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Only One Way To Heaven 
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 Only One Way To Heaven
In our pluralistic world many people think what you believe has little or no bearing on your eternal future. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus made it perfectly clear in the New Testament with these words, "No person comes to the Father(God) except through me." In other words, only faith in what Jesus did on the cross in dying for our sins can give any of us the hope of heaven. :hmm:


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Post Re: Only One Way To Heaven
craigdressler wrote:
In our pluralistic world many people think what you believe has little or no bearing on your eternal future. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus made it perfectly clear in the New Testament with these words, "No person comes to the Father(God) except through me." In other words, only faith in what Jesus did on the cross in dying for our sins can give any of us the hope of heaven. :hmm:


Except, of course, Jesus was only one of hundreds of religious sages. If one thinks that Jesus is "the only Way", one is obligated to examine and refute the "Ways" offered by other spiritual teachers. A colossal task, requiring objectivity and the ability to understand new data and critique it logically and objectively.



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Post Re: Only One Way To Heaven
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_cont ... gZm0x1Tams


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Post Re: Only One Way To Heaven
tat tvam asi wrote:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=25&v=KgZm0x1Tams


Thanks Tat, Alan Watts is great. Hope you are well.


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Post Re: Only One Way To Heaven
craigdressler wrote:
In our pluralistic world many people think
Although many also don't.
craigdressler wrote:
many people think what you believe has little or no bearing on your eternal future. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus made it perfectly clear in the New Testament with these words, "No person comes to the Father(God) except through me."

While I respect the concern you have for the eternal souls of other people, I fear that your (mis)understanding of what God was communicating to us through Jesus is deflecting you from actually engaging with the message.

I have a couple of questions for you. First, regarding Matthew 25, verses 31 to 46, about the division between the sheep and the goats, would you say it is possible that those who did kind deeds to the poor, even though they did not recognize that they were doing them to Jesus, were "coming to the Father through me"?
craigdressler wrote:
In other words, only faith in what Jesus did on the cross in dying for our sins can give any of us the hope of heaven. :hmm:

Second, if our very eternal souls depended on this "faith in what Jesus did on the cross in dying for our sins", why did Jesus say so little about it? In your opinion, of course.



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Post Re: Only One Way To Heaven
craigdressler wrote:
. . . In other words, only faith in what Jesus did on the cross in dying for our sins can give any of us the hope of heaven. :hmm:

What if a person was born in a remote area of Sudan where the vast majority of people are Muslim and has never been taught anything about Christianity? Seems like a lottery. Only those who happened to be born and raised in the Christian faith get to go to heaven. Your (Christian) God works in mysterious ways.


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Wait honey...I'm on the last chapter!

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Post Re: Only One Way To Heaven
Harry Marks wrote:
First, regarding Matthew 25, verses 31 to 46, about the division between the sheep and the goats, would you say it is possible that those who did kind deeds to the poor, even though they did not recognize that they were doing them to Jesus, were "coming to the Father through me"?

Yes, and what about the opposite where Christians of strong faith, who believe Salvation is through Grace not through good works, and therefore do NOT minister to those in prison or feed the hungry? They believe in "what Jesus did on the cross," but wind up in the Eternal Sulphurous Fires of Hell anyway!


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Post Re: Only One Way To Heaven
So I take it craigdressler is basically a troll, out to get a negative response that will confirm his superiority over the heathens?

Sorry, I am trying to clean up my act, to be more understanding and polite, but am not succeeding in this case.



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Wait honey...I'm on the last chapter!

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Post Re: Only One Way To Heaven
Well I doubt he's a troll - joined in 2012, posted only 24 times, last post was 5 months ago. People come and go, especially those not interested in the science / humanism emphasis on this site.

I would be interested in responses our questions about Matthew 25 though. That chapter is cited frequently, there is even a local charity with international reach named after it. However as we've discussed, those passages seem to contradict much of current dogma. Perhaps someone else will have a crack at it...



