How much theological knowledge (alongside personal commitment to God) does a person have to have in order to be saved? Normal presentations of the good news of Jesus Christ present explicit belief in and commitment to Jesus Christ as a necessary condition for salvation. The presentation I heard included “asking Jesus into your heart”, “believing that Jesus died for your sins”, etc. I don’t put them in quotes to suggest that such statements are silly or untrue, but to keep the formula that we often hear in tact. Nearly every American has heard something along these lines, many believe it, and most understand Christians to unanimously preach that all who do not believe specifically in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth, as the son of God and savior of the world, will perish.
Honestly, I don’t know exactly where I stand on this issue. I affirm everything in the original Apostle’s Creed, that Jesus was concieved of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontious Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, that He rose from the dead on the third day, ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God.
I just don’t know how much of that (or more) we need to believe in order for Jesus to “remember us in his kingdom” as the thief who died at his side asked. So, here’s the thought experiment that I hope will at least prod some on to deeper thoughts about Jesus and his great work: Taking the standard claims, that one must know who Jesus was, i.e. that he lived, was the son of God, was sinless, was crucified to death, took the sins of the world upon himself, rose from the dead, and sits at the right hand of God in heaven, I want to isolate each point and ask if it is necessary for salvation. Here goes.
Would you deny that a person was saved if, while following his ethical teachings wholeheartedly, they mistakenly believed just one of the following things about Jesus:
1. That he was a woman?
2. That he was a sinless man, but a normal man in every other respect (i.e. not “divine” in some metaphysical sense)?
3. That he was hanged, not crucified?
4. That his name was Sam? (Interestingly, noone ever called Jesus “Jesus”. Jesus is an anglicized version of his latin/greek name Iesous [ee-ay-sous], which is a hellenized version of his aramaic name, Yeshua.)
5. That God had not raised him from the dead (and also assuming he never prophisied his own resurrection).
6. That God had raised him from the dead spiritually, but not physically, that his body rotted away in the grave, while he made real appearances to his disciples as a seemingly-physical apparition?
7. That he rose from the dead miraculously, but then moved away to India and was never seen again?
If you would allow that a person with just one of these misconceptions could be saved, what if someone held to three of them, or all of them? It is not too difficult to imagine someone arriving in heaven and remarking in surprise, “so, he was crucified? I thought he had been decapitated! Imagine that…”, but it might be a bit harder to think that someone has a salvific relationship to the person of Christ, believing that the messiah was Sam, a mere sinless woman who was hanged for blasphemy, and rotted away while she made a few appearances in dreams to her disciples. Somewhere in that list, has slavation been compromised?