In a recent post, I presented three questions I’ve heard young people ask–people who think highly of Jesus and even seem to want to become Christians and follow Him, but worry they can’t without sacrificing their rationality, their decency, or both.
I addressed the first question in my last two posts. Here is the second question:
Question 2: Why would God send people to hell just because they haven’t heard about Jesus?
(I’ve also heard some related questions, such as Why would God send anyone to hell? and Why would a loving God send me to hell just because I’m not convinced Christianity is true?)
A proper look at this issue requires a lot more than a blog post. But I can explain, rather briefly, one reason people who worry about this issue don’t need to worry. That reason is that Christian theology doesn’t necessarily say that the people they’re concerned about–the ones who live and die without hearing the Gospel properly explained–are all going to hell.
There are different views on this sort of thing within the area of soteriology (the study of salvation). Here are two of the generic views:
Exclusivism: This is the view that there is one way to be saved, Jesus Christ, and that only those who follow Christ in this life will be saved.
Inclusivism: This is the view that there is one way to be saved, Jesus Christ, but that some who do not follow Christ in this life will nonetheless be saved through Him.
Obviously according to Inclusivism it is not the case that everyone who hasn’t heard about Jesus goes to hell. This is the view of C. S. Lewis as well as the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church. So you can be a Christian and not even bother asking the question!
Of course, the really important question is: Will Cinnamon be there when I get to Heaven?
Different versions of Exclusivism are outlined in a very good little book by Robert Wittmer. One of these versions is Soft Exclusivism, the view that, to anyone who responds properly to general revelation (the sort of revelation Paul talks about in Romans 1), God will give sufficient special revelation (the sort of revelation God gives through Jesus, an aposle, or a prophet) to be saved. Now a Soft Exclusivist can be an optimist or a pessimist. An Optimistic Soft Exclusivist thinks this actually happens sometimes; a Pessimistic Soft Exclusivist thinks it never happens. Wittmer himself is a Pessimistic Soft Exclusivist. My old theology teacher William E. Bell, is an Optimistic Soft Exclusivist, and even thinks there is some, admittedly ambiguous, biblical evidence for this view.
Obviously, if Optimistic Soft Exclusivism is correct, then Question 2 is not a big deal: People don’t go to hell just for not hearing about Jesus. People who respond to God’s general revelation properly will hear enough about Jesus to be saved, and there are some such people.
To sum up: There are orthodox views in Christianity that implicitly deny there is even any need to ask Question 2!
To sum up my last three posts:
There are three big questions that keep people away from Christianity.
Question 1 is: Can I be a Christian and still believe in evolution? And the answer is: Yes. (But you don’t have to.)
Question 2 is: Why would God send people to hell just because they haven’t heard about Jesus? Maybe the best answer to this is another question: Who says God does?
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)