Perhaps nothing is clearer than in the ELCA understanding of salvation. [sic; have we mentioned Hanson's execrable prose?] For many leaders of the ELCA have deviated from the biblical understand of salvation and practice what is know as Universalism, that is, a theological doctrine that all human beings will eventually be saved. Many have come to know this as the “Big God” theology where all roads lead to God with or without Jesus Christ. Popular secular icons such as Oprah Winfrey have even proclaimed this theology.
Within the official ELCA web pages there is a presentation of what the ELCA confesses. Titled, “What We Believe”, there is presented here the official position of the ELCA concerning salvation. In these pages the authors, who speak for the ELCA while not exactly state an official statement such as “We believe”, quotes extensively from the liberal theologian Carl Braaten, "The Christian hope for salvation, whether for the believing few or the unbelieving many, is grounded in the person and meaning of Christ alone, not in the potential of the world’s religions to save, nor in the moral seriousness of humanists and people of good will, not even in the good works of pious Christians and church people.... There is a universalist thrust in the New Testament, particularly in Paul’s theology. How else can we read passages such as 'for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ' (1 Cor 15:22)?"
Okay. Go back and read that again, because the grammar is, to put it mildly, elusive. Some anonymous writers, who may or may not speak for the ELCA, quote Braaten saying that the hope for salvation rests in Christ alone. If we are understanding correctly, this is a bad thing because this hope may be available to some people among the "unbelieving many." Okay.
Later they quote Braaten again, saying that as ELCA Lutherans we believe as truth, "If Jesus is the Lord and Savior, he is the universal Lord and Savior, not merely my personal Lord and Savior. Because Jesus is the unique and universal Savior, there is a large hope for salvation, not only for me and others with the proper credentials of believing and belonging to the church, but for all people whenever or wherever they might have lived and no matter how religious or irreligious they may have proved to be themselves."
Again, no salvation is possible except through Christ. And "a large hope" is not the same as the BCP's "sure and certain hope," available to the Church.
Let's be fair, and admit that both Braaten and Jenson have raised, once or twice, the possibility that Lutheran theology permits the possibility of universal salvation, while also saying explicitly that Lutheran theology does not permit the definitive proclamation of same. (Can we find the bibliographic reference offhand? No. Probably either Principles of Lutheran Theology or the Dogmatics.) So have any number of missionary and Jesuit theologians, like the late Karl Rahner and his dubious theory of "anonymous Christians." The idea is typically to argue that Christ can save even those who do not know or believe in him. Hanson, however, is so determined to find something else -- a definitive proclamation of salvation apart from Christ -- that he sees it here, despite the plain grammar of the quotation. But then, grammar isn't Hanson's strong suit.
Truthfully, the words are a little unclear on the subject of salvation on these pages. The average reader may find it difficult to determine what exactly is the official teaching of the ELCA.
[a]ll of the prominent ELCA biblical and confessional Lutheran theologians participated as speakers and workshop leaders — Robert Jensen, James Kittelson, Gerhard Forde, William Lazareth, Joseph Burgess, George Lindbeck, Carl Braaten, Richard John Neuhaus and many more. It was a who’s who in confessional Lutheranism in the ELCA.
I am a life-long political liberal, unlike many of my friends. My wife and I opposed the unjust war against Vietnam in the 60’s and 70’s, and we have with equal conviction opposed the foolhardy invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration.