I am developing a theory...
As you read this, keep in mind, I am in the very early stages of thinking about this.
Recently I was reading a blog by a self-proclaimed "liberal" Christian. They were explaining their beliefs and why they were a Christian. They said that they connected with Christianity because that's what they grew up with. They were pretty convinced that most of what's in the Bible is cultural jargon--belief in demons, angels, resurrection, etc. are relics of the the past which shouldn't be thrust into our context just because they're in the pages of the Bible. He or she then explained that they do not believe that Christianity is the only way to salvation but that every religious expression gets you just as far, just as close to God.
Now, I am not what most conservatives would call a conservative, but I don't fit in the liberal category either, at least not in the same category as the blogger I just told you about. I don't connect either with the kind of conservativism that only accepts other conservatives nor with the sort of liberalism which says that every religion is heading in the same direction (tangent: if you say that Buddhists and Christians are both saying the same thing, you're taking neither religion seriously. You just have to admit that there are deep, even fundamental, differences between religions). While I have friends on both sides of the argument and can appreciate what both sides are doing, it's just not me. When I was reading the blog by the liberal Christian, there were many things which I could agree with. But as I read it I noticed myself critiquing it with some of the same criticisms I have toward conservatives.
And here's where my theory is....
I am starting to think that conservatives' and liberals' problems are rooted in a common problem. Both liberals and conservatives have a superficial soteriology (view of salvation).
Conservatives say that salvation is only in Jesus and when they say that they mean you have to accept, very certainly, a specific set of core doctrines. They believe that there is one Truth (with a capitol T) and that no matter how hard someone might be searching for truth in other religions, it's simply not there and they are going to die and burn in hell forever unless they become conservative Christians too. With all of this, their view of salvation is essentially eternal bliss and an escape from this world AFTER DEATH (never before it). It remains fairly superficial in that it's almost always individualistic and it manifests itself in sort of a "pie in the sky when you die... by and by... etc., etc" soteriology.
Liberals, on the other hand, reject all that stuff about "T"ruth, every other religion being totally wrong, and the whole burning in hell motif. They hate that stuff and much of their rhetoric is reactionary to the conservative tradition (not to say conservatives don't react to liberals too). But they still hold on to a fairly superficial view of salvation. Wherever it is that everyone gets to go exists AFTER DEATH (never before it) and it's still a "pie in the sky when you die..." conception. It's still individualistic, especially since nobody has to be connected by any goal or doctrine or anything. There is nothing flesh-and-blood about either conservative or liberal soteriology.
Salvation involves a great many things beyond death but it is also very much a here and now sort of thing. It's not individualistic because it's about solidarity among all people, crushing religious and social barriers. It is neither exclusive nor inclusive (ask me later what I mean by that... maybe 10 years or so). It is celebration of life through suffering for neighbor. Salvation is worship and sacrifice. Salvation is solidarity between the most wretched, despicable people and the richest, most powerful people. And Jesus is the only hope for such a salvation. For Jesus, being God himself, the highest authority, became the least--became nothing. He broke the bread and poured the wine and rose victoriously from the depths of hell. It is through solidarity with Jesus, the same Jesus who was tortured and murdered, that we have solidarity with the poor and with God Almighty, the maker of heaven and Earth. This reality, Jesus' salvation, permeates far beyond our petty theological confessions. But, at the same time, it is still following Jesus--the way, the truth, and the life--which breeds salvation... the kind of salvation that starts right now and flows into eternity. It is far less superficial that either extreme would like to believe.