Non-Exclusive Christians

Over the last 2 years of blogging, I have learned much more about the variety of Christians that exist.  Due to this learning, I have a post which considers “My Favorite Kind of Christian” which I constantly update.  I am fortunate to have several personal Christian friends and on-line Christian friends who hold almost all the qualities I list on “my favorites” list.

But I must say that my MOST IMPORTANT favorite Christian trait is Non-Exclusivity — a Christian who does not feel that non-believers are going to necessarily have a different fate than themselves after death.  In theology, this position is called one’s “soteriology”.

There are two qualities that I feel natural flow from a non-exclusive soteriology:

  1. an open view of others (women, homosexuals, other races).
  2. a missionology where the believer seeks to serve others well before they even contemplate converting others.

Following in second place of favorite Christian traits behind Open Soteriology (along with its tolerance and kindness) is a strong value for science.  I would hold these traits as my favorite for all religions.  All other theological issues (unless I have missed something) fall far behind in the theological pack.  For I care not what a person calls themselves, but how they live and how they use their thoughts and beliefs to anchor and connect their lives.

Question to Atheists:  What are your favorite types of Christians?
Question to Theists:  What are your favorite type of Atheists?

17 Comments

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17 responses to “Non-Exclusive Christians

  1. NFQ

    I guess I am not sure what this means, to simultaneously be “Christian” and to have a “non-exclusive soteriology.” When I think of what Christianity means, I think of statements attributed to Jesus like: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus’ teachings prominently feature exclusivity. Can one really be said to be a member of the religion centered around Jesus if they do not believe these teachings?

    I certainly agree that there are many Christians who have a non-exclusive soteriology. It’s just that I have no idea what thought process they are using to justify their beliefs. It seems like a completely incoherent way of thinking to me.

    Still, I’m with you — my favorite types of Christians are the ones who don’t think I’m damned to hell for all time. Another type I particularly like are the ones who are willing to discuss their beliefs in depth with me, and listen to my critical (in the sense of “critical thinking”) questions and try to give honest answers.

  2. imarriedaxtian

    For I care not what a person calls themselves, but how they live and how they use their thoughts and beliefs to anchor and connect their lives.

    Amen to that Sabio, amen.

    For the record, I do not have any friends who are non-theists. All of them are theists of one stripe or another, Muslims, Buddhists, various forms of Christians. We do not hang our religion (or non-religion) on our sleeves when we interact with each other, but we are sensible about each other’s beliefs. For instance, I do not serve or consume alcohol with my muslim friends in public areas. But in the privacy of my home, they will partake a glass of wine or two in fellowship.

    I guess thats why we are friends. 😉

  3. rey

    “Jesus’ teachings prominently feature exclusivity. Can one really be said to be a member of the religion centered around Jesus if they do not believe these teachings?”

    If one doesn’t believe that the Catholic canon is perfect and therefore that Jesus didn’t really teach an exclusivist position, then yes. There were other Christian canons before the Catholic one was ever dreamt up. They just all got burned along with their adherents.

  4. All of my close friends are atheists, despite the fact that I am not. I like people who possess a degree of epistemic humility, follow ideas through all the way to their natural conclusions, have imagination, and never stop learning. Yes, there are plenty of atheists who possess these qualities, and plenty of Christians who don’t.

    I would agree with NFQ in the sense that one can’t be a universalist while claiming to be Christian. But it is a terribly un-Christian thing to assert with confidence that this or that person is going to Hell. We absolutely don’t know, it’s not up to us, and it’s a sin to speculate.

  5. “Question to Theists: What are your favorite type of Atheists?”

    my favorite type of atheists are one’s who aren’t science literal, who have a healthy humanistic sense, who can listen to “God-Talk” without having to pick at perceived scabs and wounds, who can seek meaning beyond the literal words. example of the last sentence: “God Bless You.” (said after sneezing or such) instead of responding with “Screw you and your God/I don’t believe in the first part/or any other snarky thing” say “Thanks.” what it means is “I acknowledged your sneeze and I’m happy you’re still alive afterwards. Highest Luck/Blessings/Goodwill be unto you.”

    those are my favorite. i believe i’ve found a few here who are willing to call me on my crap, yet be open enough to acknowledge i’m an Utterly Confused Christian (UCC) and a deluded theist.

