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Bell’s Hell and the Destiny of Those Who’ve Never Heard of Jesus

In a recent interview with Sally Quinn of The Washington Post, Rob Bell again muddied the waters over the question of the fate of those who’ve never heard about Jesus. In doing so he also greatly misrepresented the evangelical answer to this question. Here are his words:

“If, billions and billions and billions of people, God is going to torture them in hell forever – people who never heard about Jesus are going to suffer in eternal agony because they didn’t believe in the Jesus they never heard of – then at that point we will have far bigger problems than a book from a pastor from Grand Rapids.”

Bell is responding to evangelicals who purportedly believe that people “are going to suffer in eternal agony because they didn’t believe in the Jesus they never heard of.” Let me say this as clearly as I can: No one will ever suffer for any length of time in hell or anywhere else for not believing in the Jesus they never heard of. Should I say that again or is it enough to ask that you go back and read it again?

Bell and others who make this sort of outrageous claim have evidently failed to look closely at Romans 1:18ff. Here we read that the wrath of God revealed from heaven is grounded in the persistent repudiation by mankind of the revelation God has made of himself in the created order. In other words, there is a reason for God’s wrath. It is not capricious. God’s wrath has been deliberately and persistently provoked by man’s willful rejection of God as he has revealed himself.

The revelation is both from God and about God. Therefore, in this case if the pupil does not learn it is not because the teacher did not teach. The phrase “evident to them” (v. 19, NASB), is better rendered either in or among them, probably the latter; i.e., God has made himself known among people (and thus, in a manner of speaking, to them, in their minds and hearts) in his works of creation and providence. 

Observe Paul’s paradoxical language in v. 20: he refers to God’s invisible attributes (1 Tim. 1:17) as clearly seen (oxymoron). Paul’s point is that the invisible is made visible via creation or nature. Divine wisdom, power, eternity and goodness, for example, are not in themselves visible, but their reality is undeniably affirmed and apprehended by the effects they produce in nature. That there is a God, supreme, eternal, infinite in power, personal, wise, independent, worthy of glory and gratitude, is clearly evident in the creation.

How are these truths about God made known and where may we see them? Paul’s answer is, “through what has been made” (v. 20). God has left the indelible mark of his fingerprints all across the vast face of the universe.

Theologian Robert Dabney put it this way: “They who have no Bible may still look up to the moon walking in brightness and the stars watching in obedient order; they may see in the joyous sunbeams the smile of God, and in the fruitful shower the manifestation of his bounty; they hear the rending thunder utter his wrath, and the jubilee of the birds sing his praise; the green hills are swelled with his goodness; the trees of the wood rejoice before him with every quiver of their foliage in the summer air.” Herman Bavinck put it succinctly in declaring that “there is not an atom of the universe in which God’s power and divinity are not revealed.”

Paul’s point here in Romans 1 is that this revelation is sufficiently clear and inescapable that it renders all without excuse (see Rom. 1:20). Consequently, there is no such thing as “an innocent native in Africa” any more than there is “an innocent pagan in America.”

What does Paul mean when he says that all humanity is without excuse? “The excuse that is banished,” notes R. C. Sproul, “the excuse every pagan hopes in vain to use, the excuse that is exploded by God’s self-revelation in nature is the pretended, vacuous, dishonest appeal to ignorance. No one will be able to approach the judgment seat of God justly pleading, ‘If only I had known you existed, I would surely have served you.’ That excuse is annihilated. No one can lightly claim ‘insufficient’ evidence for not believing in God” (Classical Apologetics, 46).

The problem is not a lack of evidence. The problem is the innate, natural, moral antipathy of mankind to God. The problem is not that the evidence is not open to mankind. The problem is that mankind is not open to the evidence.

Note well Paul’s words: “For even though they knew God” (v. 21a). Again, “that which is known about God is evident within them” (not hidden, obscure, uncertain, but disclosed, clear, and inescapable). There is no such thing as an honest atheist! All people know God. There is a distinction, of course, between, on the one hand, a cognitive apprehension of God, i.e., knowing that there is a God and that he is worthy of obedience, worship, gratitude, and, on the other, a saving or redemptive knowledge of God. All people experience the former whereas only the redeemed experience the latter. Thus the problem, again, “is not a failure to honor what was not known, but a refusal to honor what was clearly known” (Sproul, 51).

