Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Book Review - "Who Can Be Saved" by Terrance Tiessen


Who Can Be Saved?:
Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions

by Terrance L. Tiessen
February 2004

Editorial Reviews

"This book does two things impressively well: It skilfully clarifies many issues that too often are blurred in the discussion of world religions, and it argues the author's own views with gracefulness, maturity, and cogency. Professor Tiessen thus takes his proper place in the forefront of evangelical theology of religions with a book that will become a reference point for all further work in the field." (John G. Stackhouse Jr., Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology and Culture, Regent College )

Product Description

Throughout history millions have lived and died without hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Despite vigorous missionary efforts, large populations of the world today have never been evangelized. And now religious pluralism has set up shop on Main Street. The question "Who can be saved?" forces itself on the minds of Christians like never before.

• Is there a wideness in God's mercy?

• Does God reveal himself in a way that invites all people to respond positively in saving faith?

• Does one have to be an Arminian to believe so?

• Or is there a way for Calvinists to see how God might reveal and save apart from the explicit "gospel" and yet exclusively through Jesus Christ?

• And if so, what does this say about the role of religions within the sovereign providence of God?

These are big questions requiring thoughtful care. In this intriguing study, Terrance L. Tiessen reassesses the questions of salvation and the role of religions and offers a proposal that is biblically rooted, theologically articulated and missiologically sensitive. This is a book that will set new terms for the discussion of these important issues.

Amazon Reviews

David Stump (August 9, 2006) - The question of who can be saved from a "christian" point of view is considered in this book. Must someone be cognitively aware of the facts of Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection to be saved? If so, just how many of the facts? And to what extent of accuracy? What about people in other relgions? What about babies? The mentally incapacitated? That's what this book is all about, and it is a detailed and very deep thought out work on the matter. This book requires some real mental effort, but it truly is a mind opening read for bible believing christians. The author goes beyond the typical conservative fundamentalist christian reaction to non-christians, and within this book, displays very careful and penetrating thought to the above mentioned sort of questions. One may not end up agreeing with some of his conclusions, and the author does come from a calvinistic perspective, (which is totally fine with me) however, if the author's calvinisic stance bugs you, don't let this one aspect of the book keep you from the immense value of this work in so many other areas that it deals with. This book will truly expand your mental horizons on this crucial subject. I have not come across very many works as valuable as this one pertaining to this subject. The main value of this large work is that it is a penetrating and stimulating read on this subject. It will really get your mental gears turning. This book helped to broaden my horizons concerning God's salvation amongst people in other cultures and religions without softening in any way the truth of Jesus as the pinnacle and apex of God's redeeming activity for humanity. Should be required reading for theologians and missions minded christians. A Tour de force. Another very interesting work somewhat related in concern is: The Gospel In A Pluralist Society by Leslie Newbigin. These sorts of books take seriously the biblical claim that the good news of Jesus as God's saving activity is indeed the true locus of God's saving activity, and yet these books seek to place that biblical truth in the wider scope of the global perspective of other cultures and/or religions. Must reading for christians in a cross culturally connected world that ours has become.

Orville B. Jenkins "Research Guy" (August 21, 2006) - In 2004, I read the 30-page Internet précis version of this book, annotating it heavily as I read and interacted with the author. I later bought the book, and will now read more deeply in the full version of the book. This is an extremely thoughtful and excruciatingly detailed discussion of the state of people in cultures who have not heard the specific message of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Tiessen evaluates everyone who has written anything on the topics, systematically going through every perspective, objection or proposal on each aspect of the question he considers. He includes a proposal of how the strict Calvinist [full determinist] view of election and predestination by God can accommodate the proposal that God has offered to every individual in every cultural setting, whatever the external knowledge or social situation, an adequate lopportunity to hear and understand the core meaing of God's call to himself in repentace and faith, while allowing for the rejection of so many.

Tiessen believes and lays out in extensive detail his beliefs that in every culture God has a way of working with every individual to present an adequate understanding of himself, to allow for an adequate opportunity to "be saved." This is based on the scriptural foundation of the relational, covenantal concept of salvation [commonly ignored or misunderstood in today's western individualism]. I found his logic and analysis superb and his proposals on most fronts acceptable.

I found, however, that I got very frustrated with the nit-picking logic of his attempts to defend traditional Calvinism. He indeed developed levels of probability and causality that are not commonly dealt with, and his reformulations seem to overcome several traditional criticisms of Calvinism. His proposal likely seems hopeful and welcome to Calvinists. This new logical defense of an ultimate deterministic view of the final response of individuals to God's call irons out a few of the difficulties facing a reconciliation of the obvious free offer of reconciliation to God to every person and nation with the few statements that attribute to God a free and absolute sovereignty in all things, including the grace granted for forgiveness of sins and salvation-reconciliation to him.

