Five Eternal Gifts from God - Christ 1
In the Middle Ages, the pastor or priest was seen as having a special relationship with God, as he mediated God's grace and forgiveness through the sacraments. But there were other challenges. We often think of our own age as unique, with its religious pluralism and the advent of so many religions. However, not too long before the Reformation, the Renaissance thinker Petrarch was calling for an Age of the Spirit in which all religions would be united.
Many Renaissance minds were convinced that there was a saving revelation of God in nature and that, therefore, Christ was not the only way to have access to God. The fascination with pagan philosophy encouraged the idea that natural religion offered a great deal--indeed, even salvation--to those who did not know Christ.
The Reformation was, more than anything else, an assault on faith in humanity, and a defense of the idea that God alone reveals Himself and saves us through the person and finished work of Jesus Christ. We do not find Him; He finds us. That emphasis was the cause of the cry, "Christ alone!" Jesus was the only way of knowing what God is really like, the only way of entering into a relationship with Him as father instead of judge, and the only way of being saved from His wrath.
Today, once more, this affirmation of Solus Christus is in trouble. According to University of Virginia sociologist James Hunter, 35% of evangelical seminarians deny that faith in Christ is absolutely necessary. According to pollster George Barna, that is the same figure for conservative, evangelical Protestants in America: They agreed, "God will save all good people when they die, regardless of whether they've trusted in Christ."
Eighty-five percent of American adults believe that they will stand before God to be judged. They believe in hell, but only 11% think they will go there. R.C. Sproul observed that to the degree that people think they are good enough to pass divine inspection, and are oblivious to the holiness of God, to that extent they will not see Christ as necessary for salvation. That is why over one-fourth of the "born again" evangelicals surveyed agreed with a statement that one would think might raise red flags even for those who might agree with the same thing more subtly put: "If a person is good, or does enough good things for others during life, they will earn a place in Heaven."
Furthermore, when asked whether they agreed with the following statement: "Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and others all pray to the same God, even though they use different names for that God," two-thirds of the evangelicals didn't find that objectionable. George Barna observes "how little difference there is between the responses of those who regularly attend church services and those who are un-churched." One respondent, an Independent Fundamentalist, said, "What is important in their case is that they have conformed to the law of God as they know it in their hearts."
But this cultural influence toward relativism is not only apparent in the masses; it is self-consciously asserted by some of evangelicalism's own teachers. Clark Pinnock states, "The Bible does not teach that one must confess the name of Jesus Christ to be saved. The issue God cares about is the direction of the heart, not the content of their theology."
For those of us who have some inkling of the direction of their heart (see Jeremiah 17:9), that might not be as comforting as Pinnock assumes.