More on the Pew Survey and Salvation

Last week we reported on the new Pew Survey, which reported that a majority of American Christians believe that adherents of other faiths will be saved. As might be expected, this survey has caused quite a bit of discussion, including an op-ed in yesterday's New York Times by Charles Blow:

In June, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a controversial survey in which 70 percent of Americans said that they believed religions other than theirs could lead to eternal life.

This threw evangelicals into a tizzy. . . .

The evangelicals complained that people must not have understood the question. The respondents couldn’t actually believe what they were saying, could they?

So in August, Pew asked the question again. (They released the results last week.) Sixty-five percent of respondents said — again — that other religions could lead to eternal life. But this time, to clear up any confusion, Pew asked them to specify which religions. The respondents essentially said all of them.

And they didn’t stop there. Nearly half also thought that atheists could go to heaven — dragged there kicking and screaming, no doubt — and most thought that people with no religious faith also could go.

What on earth does this mean?

One very plausible explanation is that Americans just want good things to come to good people, regardless of their faith. As Alan Segal, a professor of religion at Barnard College told me: “We are a multicultural society, and people expect this American life to continue the same way in heaven.” He explained that in our society, we meet so many good people of different faiths that it’s hard for us to imagine God letting them go to hell. In fact, in the most recent survey, Pew asked people what they thought determined whether a person would achieve eternal life. Nearly as many Christians said you could achieve eternal life by just being a good person as said that you had to believe in Jesus.

Read it all here.

Albert Mohler is not happy:

This survey cannot easily be dismissed. The specificity of the responses and the quality of the research sample indicate that we face a serious decline in confidence in the Gospel. When 34% of white evangelicals reject the truth that Jesus is the only Savior, we are witnessing a virtual collapse of evangelical theology.

There is also additional cause for concern. As Cathy Lynn Grossman reports, "Pew's new survey also found that many Christians (29%) say they are saved by their good actions; 30% say salvation is through belief in Jesus, God or a higher power alone, which is the core teaching of evangelical Protestantism; and 10% say salvation is found through a combination of behavior and belief, a view closer to Catholic teachings."

Read it all here.

Comments (5)

Reading the Pew findings, I'm grateful for their thoroughness. What I see here is that Anglicanism's longstanding openness to human experience and respect for reason as part of our way of knowing God is in line broad religious hope and truth that many Americans have found for themselves - matching what Christian mystics and workers for justice have known since apostolic times. Former Bishop of Pittsburgh Bob Duncan faults our presiding bishop for saying Jesus is her Way to the Father. He says anything less than 'the only way' isn't Christian. History and the open hearing of the public are both on the side of the Episcopal Church. If we're stumbling in evangelism or failing to capture the hearts and imaginations of our contemporaries, it isn't because we've got the wrong message.

To elaborate on what Donald Schell said, Christian exclusivism simply runs contrary to common experience. Most of us know non-Christians whose lives are as exemplary and as blessed as that of anyone in the ranks of the born-again. On the other side of the coin, most of us know committed Christians who are living difficult and painful lives. And no one actually knows what happens to us after this life. It's simply not credible to claim that accepting Jesus is a guaranteed path to eternal happiness, let alone the only one.

D. C. Toedt

The questions don't ask enough.

Define "saved".

If "Saved" means "go to heaven" or "eternal happiness" then I'm quite willing to allow it for anyone God chooses to give it to. That's not what salvation means because it makes Jesus out to be only a fire-escape, a get-out-of-hell-free card.

I tend to imagine (perhaps wrongly) that this is what the Evangelical leaders mean by "salvation" that that is a total collapse of historical Christian theology: a Reductio ad absurdum that ignores the teachings of Saints and Doctors for the last 2000 years.

The Greek word "sozo" (= "Saved") means "made whole". And while I think it is only because of God becoming Flesh in Jesus that it is possible for us humans to be sozo, I think that there are many millions following God in the way of Jesus in peaceful, loving and revolutionary ways that we (Christians) prefer to ignore. As Ana Hernandez (at the Episcopal Bookstore) used to say, "Sometimes the Pagans are better Christians than the Christians."

The question this raises for me is why the gospel of John should have more weight than the gospel of Matthew. In Matthew, Jesus welcomes all those who served others, saying "you did this to me." It seems to me that it is not outside the realm of Scripture or orthodoxy to allow that God's grace may welcome those who follow God's great commandment of love whether in the name of Jesus or not.

Laura Toepfer

"Albert Mohler is not happy:
...we face a serious decline in confidence in the Gospel."

Really? I find the growth of universalistic faith a great TRIUMPH of the Gospel: "If I be lifted up, I will draw ALL humanity to me". Alleluia!

[Re "When 34% of white evangelicals reject the truth that Jesus is the only Savior, we are witnessing a virtual collapse of evangelical theology." So white people define orthodox faith now? No comment.]

JC Fisher

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