Keep me ignorant so I’ll stay out of hell?


The following picture was making its rounds on facebook today, and I do sort of think that it shows that some forms of Christian inclusivism are in serious need of reconsidering their very basic framework:

Let me first clarify that I’m not at all sure about the historicity of this quote, and I don’t have a source except for this FB picture… An American Orthodox FB friend pointed out that the Inuit were evangelised by the orthodox, and not by the catholic or protestants, which makes the story more doubtful, since this way of thought appears to not at all not be compatible with Orthodoxy…

The problem in the quote is clear: If you believe in Christ you will be saved from hell, but what about those who never heard that good news? Some would say that they all go to hell and stand accused nonetheless, while others trust in Gods mercy to be able to save more, which gives us certain forms of universalism (all go to heaven because Christ will be able to save all) or inclusivism (not all non-Christians will be unsaved) of different varieties.

The inclusivism that’s propagated in the picture assumes that those who are ignorant of God and the gospel cannot be held responsible, and can therefore not be sent to hell (unless they are really evil probably) but from the moment they have heard the gospel they will have to respond by converting, or otherwise they will be sent to hell… (insert a whole talk about ‘justice’ and ‘wrath’ here) The biggest problem is this: Maybe with such a theology it would be better to not evangelise at all, since then less people won’t go to hell…

Uhhh???

I would think that there are some problems with the basic framework. The biggest one is the view of salvation as being first and foremost being saved from God putting you in hell, which can be avoided by believing that Jesus saved you from this fate on the Cross. I would think that the mentality of ‘being saved from hell by a conscious decision to believe stuff’ which does not apply when the person is ‘ignorant’ and has not heard that information is quite one sided, but much more merciful than ‘all will go to hell for not accepting information they could never have’…

Where the approach fails I think, is that there’s much more to say about salvation that getting a ‘get out of hell free’ card… Salvation is getting reconciled to God, and also our neighbor (and the rest of creation btw!) and the word is also used throughout the bible in a lot of contextual situations just for ‘getting out of trouble’. This means that we are saved from a way that leads to death, (the wages of sin are death, as Paul says in Romans. This does not have to mean at all that God puts sinners in hell, but it literally means that sin leads away from life into death!) and disconnect from God, and indeed this way easily leads to hell, not because God sends us there, but because that’s where it goes naturally.

Another problem here is the purely legal framing of sin and salvation that some Western traditions use. Surely the legal metaphors are useful, but they are not the ultimate description. The bible and the Christian tradition have used a lot more metaphors, which are all windows on the Truth, but none will ever completely frame it… That being said, I do think that we miss a lot, too much even, if we think that the biggest problem is not an actual saving from death, evil, sin and destruction, but a change in legal status that enables God to not put us in hell but in heaven…

Being cut off from the Source of Life, which is what being unreconciled to God means, would be hell or even total annihilation if god would gives us what we want when we don’t want to leave that road. On the other hand, being in the undiluted presence of God as an unreconciled creature would most probably have a similar outcome, experiencing Gods holiness while being deeply infected by sin can also mean our hell, or annihilation…

(To me both of these approaches make much more sense than the aforementioned over-legal framework some of my fellow protestants employ, which just cheapens sin into the breaking of arbitrary rules instead of something that is in itself capable of harming and destroying us. They are also in line with for example the views of C.S. Lewis for example…)

If salvation is being ontologically reconciled to God (and our fellow human and all of Creation) the above kind of reasoning makes not much sense… Inclusivism is not really a problem though, like C.S. Lewis says, we know that only Jesus saves, but do people have to know His name to be saved by Him? Those who follow ‘the light they’ve been given’ and try to live out what they know about living in harmony with God are likely to be able to, at the final judgment, see and say ‘this is Who I’ve known and try to follow all my life’… Those who followed evil all the way, and are formed by it, will most likely just not have anything to do with God, and they will probably not be able to stand the presence of God and His holiness at all…

So, what are your opinions?

Shalom

Bram

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9 responses to “Keep me ignorant so I’ll stay out of hell?

  1. As for how those who do not know of the Judeo-Christian God will be judged…by the natural law written in their heart as they are creations of God and bear His image within themselves.

    “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools….” Romans 1: 20-23

    This last sentence makes me think of the type of debating and arguing, some of it just coming down to semantics, that people engage in to escape God. But it’s not a an arbitrary game with rules for winning/losing that can be re-thought out – it’s just the way of the world God created. It centers around Life, God, and so positive growth is towards Him, negative growth is away from Him, and the effects will be the same as those on a plant that grows towards the sun vs. one that is kept in the darkness. If someone would rather live in denial of God, then they are by definition wanting to live in denial of Life itself anyway, so destructive forces are the natural consequence of that.

  2. Abe and I were just talking about the related idea in evangelicalism (and now catholicism apparently) that babies go to heaven automatically. Taking into account the idea of a literal, eternal hell, we decided that from this standpoint, abortion is the most merciful act in the world. Why let a baby live if there’s even a miniscule chance that it will spend eternity being tortured? That theology can’t come to any other logical conclusion which is one reason why I can’t believe in it.

  3. The sort of weird inclusivism featured in the picture seems more like a product of someone who has no framework for the gospel beyond “Jesus died for your sins”. If Jesus actually taught a way of life then surely one could respond to that way without knowing things like Jesus’ name. Of course, at least here in America, a reduced gospel seems quite popular.

  4. I’m certain that initial quotation is spurious, but it’s worth noting that the Orthodox did indeed evangelize Alaska… their clergy are also referred to as priests.

  5. if the quote is correct, then the priest is not in touch with Roman Catholic doctrine. Ignorance is not a ‘free ticket to heaven’. One has to be able to speak of “‘invincible’ ingnorance” in order to be excused of not knowing. Second, even in conditions of ‘invincible ignorance’ there must be “‘implicit’ faith”. This implies that people with ‘implicit faith’ would have accepted the gospel, had they been exposed to it. It also implies that their life exhibits the fruit of that faith, i.e., they live ‘good lives’. Third, even people who have literally ‘heard’ the gospel and did not accept it, are not automatically to be considered doomed – for the gospel confrontation must happen at an ‘existential’ level and not merely at a superficial level.
    Anyway, your comments are to the point.
    grtjs, Wouter

  6. Pingback: The scary consequences of baby universalism… | Brambonius' blog in english

  7. None of it makes any sense whatsoever.

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