No #1 – Simon Tillotson

Who’d have thought it? Within an hour of sending him an email, Simon Tillotson is the first of the eight “Noes” to come back to me with an explanation of why he voted the way he did. Here’s what he had to say.

I do believe in the uniqueness of Christ and that salvation only comes through him but I am prepared to believe that God can save through Christ in ways we cannot understand. I do not believe that other religions provide a means of salvation, and fall way short of the grace we have in the gospel, but I do believe that God is good and that somehow people who have only encountered their own faith tradition will be judged in light of a loving God who sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of the world.

I felt that the General Synod motion was actually contrary to good mission process as it was in my view limiting God’s salvific grace and put up barriers to dialogue with other faith. This is something I have thought about and prayed about extensively and am in the process of writing a book about.

I would not myself classify myself as a liberal – I hate labels. I actually think some evangelicals are bereft of the love of God and have become the new pharisees.

To recap I do believe that only Christ saves but I do not believe it helps our missionary endeavour starting off in our dialogue with other faiths by saying that they are damned. This is not what St Paul did. We have to be far more wise and shrewd in our proclamation of truth.

I hope you understand where I am coming from.

I do believe that only Christ saves but I cannot restrict how he will operate on the Day of Judgement. At the name of Jesus EVERY knee shall bow. My book cites many texts which talk of a more “hopeful” final judgement scenario.

Interesting stuff and hopefully a spur to the other “Noes” who I have contacted to feel confident that they can share their own reasons for voting “No”. Regardless, this is great stuff from Simon and I know he’d welcome interaction in the comments on what he’s written.

24 Comments on “No #1 – Simon Tillotson

  1. Thanks Peter for your kind words

    It would pain me to think that anyone sees me as not having the fire of the gospel in my heart. I would willingly give my life in sharing the gospel to people of other faiths.
    I look forward to reading the reactions – I would advise people to click on the website to read my book on this issue. It is only in the process of being written – long way to go still.

    Take care and God bless
    Simon Tillotson

  2. This sounds a bit like what I think C. S. Lewis believed. In The Last Battle there is a Calormene (I think this is right) in the land beyond the sea with Aslan and he says to Aslan something like, “why am I here, I never served you?” Aslan tells him that everything he was doing in the name of Tash he was actually doing in Aslan’s name. 

    So I agree with Simon that salvation comes through Christ and it is possible that Christ might reveal himself in other ways to people who have no access to the gospel–such as people living way out in the bush in Africa before missionaries had come. I personally think this sort of view applies to people who have never heard the true gospel. Salvation comes through Christ alone. Christ is revealed to us most strongly in Holy Scripture but all of creation in some sense reveals Christ and someone who has never heard the gospel may be able to understand part of the Truth by looking at the creation–I don’t know if it is possible but I’m not willing to say it absolutely isn’t. Of course, I think if that same person were then to be presented with the gospel his soul would gravitate to it and he would end up a Christian. 

     I also believe that this in no way diminishes our charge to go and make disciples of the nations because the only sure way we know to Christ is through Christ revealed in Scripture and we cannot rely on the faint possibility that Christ could reach them some other way–hence his giving us the charge to do just that.

    Thanks for the detective work Peter.

  3. What would Simon Tillotson say about this comment from one of your bishops? (from your own site):

    “Bishop Pete Broadbent (Willesden) says he lives in one of the most multi-faith areas of the country. This sort of motion, he says, is really helpful as it concentrates the mind on what the Church of England is about. He shares stories about clergy who report after midnight mass on Christmas Eve the arrival of loads of Hindus who want to reverence the infant Christ, tales of confirmation candidates who’s parents had been martyred, ordinands who have left families to serve God.”

    As for St Paul, no, he doesn’t say to pagans’ faces that they’re damned, but he does seem fairly dismissive of Greco-Roman paganism in Acts 14.15 (‘turn from these vain things’), 16.31 (‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved’), 17.29 (‘we ought not to think that the divine being … he will judge the world..’), 19.26 (in Ephesus).