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Post Re: Only One Way To Heaven
The title of this thread is Only One Way To Heaven.

I'm in complete agreement. The one and only way to heaven is through a vivid imagination.



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Post Re: Only One Way To Heaven
LanDroid wrote:
Well I doubt he's a troll - joined in 2012, posted only 24 times, last post was 5 months ago.

Okay, thanks. Hit and run strikes me as approximately as trying as a troll, and I guess I will refrain from feeding him.

LanDroid wrote:
I would be interested in responses our questions about Matthew 25 though.

The tension between Paul's theology of grace and the alternate theology of the Kingdom has been around for a long time. If you read the Epistle of James, for example, the tension was clearly present in the first century.

There are huge gaps in our knowledge of the processes in the early church. Essentially no relevant documents date from before 100 C.E. and most of what we have from the next century are manuscripts from "church fathers" such as Iranaeus and the gnostic texts from the Nag Hammadi library. The earliest manuscripts of the Gospels are generally copies from the Vulgate ca. 400 (although there is much excitement about a fragment of Mark found recently in a mummy's tomb, dating from 150 to 250).

What we are learning more and more about as time goes by is the cultural milieu of the early church. Recent scholarship concerning Paul has challenged long assumption about both what he said (translations were influenced by later theology to distort some key passages) and what he meant. One recent, very reputable book, argues that Paul only meant "salvation through Jesus" to apply to the Gentiles, who were unquestionably his assigned mission field, which would explain why he repeatedly insists that the Law is a good and positive thing, a pivotal part of his message often swept under the rug by theological commentators. If Paul thought of Torah as the "way to salvation" for Jews, and Jesus as the "way to salvation" for the Gentiles he wrote to, it reconciles a number of apparent contradictions.

This gets us into the question of what is meant by "salvation." One thing that Christian culture almost unquestionably gotten wrong about Paul and the early church is the focus on judgment in the afterlife. It appears in the Gospels, although in inconsistent references that sound more like gripping imagery than like peeks under the curtain at the secret workings of supernatural things. (So forgive me if I have trouble engaging with Matthew 25 directly).

Salvation up through the time of Paul was seen in terms of a renewal of the Earth, with violent kingdoms overthrown in favor of a peaceful "Reign of God" that worked entirely through righteousness and supernatural intervention. Paul seems to have thought of Jesus' Resurrection as the signal of the beginning of the overthrow. The concept of individual "reaching the goal" and "obtaining a crown" is interpreted in later theology as a clear reference to the afterlife, but since Paul was really talking about a new Kingdom on Earth, it is hard to unpick the biblical references to see if he meant a "kingdom in people's hearts" as N.T. Wright spins things, or a supernatural existence in which everyone has existence as a spirit but probably not a body.

So drop your ideas of individual judgment in an afterlife if you want to make sense of the Biblical "Kingdom/Grace" tension. Matthew 25 should be seen primarily as another "reversal" saying, along the lines of "The first shall be last and the last shall be first," or "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth". The judgment is not for performance of Torah, but for empathetic actions to help the unfortunate and the marginalized. A number of other passages in the Gospels, such as Jesus' back and forth with the Rich Young Ruler, strongly reinforce this idea. Jesus did not seem to be giving us a peek at the supernatural so much as telling us the main thing people had wrong about it.

Once you have that clear, you can read the Gospels with understanding. Mark's Gospel, very likely the earliest and a source for the other three, and Matthew and Luke which follow Mark's "Synoptic" format, center on "The Kingdom". This was a concept already used, referring back to prophetic literature including Isaiah and Daniel. When Jesus began his ministry he went to the synagogue and proclaimed that the Kingdom was coming right there in the middle of them, with his ministry. The prophecies were fulfilled, essentially. This is the view of the Gospel writers, which may or may not have reflected the dominant theology of the early church. Then at the end of the Gospels you find out that it meant he would be crucified and then would rise again.

