Mouw underlines a non-negotiable point

stairway to heavenThe other day, I raised a question or two -- as I tend to do -- about a Los Angeles Times story on an interfaith gathering of scholars to address scriptures that appear to "assert the superiority of one belief system over others." If you read the Times story, it would seem that all of the Christians, Jews and Muslims in this forum were pretty much on the same page, with few if any sparks of disagreement. It was, frankly, one of those "Can't we all just get along?" stories that suggested a bright future for Unitarian-Universalist evangelists. However, I also noted:

Late, late, late in the story we learn that one of the other speakers at the forum was the Rev. Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary. If I am not mistaken, Fuller is an evangelical Protestant seminary with Reformed theological roots. Did Mouw agree with the other scholars who were quoted by the Times? Was Mouw so out of line that he could not be quoted? If he was in step with the others, that would be a big story in and of itself.

As it turns out, Mouw has responded to my questions in a comment on that post, and I think it's important to pull it out to the front page and let more GetReligion readers see it. We do that from time to time when people directly involved in stories and posts write us. So here is what the Fuller Seminary president has to say, in full:

I will try to clarify, as much as I can in some brief comments, my take on the important questions you raise.

It was an interesting conference. Each group was asked to talk about texts within their own tradition with which they have struggled. We were not all expected to deal with overtly inter-religious questions. I dealt with Romans 13, since it is a classic locus for evangelical discussions of political authority. But my Fuller colleague Love Sechrest, a young New Testament scholar dealt with some key texts in Galatians on Christ abolishing the law -- what she said would have been approved of in any evangelical gathering.

For the record, I was interviewed by the LA Times reporter afterward, and she asked me what I thought of dialogues like this. I said -- and she chose not to quote me in the story -- that I believe that we need to be in dialogue, and to come with a willingness genuinely to learn from others. But, I quickly added, we do believe that Christ alone can save. My own view on this has been set forth publicly on many occasions. Dialogue with other religions has to aim at three goals: one is learning from others; another is working together for the "shalom of the City" (Jer. 29); but in all of this we must always be ready to point to the Jesus as the only One who is mighty to save. I am willing to allow some mystery in how Jesus actually gets ahold of people -- but he alone is the Way.

I also had a fine conversation with a young woman rabbi who certainly did not think me wishy-washy on these matters. "Are you saying that your religious perspective is right and mine is wrong?" she asked. I responded: "I am saying that what is non-negotiable for me is that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah. That is simply something that we disagree about. You think I am wrong in saying that, and I think you are wrong in denying it. This is a fundamental disagreement."

There are doctrinal points here that form a kind of spectrum of beliefs about the nature and identity of Jesus Christ and how one does or does not end up in heaven or hell.

In this case, the key is how readers have read Mouw's statement that he is willing to "allow some mystery in how Jesus actually gets ahold of people." Do people have to walk an aisle in a particular church? Are the good works and the honest faith expressed in other world religions enough to make someone what many Catholic theologians would call an "anonymous Christian," a person who is saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, even if they do not believe in Jesus Christ. What about people who explicitly reject Jesus? What about the afterlife? Is the human soul still free to change (think C.S. Lewis and his book The Great Divorce) after death, or does free will end at the grave?

There are many, many variations and I urge you please, please, please not to get started arguing about them in the comments pages.

The key here is whether the Times report on the conference was seriously weakened by the omission of Mouw's words of dissent or disagreement. I would argue that some kind of balance was needed and, as it turned out, there were voices in the room that tried to provide balance or, at the very least, more nuance.

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