I found the same problem in the final level of deep determinism I find with all deterministic forms of thought. No matter how thin you slice it, in the end, it skews the intent and meaning of the biblical declarations from the dynamic, experiential and relationship cultural worldview of the east in to into a western, philosophical worldview that required clear and stratified categories of logic and metaphysical structure. It is just inadequate to limit the statements of the biblical writers to a foreign set of logical and metaphysical categories that come from a whole different worldview. Calvinists just can't seem to handle the paradox this dynamic mindset causes in the strict Greek philosophical approach so beloved of even the modern Western mind. They just can't seem to leave it unresolved.

Tiessen's excellent detailing of logical possibilities in the metaphysic of election (predestination) still finally still came down to one declaration that contradicted another, when he says that there is a full and free opportunity to hear and understand, but in the final analysis, the Lord's prior free choice not to choose this person prevents the individual from making the final response, however or in what form he heard the call.

I enjoy the dynamic approach of the eastern thought, which is very similar to the African worldview of dynamic relational realities I have lived with all of my adult life. Even in the Western forms of thought, there are better ways to accommodate the apparent contradictions, even in western thought. An obvious one that has been productively used for over a century is called Process Theology. Another valiant attempt now under attack by retrenched thinkers who can't give up their Greek way of thinking to allow a real biblical culture to speak to them, is Open Theism.

I recommend this book to anyone serious about probing the problems and possibilities of the possibilities in Christian doctrine for the salvation of peoples who have not heard the overt message of the gospel as understood by the western Christian faith. Tiessen has done more than anyone I have read on this topic, and I feel he has admirably succeeded, despite the deep problem I mention in this one section attempting to accommodate traditional legalistic Calvinistic theology.

The bonus is that when you read Tiessen's book, you will be exposed to virtually every other contribution on this topic, from every other perspective, now and through history! An amazing work to have come from one man's mind and pen!

Robert Veale (May 12, 2008) - Initially I thought 500 pages must be too long to make the case for the wider hope for the unevangelized. After reading the book I have changed my opinion as this book filled with thoughtful ideas and relevant observations. Along with Pinnock and Saunders, Tiessen posits a the case of hope for the unevangelized. His presuppositions are clearly described. Tiessen upholds a high view of scripture and the uniqueness of Christ in salvation and therefore is included in the evangelical camp. Interestingly, he shows how the wider hope is compatible with monergism. One strong area of the book is the area of how God can reveal himself in surprising ways to those who do not know the name of Jesus. God can even reveal himself through other religions even if those religions and fundamentally far away from the God of Israel and His revelation in Christ. I didn't agree with every point but the time I spent reading was very worthwhile. For those interested in this topic, this should be a must read along with "No Other Name" and "The Wideness of God's Mercy".

McKnight - A Critique of Love Wins 2


Exploring Love Wins 2
Scot McKnight
April 4, 2011
Filed under: Hell, Universalism

Because of the firestorm created, I am beginning these discussions of Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, with a prayer. I am asking that you pause quietly and slow down enough to pray this prayer as the way to approach this entire series:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing:
Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift,
which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue,
without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you.
Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
now and for ever. Amen.†

Hell. That’s the subject of conversation today. And God. Our view of God is implicit and explicit in our view of hell. The question then is what view of God is suggested by your view of hell? And, how does your view of God shape your view of hell? [Forgot: If you like this conversation, please FB share it or Retweet it.... thanks.]

I want us to sit back for a moment to consider the single-most important problem Rob Bell is facing and seeking to resolve in this book. That problem for him is how many in the church, and by and large most in the 19th and 20th Century of American evangelicals, have understood hell and who and how many populate hell. And what that view implies about God. Here are the three big facts, and you correct me if I’m wrong here.

  • Those who have heard the gospel and who have accepted it will go to heaven.
  • Those who have heard the gospel and not accepted it will go to hell.
  • Those who have not heard the gospel will also go to hell.
I am aware that some, I don’t know how many, believe in a fourth line:

  • Those who have not heard the gospel may be in a special class, and could be judged in a different way — on the basis of the light they have received from natural revelation. [At the end of this post I briefly discuss other options.]
But my experience in the evangelical world, which historically has been more or less exclusivist (salvation only in Christ, but also understood as consciously responding in this life to the preaching of the gospel itself [again see end of this post]), does not lead me to believe that there’s much reason for hope for those who have not heard. And there’s no hope for those who have heard and who have not accepted the gospel. Yes, some are much more optimistic about the fate of those who have never heard the good news about Jesus Christ, but Rob is not responding to the optimistic evangelical.