  4. Thanks Mark B

    As I say in my sermon on my website, I am not a pluralist. I do not believe all religions are seriously valid and I make some serious criticisms of other religions on my website – for example the caste system in Hinduism and the implementation of Sharia Law with stoning for adultery in Islam. I do believe that Christianity and Chris is the unique revelation of God and that Jesus is the Way, The Truth and the Life.
    However, when the General Synod makes public statements we have to be careful to be bridge builders rather than bridge destroyers. I thought that Paul Eddy’s motion can easily be seen in the following light – that the Church was saying to other faiths “We are the only ones with the truth, salvation can only be found in our understanding of God, you cannot be saved.”
    Now, I do believe that Christ is the one who brings salvation – that in him is the forgiveness of sins, but as we communicate this to our multi-faith society we must do so in a way that builds bridges, not puts up walls. Many evangelical Christians need to be careful when they communicate the faith that they are not saying to people of other faiths “this gospel is not for you” or “you are outside of God’s redemptive plans”. If we give a hint of exclusivity rather than reveal God’s universal desire for ALL people to come to Christ and be saved, then we are undermining the gospel ministry.
    Perhaps I am just especially sensitive on these matters as I came to faith in a multi faith environment in Jerusalem and so know when doctrinal statements can build bridges and help in mission and when they cannot. I do believe in the uniqueness of Christ and the salvation that only He can bring, but we have to balance any presentation of this with a clear statement of God’s love for all and his redemptive desire for all to meet Him and know Him. Perhaps Paul Eddy’s motion should have been longer and contained more balance in it, and I would not have felt then it was raising potential barriers in mission.
    I am with you on Bishop Peter Broadbent’s statements – totally agree with these.
    Also, as my book shows on my website, we have to be careful in restricting the limit of the atonement. There are a mixture of different passages in the bible which suggest God may be able to extend Christ’s grace beyond the tight definitions we like to apply. Of course I do not know the full scope behind God’s redemptive plans but I think WANTING to be a universalist is a sign that we genuinely want everyone to be saved. I worry about people that rejoice that they belong to the few who are redeemed whilst everyone else goes to hell, rather than grieve that this is so. I am not though suggesting that you fit into this category.
    Hope that is helpful.

    I think the issue I had with Paul Eddy’s motion is not that I disagree with it intrinsically. I do believe in the uniqueness of Christ and I do believe that salvation is found in him alone, providing that we understand that Christians can legitimately hope that God in Christ can save people beyond the “visible” Christian community and that we recognise that there is a balance between “restrictivist” and “inclusivist” passages in the bible. Some talk about the scope of the atonement only redeeming the visible church, others talk about how all creation will be redeemed. I outline these different texts in my book – to be found at
    What I found unsettling by the Paul Eddy motion is that it can easily be seen by others of different faiths and none as “barrier building theology” rather than “missiological theology”. Any statement about the fact that salvation is only to be found in Christ has to be balanced by another statement that God wants everyone to come to a saving love of him, otherwise the tone of the statement comes across as “We are the ones God really cares for and wants saved, not any of you guys”. I felt that perhaps Paul Eddy’s motion needed to be longer in order to make a better balance. I also detected that in order to be truly sound we need to be assertive about the boundaries between Christ’s saving grace and other faiths. In my view when we are assertive about these boundaries we only make them stronger and so undermine our mission. At the same time, I do understand that by weakening the boundaries we risk diluting the gospel, and this is equally dangerous. It is a difficult one.
    Also, as I make clear in my book, the beginnings of which can be found on the website mentioned above, I genuinely believe that the Bible gives us glimpses of a wider salvation at work beyond the scope of the church. That does not mean that I believe that all people will go to heaven (I am not a Universalist) and I certainly do not believe that every religion is equally valid (as I make clear in my sermon on the website).
    I do detect a revelling in the church that we are the redeemed community, rather than a sense of pain that so many others of other faiths do not yet know Jesus. We must not be triumphalistic and separatist in our theology.We have to be far more sensitive and every formal statement (especially a formal motion) but be handled appropriately. The phrase “salvation can be found in Christ alone” can easily be interpreted by a non Christian as “salvation can be found in the church alone”, especially when we do not talk about God’s universal love for all people.

  6. Simon, thanks for taking Peter up on his request – I appreciate hearing clearly from you where you stand.
    But I have a question. You write:

    I thought that Paul Eddy’s motion can easily be seen in the following light – that the Church was saying to other faiths “We are the only ones with the truth, salvation can only be found in our understanding of God, you cannot be saved.”

    and it makes me want to ask “do you think salvation can be found in an understanding of God outside the Christian understanding, ie that Christ is the unique revelation of God  (as you put it)?

  7. Dear David

    I have already replied to your post but it got lost again in cyberspace. Is there something wrong with my computer?