Paul believed the unbeliever’s knowledge of God was “real” though not “saving”. They have more than an “awareness” of God. They know both that he exists and that he is of a certain moral character and that they themselves are accountable to him. In other words, their knowledge of God brings “subjective” understanding, but not “saving” understanding. The God they truly and “really” know, they hate and refuse to honor. Their response, however, is not borne of ignorance but of willful rebellion and self-centered sinfulness.

But Paul is equally clear that all persistently suppress this knowledge (see vv. 21-32). He does not say they began in darkness and futility and are slowly but surely groping their way toward the light. Rather, they began with the clear, inescapable light of the knowledge of God and regressed into darkness. More on this below.

The reference to them as “futile” and “fools” (vv. 21-22) does not mean all pagans are stupid. It is not man’s intelligence that is in view but his disposition. The problem with the unsaved isn’t that he can’t think with his head. The problem is that he refuses to believe with his heart. The unsaved man is a fool not because he is of questionable intelligence. He is a fool because of his immoral refusal to acknowledge and bow to what he knows is true.

What is the response of the human heart to this revelatory activity of God? Paul describes it in vv. 21-23. What he has in mind involves a distortion or deliberate mutation when one substitutes something artificial or counterfeit for that which is genuine. Clearly, then, when man rejects God he does not cease to be religious. Indeed, he becomes religious in order to reject God. He substitutes for God a deity of his own making, often himself.

This leads to three important conclusions.

First, the revelation of God in creation and conscience is sufficient to render all men without excuse, sufficient to lead to their condemnation if they repudiate it, but not sufficient to save. No one will be saved solely because of their acknowledgment of God in nature, but many will be lost because of their refusal of him as revealed there. In other words, general revelation lacks redemptive content. It is epistemically adequate but soteriologically inadequate. It makes known that there is a God who punishes sin but not that he pardons it.

Second, and please note this well, the so-called heathen are not condemned for rejecting Jesus, about whom they have heard nothing, but for rejecting the Father, about whom they have heard and seen much. Whatever about God is included in Paul’s words, “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature” (Rom. 1:20), the knowledge of such is universal and inescapable and renders all mankind without an excuse for their unbelief, without an excuse for their failure to honor God, without an excuse for their refusal to thank God, and without an excuse for turning from the one true God to the worship of idols.

Third, general revelation is the essential prerequisite to special revelation. And special revelation is that which redemptively supplements and interprets general revelation. Therefore, if by God’s gracious and sovereign enablement and enlightenment, any unbeliever responds positively to the revelation of God in nature (and conscience), God will take the necessary steps to reach him or her with the good news of Christ whereby they may be saved.

What we have seen from this brief look at Romans 1 is that God has made his existence and attributes known to all mankind in every age: people of every religion in every nation on earth. These people may never hear the name of Jesus. They may never hear the gospel proclaimed. They may never hear of the cross or the resurrection. They may never hold in their hands a Bible in their own language. But they are totally and justly and righteously “without excuse” before God for their failure to honor him as God and their subsequent idolatrous turn to created things as a substitute for the Creator.

They will not be judged for their rejection of Jesus, of whom they have heard nothing. For Rob Bell or anyone else to suggest that we believe people will suffer eternally in hell for not believing in a Jesus of whom they know nothing is a distortion of what we affirm, and worse still is a distortion of what Paul clearly taught. People will be held accountable and judged on the basis of the revelation that God has made of himself to them. And this revelation is unmistakable, unavoidable, and sufficiently pervasive and clear that the failure to respond as well as the turn to idolatry renders them “without excuse.” They will be righteously judged for rejecting the Father, not for rejecting the Son.

162 Responses to “Bell’s Hell and the Destiny of Those Who’ve Never Heard of Jesus”

  1. Excellent.

  2. In AD 300 in the Amazon, if the natives had not rejected the Father, what would have happened? Would that have been enough?

    In other words, if Rob Bell had said,

    “If, billions and billions and billions of people, God is going to torture them in hell forever – people who never heard about [the Father] are going to suffer in eternal agony because they didn’t believe in the [Father] they never heard of…

    …would you be ok with that? Unless you’re an inclusivist, you’ve got to say that even that wouldn’t have been enough: they’d have to believe on the name of Jesus, and then your objection to Rob Bell’s remarks become a little harder to understand.

