Salvation And Rethinking Mission: Religious Pluralism And The Uniqueness Of Christ -- By: George W. Braswell, Jr.

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 04:2 (Spring 1987)
Article: Salvation And Rethinking Mission: Religious Pluralism And The Uniqueness Of Christ
Author: George W. Braswell, Jr.

Salvation And Rethinking Mission:
Religious Pluralism And The Uniqueness Of Christ

George W. Braswell, Jr.

Professor of Missions and World Religions,
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary


E. L. Doctorow in Ragtime writes of the life of Harry Houdini, the great magician and escape artist of the twentieth century.1 Houdini’s audiences were peoples of the world. They were the rich and the poor, the old and the young, peddlers and policemen. He traveled the world accepting all kinds of bondage and escaping them. He was tied up, sometimes in handcuffs, in strait jackets, in leg irons, and was placed in bank vaults, sewn mailbags, a zinc-lined piano case, a giant football, a galvanized iron boiler, and a sausage skin. He escaped from them all. He escaped from a Siberian exile van, from a Chinese torture chamber, from a Hamburg penitentiary, from a Boston jail, and from an English prison ship. He dived manacled from bridges into the Mississippi, the Seine, the Mersey, and each time he surfaced waving to the crowds.

His escapes were mystifying. He never appeared to damage or unlock that from which he escaped. He came out smiling and waving to the delight of the people. One time he was buried in a grave in the earth. The crowd breathlessly awaited. His assistants grew anxious. He did not appear. They hurriedly dug into the earth to rescue him. Houdini emerged gasping for air and saying that the earth was too heavy for him. His fingernails bled. Soil fell from his eyes. He was drained of color. He could not stand up. His assistants threw up as Houdini wheezed and sputtered and coughed up blood. They cleaned him up and took him to the hotel. The crowd dispersed.

The escape artist provides a powerful story in Doctorow’s national best-seller. Harry Houdini probably satisfied the deep longings and hidden aspirations of the peoples for some kind of thrill, for some kind of escape, for some kind of deliverance and triumph. Here was the human who could overcome every kind of obstacle with intellect, ingenuity, fortitude, and courage. He was like a liberator, a savior, a more than human being, and the crowds participated in his feats. But even in his liveliest performance, the simple earth, the grave, six feet of dirt overcame him.

As in Houdini’s time, so today there is found in the marketplaces, the streets, the printed media, and the air waves the myriad of voices and words to the hundreds of millions of people who desire escape, liberation, salvation, and a better life in the present age as well as in the age to come. Culture heroes, often elevated to the status of deities, promise prosperity, offer healing, give thrills, and provide a...

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