    Anyway – what I said was that I do believe that salvation can only be found in Christ, but that we have to be careful how we express this. Quite often non Christian friends of mine have been put off God by exclusivist language which seems to be saying “you are beyond redemption” or “we are chosen, you are not”.

    It seems to me that when we use the language of uniqueness and salvation in Christ we have to always add that the offer is for all people.

    I have written a letter to the Church Times and Church of England newspaper which sums up what I am trying to say better than my earlier statements. I notice it wasnt published today – maybe it will be next week.

    I also believe that God in Christ will have mercy on people who do not understand the gospel or have not heard it. I am not sure what that actually means in terms of salvation. My book (found at has a fairly in depth examination of “exclusivist” texts and more “all embracing” understandings of salvation and I ultimately conclude that God wants us to keep humble and not arrive at a thoroughly worked out understanding of what is really his domain ultimately. That is in my view the most faithful understanding of scripture and those with a secure faith in Christ should not feel threatened by the lack of certaintyabout exactly who is in and who is out ultimately.

    Anyway – here is the letter – God bless     Simon

    Dear Sir

    The new General voting system with its electronic key pad has the advantage of informing the general public of who voted in what way for each vote.
    I was one of those who voted against Paul Eddy’s motion about the uniqueness of Christ in today’s society and that salvation can only be found in Christ.
    Over recent days I have had several emails challenging me on my position. It is assumed that I am a liberal relativist who believes all religions are equally valid.
    Actually, I do believe in the uniqueness of Christ and that salvation can only be found in Christ. This may come as a shock to some of your readers who saw my name on the list of those who voted no. I voted against the motion because I felt it was worded in an exclusivist way which is contrary to our mission as a church. As we seek to build bridges with other faith communities, we need to be wary of saying to them “you are beyond the reach of God’s salvation – salvation is only found in the church”. That is how I think Eddy’s motion will be perceived by many in the country, however faulty an interpretation this may be, and however much Paul Eddy did not want it to be taken in this way.
    Obviously, we have to stand up for what we believe in. But when we talk about “salvation only in Christ” we have to balance that with other wording which talks about God’s love for all, and the fact that there are many passages in scripture which point towards God’s salvific plan to bring everything together in Christ, operating beyond the scope of the visible church. We also need to speak of uniqueness in Christ always in invitational ways that include the outsider, not in entrenched ways that exclude the outsider. I am not a universalist, but I do feel we need to speak with warmth and love and be bridge builders rather than wall builders. I am sorry, but I just felt that the tone of Eddy’s motion was a wall builder rather than a bridge builder and that is why I voted against it.
    I know another member of General Synod voted against simply because she felt that the Bishops should not be asked to put together a report on what was already clearly established doctrine.  Again, she has been pigeonholed as a liberal, which she is not.
    The motion was not a referendum on biblical doctrine – it was asking whether such a clear cut statement with such black and white boundaries, and no hint of God’s love for all, would be helpful in today’s society. If it had just been fleshed out with a few more sentences about God’s love for all, I would have voted in favour.

  8. Thanks for that, Simon. I think I see what you’re getting at. You are saying that it is possible to be saved even if one does not have a Christian understanding of God, ie that Christ is the Son, the monogenes and the unique revelation of the Father.
    I also understand you to be saying that such salvation is grounded in the love of God as you understand various Scriptures.
    In which case can I ask another couple of clarifying questions?

    What particular Scriptures did you have in mind?
    Are you then (as it seems to me) saying that objective and active faith in Christ is actually unnecessary for salvation?

  9. Good question.

    I believe if someone is told the gospel – that Christ died for their sins –  and they resist this and instead believe that they can only get to God through their own righteousness and not through the work of Christ on the cross, then this means they are resisting God’s grace. I believe that God’s salvific work on the cross is what brings salvation and we need to appropriate that for ourselves. Any statement that dilutes the gospel is contrary to my faith for Christ’s death in the cross is not a way to salvation, it is THE WAY to salvation.

    However, I dont believe that God is a machine by which following a certain formula we crack the code. He is a person who understands each human being in the world and loves each person in the world and wants each person in the world to come to salvation.

    The image I would suggest is this. Is God’s salvation like a shard of light that only beams down on one particular people, or is it like the sun that hides behind the clouds that cover the whole earth. I believe scripture teaches that there are plenty of texts which give a more optimistic reading.