  3. Michael,

    This post is not convincing. As so often has been done in the past, the beginning of Romans is being read without proper attention to Romans 8, Romans 9-11, not to mention the broader witness of the NT, from Matthew to Revelation. The broader witness calls your exegesis, however traditional, into question.

    I find much to object to in Bell’s presentation of the gospel. But if your presentation of the gospel is as unsparing as this, I find more to object to in yours.

  4. “For Rob Bell or anyone else to suggest that we believe people will suffer eternally in hell for not believing in a Jesus of whom they know nothing is a distortion of what we affirm,”

    I find it bazaar that you feel justified in making this kind of statement when it is exactly what you and others you associate with have done to Bell. You claim to know his whole theology based on a quote you took out of context with part of the Bible you basically took out of context to make a not very solid argument.

  5. Potato, Potahto. You’re not saying that people are condemned for not believing in Jesus, but you still say that they are denied redemption by Jesus. You say that they are given enough knowledge about God to be condemned, but not enough to know the way to escape condemnation. God has arbitrarily closed the way of salvation to them, refusing to rehabilitate them from a sinful depravity which they are positively incapable of fixing themselves and which they supposedly inherited from Adam. Somehow, I doubt that your clarification would alleviate the inequity inherent in this theology that Bell is criticizing.

  6. Dan,

    Thanks for commenting. Theology is not the pursuit of alleviating people’s belief anxiety, it is the pursuit of truth. So I find the motives behind your comment somewhat disturbing.

    As well, there is nothing arbitrary about divine election. It just has nothing to do with us.

    Having said that I do appreciate your heart and desire for all people to have a chance. It does make emotional sense.

    Michael. (writing from my iPhone very slowly!)

  7. Sam, I regret to do this but I am now subscribing to comments! Thanks in advance for filling up my inbox!

  8. So then is natural revelation enough? Can natural revelation teach us that not only is God powerful, merciful, loving and kind, but that he stepped in to creation and died for sinful men in order to redeem them? Can it teach us well enough to repent of our sins and turn to this powerful, merciful God for salvation?

    Can God grant the gift of irresistible saving grace to someone who has never heard the name of Jesus?

    I’m with you on Romans 1 and people being without excuse, but I’m curious how much further this should go.

  9. “If, billions and billions and billions of people, God is going to torture them in hell forever – people whose condemnation lies solely in the misfortune of being birthed into Adam’s hopelessly depraved race, with no possible access to the only lifeline of salvation, Jesus – then at that point we will have far bigger problems than a book from a pastor from Grand Rapids.”

    There. Does that work better for you, Sam? Cleans up Bell’s befuddled theology! But semantics and technical systematic theologies aside, what does it change?

  10. rayner markley April 3, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    ‘God has made His existence and attributes known to all mankind…’
    Not clear on this. To the human mind the evidence in nature is ambiguous as regards order/disorder or justice/injustice. Men are the ones who determine what is known to them, and therefore they can ascertain God from nature if they are inclined to. And many are indeed inclined to, though in reality the evidence isn’t conclusive.

  11. Jeremy Kidder April 4, 2011 at 2:15 am

    Rayner,
    Paul disagrees with you on this point. Romans 1:88ff states not just that the information about God is there to be seen, but that it “Has been clearly understood.” The very thing that arouses God’s wrath in this passage is man’s suppression of this truth. So Paul certainly does expect that men will declare they have not seen this evidence, and that they will try to use this claim as an excuse to avoid culpabuility for judgment, the question left to us is simple; will believe them on this matter or God?

  12. I agree with much of this, but I also think that the Holy Spirit is working in the hearts of all men. So while general revelation convicts men of God’s existence, God also woos men thru his activity on their spirits. There is some reason to suspect that people who have not heard of Jesus respond to God, both now and especially prior to his incarnation.

    People who have not heard of Jesus may not recognise him directly, but indirectly such that when they meet him they will now he is who they have been trying to listen to and obey.

    Many do not respond to God thru his general revelation and we must tell them about Jesus, compel them to enter the kingdom.

  13. John from Down Under April 4, 2011 at 4:27 am

    Michael you’re my favorite blogger & theologian, but your response to Dan confuses me.