We are left to our own devices to work out the implications. It wasn't very many centuries before church catechism for new converts was telling them that Jesus had died as some kind of payment for their sins (with the Epistle to the Hebrews having the only strong and clear expression of this, believe it or not). But it is quite possible that this is a convenient interpretation cobbled together from poetic references that don't mean that at all.

So, after a lot of background, where does that leave the grace/works or faith/works tension? The exlanation that makes most sense to me is that the content of salvation is the works of mercy that result. That isn't a test, or a judgment we have to pass, it is the point. It is the pearl of great price, to have a life in which one manages to do good things for others because that is what makes life meaningful. And of course it works best in a society of caring, in which there are not a few people with swords (or missiles) extracting their material comforts from the crowds of faceless nobodies, but rather those who "get" why helping others makes life rich and sweet do their best to introduce others to the fun.

Although Paul and the Gospel writers undoubtedly interpreted these categories in supernatural terms, it should be remembered that there was no clear demarcation at the time between the natural and the supernatural. People were often possessed by demons. Healings were not considered unbelievable by anyone (any more than you would be surprised if someone went to the hospital sick and came back well).

So what Paul was doing was introducing a new insight, or perhaps one could say a new mechanism, whereby people who were not part of a community of Torah could still join a community of salvation. Like Abraham, who lived before there were "Hebrews" or "Israelites" and first came to the land we now call Israel, you could pull up stakes from the way of life you knew before and join the Kingdom way of life. And the result would be "salvation" in a complex process.

The mechanism is by God's grace through our faith: God forgives us ("justifies" us, in Paul's terms - a whole new set of issues to sort out) not because of anything we did but because it pleases God to offer that, as exemplified by Jesus voluntarily dying. Did Jesus die as payment? Or as example, to show us what is meaningful and what gives life on an eternal plane? Paul does not say, nor does anyone else in the NT, really.

It would have been clear to Paul and the early church that Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah, and had deliberately botched the process of becoming a military Messiah (Reza Aslan in "Zealot" says he was seriously trying to conduct a revolt, but Aslan has to posit a massive coverup whereby the early church changed the message to avoid provoking the Romans, which would imply that they deliberately included, in their act of cowardice, an indictment of the disciples for their cowardice).

So, particularly in light of the Resurrection Event, as a result of which the Body of Christ carried on the outreach process, the early Church opted for an endorsement of Salvation, and the Kingdom, as a peaceful or at least supernatural transformation of society. And Paul's thesis should be seen as saying this happens, at least among the Gentiles, by the intervention of the love of Jesus, rather than by cultivating a community of keeping Torah.

Add to this the pervasive "gift of the Holy Spirit" in which ecstatic practices of the church seemed to be a direct demonstration of spiritual power. Instead of the slow process of bringing the Kingdom by keeping Sabbath and otherwise seeking to please God rather than to gain status, there was a lightning strike of spiritual revelation, demonstrated by speaking in tongues, prophesying, etc when joining the others for worship. (I don't do any of that myself, in case you are wondering.)

Paul's argument is that faith, i.e. trust in the power of a crucified and resurrected Messiah, would save us rather than the slow process of living on a path of righteous practices. Nothing wrong with a path of righteousness - that's the point of salvation. But faith is meant to enable God both to "justify" us (probably meaning to square the accounts about sin, but not obviously from the text) and to "transform" us. Transformation, like justification, now has a quick path, not just a slow path.

The author of James (the name refers to the leader of the Jerusalem Christians, who is usually identified as Jesus' brother) says, "Fine, you show me your faith and I will show you, by my works, my faith. Faith without works is dead". He was pushing back against a relatively early version of Paul's argument which went on to say, basically, not only do we not have to keep Sabbath, and kosher, and circumcision to be okay with God, but we also don't have to be kind to anyone. James argues that this more or less misses the point.