  6. @NFQ: I think of statements attributed to Jesus like: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

    if one was truly a Trinitarian, that phrase would be: “God is the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to God but through God.”

    only way to read it if you have a high Christology, which many claim, but few actually believe.

  7. societyvs

    My favorite type of atheists are one’s that like read, stay knowledgable, and want to discuss the issues within religion but also the effects this has on the current society. I see a vested interest on both sides, and a commanality. I see that in you Sabio!

    That being said, I like people that don’t discuss religion as much as I like people that do.

    “I certainly agree that there are many Christians who have a non-exclusive soteriology. It’s just that I have no idea what thought process they are using to justify their beliefs” (NFQ)

    It’s a fair question, but it’s also about weight (of the books) and interpretation of the scriptures.

    For example, you brought up John 14:6 – which you give only a literal readng for (which is only one choice of about 6 I have seen in interpreting that exact passage). Fact is, John (as a gospel) uses a lot of allegory and symbolism – Jesus being ‘the way’ could also be one of those things (since no is ‘the way’ literally). It could be an overt reference to Jesus life and teachings as the ‘way’ and he as the ‘guide’.

    Now that seems exclusive – but it may not be…since anyone can follow those teachings in their daily lives (ie: non-violence, love your neighbor, repentance and making things right, etc). I would vouch that many atheists do follow such ideals.

  8. NFQ

    @ rey: “If one doesn’t believe that the Catholic canon is perfect and therefore that Jesus didn’t really teach an exclusivist position” — I certainly sympathize with Christians who acknowledge that the history of the Bible indicates some things have been left out and changed along the way. To go from that to “this particular sentence is definitely wrong” seems like a big jump, though.

    @ Joshua Allen: I don’t understand. On what basis do you say “one can’t be a universalist while claiming to be Christian” but at the same time don’t think there’s a reason to say that, for example, people who have heard about Christianity but don’t accept it go to hell instead of heaven?

    @ zero1ghost: I guess I don’t really understand what you wrote. Are you disagreeing with me? That still sounds exclusive; presumably “God” has a particular meaning in that sentence unique to Christianity. Are you saying that a true Trinitarian would believe that any religion with a god is true? Undoubtedly, your reading still excludes nontheists.

    @ societyvs: Perhaps, but then I have difficulty understanding how one decides which scriptures to read literally and which to treat as allegory and symbolism.

  9. NFQ, yes, i was disagreeing with you, whole-heartedly. you stated “Jesus’ teachings prominently feature exclusivity.” and I wrote how to interpret that passage non-exclusively. and this doesn’t exclude nontheists for many reasons:

    1. universal means everyone. which leads to:

    2. you can exclude God all you want, God doesn’t exclude you. which then we need to qualify that those who follow such a God would mean that:

    3. these types of Christians are called to serve and that means with no conditions or expectations. many choose to just serve other Christians or serve just to make other Christians.

    4. Jesus excluded many images of God that he deemed unworthy or unwarrented. as we talk, we may find that the god you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either. that leaves us with many possibilities.

  10. @ NFQ
    I know Zero (to some degree, though he is always changing — in healthy normal ways). But his soteriology is inclusive/universal with a low Christology and big on service being far above doctrine. Well, he was that way yesterday. 😆

    But I am sure he embraces some Bible stuff in ways that makes perhaps you and I both uneasy because he uses terms that may strike us like those you used badly by fundamentalist Christians. But he is not a fundy by any stretch. And as he said,

    we may find that the god you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either
    – Ghost

    We must take care to understand the term since it is used so differently by so many people. There certainly is no one such thing as Christianity — huge varieties out there. My point of this post, is that I feel if the world were full of Christians similar to Ghost, you’d probably have no significant problems with Christianity.

    Just a guess. Nonetheless, I still love debating with Ghost on issues. But this post is my taking a break to emphasize what is most important in all these dialogues to me. Namely:

    For I care not what a person calls themselves, but how they live and how they use their thoughts and beliefs to anchor and connect their lives.