    To a non-Calvinist reader the thrust of this article sounds self-contradictory. It would have made perfect sense if it wasn’t written by a Calvinist. I guess what I’m saying is you can’t have it both ways. If God doesn’t grant you saving grace/gift of faith, what does it matter whether you acknowledge his existence in creation or not, you’re still doomed for hell. Listen to the following statements:

    “The God they truly and “really” know, they hate and refuse to honor” – How can they, since they haven’t been granted saving grace?

    “The problem with the unsaved isn’t that he can’t think with his head. The problem is that he refuses to believe with his heart” – Isn’t he incapable to believe unless he is given the gift of faith?

  14. John from Down Under April 4, 2011 at 4:29 am

    And here’s the MOST confusing statement: “Therefore, if by God’s gracious and sovereign enablement and enlightenment, any unbeliever responds positively to the revelation of God in nature (and conscience), God will take the necessary steps to reach him or her with the good news of Christ whereby they may be saved.” – So they can ONLY “respond positively to the revelation of God in nature” IF he sovereignly enables and enlightens them. So how can you say that they are “without excuse” then?

    If God withholds saving grace/gift of faith from someone, how can he be “without excuse” since his default disposition is to reject God amidst his depravity? Conversely, even if he DOES acknowledge God in nature, what does it matter? Unless he is among the elect, his fate is sealed. And if God “reaches him” if he responds positively to the revelation in nature, then the election becomes conditional.

    Unless the answer is staring me in the face, I think I’m missing something.

  15. Mitchell Hammonds April 4, 2011 at 7:44 am

    It appears that Rom:1 is speaking of the general revelation of God that all men are capable of seeing. The Gospel, however, is something very specific not revealed in nature or by observing the world in which we live. The gospel must be communicated by “word of mouth” from speaker to the listener (Romans 10:14-17).
    John 6:22-71 is specifically about the “inability of man” to approach Christ. Acts 4 speaks of the depth of the sovereignty of God in the affairs of men stating that “… all that your (God’s) hand predestined to take place long ago.”

  16. rayner markley April 4, 2011 at 8:23 am

    Yes.

    And besides, believing that God will somehow reach with the Gospel of Jesus anyone who responds positively to the revelation in nature is unsupported wishful thinking. The apostles did a fine job of evangelizing all parts of the Roman Empire quickly (according to tradition), but thousands of tribes lived beyond. And by the time the Gospel reached China it (Nestorianism) was condemned as an error in the West.

  17. JFDU, I was having the same problem with Michael’s post as well.
    “All people know God. There is a distinction, of course, between, on the one hand, a cognitive apprehension of God, i.e., knowing that there is a God and that he is worthy of obedience, worship, gratitude, and, on the other, a saving or redemptive knowledge of God.”
    When you require this redemptive knowledge to only be offered to a few and not all then the wheels come off the bus for me. That would be a pretty good excuse outside of the general revelation of nature that you offer in light of Bell’s article. I feel we do have general revelation of God in nature and that alone is what makes one without excuse, people choose to not follow up on this revelation

  18. I have trouble seeing how it’s not arbitrary. Or if it is not arbitrary, how it is not something worse. You could say that God chooses on the basis of what glorifies him the most (whatever that means), but that’s still completely disconnected from anything approaching what we might call justice, not to mention massively inequitable and callous. What I don’t get about Calvinist theology is that it doesn’t seem to acknowledge that there are ways that mercy can still be free and undeserved while not being arbitrary. It’s very simple: grant mercy to those who are repentant. The Bible suggests as much. By repenting, the sinner hasn’t done anything to deserve mercy, but it gives God a sensible way to decide who receives mercy and who does not. Universal clemency is not just, but unilateral pardon of some based solely on the preference of an all-powerful ruler is not just either. Granting a second chance to the penitent? That can be just. What’s not to understand?

  19. Sam, (or maybe Michael?),

    I have been wondering too how you know that anyone that responds to God positively in nuture will be given the full saving revelation of Jesus? Is there some specific Scripture that you are basing that on?

  20. Mitchell Hammonds April 4, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Jim,
    The “wheels come off of the bus” for those following Jesus around in John 6:21-71. It is odd that Jesus chooses to offend the crowd following him… severely I will add… rather than “nurturing their curiosities” to bring them into saving faith. As someone who is reformed I must admit having some natural”uneasiness” about the doctrine of election… but I don’t see how Scripture can be more clear about the “particular and specific nature” with which God saves individuals. Romans 9, 10, 11… John 6:21-71… John 10:22-30…
    Eph 2… 1Peter 1:3 ” God has “caused” us to be born again. There are many more.

