Prayers or Death Knell?

One of the criticisms of the PCUSA, by those of us departing for ECO, is the fairly pervasive religious pluralism or, at the least, sloppy inclusivism in the denomination. A fine illustration of this is in the Daily Prayer published by the PCUSA. On the title page, we are assured that it was “commended by the 205th General Assembly (1993) for use in worship.”

Even if you could argue for an orthodox spin to these prayers — quite a theological feat — the average person in the pew will come away with a straightforward message of religious pluralism:

For World Religions

We thank you, God of the universe,
that you call all people to worship you
and to serve your purpose in this world.
We praise you for the gift of faith
we have received in Jesus Christ.
We praise you also for diverse faith
among the people of the earth.

For you have bestowed your grace
that Christians, Jews, Muslims,
Buddhists, and others
may celebrate your goodness,
act upon your truth,
and demonstrate your righteousness.
In wonder and awe
we praise you great God.  Amen.

(Book of Common Worship: Daily Prayer, Louisville: WJK Press, 1993, pp. 409-410)

Hmm, I get a different vibe from Romans 1-3. Anyway, we are then not surprised to find this prayer:

For Muslims

Eternal God,
you are the one God to be worshiped by all,
the one called Allah by your Muslim children,
descendants of Abraham as we are.
Give us grace to hear your truth
in the teachings of Mohammed, the prophet,
and to show your love as disciples of Jesus Christ,
that Christians and Muslims together
may serve you in faith and friendship.  Amen. (p. 430)

Among other problems with this prayer, Mohammed is a “prophet” now for Christians. Once upon a time, the mainline actually prayed for the repentance and conversion of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus…anywhere “diverse faith” was found.

However, I do not exclude the possibility of salvation outside the church. Suffice it to say, there are more responsible models of inclusivism — here and here for example, or Alister McGrath’s agnosticism here.



  1. How many steps from:

    Ground(s) of Being, if you can hear this, please give us a hope
    for something.
    We’re not sure what it is but something good for the human race.
    We ask that we be good disciples of Jesus Christ, our most beloved fiction character, and whichever prophet/teacher/guru that becomes fashionable.
    For however straight the gate, or charged with punishments the scroll, we are captains of our fate and masters of the Universe.

    HE-MAN HO!!!!!!!!!!

    Ok, maybe not that ridiculous.

    • I think you had a bit too much to drink before you wrote this … but, yes, there’s something to it.

      Namely, there is the enduring problem of the amorphous character of Jesus Christ when he is mapped onto a “ground of being” or a highly selective reading of Yahweh (not too keen on Joshua/Judges, lots of love for Amos).

      • On the other hand, have evangelicals not sometimes neglected Amos and other parts of the prophets? But this has been changing in recent years.

      • Yes, it has definitely been changing in recent years — to the point of actually just mimicking old-school liberalism and, in many instances, rejecting the God of the Canaanite conquests (e.g., Peter Enns, Roger Olson, and many others on the evangelical left).

        And the relative neglect of Amos has not been characteristic of evangelicals on the whole, in her history, but rather a specific form of evangelicalism that emerged from the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the late 19th / early 20th century, which became highly reactionary and heavily apologetic-defensive in orientation.

      • I wasn’t thinking of Enns, not a fan – more of people like the IJM folks. And yes, it is primarily a modern American thing.

  2. So speaking of inclusivism – are Hitler and Stalin definitively damned, or would say there exists a possibility (even if a very small one) that God could have mercy on them?

    • And I know what they say about bringing up Hitler on the internet, but I actually do think this is an important question!

    • There’s always the possibility that God could have mercy on them. But, with Hitler and Stalin you have countries where the gospel has been abundantly proclaimed and manifested. The gospel was rejected by them (obviously!) and in the clearest of terms, so unless there was repentance unawares to us (always a possibility) then they are damned.

      The real difficulty that inclusivism tackles is the salvation of those who live where the gospel has not been proclaimed or is highly distorted.

      • I’m not so sure that the worlds that Hitler or Stalin inhabited were really saturated with gospel proclamation. I think it’s very hard to know on the basis of broad socio-historical knowledge, such as it is, whether any particular individual or group has been truly exposed to the gospel; I think that we cannot really even know that about some of our closest contemporaries. The house a couple of doors down from yours may be one where the gospel has not been clearly proclaimed, and where the occupants are as unfamiliar with the gospel as if they had lived in fifth century BCE India.

      • It is indeed very difficult to ascertain, if not impossible. In fact, your example of “our closest contemporaries” is very true. I approach co-workers and neighbors as those who have practically never been evangelized, never heard the gospel. And, on more than one occasion, I’ve explained my faith to someone who responds with incredulity because they’ve never heard the gospel explained without moralism.

        I suppose with Hitler and Stalin, I am more concerned about the extremity of their evil, which almost indicates a willful rejection of the gospel! Of course, these are all just speculations.

      • I wouldn’t 100% rule out the possibility that Hitler could be saved. I wouldn’t 100% rule out the possibility that the US could go to war with Canada in the next few years either, but that doesn’t mean I expect it (a silly analogy, but I think you see what I’m getting at).

      • It would be a surprise, indeed. I think that is how Barth justifies his optimism about the possibility of universalism, even as he is aware of the countervailing testimony in Scripture — because God is full of surprises.

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