But this sketch of three or four points isn’t all of Rob Bell’s problem.

If one takes that third fact seriously, and many evangelicals have done just that, it means that most — let’s say the vast majority — of humans will go to hell because most have not heard the gospel at all. And vast numbers who have have not accepted it. Witness contemporary Europe for instance, or much of Russia. Add now to this the millions and millions in the Far East, most of those in Africa until the missionary movement, those in Muslim countries and millions in South America and other places not mentioned on this good globe of ours… and then add to this those who a thousand years or ago in far off places … you get the picture. The problem that arises from these three (or four) facts is that God created millions and millions of human beings over time and only a select number of them will go to heaven. The problem that arises, therefore, entails what we believe about God.

Of course, there are some theologians and probably loads of Christians who have believed otherwise. But the fact is that if one believes salvation is only in Christ (exclusivism) and that to be a believer one must consciously believe the gospel, then Rob Bell’s caricatures or exaggerations are not as far fetched as some might be suggesting. And the more one fudges in the direction of inclusivism — that there’s a wideness in God’s mercy, or that there’s a different judgment for those who have not heard (and it’s merciful etc etc), that those who died before they were born, or before the age of accountability, etc — the less one fits the stronger exclusivist category. It’s fair to ask “Why infants who die will be saved but not those who have never heard?” And it’s fair to ask “If infants can be saved, why not others?”

I don’t believe anyone should be "for-or-against" Rob Bell’s book until one has grappled with this problem. It won’t do just to poke at Rob’s soteriology, or lack of interest in how the atonement occurs … yes, those issues need examination. But the problem probed in this book, as I see it, and this is dawning on me the more I ponder it and the responses, is this:

I believe most evangelicals Christians, and I won’t speak for Catholics and Orthodox etc, suppress this problem to where it doesn’t really matter. Furthermore, they not only suppress that question but they suppress what it makes them think about God in quiet moments. So, there’s a fifth approach that many take today:

We don’t know what becomes of the millions, perhaps billions, who have never heard the gospel.

But, this appeal to agnosticism is for far too many a cop-out. It is too often born in a conviction that doesn’t have courage. Many of these are true-blue exclusivists but don’t like its implications, so they say “I don’t know” or “That’s in God’s hands.” [On other kinds of agnosticism, see below.] Some use agnosticism as a cloak for a universalism or pluralism they don’t want to admit.

So, I contend we have to get inside this problem and explore it through the problem itself and not explore it simply through our already confident soteriology or doctrine of Scripture. The problem is that no matter how strong your view of Scripture or salvation you have to come to terms with who and how many are in hell or who and how many will be saved. We might not know numbers, but our theology will inform us about the “who” and that will also mean the “how many” is also clarified.

I’ve asked a question like this — how many North Koreans will be in hell? – a number of times to friends in the last month and I’ve had very few say “All” or “Most” but instead there’s been a nice genteel “I don’t know.” But that “I don’t know” seems to me to fly in the face of the dogmatism against Rob’s much softer — almost all or all or he hopes all — view.

You can’t condemn Rob’s view until you face the problem and tell the world your quantification theory. The more you say “I don’t know” the more Martin Bashir is asking you what he asked Rob Bell.

Some other options:

1. Double predestination, which is appealed to rarely and even more rarely claimed publicly in this sort of discussion, would say "For those who have not heard the gospel ... if they were elect, they'll be saved. If not they, they'll not be saved."

2. Other terms often used are inclusivism (that God saves through Christ but includes others on the basis of what work, and that inclusion is based on response to truth) and accessibilism (that God somehow reveals his saving truth to all humans who have ever lived, and has done so at least one time in the life of each person, and judges on that basis but salvation is only through Christ). I am ignoring post Vatican II Catholic thinking and Orthodox thinking because it does not appear to me Rob is speaking into those contexts.

3. Religious instrumentalism teaches that God uses other religions to point us toward God and, in some forms, that Christ is present in those other religions though in a lesser way than is present in the Christian faith.

4. It seems to me that many evangelicals, if not most, understand exclusivism through the lens of what Terry Tiessen calls "ecclesiocentrism": salvation is coextensive with the church whose responsibility it is to proclaim the gospel. So, exclusivism here means through Christ but that "Christ" is known only through the gospel, which is made known by the church's witness.

5. There are two other kinds agnosticism: some are optimistic, like John Stott and R. Mouw, and others are pessimistic, like J.I. Packer and D.A Carson.