  21. Don’t know why this is bothering me – but here goes.

    Please notice the words at the top “by Sam Storms” indicating the original post was not written by Michael. Carry on.

    Also, thought the post was spot on, Michael.

  22. “I have trouble seeing how it’s not arbitrary. Or if it is not arbitrary, how it is not something worse. You could say that God chooses on the basis of what glorifies him the most (whatever that means), but that’s still completely disconnected from anything approaching what we might call justice, not to mention massively inequitable and callous.”

    Justice demands that all without exception are condemned for sin.

    Roman 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

    There is no injustice in that God savingly reveals himself to those whom he has chosen. Rather, it is amazing grace.

    To demand justice at the hand of a perfectly holy God is to demand our own eternal damnation.

    Give me mercy…give me grace…and I will worship Him forever.

  23. It’s best not to try to say more than what the text is saying. Clearly there is sufficient revelation of God in creation and conscience to leave one without excuse but the text is not saying anything about what happens to those who respond in faith to God’s self-disclosure on this level. To say that, “God will take the necessary steps to reach him or her with the good news of Christ” is saying more than the text is saying. I am not sure if this is being offered as a logical inference from putting together other strands of biblical truth. This text doesn’t tell us about those who respond favorably. Are they the “Cornelius kind”? Is it possible to respond favorably and to die without hearing the gospel? If not, why not? If so, then what? Is condemnation rooted in universal sinfulness (Jew and Gentile), human rejection, Adamic connection, election?

    See: The Destiny of those unable to believe
    http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2007/03/01/the-destiny-of-those-unable-to-believe/

  24. In Romans 1 Paul is speaking about man’s rejection of God. This includes the rejection of God the Son, Jesus (the) Christ, who is the creator of all things, both visible and invisible (Col 1:16), not just God the Father. This response to Bell potentially divides the purpose of the Trinity, which Ephesians 1 tells us is according to God’s will for the greatest purpose, which is God’s glory. The pouring out of God’s grace is not for the happiness of man or so that poor, ignorant man can get to heaven if they only have the chance to choose between Hell and Jesus. Men are punished in Hell for their sins, which are the result of their fallen state. Only those God chose before the foundation of the world to raise to spiritual life are the recipients of this saving grace. God is not unjust to pardon some, while withholding His grace from others, because it is according to His will and purpose (laid out before the foundation of the world) which is always holy and just.

  25. Notice how all the objections to Sam’s post come in the form of human reasoning, and none deal with the text. Are the objector’s saying Paul is mistaken here? The text is pretty clear, God has revealed himself to everyone and they are without excuse. Taken with John 14:6, it’s not really that hard to get a proper theology on this issue.

    We should have a heart for the lost, but this should not be the foundation of our theology. A heart for the lost comes out of the theology revealed in the Bible. See Todd Miles new book, “A God of Many Understandings?”

  26. NO!
    -Karl Barth

  27. Sean,

    To the non Calvinist, myself and obviously others posting here, there is simply no way that our minds wrap themselves around a concept of “just” that punishes some for things they can not help, (“….their sins which are a result of their fallen state,”) while choosing to save others. To determine to withhold the necessary means of salvation from many while giving it to the few does not seem “just” to those folks in our minds at all. If they could choose to be born with a fallen state or not, it would be different. But to be born with an incurable disease that can only result in sin and then to be punished for it eternally while others are offered a remedy has no resemblance to any human form of “justice” that I know of. That is only one reason why many of us think there has to be another way of understanding certain Scriptures then the Calvinist way.

  28. cherylu,
    By now you probably know what they’re going to say the problem is: you’re holding God to human standards of justice. Unfortunately, since we’re also using human language and approaching our interpretation of Scripture with human brains, I don’t see how we have much other choice. If the biblical authors were so sure that God is “just”, why did they not use an entirely different word to describe what they’re referring to, since the Calvinist understanding of God’s justice means something very much like “not justice”? If we can’t begin to understand God’s ways because of the human/divine divide, we’re all wasting our time trying to figure anything out, including what the Bible says. If my spirit and intellect have been taught of God to love the things He loves and hate the things He hates, to value what’s good and reject what’s wrong, I would be doing Him wrong to believe something about Him that, theological contrivances aside, I know good and well makes Him out…

  29. …to be a monster.