    I am going to cut and paste the salient parts from my book. My conclusion is not that everyone will be saved, but that we should let God ultimately be the judge. This does not mean we should not preach the gospel. My understanding of evangelism is that it is proclaiming the truth and the reality of the God of love seen in Jesus Christ and this should be the primary motivation, rather than going around telling people to avoid a God who will throw them into hell if they dont accept his formula. That does not believe I do not believe in hell, but some Christians actually have a hell based theology rather than a heaven based one.

    Lets see if the server can cope with this

    Universalist texts:
    Sanders in his excellent study on this topic[i] points out that the universalist texts fall into five categories. Firstly are the texts which reveal God’s desire for all to be saved:
    I urge then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2.1-4)
    This text is of course only stating that God wants all people to be saved, as opposed to an understanding that he has saved all people. Chapter 4 of the same letter gives a little more hope to the universalist:
    This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance, (and for this we labour and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe.  (1 Timothy 4.9)
    The third text in this category is from 2 Peter 3.9:
    The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
    A second category are texts which proclaim the unlimited atonement for sins that Christ brought about through his death on the cross. Sanders quotes four passages, and I reproduce two:
     My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence – Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.  1 John 2.1-2
    All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.  2 Corinthians 5.18-19
    The third category are texts that articulate the implications of the universal atoning work of Jesus. Texts like John 12.32
    And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12.32)
    Sanders makes much of the importance of Romans 5.12-19:
    Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned- for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.
    But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgement followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift that followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
    Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life to all men. For just as through the disobedient of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
    It is clear that this “Adam Christology”, as theologians call it, makes a clear parallel between the universal effects of Adam’s sin on the human race, and the universal effects of Christ’s death on the cross, bringing forgiveness of sins for the human race. In the words of the hymn “Praise to the Holiest in the Height” we are reminded of “A second Adam to the fight, and to the rescue came.”
    The restrictivist position on this text by Paul is that Christ’s death means that forgiveness is offered to all, as opposed to given to all, an important distinction. However, on a straightforward reading of the text, the final paragraph which I highlighted, verses 18 and 19, seem pretty clear-cut. It is not that the many will be offered the gospel – it is the “many” who will be made righteous. This is a clear echo of the “many” who were made sinners, signifying that he is talking about all humanity on both occasions, as earlier in the epistle Paul had already explained what he saw as the universal effects of Adam’s sin.
    The fourth and final category Sanders cites is texts which refer to the “consummation” of God’s plan of salvation, whereby all people will be finally redeemed. This idea argues that Christ will eventually restore heaven and earth to complete unity under his authority, and this involves all humanity too, both living and dead.
    Acts 3 verses 19-21 speak of this restoration is clear terms:
    Repent then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago  through his holy prophets.
    This passage is somewhat undermined by verse 23 which states
    Anyone who does not listen to him will be cut off from among his people.
    However, the theme is to be found elsewhere in the New Testament, most notably in the favourite universalist text of all, according to Sanders, 1 Corinthians 15.22-28
    For as in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “he has put everything under his feet”. Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that his does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
    Sanders comments on this passage:
    Restorationists interpret this text as saying that all people will be given life in Christ; it may take longer for some than for others, but eventually all will come into the kingdom of Christ, and there will no longer be any enemies to the kingdom of God, only loyal subjects. When this occurs, then Christ will have achieved his goal, and God will be “all in all”.[ii]
    Another passage which Sanders sites in reference to the theme of Restoration is from Philippians 2.9-11
    Therefore God exalted him (Christ) to the highest place, and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
    In a short while I shall show that these glimpses of a universalist theology also appear in the gospels, but before I do so let us look at the restrictivist passages which occur in the gospels and epistles.
    Restrictivist texts:
    Again, I am indebted to Sanders, whose book ably covers not just universalist and restrictivist interpretations of salvation but a whole host of shades of interpretation between.
    Sanders, as before, organises the texts into four categories.  First there are the texts which affirm the particularity and exclusiveness of salvation in Jesus Christ. For example Acts 4.12:
    There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.
    Let me cite three others that he mentions :
    I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father, but through me. (John 14.6)
    And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son does not have life. (1 John 5.11-12)
    No man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3.11)
    These seem straightforward enough. Next comes those texts which Sanders cites as being ones which point to the “sinfulness of humanity and the utter hopelessness of life without Jesus.”[iii] Sanders writes, in commenting on Paul’s theology in the books of Romans and Ephesians:
    In Romans, Paul argues that all Gentiles and all Jews are guilty of rejecting God. The Gentiles have turned away from the light of general revelation (1.20) and conscience (2.15), he says, and the Jews have refused to follow the light of special revelation (2.23). Consequently, both Jews and Gentiles are “under sin” and guilty before God (3.9). Gentiles could use the revelation of God given them to repent and seek God, but none of them do so (3.11). Instead, they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (1.18). Jews could use the revelation of God given them to repent and seek God, but none of them do so (3.11).
    In Ephesians Paul speaks in the darkest terms about those who are not “in Christ”. The Gentiles, he says, were “strangers to the covenant of the promise, having no hop and without God in the world” (2.12). Those without Christ are “darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart.” (4.18). Restrictivists understand these texts as indicating that apart from the special revelation of the gospel there is only sin and no salvation.”[iv]
     Sanders’ next category is those which stress the importance of hearing the gospel and repenting. He quotes Mark’s gospel where Jesus told the disciples to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized will be saved; but he who does not disbelieved shall be condemned”.[v]
    Other texts are mentioned in this context
    He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3.36)
    Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.  (1 John 2.23)
    If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. (Romans 10.9)
    A fourth category of texts speaks of the narrowness of the path to God and the fact that only a few will find that way.
    Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it. (Matthew 7.13-14)
    Commenting on this text, Sanders says: “On this basis, restrictivists argue that the majority of the human race is going to hell because few enter the narrow gate by accepting the gospel”[vi]
    So where do we go from here?
    Sanders in his book goes much further in pointing out other texts in the bible which complicate the situation even more, but I hope in this chapter that I have shown sufficiently that different texts seem to say different things about the age-old question “who is saved?”.  Why is this relevant to finding the true Christian God? I hope to explain why this material has been relevant in the next chapter, when we look a little deeper at the gospels and what they say about humanity and our relationship with God.
    Chapter 5
    Understandings of Salvation in the Gospels
    We have only just seen one of the most famous passages in the gospels, quoted by Jesus when referring to the broad and narrow way in the seventh chapter of Matthew’s gospel. We saw how restricivists often see this passage as definitive in determining the correct view of salvation. The restrictivist position is further strengthened by Pauline doctrine in the books of Romans or Ephesians, to name but two. However, despite all this, we have noted that there are quite a number of  “universalist sounding” passages in the epistles which would possibly undermine the confidence of a committed yet not immovable exclusivist. How can we reconcile these differences?
    It may disappoint you, but I am not proposing any grand theory to reconcile these differences. I am neither an ardent universalist nor a committed restrictivist – I will leave it to God to make the final decisions. What I would say, however, is that this whole question reminds me somewhat of the tree in the garden of Eden – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
    It seems to me that, whether you believe in this story literally or see it simply as metaphor, the underlying sin that Adam or man was guilty of was the wish to be like God, to have the full knowledge of good and evil. The important question rather is this question, namely, is the fact that the bible is not clear on universal or exclusivist issues, because of its varied approach, a little reminder to us as descendents of Adam not to fall into the same trap of wanting to be like God, of wanting clearly defined, tightly logical theories of who is “saved” and who is “unsaved”, of who is included and who is excluded? If we are really being true to the bible, should we not admit that its apparent contradictions remind us of our humanity, revealing to us afresh that we cannot know the mind of God fully, for we see only through a glass darkly?

