Friday, June 3, 2011

God is not a Christian - by Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu, an architect of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation process, has long been a hero of mine. I've narrowly missed meeting him twice. Once was my choice: he was worshipping at the episcopal morning prayer at my Divinity School. My roommate, a faithful attendee, woke me up when she heard he would be there but I didn't feel right about attending a service in order to be in the same space as someone I admired. I regret that decision. Apparently, he wore a jogging suit and headed out running right afterward. He was in his 70s.

The second time I was in Cape Town at his cathedral. He normally presided over the Friday prayers, but had been called away to facilitate a peace process in the Middle East. I supposed that was a good excuse. That cathedral became, over the course of a couple of visits there, a place of meaning for me. But I never met Archbishop Tutu.

I admire him and his writing. I almost always find what he has to say resonates with the reality of my faith and the experience of the church in a world of diverse religious expressions. So am excited to read what he has to say in his new book of compiled writings and speeches: "God is not a Christian: and other provocations" .

Clearly, he too has wrestled deeply with the exclusion that is often seen at the heart of Christianity. I've written a tiny bit about this (see 2 blog posts down) and have had many recent conversations on the topic.

Here's a recent example of how that exclusive tendency plays out in real life:

My parents' pastor delivered a sermon on hell - who is in and who is out. This is fairly standard stuff. According to one basic Christian view, Non-Christians don't go to heaven.

A few days later, my dad went to the funeral of his deeply faithful, Jewish, colleague. This was a man he befriended and worked with. He was a good, kind, just, loving man. The two experiences (being told that only Christians go to heaven and then seeing a religious community send a non-Christian God-fearing man into his eternal rest) placed side by side exemplify the cognitive dissonance many Christians feel. They love non-Christians with a genuine love and hear in church (or assume they will hear in church) the doctrine that non-Christians are not heaven-bound. This is the tension that I have been hearing and seeing so many discuss lately.

Tutu's observations can help the conversation. An excerpt of Tutu's writing on this can be found here.

I've begun to articulate my current (and ever changing) thoughts on this like this: soulful, peace-loving people who are not Christian can be followers of the way of Christ (explicitly or implicitly) without being followers of the person of Jesus. But Tutu might not think this approach takes the differences between religions seriously enough. My approach may do violence. I think of how I would feel if someone told me I were a follower of the way of Muhammad, just not of Muhammad. How would I feel? I don't know.

Here's a brief Tutu quote that challenges:
We must hold to our particular and peculiar beliefs tenaciously, not pretending that all religions are the same, for they are patently not the same. We must be ready to learn from one another, not claiming that we alone possess all truth and that somehow we have a corner on God.
Thoughts? Anyone read this book yet?


  1. If you don't believe that only Christians are saved --- why are you a pastor?

    It doesn't make any sense to me.

    You may be wasting your life if you believe all you have to be is good to go to heaven.

    You might want to spend some time reading the Bible.

    My intent is not to be mean. But I think you have lost your way.

    I'm assuming that you are in the ELCA -- a church is Lutheran name only who has also lost their way in adhering to the Scriptures.

    I pray that you and others with the ELCA see God's LIght and return to Christ.

  2. Thanks for this comment. I'm grateful and surprised that people with different opinions than mine read this stuff! I think you were probably being tongue in cheek in asking why I am a pastor, but let me tell you that I am a pastor for so many reasons: I love Jesus; I love the church; I find great fulfillment in the role; I come alive through service and community building in God's name; I love taking part in people's faith formation; Leading worship gives me a sense of peace and joy; The Holy Spirit has nudged me here; It's a relatively good match for my gifts (though you might disagree); and I have experienced being a pastor as a calling in the full sense of the word. I love being a pastor. I appreciate your prayers for the ELCA - we are emerging from a bit of the wilderness and I am cautiously excited about where this church will be in a few years. Oh, and I know you were being sarcastic, but rest assured, I spend a lot of time reading the Bible. I just probably read it quite differently than you do. I wish there were more of a way to bridge what I assume are two such different views and faith experiences of the one living God. But at least we're talking!

    Thank you - and I mean it - for reading my blog. Peace to you too!

  3. I hope that religious ambivalences haven't been somehow been transmitted along with the genetic formulation. By the way, why do you open the story with a designation "my mom's Pastor", when the story is about your father's confrontation with his pastor?