    (Darned character limit!)

  30. Isn’t this similar to the “age of accountability”? I can see that people who have never heard of Jesus still have ‘general revelation’ as a necessary first step; and most people around the world being those who think there is a ‘first cause’ and an extant moral law, they now need to understand the saving work of Jesus. Babies who die before achieving reasoning ability or even cognitive ability to interpret the moral law from the created order may not be in the same boat as the adults who have never heard of Jesus.

    How do you square these things theologically? To be clear about what I think on the subject, I think we are simply meant to live with the tension that the Bible is explicit on those who have heard of Jesus, understand the dynamics of salvation and consciously reject Him as the Savior; but silent on those who have not heard of Him.

    A related idea is found in Romans 10:14 (‘how shall they hear..”) which places the responsibility for getting the message out on…

  31. Steve,

    I’m not at all sure I follow your point.

    If we as humans don’t have any real understandng of what justice means, then we don’t have a clue what love means or what any other word means either when it is referring to God. So, yeah, you are right. There would be no sense in trying to understand what the Bible means if the words used there have no correspondence with our understanding of them.

    So what do we do? Admit that words when used in reference to God don’t have the same meaning at all as when used in normal human conversation and so God’s ways can’t be understood at all with our normal understanding by the language He has used to reveal Himself?

    Or do we assume the words used to reveal God to us in the bible do have correspondence to our normal understanding of them and try to make sense of what is said in light of them?

    Words such as “justice” and “love” have to be redefined greatly from the norm to make them fit with the Calvinist…

  32. Sean writes,
    “Men are punished in Hell for their sins, which are the result of their fallen state. ”

    The logic could not be more precise! Men are punished in Hell for something over which they had no control!! And have no hope of altering!! and this best serves the glory of God!

    Will one of your Calvinists please explain to me how this state of affairs is any less troublesome than that which Ron Bell describes which set off all this fury?

    How is eternal torment as a punishment for merely existing in a “fallen state” any less troublesome to you than eternal torment as a punishment for “failing to believe in a Jesus they never heard of?”

    Seems to me the potential for God’s glory is pretty much equal either way.

  33. cherylu, we are in complete agreement.

  34. NOWHERE in the Bible does it SAY that “if you don’t believe in Jesus you will go to hell.”

    That is not in there.

    What is in there is this, “No one gets to the Father but by me”

    Christ Jesus will decide. Only He knows the hearts of men/women.

  35. Mitchell, I fail to see the corelation you mentioned in
    John 6: 21 & on. My bus would grind to a halt with that concept.

  36. Steve Martin,

    How do you understand this verse?

    John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

  37. Even the devil believes in Him.

    What about those who said to Jesus (the Judge), “we did such and such in YOUR NAME” And He said depart from me I never knew you.

    God is free to save whom He will save. He will do it. He knows the hearts of men and is able to judge justly because He sees everything. We don’t.

    That is why it is important to leave that job up to Him.

  38. Steve,

    What does being condemned mean in the verse I quoted? That is what I am wondering in connection with the statement you made about the Bible never saying those that don’t believe go to hell. If they are condemened, what happens to them?

  39. Steve Martin, I have no problem with leaving the matters of ultimate judgement in God’s hands. He is so much better at such things!

    However, in his wisdom, God has appointed us to be his representatives here on earth, his emissaries. As such, we must represent his character and his purposes and plans to a waiting, wondering world. Do we have nothing to offer the world in the way of reconciling a loving God to his plans for creation? Are we really just left shrugging our shoulders, admitting the apparent injustice of his ways, while assuring people that we couldn’t possibly understand anyway, so just get over it? Are we, as the appointed ambassadors of Heaven’s Kingdom, left with nothing better than that?

  40. What does, “No one gets to the Father but by me, mean?”

    It means He will decide. Our job is to witness to Him.

    We (well some of us) are not biblicists. We don’t lift every text out and focus on that text. We lift the gospel out of the text.

    Yes, people will go to hell. But a lot of people will be shocked at who they see there (Heaven) and who is not there. There will be a whole lot of church people who thought they had it made, who will find out otherwise. Oh sure, they were big on Christian religion…but lacking in any trust.