This sketch was helped along by T. Tiessen, Who Can Be Saved?: Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions:


Selected below are miscellaneous comments to McKnight's blog above that show the various struggles Christians go through in attempting to work out the many expressions of God's love and justice; eternity-issues both hear and later; what "the kingdom of God" can mean now and later; what the good news of the gospel really is (or isn't); the expressions of Christ's atonment v. the TULIP system; how our "theology" more-or-less reflects our view of God, the Cross, the concept of salvation; and the list goes on-and-on. So here are some snapshots that were thoughtfully written by conciencious readers to Rob Bell's book Love Wins.


Mel, there are good reasons to take the “agnostic” view but they have to be good reasons and not — as I often hear — a cop-out from confessing some hard beliefs. I could be wrong on this one, Mel, but it seems to me that part of Rob Bell’s audience is those who don’t want to own up to what they are really saying about hell and about God. I read through a number of studies of late, one by Chris Morgan and one by Terry Tiessen, and don’t see “agnosticism” as a consciously worked out theory so much as one way exclusivists don’t admit to themselves what they believe. For instance, Stott is agnostic but very optimistic; Packer and Carson are only partly agnostic because they are (I use this word guardedly) pessimistic.

Dan, how is that statement “unfair”? I believe it’s the case. One should say what one thinks if one is going to say Rob’s view of how many go to hell is wrong. Yes, I agree, many do say what they think. I’m not sure what apologetics books are saying has anything to do with the current wave of criticism of Bell’s book. I am asking those who speak against his view say what they think.

Comment by scotmcknight — April 4, 2011 @ 7:26 am

Bill, brother, you’re jumping the gun on this one. Yes, all the problems and issues are interconnected but first we’ve got to get the “problem” sorted out – the problem Rob Bell is addressing. Do you think the “number in hell” and what that says about God is the problem Rob Bell is addressing?

Comment by scotmcknight — April 4, 2011 @ 7:47 am

Jeff, I don’t say it is “illegitimate.” I clearly outline a few kinds of agnosticism. I am against using agnosticism as a cop out, and frankly I’m seeing it on both sides today: some use it to cloak universalism or pluralism while others use it to avoid stating the real implications of their exclusivism.

Rob Bell, so I think, is asking people to own up to what they say they believe.

BTW, I doubt very much that most careful thinkers on this topic are actually full blown agnostics.

And I also doubt very much that “I don’t know” was at work in the missionary movements of church history.

Comment by Scot McKnight — April 4, 2011 @ 8:12 am

I really like this paragraph:

“Faith is being confident about what God has promised; presumption is being confident about my own speculations. God obligates Himself by His word, but He is not in any way obligated by my speculations.”

If we get to heaven and Rob Bell turned out to be right I will dance an eternal jig that everyone I have loved, but who haven’t loved Jesus in this life, has been shown mercy beyond what I thought was taught in scripture. However, though I would be delighted to discover Bell was right all along, I don’t think that is clear in scripture, and while it is a great thing to hope, it can be a dangerous thing to believe and teach.

Comment by Robin — April 4, 2011 @ 8:41 am

I heard a Sunday school lesson several years ago by Sam Waldron, he is definitely a old school, calvinistic baptist and is fairly influential in the reformed baptist movement (he has written one of the only modern expositions of the 1689 Baptist (Calvinistic) Confession of Faith).

For some reason he was on the topic of hell and children, especially newborns. His basic points were that (1) the bible teaches hell is the destination for people who do not repent and believe and (2) we need to trust in the goodness and mercy of God that whatever the conclusion is, God is still good and just.

I think he wanted to be both faithfully exclusivist and hopeful at the same time. That is where I find myself.

Comment by Robin — April 4, 2011 @ 8:46 am

Good points, but let me push back slightly. It is not without import to say that one’s view of how many go to hell says something about God. And I’m not making a case for what to believe here. For many, to say that God sends millions, or billions, to hell forever — and we can say it is their fault and that God doesn’t “send” but that people “choose”(forget the nuances a minute) — is to say something about God, too. In other words, there’s a “theology” at work in what we believe about hell and it has a direct connection to what God is like. It is a fact that some think this shows that God is sovereign, gracious to those whom he is gracious, and to others that God gives us freedom and to others that God is sadistic. I don’t take that last view, but I don’t think it is deniable that a theology is at work in one’s view of hell. Two simple options: for some it proves God is holy and just, eternally so, and for Rob Bell, because he hopes for an empty hell, that God is loving, eternally so. Yes, of course, there’s a spectrum here but my only point is that hell implicates God.