  4. Hi pop - I changed it to say`"my parents' pastor...

  5. My point is that it appears that you do not see Christ as the only way to eternal salvation.

    The Bible clearly states this.

    Being a good person will not get you into heaven.

  6. Hi! I just read some of Tutu's writing and appreciated seeing your take on it. It also strikes me that as ELCA Lutherans we are not caught up exclusively in who is going to heaven or hell (as some churches are much more centered on that), but also in how to live peaceful, just and Christ-centered lives during our time here on earth. We are a people of hope, not fear, and that means struggling with a very large grey area. Thank you!

  7. Wow! What an interesting, honest, post from a Pastor in the ELCA Lutheran church. Hmmm...where to start? I think I'm more confused now more than ever. :) I guess first a couple of comments:

    * I've read part of Tutu's book and (so far) just like everything else I've read -- some of it I agree with, some of it I don't (but that's just my opinion).
    * The first "anonymous" response to the original posting was quite rude, even though the person said, "My intent is not to be mean". Maybe not mean...but incredibly blunt. I'm impressed with the Pastor's nice and honest response to that person.
    * As a person who has witnessed Pastor Sarah "in action", I can honestly say that she truly and impressively lives ALL the reasons that she stated why she is a Pastor. BOTH Pastors at Prince Of Peace are amazing people.

    Now...on to the questions (uh-oh)...
    * Does the ELCA Lutheran Church have an "official position" on the subject matter. i.e. Do only those who believe in and follow Christ make it to heaven? I realize that perhaps we should not "dwell" on this subject. But, for obvious reasons (like where I spend eternity), it's kind of important to me. :) My personal belief is that (by God's grace) my faith, love, and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior along with attempting to live out a life in response to that faith (no...not "saved by works"), is a good start in "getting a ticket to heaven". And, for those not on the same path...well...they might have a tougher time, but it is not up to me to judge their eternal salvation one way or another. The Bible (especially the New Testament) does seem to be pretty clear about certain things -- Are we heading down a slippery slope by picking and choosing parts of it?
    * I've studied other denominations as well as other faiths, and some of this is really quite scary to me. If all I have to do is sincerely follow one of the "accepted", non-Christian, non-cultic faiths (who decides this?) and live a good life, then why did Jesus have to die that horrible death for our sins? (Jesus died for all? Even non-believers?).
    * It is really to sad to see a friend or relative pass away who may have not had faith in Christ as Savior? Some of these people I know lived almost a "saintly" life, but what does the Bible say about these non-Christians? Is it specific? Doesn't it remain silent? I am NOT trying to be a pain in the butt...I sincerely don't know who (or what book) holds the answers to these questions?

    I apologize if I have misrepresented/misunderstood some of the previous postings. It's only out my own ignorance that I don't understand (or have yet to figure out) the above topics/comments.

  8. Given Jesus' expansive view of who constitute his brothers, sisters, and mother (Mark 3:31-35), I would not find it surprising if he had a similarly expansive view of who constitutes "those who believe in him" (John 3:16)

  9. I am sincerely concerned about pastors and church leaders who tell peach that there are other ways to heaven other than thru Christ.

    Call it blunt, rude, or whatever.

    Are you really doing anyone a favor if you tell them if you live a good life you will go to heaven when the Bible says otherwise.

    I'm concerned too about where I and others will spend our eternity.

  10. Pastor, I think you are right. I believe it is very human of us to try and put God in a box that we can label and selfishly pretend is all our own. God is too big for us to stick in a box or for us too label and much too big for us to attempt to corner or explaine. As we are unique individuals that God created thus we will each have a personal and unique relationship with our creator. For us to say that one personis more precious in the eyes of God and worthy of saving and another is not and should be condemed- is all too human and lacks the Amazing Grace our creator emminates. God has always taken care of my needs, I have never needed for anything that I haven't been provided with. God will continue this mercy and provision beyond our physical years, we should not fear if we know our creator and we should not play judge for we lack the suffenciant grace and intimate knowlage of our brothers and sisters. I'm not afraid of going to Hell because God has shown me great love and kindness, I love him very much. I will not say if non Christians will go to Hell- because it is not my place and I as a human being have a very limited concept of forgivness and love. God does not have limitations on these concepts.

