Sunday, January 16, 2011

Jesus the Christ: "Universal" and "Particular" Savior

"I will make you a light to the nations,
 that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth." (Isaiah 49:6). "Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” (John 1:34).

The above verses from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah and the Gospel of John serve as a basis for exploring one of the most urgent problems Christian theology and spirituality has faced in the last century: the notion that Jesus is both "universal savior" (the one who brings salvation "to the ends of the earth") and "particular savior" (the one who alone is "Son of God"). In so many words, the problem is framed in terms of, "how does one bear witness simultaneously to the fact that God wills to save all people yet does so precisely through a particular person?"

To begin with, let me give you an idea of how not to do this. When I was studying theology in San Antonio, Texas, I vividly remember visiting Assumption Seminary and seeing on one seminarian's door the words that went something to the effect of "My Idea of Ecumenism" with a poster of a crusader underneath! Now, if this young candidate for the priesthood thought that the best way to share the Catholic faith with other Christians (which is what Ecumenism is) was by wielding the sword of "I'm right and you're wrong", what do you think his approach would be with non-Christians? A truly disturbing thought if you ask me!

I put forward this example for consideration because it represents a very dangerous, self-rightous movement in Christian and Catholic circles known as fundamentalism. The fundamentalist approach often focuses on Jesus only as "particular" savior (meaning unless one is Christian, one cannot be saved). This ideological approach seeks to simply to "drive home" the point that Jesus is Lord - usually as forcefully as necessary. It should go without saying that this mode of Christian witness is no longer acceptable in an environment that is becoming increasingly plural and diverse in terms of religious belief. What Christians and Catholics must be able to do is to speak both to the fact that God wills the salvation of all people (meaning Jesus is "universal" savior) and has accomplished this through the concrete life of Jesus the Christ (meaning Jesus is also "particular" savior).

One approach to this problem is to focus on how the "particular" life of Jesus Christ, and the subsequent sending of the Holy Spirit after Christ's Resurrection, has fundamentally and radically altered the "rules" of existence. This "altering" of the "rules" of existence has now created an "environment of freedom" that is far more conducive to living a truly and authentically human existence (meaning, Christ-like). What this implies is that Christ's life and the Holy Spirit are akin to a very subtle, though very powerful, spiritual "leaven" that has worked it's way (and continues working it's way) from one corner of the earth to another, making the possibility of choosing to live a life of authenticity and integrity greater than ever. One concrete example of this would be the way that Christianity contributed immensely to the formation of the contemporary education and University system. Without a doubt this system has enabled and empowered many persons to acquire and live according to an awareness of what constitutes an authentically human (meaning Christ-like) life.

The above example doesn't mean that Christians should shy away from sharing their convictions with others about Jesus. However, the way of self-righteousness and smugness in one's faith is at an end. If the Christian witness is to do justice to the mystery of salvation in Christ, it must account for the fact that Jesus' salvation is offered to all, regardless of one's religion or creed. Pat, TOR

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