Comment by scotmcknight — April 4, 2011 @ 8:51 am


I think your comment (26) is partially true and partially false. While I agree that more spreading of the gospel is demanded from an exclusivistic theology, the gospel is almost exclusively spread in this age, and in the past several centuries by people who held an exclusivist theology.

William Carey, George Whitefield, Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, C.T. Studd, John Paton, David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, Jim Elliot, Amy Carminchael, Lottie Moon, the moravian brethren, John Knox, John Calvin, Martin Luther, etc. there isn’t a single, famous, missionary since the reformation that I can think of that didn’t hold an exclusivistic theology.

Likewise, in our time, the biggest senders of missionaries, by far, within evangelicalism are Southern Baptists, but we could also talk about Heartcry, China Inland Mission, etc. Exclusivists support missions a great deal, but I do agree they could, and should, always do more.

Comment by Robin — April 4, 2011 @ 8:51 am

Are you sure that the Jesuits weren’t exclusivists. I seem to recall that the whole reason they did stuff like torturing people during the inquisition was to save the people from heresy (and hell).

Comment by Robin — April 4, 2011 @ 9:04 am

I do agree that I, being an exclusivist, am usually a practical agnostic because I just don’t like dealing with the weight of hell. I abhor the thought of it, and cannot bear to think very long about it, but it has never really negatively affected my view of God. It could be because I was an adult convert and knew what I was signing up for, and loved Jesus despite that doctrine.

The fact that this doctrine repulses me personally, doesn’t change the fact that I still see God as infinitely loving and just.

Last thought, if the eternal (time) punishment of hordes of sinners makes us recoil in horror and question the nature of God, why doesn’t the infinitely horrible (intensity) punishment of God own perfect, sinless, spotless son, who never deserved any punishment for anything, but bore the full weight of the father’s wrath, similarly make us recoil.

I ministered to a muslim in college who found to thought of a father pouring out his wrath on his blameless son incomprehensible and refused to the gospel for specifically the reason that doesn’t give most Christians a second thought.

Comment by Robin — April 4, 2011 @ 9:13 am

Yes, I see a connection between how we view hell and how we view God. What is being assumed here, however, is that the traditional view of hell is somehow biblically accurate. This is a huge assumption.

Which Hebrew word means “hell” in the OT? Sheol? That is NOT the traditional hell, so the OT does not support the traditional hell view.

Which Greek word means “hell” in the the NT? Gehenna? Hades? Gehenna was an actual place in Israel. One could walk over and see it. It would be like me writing about Manhattan, and years later translators substituted their word “hell” for my word Manhattan as though I was talking about hell and not Manhattan. Hades is also a word with a meaning in Greek — but in Greek mythology. If we assume that their mythology is correct on this point, then Hades is where everyone goes when they die. This is not the traditional view of hell, either. Moreover, is Jesus validating Greek mythology when he says Hades?

So, it appears to me that neither OT nor NT vocabulary support the traditional view of hell. I was raised believing this view, and do not consider myself a liberal, agnostic, or atheist. I am a Christian, but am having a difficult time continuing with the traditional view of hell anymore. The word is just not there in the Bible!

Therefore, my view of hell is that is not a doctrine clearly defined in the Bible. Yes, punishment and judgment, but these are not the same thing as hell. God, to me, is then the one who loved the world, sent his son, and will reconcile all things unto himself (Colossians 1:20).

Comment by keo — April 4, 2011 @ 9:22 am

Thanks for your comment, but it is ahead of our discussion of hell next week. But I’ll give you a hint of where we are going. As I explain in One.Life “Gehenna” is as surely a burning pit outside Jerusalem as “heaven” is the blue sky (ouranos means sky), but neither Jesus nor his Jewish contemporaries were so flat-footedly literalistic to think “Gehenna” could not also be a metaphorical term for a final destination. And any study of the Jewish apocalypses makes that abundantly clear. The traditional view of hell, I would suggest, is more derived from Revelation 20-21 than just “Gehenna” in Jesus’ teachings. More of this next week.

Comment by scotmcknight — April 4, 2011 @ 9:30 am

Robin, purgatory for Catholics is for Christians who need to be purged of venial sins. Rob connects purgatory to hell, which is decidedly not (or mostly not) Catholic (for Catholics purgatory is the antechamber to heaven and not at all connected to hell). Furthermore, he pushes the universalism theme in connection to purgatory so he’s got far more going into purgatory than Catholic theology, which again is only for Christians who are certain of hell and how need to be purged of sins. So far as I can see purgatory is not about a second chance, and Rob explores that theme too.