Luther called James "the Epistle of Straw" because it seemed to bring back a process of comparison and self-righteousness and earning God's love. But it is easy for us to see now that Luther was reflecting a thousand years of otherworldly interpretation of the whole salvation business, in which the church's claim to power was its ability to grant forgiveness for sin (and condemn you to eternal Hell if you were impertinent). It's just the wrong set of questions, but they were the only questions people in Luther's time knew to ask.

It has often been noted that today's Evangelical Christians have turned "right belief" into yet another "test of righteousness." They have brought back a "performance Gospel", (even though they claim they are preaching the opposite) and it is easy to see that such a thing has a powerful grip on the human imagination. But it is clearly not what Jesus was talking about in the Gospels, and probably Jesus' effort to transcend such legalism is of a piece with Paul's message of salvation by God's grace through our faith.

LanDroid wrote:
However as we've discussed, those passages seem to contradict much of current dogma. Perhaps someone else will have a crack at it...
Those who are invested in the later version, where Salvation is all about judgement in an afterlife, may indeed want to explain their views. But their "logic" will come down to arguing what the essentially contradictory (in the framework of judgment rather than that of transformation) passages in the Bible "must mean," rather than giving an account of how it made sense in the first century as an explanation about this life, not just the life to come.



Thu Jul 05, 2018 8:08 am
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Wait honey...I'm on the last chapter!

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 Re: Only One Way To Heaven
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“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

There's the critical passage from Matthew 25, in red because God spake it. Note the statements in bold, direct messages about the faith / works / salvation conundrum. This sets up a powerful cognitive dissonance, which Yuval Noah Harari discusses in Sapiens, the non-fiction book we're currently discussing.
Quote:
If tensions, conflicts and irresolvable dilemmas are the spice of every culture, a human being who belongs to any particular culture must hold contradictory beliefs and be riven by incompatible values. It's such an essential feature of any culture that it even has a name: cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance if often considered a failure of the human psyche. In fact, it is a vital asset. Had people been unable to hold contradictory beliefs and values, it would probably have been impossible to establish and maintain any human culture.

If, say, a Christian really wants to understand the Muslims who attend that mosque down the street, he shouldn't look for a pristine set of values that every Muslim holds dear. Rather, he should enquire into the catch-22s of Muslim culture, those places where rules are at war and standards scuffle. It's at the very spot where the Muslims teeter between two imperatives that you'll understand them best.
Chapter 9, pgs. 165-166 (? - Kindle)

One feature of cognitive dissonance is people actually feel the tension / contradiction and attempt to reduce that stress through various means. So how do Christians reduce the dissonance of Faith Vs. Works? If I understand correctly, Harry Marks avoids it by saying Jesus was not talking about the afterlife in the above passage, it's about behavior and a transformation in this world.
Quote:
So drop your ideas of individual judgment in an afterlife if you want to make sense of the Biblical "Kingdom/Grace" tension.
...The exlanation that makes most sense to me is that the content of salvation is the works of mercy that result. That isn't a test, or a judgment we have to pass, it is the point. It is the pearl of great price, to have a life in which one manages to do good things for others because that is what makes life meaningful.

I like that, but it will never fly with most Christians in America, a hyper-judgmental group. So how do fundamentalist Christians reduce this tension? Harry thinks they need an elaborate method to explain it away. I don't know, but suspect they have to ignore it and let it fester, perhaps a thought process something like the following.

"I have complete Faith in Jesus' Salvation. But He also commands me to do six difficult works to earn Salvation. I might volunteer at a soup kitchen for two hours per year, but I don't know how to heal the sick and there is no frikkin' way I'm going to invite strangers into my home or visit criminals in prison. Sorry Jesus, I'm just going to rely on my Faith. Thank you Lord!"

Oh yes, we still have the other side of the coin as Harry mentioned, where non-Christians do perform those six good works and thereby get into heaven, contrary to the title of this thread. Faith-only Christians burning in the Eternal Sulphurous Fires of Hell will also feel some serious cognitive dissonance at that point!


