The Way of Salvation Part IV: Are Non-Christian Faiths Ways of Salvation? -- By: James I. Packer
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The Way of Salvation
Are Non-Christian Faiths Ways of Salvation?
[James I. Packer, Associate Principal, Trinity College, Bristol, England.]
[Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles entitled “The Way of Salvation,” which were the W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectures given by James I. Packer at Dallas Theological Seminary on Apr 11–14, 1972. Scripture passages are translated and/or paraphrased by the author.]
Suppose that when the Philippian jailer asked Paul what he must do to be saved, Paul had said, “Be diligent in your present religion, whatever it is,” would this have been an adequate answer? Luke, at any rate, would hardly have thought so, for the speeches and sermons which he records in Acts link salvation exclusively with the name of Jesus and faith in his person and lordship (cf. 2:38; 4:12; 5:31; 10:43; 13:23, 38–39; 16:31; 26:15–23; 28:23–28). Nor could Paul have said this without inconsistency, for though in the next chapter we find him allowing that in a real if remote sense polytheists ignorantly worship the true God, he goes on to make it plain that unless they repent of their idolatry they will be in jeopardy at the judgment (Acts 17:23, 29ff). Yet many today seem to think that such a reply would have sufficed. From Schleiermacher to Troeltsch and from Hocking to Tillich and Toynbee, liberal Protestant thinkers have canvassed the notion that there is in all religion a common essence; that all adherents of all faiths are climbing the same mountain and will meet at the top; that ideal Christianity would include insights taken from non-Christian religions, and would in that sense be more than Christianity; and that the missionary task is to enrich indigenous faiths with Christian insights rather than to
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call those faiths in question in any fundamental way.1 Furthermore, current Roman Catholic thought highlights the idea that non-Christian faiths may be a way of salvation in circumstances where the Christian writ does not run-which is so striking a change of front as to merit a little documentation.
Roman Catholic Views
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