Comment by scotmcknight — April 4, 2011 @ 9:43 am

K. Rex Butts,

I agree that there are difficulties with these issues, but the way to deal with them is to get the evidence on the table — say Acts 10:34-35; Rom 2:14-16; Acts 17:24-30; Romans 10:9-10 — and to process theories in light of what the texts say and don’t say, so that we say is within those parameters. There are really solid reasons why the Church has always been exclusivist, for instance, and why it has been more than wary about universalism and second chances, and there are reasons why there have been discussions about those who have not heard, but yet not entirely optimistic either. These issues deserve exploration.

Comment by scotmcknight — April 4, 2011 @ 9:46 am

Scot – I may be misreading you, but it seems like you’re saying “I don’t know” is not an okay answer and is a copout. Why? I’ve always understood that we should speak where Scripture speaks and be silent where its silent (generally…I know there’s always implied things we say, etc.). Since Scripture doesn’t say anything clear about all those that haven’t heard the Gospel, then why do I have to have a strong opinion. The times that I’ve said “I don’t know” to non-Christian classes of students they have appreciated it and it became a starting point of conversation. When I say “I don’t know” I truly mean that I really don’t know. There’s no hiding what I really think. Just my experience and opinion. Again, I could have misunderstood and want to understand better.

Comment by Matt — April 4, 2011 @ 10:34 am

To add to that last post, I come from a conservative exclusivist background. If I had to answer I would say that God would only hold them accountable for what they knew and it’s very possible people from Korea who don’t hear the Gospel could get in based on God’s grace and mercy. But again, I feel like I’m talking about something I am unsure of.

Comment by Matt — April 4, 2011 @ 10:37 am

I’m not saying that and I’ve not communicated it clearly enough so I will say it again: For some agnosticism is a cop out; I think I said “for far too many”. Others are in the bracketed discussion at the bottom of the post, and those are being agnostic about what the Bible is not clear about. But there are many, many who really are strong exclusivists who may have hope for a few but overall think all the others are going to hell who say “I don’t know.” That’s the agnostic I’m picking on here.

Comment by scotmcknight — April 4, 2011 @ 10:57 am

I’ve noted jabs at making God’s love the controlling attribute (e.g., Rob Bell) and others arguing for God’s holiness being supreme. With belief in the unity of God and that God’s attributes do not create schizophrenia in God, we need to ask how does “hell” equate with God’s justice? If as a finite being I sin 75 years worth of sins (i.e., a finite number) how is God just in *punishing* me eternally? Secondly, if Jesus died for my sins (even if I never believed in him or received him), why does God require a second payment? Mine. Is that not double jeopardy? Jesus paid it all (in my case) and I have to pay it all for eternity. Let’s talk justice, too, and not just love and holiness.

Comment by John W Frye — April 4, 2011 @ 10:52 am

John Frye (72),

That is why calvinists will contend that you cannot say Jesus died “for every individual”…he died for his elect.

To put it more succinctly, I think this was Boice’s paraphrase:

Calvinists believe in limited atonement, explicitly, they believe that the atonement procured by Jesus was limited in scope, it only secured salvation for God’s elect. However, (exclusivistic) arminians also believe in limited atonement, implicitly, they believe that Jesus’ death provided a limited atonement for every individual, but that the atonement was “limited” in its effectiveness. It doesn’t actually forgive all of your sins, bring you into right relationship with God and usher every individual to heaven, it requires that each individual, who already received this “atonement” cooperate in some manner for the atonement to be effectual.

For this reason calvinists are, generally, very ready to say that universalism is a much more logical position if you believe that Jesus died “for every individual” because they see little reason for Jesus to pay for the sins of someone on the cross, only to see that person, let’s say Hitler (assuming he never repented and believed), also pay for those sins a second time.

Comment by Robin — April 4, 2011 @ 11:00 am


Thanks for commenting on atonement justice (77). I am aware of TULIP and the dreaded middle L–limited atonement. Within the TULIP system, it all fits symmetrically. But double predestination or God actively choosing some and passively passing over many, leaves us with a God who decrees the eternal conscious torment of billions. And according to comment 66, God finds “pleasure” in the eternal torment of billions of conscious being bearing God’s image because, after all, God is God. Yet, may Calvinists back off the L and say, as Arminians do, that Jesus’ atonement is sufficient for all, but applied only to those who respond. IMO, that implicates God participating in the double jeopardy for one set of sins….Jesus’ death (sufficient to satisfy the wrath of God for ALL) and requiring the eternal punishment of the unhearing-the-gospel sinners and the gospel-hearing, but unrepentant sinners.