  11. “Perhaps, but then I have difficulty understanding how one decides which scriptures to read literally and which to treat as allegory and symbolism.” (NFQ)

    That’s why we study the bible I guess.

  12. NFQ

    @societyvs: Are you referring to studying the text of the Bible itself? I’m pretty sure none of the statements in the Bible come with the preface: “Not to be taken literally.” That’s why different denominations disagree on which parts of it to focus on.

    If you study the Bible in a historical sense, like studying how it was written and when and by whom, I do think that would help — but then, I also think that would teach you to treat the entire thing as literature, as allegory an symbolism. And that’s no basis for a religion.

    Whatever your meaning — if your study of the Bible has led you to a clear understanding of how to tell which parts of the Bible to take seriously and which ones to treat as pretty metaphor, please let us know!

  13. Gary

    What a great thread Sabio…sorry I was not around when it was current.

    As you know I am a Christian Universalist. In spite of my fellow Christian’s assertions that these two terms are mutually exclusive…a very strong scriptural case can and has been made for my view and many believers embrace it. Even the most prominent evangelist of our generation, Billy Graham, has embraced a compatible view in recent interviews.

    Simplified, I believe Jesus is the Christ, and that He provided the means of salvation, hence His statement of being the only way to the Father is true. However, I believe He provided this way, literally this “Good News”, for ALL of mankind…as scripture tells us the angel declared to the shepherds on the night of His birth.

    I find your list of qualities extremely compatible with my views. Ironically, being raised a fundy, they all represent views I rejected at an earlier point in my life. My views as such are views of reason and choice, not simply family heritage so to speak. In fact my family, who I remain very close to, do not share my beliefs and are not aware of many of them. To try to be completely open with them would cause undue strain on our relationship and would serve no good purpose.

    Anyway…how ironic it is for me a former fundy Christian (and still a strong believer) to find myself enjoying the blog of an atheist as much as I do? This could almost be “proof” of the supernatural in and of itself…LOL.

  14. Gary

    Forgot to subscribe to follow up notifications. Corrected.

  15. @ Gary
    Glad you enjoy (the threads are always open!)
    I have read many Christians who are in the closet about their beliefs — ironic how their Christian World is the most unsafe place for what they deeply believe.

    Personally I think the world would be a better place if you all came out. Coming Out will cause pain (as many will testify) and you will loose friends and such. But the world would benefit and so would you.

    But I you say you teach at a Christian College (what do you teach?). I do agree, loosing your job would not be worth it. Maybe you can come out in stages — try with a baby step: just tell folks you don’t think Sabio is going to hell! 🙂
    (Great comment, Gary, thanx)

  16. Gary

    @Sabio
    You are so right…it is ironic (and tragic I think) that the Christian world is the most unsafe place for what so many Christians actually believe. This is especially true in the more fundamental denominations…not so much in others. Though I have not come out in my beliefs fully, I do push the envelope a bit with many in the hope of chipping away at some of harmful ideologies of the Christian faith in those I know and love.

    Yes I teach at a rather sizable Midwestern Christian University part time in their adult education program. It is a Wesleyan University and they are quite fundamental in their views. I avoid the personal conflict though in that I do not teach anything related to religion. I teach in the business program 3 different curriculums including marketing, organizational behavior (my favorite), and an IT course. All my students are working adults returning to school to pursue a BS. Needless to say the classes are usually full of a wonderful breadth of experience and philosophical perspectives. I absolutely love to teach. (This is another thing we share in common is it not?)

    You are right Sabio, the world would be a better place if we all came out as it were. Many have and I have found them through their blogs. The Internet is driving the pace of change faster than at any period of time in history I think. But presently my love of the classroom holds me back. In fact…it is the fact that it IS a Christian university that holds me there. I am expected to share my faith in the classroom through devotionals and whenever possible, and I use this as an opportunity to attack some of the more harmful Christian views and behaviors.

    Sorry to run on so long and a little off topic. I will try to edit myself a bit more next time…grin.

  17. Fantastic story, Gary. You are right, your choice sounds like it serves all sides very well. Superbly done. Keep up the good work. Thanx for sharing — it is perfect for this thread.

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