    [i] “No Other Name”  Sanders J   SPCK 1994

    [ii] “No Other Name” p.85

    [iii] “No other Name” p.38

    [iv] “No other Name” p.39

    [v] Mark 16.15-16

    [vi] “No other Name” p.41

  10. Thanks for that, Simon. I appreciate you taking the time to set it all out and to respond so richly to what I asked. I don’t think I can add much to your assessment of many of those texts. You are gracious enough to recognise the weakness of a number of the arguments and I’m not going to propose here and now to havea blow by blow argument over them. I don’t think it’s productive.
    Rather, though, if I may I would want to challenge you on what I think is a defective view of the nature of sin and also regeneration. Perhaps I could open that up with a question: what do you think the sinful nature actually is and how is it manifested in the life of the Amazonian tribesman? In particular how does the sinful nature explain the relationship between that tribesman and the true and living God?
    Then I would ask, “how do you understand regeneration?”
    and, finally, would you say it is possible for someone to be saved outside of being regenerate and trusting in Christ?

  11. Dear David

    This is turning out to be a really fascinating exchange of “posts”. Thank you for yet another excellent set of questions.

    I most certainly believe in regeneration as I have had a “Born again” coming to faith when in Jerusalem –

    I also believe in the power of the sinful nature and how Christ delivers us from this by the power of the Holy Spirit and how we can put on the armour of light and live in the power of the Spirit. I have for example been strongly influenced by the writings of Neil Anderson – Victory over the Darkness and so on.

    How do I reconcile my own born again experience with what appears to be some of the apparent universalist statements that I have made above?

    One thing that helps me is when I remember what I was like when I came to faith in 1986/87. I was working in a hospital in Jerualem at the age of 18/19 with Jewish and Muslim children suffering from Muscular Distrophy (dying from Musculay Distrophy I should say). When I came to faith and to my intimate relationship with Jesus I was filled with absolute love for these children and the staff at the hospital. I was able to cope with them a whole lot better than before and was filled with grace.

    This for me is a sign of God’s love for all people – that he longs for everyone to know him and to be set free from captivity to sin and spiritual blindness. I am with you all the way on this.

    However, as I hope I have made clear, the neat and tidy package called “the whole truth about salvation” that we like to construct is ultimately one that God will unravel as he knows the secrets to the universe.  I’ll copy some more of my book to give you an insight into my thinking here. Before I do so though can I thank you again for your really brilliant search questions – I guess I just don’t ultimately know.

    Here’s the bit from the book:

    Before you read it – and it is really long – please bear in mind that I am arguing that God’s can work outside the strict boundaries of a saving knowledge of Christ’s death on the cross. Obviously though these examples are still of interactions with the living Christ or with aspects of the salvation story.

    The real issue is, and this is very complex for me to describe and I hope you can bear with me, will these “muddy boundaries” exist on the Day of Judgement too?