Comment by John W Frye — April 4, 2011 @ 11:28 am

John Frye,

I think that it is important to remember that TULIP is, at best, a sincere attempt to harmonize scripture in a logically consistent manner. I think there is a biblical basis for its teaching, but the only reason there is an “L” in TULIP is that people starting asking “If Jesus has already ‘paid for the sins’ of the entire human race, then why are some people still going to end up in hell?”

Calvinism has a lgical answer – “he didn’t really pay for the sins of the entire human race”

Universalism has a logical answer – “you’re right, they won’t”

And other belief systems, on this point, are murkier or less logical.

Likewise regarding other dilemmas, calvinism and universalism are less logical, biblically faithful, or both.

Comment by Robin — April 4, 2011 @ 11:51 am

“Any thoughts on why this teaching is so strongly resisted?”


“Why people that are exclusivist are so against the idea of Heaven and Hell being present here and now through the decisions that we make?”

This isn’t about exclusivists just loving the doctrine of hell, and that God sends people to hell, and that it is eternal. It isn’t about our preferences at all, it is about what we view as the most biblically faithful exposition of scripture. We could be wrong, but that is, generally, the motivation for people who aren’t fond of Bell’s theology.

I have said on this comment page that I will dance a jig in heaven if he is right, or if any universalist is right. Throw Hitler and Pol-Pot in heaven too and I will still be ecstatic that no-one is suffering, but it isn’t about what I want heaven to look like. I, and most exclusivists, think the bible teaches one thing and that some people teach something contrary to the bible and that teaching things contrary to the bible can have bad consequences if they do indeed turn out to be wrong.

You could contend that even if he is wrong, it isn’t a big deal because noone is going to stop evangelizing, or telling people to repent and believe, or that noone will really believe they can put of repentance until after death and keep enjoying their vices in this present life. I think that, based upon my reading of the bible, widespread acceptance of a “second chance after death” theology could have terrible consequences and eternity is at stake, so up to this point, I’m not a fan of it.

Comment by Robin — April 4, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

I have a few issues with your discussion – 1)”Many of these are true-blue exclusivists but don’t like its implications, so they say “I don’t know” or “That’s in God’s hands.” [On other kinds of agnosticism, see below.] Some use agnosticism as a cloak for a universalism or pluralism they don’t want to admit.”

When I say I don’t know or It is in God’s hands means that I have grappled with an issue, sought clarity through scripture and truly can’t find a clear answer. This isn’t a cop out. If we could totally understand/quantify God, then He wouldn’t be God. There is a reason that God didn’t spell out totally ABC what Hell was/looked like. But if you believe that the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God, then Christ is the only way to heaven (you know – I am the Way, the Truth, the Life, no one comes to the Father, except by Me., I am pretty sure He meant that). SO, where does that leave the little man in Tibet (what my friends and I have affectionately named those who have never heard the name of Jesus)? I don’t know. If you can say with certainty that you do know, I would like the scripture upon which you base this knowledge. I do know antedoctal evidence where missionaries have reached new people groups and when reached, they said we were just waiting for the name of that which we already know.

The issue I have with Love Wins (and what my friends and I can’t get past) is that they say that if everyone is not reconciled in the end, then it says or shows the blood of Christ was not enough. I say that to deny the existence of an eternal consequence of not accepting Chrsit is to deny the Justice of God. We have so neutered God. If you read through the WHOLE Bible, God is a God of mercy – yes, but He demands Justice. Even after Christ, He demanded justice – Revelations anyone?????

My other issue is that if everyone is reconciled in the end, if Love conquers all, then why earth. Why waste our time on earth, which is a poor shadow of heaven, if not to see as many saved as can be saved? If there is no eternal consequences to our choices, then why not bring heaven back NOW and let us get on with eternity? I don’t get it. That would be a cruel God that I would want no part of.

Comment by Lori Jefffries — April 4, 2011 @ 1:44 pm

Lori Jeffries: Why waste our time on earth, which is a poor shadow of heaven, if not to see as many saved as can be saved?

And there it is: the one-sentence summary of why the usual exclusivist, Four-Spiritual-Laws, “all the non-Romans pages of my Bible are stuck together” evangelical soteriology sucks.

It tells me that my life is a waste of time and I’d be better off dead. It is objectively pro-suicide.