  41. From comment 29:

    If we can’t begin to understand God’s ways because of the human/divine divide…

    I think that divide is not as large as some would say. When something seems unjust to us, we can’t just say “you’re holding God to human standards of justice.” After all, where do we get our human sense of Justice? I think Orthodoxy would say we get it from God – it’s a communicable attribute. I think it’s part of the imago Dei. Corrupted, yes, but still finding its source in God’s sense of justice. Though we have to recognize our limited understanding and fallen nature, what seems unjust to us, probably is.

  42. We preach about hell (although that is NOT our focus).

    We preach the full council of God, His Law and His gospel.

    But Jesus told us not to judge. So we don’t judge anyone’s salvation.

    We can’t know who the believers are anyway. But He certainly does.

    Besides, I know so many people who “made their decision for Christ”, not out of love for God, but because they were afraid of going to hell. Out of fear. Is that what God is looking for from His children?

  43. Agreed, Dave Z. This was my point as well. And by no human standard of justice is it a permissible option, much less the only permissible option, to condemn someone for doing something that you required that s/he do. The issue, I’m afraid, is that certain texts in the Bible seem to imply this, and an inerrantist either has to come up with a system for resolving those problems or allow that perhaps the biblical authors themselves didn’t always get it right.

  44. It’s best not to try to say more than what the text is saying. Clearly we learn that there is sufficient revelation of God in creation and conscience to leave one without excuse but the text is not saying anything about what happens to those who respond in faith to God’s self-disclosure on this level. To say, “God will take the necessary steps to reach him or her with the good news of Christ” is saying more than the text is saying. I am not sure if this is being offered as logical inference from putting together other pieces of biblical truth. This text doesn’t tell us about those who respond favorably. Are they the “Cornelius kind”? Is it possible to respond favorably and to die without hearing the gospel? If not, why not? If so, then what? Is condemnation rooted in universal sinfulness, human rejection, Adamic identity, election? As you know, these are taken up as the book continues.

    Check this out: The Destiny of those unable to believe
    http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/category/heaven-for-mentally-disabled/

  45. rayner markley April 4, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    How about if God’s greatest purpose isn’t His own glory? That might be the way of a self-centered autocrat, a successful oriental potentate. Better, and He has shown this by His humility and sacrifice, God’s greatest purpose is to love His creation, as our greatest purpose is to love Him. Love doesn’t seek its own glory or benefit.

  46. John from Down Under April 4, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    @ RAYNER M #18 and DR MICHAEL #26

    Rayner I think you missed my point. What I’m getting at is that Calvinists seem to want it both ways. Back to Sam’s statement: “Therefore, if by God’s gracious and sovereign enablement and enlightenment, any unbeliever responds positively to the revelation of God in nature (and conscience), God will take the necessary steps to reach him or her with the good news of Christ whereby they may be saved.”

    If the ONLY WAY they can “respond positively” is by divine “enablement and enlightenment” and no other way, how can they be without excuse? They have NO OTHER choice! Furthermore, whether they acknowledge God or not, unless they’re ‘elect’ they are doomed to the fires of hell, so what difference does it make in the end?

    And no Dr Michael, Paul is not mistaken but this logic is utterly confusing to some of us.
    I know the Calvinist gap filler between those two is Compatibilism, but incomprehensible nonetheless.

  47. Barry passmore April 4, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    After hearing plenty of men’s ideas, what saith our Saviour and his apostles?

  48. @ Steve Martin,

    I want to think you just accidentally misquoted it, but the verse actually reads, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me”. Notice the “through”, not by. Not only will he judge, but going through Him is the only way. There is not other.

    @ John Down Under

    Paul’s logic is God’s logic when written in Scripture. I know not trying to be contentious, but my point is that we have to take the Scripture at face value and build our theology from there. We cannot start our foundation by questioning God’s righteousness when it is so clearly revealed in Scripture. Read Romans 1-3, seeking for truth, until it makes sense.

  49. Dr Michael, the word is dia, and it means “by” or “through”. Though the NAS and NIV choose “through” the RSV and KJV (and others) choose “by”. In terms of the point you are trying to make, I see little difference.

    As for your second point, there are numerous Scriptures which you likely do not take at face value. You understand them in term of what the whole of Scripture, and your own experience of God, tell you about his character. Are you suggesting we should not read the Scriptures through the lens of his revealed character?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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