    Here goes with the book

    Special exceptions or representatives of humanity?
    A classic restricivist view is that personal repentance and faith in the salvation wrought by Jesus on the cross is necessary for salvation. We have already seen how Paul often makes statements to this effect. However, the gospels present us with a more complicated view, often introducing us to characters who have not had a personal conversion experience, and who certainly have had no knowledge of the atonement, but nonetheless are described as having found favour with God.
     Luke’s gospel begins with the appearance of the angel of the Lord to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. We have learned from Luke that both Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth “were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly”.[i] When the angel speaks to Zechariah, he says:
    Do not be afraid Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord[ii]
    A similar pattern develops when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary:
    Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.[iii]
    There are two ways of viewing these passages – one from a restrictivist position, and the other from a more universalist position. The restrictivist position is that, because of the arrival of the Messiah, the rules of salvation have been changed. Zechariah, Elizabeth and Mary are both seen as being in favour with God because they are keys parts of the salvation plan that will unfold. Therefore they have a special relationship to God because of the important roles they are playing in this plan.
    The other, more obvious, reading is the more embracing and universalist one – that people  can find favour with God if they live in a good and holy way. Mary was chosen because she had lived a good life and found favour with God. That is what scripture says. This runs contrary to some of the Pauline teaching in the book of Romans that the only way to find favour is through believing in the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. However, it is in my view a more obvious reading of the text.
    With this second reading, Mary, and Elizabeth and Zechariah are not special exceptions, but representatives of human beings that are special to God because they have lived good lives. This leads to obvious questions such as “If they as obedient Jewish people can find favour with God, then surely other Jewish people who follow their faith obediently can also find favour with God, and maybe even those I met on the train in India from other faiths?” And the same perhaps also for Muslims, and even, dare I say it, atheists and agnostics.
    Please do not understand me. I believe wholeheartedly in the gospel of grace, and not law. I believe that Jesus did indeed carry our sins on the cross and that through this we have access to the Father and have peace with Him. However, although this is undoubtedly the way into the sheepfold that does not mean the shepherd cannot spot other sheep outside the sheepfold and bring them in, even if they do not know how to get in through the door.
    I am rather concerned that many sheep inside the sheepfold are sitting very happily knowing that they are in the sheepfold, that they have found the way, and are very dismissive of a God who might bend the rules. My concern therefore is that the gospel of grace has become a gospel of exclusion to many, a gospel of high walls and tight definitions that only the elect can get past.
    Some more investigations take us further along this road. The next encounter in Luke’s gospel which is directly relevant to this train of thought is the appearance of the centurion in Luke chapter 7. We learn that his servant is critically ill and expected to die, as he says to Jesus
    Say the word and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, “Go” and he goes; and that one “Come”, and he comes. I say to my servant “Do this”, and he does it.[iv]
    Jesus heals the servant, without even visiting the servant’s home, and comments with these memorable lines:
    I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.
    A restrictivist interpretation of this passage would be that the centurion models faith for us as followers of Christ, encouraging us to put our faith in the living Lord and his forgiveness on the cross. The restrictivist interpretation is that because the centurion put his faith in Jesus, he had his wishes granted. If he had met another religious leader, his faith would have been misplaced.
    A more embracing interpretation would not necessarily disagree with that, but would want to argue that what Jesus applauds here is not the fact that the centurion has located his trust in him, but rather that the centurion has a heart full of faith in the first place.  If we read this passage clearly, we discover that the centurion never actually meets Jesus. Rather he sends his message via his friends (verse 6). What is more, he has never met him before – instead he has simply “heard of him” (verse 3).
    What therefore seems to be esteemed by Christ is not the fact that the centurion is supernaturally able to discern that Jesus is the Messiah, as there is no indication that the centurion realises this. Instead, what Jesus applauds is an attitude that is open and believing, trusting and accepting, and almost childlike in its simple faith, as opposed to an attitude that is cynical, wary and pessimistic. Thus the centurion can be compared to many other people in the world who have not actually met Christ, or even have heard of Christ, but have a similar open and trusting faith.
    It is therefore the state of the centurion’s trusting and believing heart that interests Jesus. This raises questions of other people through the ages, and throughout the world today, who have a similar trusting heart, but may not have a coherent understanding of the gospel. Does God wish to exclude such people from the salvation he offers, if, as we have seen, Jesus was so keen to praise this centurion?
    The very next passage, Luke 7.11-17, the raising of the widow’s son, is equally challenging to the restrictivist position. Here the widow expresses no faith in Christ, and indeed no faith is expressed in anything. Instead the widow is crying, and Jesus, out of compassion, raises the widow’s son from the dead.
    When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry”. Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