Comment by Mark Z. — April 4, 2011 @ 2:41 pm

I disagree DRT. I think I would go full bore epicurean if all this world was just sounds and fury, signifying nothing. If there is no heaven or hell, then we should, in the immortal words of Dave Matthews Band “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die…tripping billies”

Comment by Robin — April 4, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

Robin#122, One of the great joys of my life that I have found is that the upside down teachings of Jesus are indeed true. I have found my greatest pleasure and most satisfaction in giving rather than receiving, and in the relationships with others and the world rather than making the world the way I want it.

Without a heaven or hell I think we should still live the life that Jesus teaches us because he is right, we can experience the Kingdom of God here and now and it is wonderful and beautiful unlike anything else.

Comment by DRT — April 4, 2011 @ 3:02 pm

Lori #113 I wonder if you see the dualism presented in this comment “if Love conquers all, then why earth. Why waste our time on earth, which is a poor shadow of heaven”. Do you see you are pitting earth against heaven? The physical (bad) against the spiritual (good)? It’s dualism… more specifically gnosticism. Maybe that’s not what you meant, but that’s how it sounds when I read it. I think we can all agree that in Genesis God declares His creation “very good” and in the Incarnation I see God re-affirming His declaration. We were not designed for Heaven, we were designed for earth… that is where God put us from the beginning. In Jesus, we see God bringing about his Kingdom here on earth “as it is in heaven”.

N.T. Wright wrote a wonderful book about this “Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church”.

Comment by Ann — April 4, 2011 @ 3:08 pm

The kingdom is a society doing the will of God — on earth.

Comment by scotmcknight — April 4, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

Thanks Scot. Now, I hope the following is clear. To “get inside” the problem, as you invite us to do, I think we have to deal with what it means to “be saved”, which also means dealing with the question “What is the good news?”. Remember a while ago when you were asking questions about the subject of another book (sorry, can’t remember which) and you were trying to ascertain what peoples’ experiences had been wrt what they were told -as Evangelicals- about “how to be saved”? And the significant majority of people said that what they were taught “in the pew” was basically “turn or burn”? And remember how you kept saying, no, that’s not what’s taught, it’s more nuanced than that? And remember how people kept telling you, “But Scot, that *is* actually what we heard and understood, not only as children but also as adults.” What people heard was hardly anything like your definition, except sometimes the relational aspect vis-a-vis God and others was included. But really, the only message of salvation most of us heard was, “Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior so that you can go to Heaven (a far-off place) after you die, and avoid Hell (also -probably- a far-off place).”

Both of these questions touch on the Kingdom of God, because that is the subject of the announcement of the good news, according to the Gospels. As an Evangelical, I heard that the KoG was what we got when we “got to Heaven” and/or was “only spiritual” – again, having nothing to do with your definition. A notable exception was John Wimber, who, as someone who believed the Gospels should be the lens through which the rest of the bible was to be interpreted, at least grappled with the concept and incorporated it into his vision for the church. (He didn’t have the formal linguistic and historical training to do much more with it than that, which was perhaps a good thing at the time.)

The interesting thing to me is, in your comments in the post, you go along talking about “being saved” and “accepting the gospel and going *to* Heaven/Hell” with seemingly no reference to the definitions you just gave me. I see an incongruity there, an incongruity I’m not sure you grasp: it seems you are using the same vocabulary that you say isn’t really involved in the “Evangelical message” of “salvation”. I think this is at least part of the inner problem you want us to address, and is related to eschatology as well. (So the circles of theological ripples widen… )

I think Rob is addressing the on-the-ground, in-the-pew teaching. I think at least part of the reason you couldn’t, in your part 1, “hear” what he was calling toxic is that maybe you can’t yet see the incongruity. The way Joel in comment 70 explained it was the way I read the quote with which you had difficulty. Now, I could be wrong. At the same time, I’m just putting it on the table that you might have a bit of a “tin ear” to what Rob is hearing from people who tell him their stories, because you couldn’t seem to hear the common thread in the overwhelming majority of the stories people were telling you in that other series about what they were taught was “the Gospel” and what constituted “salvation”.

That said, I really, really appreciate the tack you are taking. It sounds like the book is, more than anything else, an interaction with a sort of “sociological” circumstance that Rob keeps encountering, and you recognize its importance as the real issue, not simply a matter of bare doctrinal correctness.


Comment by Dana Ames — April 4, 2011 @ 11:31 pm

Dana, I agree: the categories being used in the various lines are the categories used by the very common approach to salvation, and it is the categories Rob is using in his book and seeking to deconstruct. And, yes, I would not frame the gospel story this way. The first book you are talking about is McLaren’s — and your summary is a softened version of his Greco-Roman narrative. Rob’s approach is much closer to the ground level of how the average evangelical hears the gospel message.

Comment by scotmcknight — April 5, 2011 @ 5:53 am