How far is Heaven?: The Pluralistic Challenge to Jesus

The above video is “Yahweh,” by the band U2.  The name “Yahweh” is one of the primary names for God in Hebrew.  It was a deeply personal name, so much so that when the name “Yahweh” was printed, the Hebrews used to switch to the name “Adonai” (analogous to “Lord”) out of reverential fear.

In U2’s video, however, the name “Yahweh” is invoked in the context of a wide variety of religious symbols.  We live in a culture that advocates pluralism.  Author Leslie Newbigin says that pluralism comes in two forms.  In its descriptive form, pluralism simply means that we live in a nation whose first amendment rights allow for the worship of a wide range of different faiths.  In its prescriptive form, pluralism means that all belief systems are superficially different yet fundamentally the same in their advocacy of peace, love, and moral behavior.

Christianity has long affirmed that in contrast to prescriptive pluralism, Jesus is the only way to connect with God.  The sermon “How far is Heaven?” describes the way that Jesus stands in contrast to other religious systems, of both His day and our own.

But we catch an earlier glimpse of this in Luke 7:1-10.  A centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant.  A centurion was a Gentile – though we’re told that this man held loyalty to God.  The elders of the Jews pleaded with Jesus that this man is “worthy.”  But when Jesus agrees, the man denies his own worthiness before Christ, instead affirming Jesus’ ability to heal from a distance.

The scene is significant, especially since Luke was a Gentile, writing to his Gentile friend Theophilus.  God’s blessing is poured out on someone other than God’s chosen race: I tell you,” Jesus says, “not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

The man knew two things: (1) his own lack of worth and (2) Jesus’ supreme worth.  And the fact that the centurion came from a background other than Judaism reveals God’s plan for all people:

“Whether it is a Jew whose tradition is fulfilled or a pagan whose appropriate response to the light available is completed, the way to Jesus involves some discontinuity with the past (hence the sense of unworthiness of sin) and a submission to a new authority (the lordship of Jesus).

For Luke, Jesus is the ultimate revelation toward which all others point.  Whether Jesus is related to other religious traditions primarily as judge or primarily as the fulfillment or completion depends upon the degree of discontinuity or continuity between the other traditions and the revelation in Jesus.  Even those religious traditions with the greatest continuity to Jesus still stand before him ‘unworthy’ and in need of submission to his ultimate authority.”  (Charles H. Talbert, Reading Luke, p. 86)

The next posts will focus on the question, “How far is Heaven?” and the interaction between Jesus and the various beliefs of our own day.

If you’re interested in learning more about pluralism and Christianity, you can read a series of posts I did regarding the Brit Hume scandal a few years ago:

Intro: Tiger Woods, Brit Hume: Who Should “Repent?”

Christianity and Religious Diversity (Part 1)

Christianity and Religious Diversity (Part 2): Religion and All His Friends

Christianity and Religious Diversity (Part 3): Coexist or Else

Christianity and Religious Diversity (Part 4): The Problem with Pluralism

Christianity and Religious Diversity (Part 5): Christianity’s Exclusive Claim

Christianity and Religious Diversity (Part 6): Building Bridges

Christianity and Religious Diversity (Part 7): Recommended Reading

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