    This is typical of many of the healings in the gospels. Its significance is that no faith commitment has been shown, and yet God’s love and healing, his resurrection power, is still poured out. This is again consonant of a God of love who wants to bless and redeem everyone. Would the same God have placed the dead young man in hell, had Jesus not raised him from the dead? To believe so is to divide the Trinity in half, with God the Son wanting healing and restoration, and God the Father allowing  separation from himself in eternal hell.
    In fact, the gospel presents us with plenty of other examples. I mentioned earlier two key passages which have shaped my thinking. The first is the passage involving Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus. I will reproduce it in full:
    Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.  He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
    When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ ” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
    Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Zacchaeus the Tax Collector  (Luke 19.1-10)
    Here, in one of the most engaging passages in the entire bible, we have a Jewish tax-collector who repents of his immoral lifestyle. Jesus welcomes this repentance by saying “Salvation has come to this house”, meaning salvation has come to Zacchaeus and possibly his family too. 
    What we should note is that Zacchaeus clearly has no understanding of the forgiveness that Christ is to bring on the cross, no knowledge of the doctrine of the atonement or the resurrection or the Holy Spirit, no grounding whatsoever in the traditional Christian gospel message.  Rather, Jesus pronounces salvation for Zacchaeus on the evidence of a changed heart, not on any theological understanding of grace that Zacchaeus may have.
    A gospel of grace with porous borders
    What then can we make of this? Jesus statement to the onlookers (“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost”) in this passage with Zacchaeus resonates theologically with an earlier statement by Christ:
    It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5.31-32)
    Although some have interpreted this passage as Jesus using irony when mentioning the word “righteous” there is no evidence that this was definitely the case. In the passage with  Zacchaeus and with this statement in Luke 5, the emphasis is on the possibility that repentance from sin and righteous living can bring salvation, rather than the need for a conversion experience within the context of understanding Christ’s salvific work on the cross.
    Now, please do not misunderstand me. I am a passionate proponent of the gospel message that Christ’s death secured our redemption and forgiveness of sins. What I am concerned about is that many Christians, in constructing a theology around this, have boxed God in, and effectively told him he can only work within this formula. Christ’s ministry clearly showed otherwise.
    A further example is the encounter between Jesus and the thief on the cross:
    One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
    A restrictivist view of this passage is that it is because the thief has encountered Jesus that he has found salvation.  A restrictivist would argue that had the thief said these words to another holy person, who was not Jesus, then it would have little effect on his final destiny. The thief is particularly fortunate, or chosen, according to the restrictivist position, because he happens to be next to Jesus on the cross. If he had not spoken then, to Jesus in particular, he would have been doomed.
    However, my sense reading this passage is that Jesus responds positively because he has heard the thief’s level of faith and sensed a repentant spirit.  When we consider that Jesus, according to Christian doctrine, will judge all humanity beyond their deaths, I pray that he, Christ, will accord the same favour to other repentant thieves who never had the good fortune to be absolved in their hour of need, but who nonetheless cry out desparately for a saviour from their prison cells, gallows, or crosses.
    Indeed, this passage seems to be a pivotal one for me in exploring how we perceive Christ relates to the whole of humanity. Must he always be encountered physically, be it face to face or through the doctrines of the church, or can he operate beyond those boundaries too? My belief is that he can and does. After all, his identification with the sick, the hungry, the thirst, the naked, the lonely and the imprisoned in Matthew 25 seems to have precisely this meaning – that Christ is found beyond simply what he incarnates through his earthly ministry or through credal doctrines:
    Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
    Coming from a rather conservative evangelical background, I had often been discomforted by the statements of Mother Theresa who quite often associated Christ with the sick. Take this one for example which she gave in an interview in 1974:
    “I see God in every human being. When I wash the leper’s wounds, I feel I am nursing the Lord Himself. Is it not a beautiful experience?”
    I felt uncomfortable about the fact that Mother Theresa was willing to see Christ in the bodies of Hindus who were clearly not born again, clearly not bible believers, and clearly not washed in the blood of Jesus. However, when we realise that Mother Theresa was taking her theology directly from Jesus, I was forced to think again.
    Let me conclude this chapter with two more examples from the Gospels of what I am trying to say. Firstly the Beatitudes:
    1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them saying:
     3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
          for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
     4 Blessed are those who mourn,
          for they will be comforted.
     5 Blessed are the meek,
          for they will inherit the earth.
     6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
          for they will be filled.
     7 Blessed are the merciful,
          for they will be shown mercy.
     8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
          for they will see God.
     9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
          for they will be called sons of God.
     10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
          for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

