Was Survey Question, “Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved,” the Problem?

“To the statement on the survey, ‘Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved,’ the orthodox answer is no," said Dr. Charles Wiley III, coordinator of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Theology and Worship

Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of The Layman, disagrees. “Wiley’s analysis assumes that those surveyed are Calvinists. That’s a huge assumption among active PCUSA clergy today. His analysis also assumes that people answering a quarterly survey are parsing the questions as he has. In order to explain away the “Jesus is the only way to salvation” question, Wiley needs to address other heterodox answers in the 2011 Survey.”

 

In 2011, responses to a Presbyterian Panel Survey showed that only 41 percent of pastors in the Presbyterian Church (USA) “strongly agreed or agreed” with the statement “Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.”

That shockingly low percentage has been cited by a majority of the churches seeking to leave the denomination and realign with other Reformed bodies.

Five years after the Panel Survey and following the departure of hundreds of pastors who likely would have answered the question in the affirmative, the Rev. Dr. Charles Wiley III, coordinator of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Theology and Worship, has released astatement on the subject. According to him, the problem was the question – not the answers given by the pastors.

“The problem is in the very form of the question,” Wiley wrote. “Those surveyed were asked whether or not, ‘Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.’ The subject of the question is ‘followers.’ Calvinists have never been comfortable talking about salvation from the point of view of the followers – we’ve never been terribly optimistic concerning human ability to follow Christ. Calvin spoke about needing to have faith that he was saved, and then only because of the author of salvation, Jesus Christ. We Calvinists emphasize salvation as a work of Christ – our following is an act of gratitude for salvation.”

Wiley quoted from “Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ” endorsed by the 2002 General Assembly:

“Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Lord, and all people everywhere are called to place their faith, hope and love in Him. … No one is saved apart from God’s gracious redemption in Jesus Christ. Yet we do not presume to limit the sovereign freedom of ‘God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ [1 Timothy 2:4]. Thus, we neither restrict the grace of God to those who profess explicit faith in Christ nor assume that all people are saved regardless of faith. Grace, love, and communion belong to God, and are not ours to determine.”

According to Wiley, the statement from “Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ” is a “Christocentric, traditionally Calvinist reason to answer no to the question in the Presbyterian Panel survey. This nocomes not from a weak Christology, but precisely from a strong Christology.”

“The proper form of the question should have been, ‘Is Jesus Christ the only Savior and Lord?’ To that the clear answer is yes,” said Wiley. “To the statement on the survey, ‘Only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved,’ the orthodox answer is no.

Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of The Layman, disagrees. “Wiley’s analysis assumes that those surveyed are Calvinists. That’s a huge assumption among active PCUSA clergy today. His analysis also assumes that people answering a quarterly survey are parsing the questions as he has. In order to explain away the “Jesus is the only way to salvation” question, Wiley needs to address other heterodox answers in the 2011 Survey.”

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