Friday, May 25, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: From the Pit of Hell

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

The man who would be president, former nominee Mitt Romney, is troubled that a minister from Dallas has been asked to open the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem with a prayer.

Romney’s objection?

“Robert Jeffress says ‘you can’t be saved by being a Jew,’ and ‘Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell.’ He’s said the same about Islam.”

Tom: Oh dear. Let’s talk a little bit about so-called religious bigotry, IC. What do you think: is “pit of hell” maybe a tad strong?

Inflammatory Language

Immanuel Can: I’m going to consider “from the pit of hell” as a metaphor for “originating with the devil”. (We can argue about the precise cosmology later.) If Islam and Mormonism are lies that send people to hell, then we have scriptural warrant for knowing that they derive from a single source, the “father of lies”, who clearly likes very little so much as seeing people go to hell. That being so, the metaphor would seem just.

Tom: It certainly makes the point, and not unbiblically. I note that in James the tongue is “set on fire by Gehenna”, which metaphorically ascribes malicious activity to the final destination of both Satan and his followers. So, like you, I’m not overly worked up about the theological fine-tuning of his rhetoric. But I don’t think Mitt is as concerned about Jeffress’ turn of phrase as he is irate about his no-nonsense pronouncement on the eternal status of Mormons, Jews and Muslims.

The ‘Brotherhood’ of Man

To make that point even more explicit, after being told of Romney’s complaint, Jeffress doubled down:
“Historic Christianity has taught for 2,000 years that salvation is through faith in Christ alone. The fact that I, along with tens of millions of evangelical Christians around the world, continue to espouse that belief, is neither bigoted nor newsworthy.”
So does this mean Jews, Muslims and Mormons are not our “brothers”, IC?

IC: Of course. The “brotherhood of man” is an idea taught absolutely nowhere in scripture. It was sentimentally introduced by liberal-humanists of a nominally “Christian” kind in early part of the last century. Nowadays, it’s sometimes asserted by the ignorant as if it were some core value of Christianity, but only by those whose ignorance of theology exceeds even their credulity. It’s not a Christian idea.

But we can easily see that, biblically speaking, men aren’t “brothers” unless they have the same Father.

The Perils of Logically Exclusive Belief Systems

Tom: Is it unkind to emphasize that? That seems to be Romney’s major complaint: it ain’t cricket to call a cult a … cult.

IC: Romney’s not even making sense. One should ask him, “Do you mean that people who believe what you believe are better off than those who don’t?” If he says no, then he’s clearly not asking you to believe him; it’s not better to believe him. If he says yes, then he’s just as exclusivist as every other ideology and religion in the world. And when a person can’t even keep faith with himself, you can be sure he’s speaking nonsense.

ALL belief systems are logically exclusive in that way. That is, they all say they’re better than other belief systems. And that is no less true of the “liberal humanist” flavored ones than of the most fundamentalist. Why else do the liberal humanists get upset about fundamentalism?

Points of Disconnection

Tom: Okay, how about Islam? Is there any point of connection with Christianity there that Jeffress failed to preserve?

IC: “Point of connection?” In the sense that Islam is a late-comer (though not as late as Mormonism), and a badly distorted take on some elements of Judaism and Christianity (again, like Mormonism), you might see some superficial “connections”. There is some commonality of vocabulary and they borrow some content. But in regard to everything essential — basic facts of history, the word of God, salvation, the Savior, eternal destiny, righteousness, the gospel, eschatology, the nature of God himself … and so on — both Islam and Mormonism are in nowise Christian. Quite the contrary.

You just have to know the most rudimentary particulars about these religions, and you know for certain that’s true.

Not a ‘Judeo-Christian’?

Tom: Agreed. Now comes the hard part: Judaism. You know how people love to use the phrase “Judeo-Christian”, as if we’re all some sort of related religious bloc. Can we agree with Jeffress that “you can’t be saved by being a Jew”? Or is that too hard?

IC: I guess you’d have to answer the question, “What is a Jew?”

Tom: Well, that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it. Okay, can you be saved by observing the Old Testament, Mosaic legal requirements, or by what they have been transformed into by orthodox Judaism in 2018?

IC: “By the deeds of the Law shall no flesh be justified in [God’s] sight.” I think that covers it.

Tom: Wait. So you’re saying … um … that nothing this crazy Baptist said about these other religions is technically unchristian?

IC: Right. In fact, what’s unchristian is our present-day reluctance to speak the truth. Rather than appear to alienate, upset or exclude anyone, we would be quite happy to see all our neighbors literally go to hell.

And how unchristian is that?

Gilding the Lily

Tom: Final question here: Would it have made Jeffress’ comment more ‘Christian’ if he’d phrased it delicately, danced around the hard truth, and qualified all his statements? Like, say, “I love all Jews, Muslims and Mormons and pray that you will one day know the joy of bowing the knee to Jesus Christ and coming into a right relationship with him, and I recognize that a bunch of you are well-meaning and do lots of good works, and some of you have never known any other way, but I … er … regret to inform you that your religions are false and worthless, and unless you repent you will all perish.”

IC: That just makes him seem ashamed of the gospel and unwilling to invest himself in the truth of his message. How are people to reconcile the two tones in such a message — the fawning, sycophantic language of accommodation to modern prejudices, coupled later with an apologetic presentation of very hard facts? It’s ambiguous, it’s duplicitous, and it’s very self-serving. I’d say that such a person was caring more for his own public image than for the salvation of his hearers.

Tom: Another thing I am discovering about over-qualifying your position in advance to avoid giving offense is that people get bored and stop listening, and then miss the whole point. You kinda have to cut to the chase these days.

The Offense of the Gospel

IC: Here’s the issue, Tom: we can focus on coming across to the world as personally tolerant, open-minded, inclusive, inoffensive and so on, or we can take ownership of the message and accept that what the Lord said is true — that those who preach the truth will find themselves hated and persecuted by that world. And while it is quite true that one can be persecuted for one’s own folly, it is not true that you can ever preach the gospel ...

Tom: ... part of which is that, outside of Christ, religious and irreligious people alike are sinners alienated from God and destined for hell ...

IC: ... without thereby making yourself hateful to the world. That your message offends people is no certain guarantee of your faithfulness in delivering it. But if you consistently have the approval of the world, that’s an absolute guarantee you’re a compromiser. Then you’re not merely a friend of the world — you’re an enemy of God.

My verdict on Mr. Jeffress? I don’t know whether or not his wording is perfect; but he has spoken the plain truth, and done so in a way in which the right offense is given. I say God bless him for that.

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