“Can we find a better way of viewing the future?” and “How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?”
These two questions feed one another, and for time’s sake I will take them together. Brian’s “participatory eschatology” seems to be a version of postmillennialism. He criticizes postmillennialism for its “triumphalistic determinism” but thinks that the kingdom will ultimately “spread its influence gradually” as we labor on its behalf.
More interesting is Brian’s vision of the end, which he calls “un-doomed.” Unlike the traditional Christian view which asserts that God will determine the final destiny of the saved and the damned at the last judgment, Brian seems to hold to a universalism in which God’s grace does not relent until everyone ultimately is reconciled to him and to each other.
Brian says that the last judgment “is not merely retributive” but is “reconciling and restoring.” It “will not involve God…pulling down our pants to check for circumcision or scanning our brains for certain beliefs…. No, God will examine the story of our lives for signs of Christlikeness—for a cup of cold water or a plate of hot food given to one in need, for an atom of mercy shown to one who has been unkind or unthoughtful… These are the parts of a person’s life that will be deemed worthy of being saved, remembered, rewarded, and raised for a new beginning. All the unloving, unjust, non-Christlike parts of our lives…will be burned away, counted as unworthy, condemned (which means acknowledged for what they are), and forgotten forever.”
It’s not clear whether Brian sees the afterlife as a series of chances to repent until everyone comes around or whether everyone immediately endures a fiery judgment which burns away their bad stuff and preserves whatever remains. Either way, what’s left of us is ultimately reconciled, or perhaps absorbed into God (depending on whether Brian is a panentheist).
If everyone’s destiny is the same, then it follows that the last thing Brian thinks we should do is tell other religions that they are wrong. He says that we should not “insult other religions” by desiring that “all other religions would be abolished and only our own remain.” We must “learn to discover God in the other” in order to “discover a bigger ‘us,’ in which people of all faiths can be included.” Evangelism would then “cease to be a matter of saving souls from a bad ending” but instead “would invite people into lifelong spiritual formation as disciples of Jesus, in a community dedicated (as we’ve seen) to teaching the most excellent way of love, whatever the new disciple’s religious affiliation or lack thereof.” “This kind of evangelism would…[call] people to a way of life in a kingdom (or beautiful whole) that transcends and includes all religions.”
My initial thought is that it would be difficult to square this view with God’s command to Israel to destroy the idols of the false religions. Brian would probably respond that this is an immature OT God who is inferior to Jesus. But what about Jesus’ words in John 14:6? Brian knows that he must address this verse, and he spends seven pages telling us that this verse does not mean what we think. Apparently Jesus is not telling his disciples that he is the only way to the Father and everlasting life, but rather that none of them “can get to God or the kingdom of God on their own,” which is “not about the afterlife” but about how Jesus will live with them in a new way after his death. I’m sorry if that doesn’t make a lot of sense. I found Brian’s argument convoluted and at more than seven pages, working a little too hard to be taken seriously. Suffice to say that he thinks the traditional view of John 14:6 is a little too Greco and a little too Roman.
I think by now you can guess what I think of these chapters, so here’s an alternate experiment to try. Take Brian’s beliefs about the afterlife and other religions and see if they can make sense of the book of Acts. Look at what Paul said and did on his missionary journeys. Is it remotely plausible that Paul held anything like Brian’s views?