  11. Another "Pastor" going straight to hell with her flock of goats.

    Read this heretick:

    You idol worshippers are so blind.
    Oh and here's some more on the many heresies of Lutheranism:

    Hey you will share that place with Desmond 'I hate whites' Tutu, ain't it grand?

  12. Let us be kind to the Barefoot Pastor - she is simply providing a perspective for comment. Yes, the Bible does state that one can only reach Heaven through Jesus. However, we do not necessarily know how He has revealed Himself to others. After all God is omnipotent and with Him all things are possible. I suspect that a Tibeten monk that led a faithful life and loved all others - the greatest commandment of all - will get into Heaven either directly or via a special waiver process administered by St. Peter. May God bless all those that do not yet believe in Jesus or have not yet been exposed to Him, and may He give them His Peace. Thanks.

    1. And yet you miss the very point of "No one is righteous, no, NOT ONE." and the very need of grace and faith for salvation. If Peter says "There is no other name under Heaven whereby a man can be saved" and Jesus reiterates by saying "I am the way, the truth & the life, NO MAN comes to the Father EXCEPT THROUGH ME." --- then who are you to preach something different?

      Paul actually called down the harshest of curses upon those who change the gospel (Galatians 1:8-10) saying of them "Let them be ETERNALLY ACCURSED"..... is that really what you want God to say of you come the day of our judgment?

      Better that we should allow God's Word to stand as it is than to attempt to reinterpret it through our biases and ungodly thinking.

      Will a man be saved by his good works?

      Isaiah said it best ---

      All our righteous deeds (good works) are as ---- Foul, dirty, disgusting, filthy, USED TAMPONS. (That is the literal translation of the Hebrew in that passage).

      You wanna know what God thinks of "good works"? It's right there.

      The heart is desperately wicked (evil) and deceitful above all things. (Jeremiah 17:9)

      And since someone was so kind as to quote John 3:16 about God's Love.... let us finish by quoting THE REST OF that passage.

      John 3:19 - This is the verdict, light came into the world but men loved the darkness because their deeds are EVIL.


      Need anything more be said on the matter?

  13. The Barefoot Pastor seems to be strangely silent...

  14. The prophecy tells about Ahmad; 'Servant of God' whom will war to correct the wrongs and bringing judgement based on the law of God. He will also liberate Arabia from worshiping molten images. Wilderness (desert), villages and cities will glorify God since then. As can be seen today, whole of Arabia are worshiping,praising God and singing words of God daily.

    And we continue reading Isaiah 42:18 - 25; about Children of Israel, whom will still be deaf and blind neglecting the message brought by this 'Servant of God'.

    In Isaiah 42:1, it is not a coincidence upon seeing the writing of both אתמך (Atmc) אחמד (Ahmd). And the word before אתמך (Atmc), is עבדי (Abedi~My Servant). For indeed, It is indicating Ahmad; Abedallah (Ahmad; Servant of God).

    Not to mention אתמך (Atmc) is a special term foretelling the coming of a righteous man and is used only ONCE throughout the entire Book. [could this be a copying error or an intended error?]

    Children of Israel have been foretold upon the coming of Ahmad but sadly, only a few accepts.

    1. What a pathetic Joke. Your FALSE prophet, your deceiver, your Satanically inspired writer of the Qu'ran... who created an idol named "Allah"... isn't anywhere to be found in all of the Bible unless you FORCE him into the text by misapplying and misinterpreting the original Language. Thankfully neither Greek nor Hebrew are dead languages... and their are plenty of scholars out there who can honestly refute the lame attempts your FALSE religion aims at making itself respectable.

      Jesus said it best: Repent and believe. No man comes to God except through me. Anyone who comes by another path is a thief and a robber.

      Drop your Satan worship (1 Corinthians 10:20) and humble yourself before God, the true God, not your false Allah.

  15. It's quite bizarre to me to see people who claim to be Christians attack both Archbishop Desmond Tutu's ideas as well as those of our new Catholic pope. It's almost as if they individually possess all knowledge and the rest of us don't. I follow the teachings of inclusion, and I believe a priest named Matthew Fox described it very well in "One River, Many Wells." Really sad to see so many people who say they are Christian condemn others to hell. No one knows who is hellbound and who isn't. Love everyone.


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