... that's troubling.

At 29/7/08 09:23, Anonymous ATA said...

Although I don't think Pastor Richard intended it this way, I think this question can be dangerous in its implications. Jesus Christ must remain at the center. We worship God through Jesus because Jesus is the image of God. Jesus teaches us about the character of God. Jesus is Emmanuel - God with us. In discussing this issue, we must not get away from the central focus: Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). I think it's impossible for someone to know the creator God but not respond to Jesus, for God and Jesus are one in the same. When Jesus is introduced to someone who has been serving the creator God with limited knowledge (because of not having Scripture, or of never hearing the name of Jesus), what joy must fill that person's heart! It's like the lightbulb has turned on. If a person rejects Jesus or finds him irrelevant, he was not really following the true God. I think the point of the yak herder story is this: the man responded to the revelation given him, and God sent people to help him understand more. He received the backpackers' message with joy, because God had already been speaking to him. It's the same with the Ethiopian eunuch. Might he have been saved if Philip hadn't been walking down the road? Maybe, but the point is that God used Philip to speak to this man, and the man went away rejoicing. He was blessed with greater understanding and the chance to start living life more abundantly. When we start speculating about whether people can be saved apart from the name of Jesus, we drift away from Jesus' great commission. We are called to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Whether or not people can be saved without the name of Jesus is not our concern. Our concern is with responding to the revelation we have received - Jesus - and doing what He commanded - telling others about Him. When we start wondering if we really "need" the name of Jesus, we may just miss out on God's call to be a Philip to an Ethiopian, a missionary to a yak herder, or a messenger to a Seattlite.

At 29/7/08 11:28, Anonymous GDG said...


Outside of North America, what percentage of the remaining 6.3 billion will not receive the opportunity to know Jesus, and what will become of them?

This is not to say we are not giving and effort to reach them.

Asking this question does not question our faith, but recognizes that others may be saved without the name of Jesus. It allows us to think outside of our own personal boundaries, and think of others who may not be fortunate enough to know Jesus as God, but know God as God.

Since God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are one and the same, just a different version, it seems implausible to me that one who knows God as God, is worse off than one who knows God as Jesus. They are the same.

I feel like I am repeating myself, but when I read Richards question it was simply to think outside of the box, challenge the norm, and better understand our own beliefs. It frustrates me when we feel we must ignore such questions, when there are so many who believe and do not know God as Jesus.

When I think about Jesus running into a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, a tribesman, a yak herder, and asks him(providing they all speak Aramaic, and manage to be in close proximity: "Do you love God, and believe in God?" As long as they all do, and say yes to Jesus, Jesus would understand they believe in him, as he is God.

Jesus was just that cool. He was also understanding, and forgiving. Jesus and God do not have an ego, and live within their own head.

From what I hear on the street, in church, and through many Christians is, if they were in Jesus' position, they would say, "You must know him as Jesus, otherwise you're wrong, since I KNOW I am right."

This is not to say we should not continue to spread the word as we know it, or be swayed in things we may not take to heart, but we can live in his image and do the best we can.

At 29/7/08 14:25, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But since we do know the name of Jesus, how relevant is this question? Unless you are the yak herder, this is merely a hypothetical question that can't be answered within the limitations of the knowledge God has given us. Remember the tree of _____? Exactly....God knows the answer to this question (do we need to speak the name of Jesus?) and we do not.

As a longtime leader in parachurch and church ministry, most of the time this question is just a distraction. "But what about the yak herder?" is normally spoken by those unwilling to commit wholly to the revelation of Jesus Christ. Are certain verses in the bible ambiguous on this issue? Sure. But are many other verses absolutely crystal clear? Yes. 1 John 3:23 states, "And this is His command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us."

Believe in the name of Jesus. Love one another. It is that simple.

Do we need the name of Jesus? Yes. But we also need to love one another. Does God leave a door open that others, somewhere out there herding Yaks, may not need the name of Jesus? Not relevant.

I agree with ata, concerning ourselves overly with issues outside of the Great Commission to spread the name of Jesus Christ while loving our neighbors is the point.

At 29/7/08 16:01, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a difficult thing. I have many generous, gentle, kind-hearted friends who are seeking. I even have some who have tried praying and have stated that they "just can't hear anything" (which, as one of their only Christian friends, is quite troublesome to try and walk someone through).

Ultimately, I have no answer. None, whatsoever. I can debate and hypothesize and listen to those who are much more wise than I, but no answer comes.

I find peace in the words of John Newton: "If I ever reach heaven I expect to find three wonders there: first, to meet some I had not thought to see there; second, to miss some I had expected to see there; and third, the greatest wonder of all, to find myself there."

I don't know who will be "saved" or not (without a doubt, any guess I make on a "salvation-formula" will be wrong), but I'm excited to see those I might not have expected.

At 29/7/08 16:27, Blogger Odyssey said...