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Sat Jul 07, 2018 7:45 am
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Post Re: Only One Way To Heaven
LanDroid wrote:
Note the statements in bold, direct messages about the faith / works / salvation conundrum. This sets up a powerful cognitive dissonance, which Yuval Noah Harari discusses in Sapiens, the non-fiction book we're currently discussing.
Quote:
If tensions, conflicts and irresolvable dilemmas are the spice of every culture, a human being who belongs to any particular culture must hold contradictory beliefs and be riven by incompatible values. It's such an essential feature of any culture that it even has a name: cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance if often considered a failure of the human psyche. In fact, it is a vital asset. Had people been unable to hold contradictory beliefs and values, it would probably have been impossible to establish and maintain any human culture.

I am inclined to wait rather than jump in, because I am interested in what others have to say. Instead I will try to work mainly on tangential issues and leave the heart of the faith vs. works tension to others to comment on. I have said my say, really, on that.

Harari has an interesting point here, and faith/works is not the only tension within Christianity that helps to illustrate it. Christians are supposed to leaven society but at the same time they are supposed to hide their good works (if people don't know that generous things are being done, how will they be inspired by them? Martin Luther King had to be as public as possible with his non-violent confrontations.) We are free to ignore laws and rules (according to Paul, "all things are lawful, but not all things build up") but we are supposed to defer to tender consciences who may not understand our freedom. In one of Jesus' more memorable phrases, we are to be "clever as serpents and innocent as doves" which is far harder than it sounds. Ask, e.g. John McCain.

A tension that more people can probably relate to is the protection of minorities from the majority in democracy. If we believe majority rules, then doesn't that mean white majorities have the right to, e.g. provide inferior schooling to black minorities? Well, no, but that means we think we can put limits (equal protection of the laws) on majority rule and thereby be "more democratic than democracy." Of course the same logic has been applied to, e.g. progressive taxation, with income tax itself requiring a constitutional amendment to get past the diligent guardians of the moneyed classes who dominated the Supreme Court.

LanDroid wrote:
One feature of cognitive dissonance is people actually feel the tension / contradiction and attempt to reduce that stress through various means. So how do Christians reduce the dissonance of Faith Vs. Works? If I understand correctly, Harry Marks avoids it by saying Jesus was not talking about the afterlife in the above passage, it's about behavior and a transformation in this world.
I would phrase the matter slightly differently. I think Jesus was talking about the afterlife, in the same sense that he was talking about a Samaritan on the road down from Jerusalem in the parable of the Good Samaritan. What we are meant to reflect about is not the workings of the last judgment but the surprising idea that if we do something for someone who is powerless to repay it we are doing it to Jesus himself.

And the way I would resolve the Faith/Works tension is, as in the passage you quoted from me, that while we are saved by our trust (which is a deep psychological insight, expressed long before any laboratories measured stress hormones and the effects of chronic stress), the meaning of "saved" is for this world: we are able to be transformed.

It helps if you know that the meaning of the ancient Hebrew "Day of Atonement" is deeper than just "obtaining forgiveness." The whole idea of atonement is to restore a right relationship, as you would atone for the problem if you borrowed your neighbor's chainsaw and ruined it by using it wrong. The notion of a sacrifice was not that you "buy off" God's wrath, but that you show your bona fides ("good faith") by providing the ancient meal shared between those who sat down to make a compact or covenant. A "sacrifice" means something provided to make an occasion or encounter "sacred" (same root word, with a bridge like that between artifice and artisan).

LanDroid wrote:
So how do fundamentalist Christians reduce this tension? Harry thinks they need an elaborate method to explain it away.
Well, the usual response is that we are saved "by" faith but "for" good works, which is not far from what I said. The transformation part (saved for good works) is treated as secondary, and something that is mainly left for God to do within us (approximately the same idea as what I said about trust transforming us). I don't think that resolves all the tensions between the relevant scriptures, but it makes enough sense of them that evangelicals are willing to set aside their literalism to make it work.



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