I know so much of scripture is often hard to swallow. As I have been reading through the entire Old Testament story over the past year it has been stunning the twists and turns between God and His chosen people. More stunning still is the seeming disregard He often displays for other races, sometimes wiping them from existence. I think we forget that it is His plan not ours. Our vision is so broken as to make many of His actions appear imcomprehensible. We must return to who God is. Do we really believe in a God who is in this both for us and Himself? Do we believe He is immutably good? Does He have the wisdom, willingness, want and wherewithall to carry out His perfect and loving plan? Is He in fact sovereign as our Creator, Sustainer and Director? If anyone comes to believe in that God, then they've done all they can and all the rest is His to do.

At 30/7/08 10:24, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would say that even suggesting the possiblity of that being true is absurd. It may be fun to mentally create a possible world where that is true. Proposing this to be true undermines the Gospel and special revelation. Jesus is The Word not The Hallucination. Dreams and visions may point people to Jesus but the content of scripture is necessary and key to salvation otherwise scripture would not exist.

At 30/7/08 11:13, Blogger bunabear said...

I just wanted to note that in my opinion, posting this question;

<<”In other words, can someone be saved by simply looking at the created order and calling out, worship, and expressing thanks to the one who made it, though they've never heard about Christ?>>”

and then encouraging open discussion is very courageous, indeed. I have found many of Richard’s postings to push the boundaries of what is “expected” from a minister of the Gospel. I also get that sense while listening to many of his sermons on the BCC podcast. My faith grows when my mind is being challenged. Thanks Richard.

At 30/7/08 12:15, Blogger Karis said...

I think of the fact that we are saved by grace, through faith. I do think that God's general revelation could be enough for people to see that there IS a God, that He is Good, and that any failings they see in themselves, He must be able to same them from those.

All the people who lived before Christ, who believed God (as Abraham did), were saved by Jesus, even though they didn't know His name.

It seems enough to have faith that the God of creation CAN and DOES save.

Most people may not think it through that far, though, because of pride and also the enemy's blindfolds. People also want or need confirmation. So, there is still plenty of work to do, helping them along, telling the story of how exactly God went about saving the world, and who exactly they have to thank and worship.

Beyond that, we who follow Christ can attest to the richness of life that comes from knowing Him better each day we live on this earth. If we want others to have the fullest life they can, they really should get to know Jesus as soon as may be.

At 31/7/08 12:44, Anonymous Dan said...

The Bible seems pretty clear on all of this. Before the beginning of time God knew His children/those he would save. No one that is His elect will be lost. It is God who saves and gives people the gift of faith; we have no capacity, in our spiritual deadness, to come to God. Only He can quicken us to come to Him. We need to be born again to be saved, and it is God that gives us new birth/new life. After we receive this gift we, finally, are ABLE to see and believe. Traditionally (well, actually, in the last century, through Armenian theology) we have been taught that we “need to be born again”. But we don’t “get ourselves born again”. God regenerates us, gives us new birth FIRST, which then allows us to see the truth and be saved. Whether we “make it” to Nepal to give the message to the people there puts the onus on us, and the Bible is clear that the onus is on God to save, not man. It would be like God is sitting up there, seeing a person that he wants to save, but because some missionaries’ plane crashed, the poor Nepalese person is condemned to eternal damnation. That makes no logical sense, nor does it allow for God’s sovereignty and will to prevail at all times. Even people who do go to Hell are there because it is God’s will through his justice. This doesn’t take away our responsibility to evangelize, because, frankly, Jesus tells us to evangelize in His Great Commission. However our evangelizing is God’s instrument through which HE saves people. But His elect are His elect, and none will be lost. God’s Word is the revelation to us of the one true God, and anyone who is supposed to hear the name of the Lord Jesus and believe in Him WILL be saved. Man has no role in his own or anyone else’s salvation--other than to believe--which only God can GIVE we spiritually dead people the ability to do. God raised Lazarus from the dead. God raised Jesus from the dead. God raises his people from the dead. We have no part in raising ourselves. Once I understood this traditional understanding of Christianity—which the early church councils all fought to retain through The Council of Nicaea, The Council of Constantinople, The Council of Ephesus and the Council of Chalcedon—I felt liberated. Not from my responsibility to share the Word, but from my responsibility to play a real part in “saving” people. My part is only to share the word, and those whom God ordained to save through the message He instructed me to bring will be saved. Again, none will be lost.

All this to say that one cannot be saved through some sort of general revelation. All man has general revelation. It is the special revelation that saves us. It may seem unfair or exclusionary to man for God to give special revelation to some and not others, but then, ‘who are you O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him that formed it, ‘why did you make me like this?” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? Romans 9:20-21


At 4/8/08 21:50, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Odyssey asked, "Has anyone ever heard of someone receiving such a vision and no one comes to them in Jesus' name with the message to fulfil the vision?"

I was called to serve God, this was my vision, but never received the message. Sickness and evil in the world prevented me from following God, though the ache of an unanswered calling lay in my heart for years.

At 5/8/08 17:22, Blogger Odyssey said...


I can only ask the simple question of what have you done now that you have obviously heard the answer to your vision? Unless you have read nothing more is this blog than that question you have heard much of the fullness of who and what Jesus is about. So now what has been your response?


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