     11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.   (Matthew 5)
    Self-evidently verse 11 is written specifically with Christians in mind, but the first ten verses seem to be more general, pointing again at the fact that God is interested in all people, and delights in hearts which are open to him, gentle, pure, peaceful and intent on righteousness. Such a thought may infuriate the exclusivist, who might argue that Jesus is still only referring to those who have had a conscious spiritual transformation, although no evidence exists that this is the case here.
    My final example comes from Matthew’s account of the crucifixion of Jesus
    And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (Matthew 27. 50-53)
    This leaves in really very little doubt that according to the gospels people can be holy before they become Christians.

    [i] Luke 1.6 NIV

    [ii] Luke 1.13-15 NIV

    [iii] Luke 1.30-31 NIV

    [iv] Luke 7.7-8

  12. Following this really long post I just want to add a bit more

    I suppose if you really want me to state my position it is this.

    1) I do not believe everyone will be saved as I dont believe GOd can coerce people into following him
    2) I do not believe you can be saved outside of accepting Christ’s forgiveness but that Christ’s forgiveness may extend wider than we think
    3) I do believe judgement will be shaped by God’s love and that everyone will be given the chance to accept or repent of God’s offer of forgiveness through Christ. At least I really hope this will be the case. THis is based on the balance of scripture between exclusive and universalist texts. This really means I hope the gospel will be offered to people beyond their deaths. This is an unusual position but it is probably the one I feel most comfortable with. It may appear as heretical but that is the only way I can reconcile my view that God wants everyone to be saved, but that most people are not hearing the gospel properly in this world.
    4) I do agree that we need to preach the regenerative Spirit filled gospel and that salvation has been made possible by Christ – but going back to the original point – we need to talk about this in ways that invite the outside not exclude him or her.

    I suppose this is why I am not a “conservative evangelical”! But I do love the Lord.

    In Christ

    So at the end of the day I believe I am a gospel Christian but just one with a hope that everyone will get a chance to respond to Chrsit

  13. Thanks Simon,
    Forgive me for being picky but I think it’s helpful with these discussions to hone in on the exact nub of disagreement to clarify the underlying assumptions.
    I am a little confused when you write “2) I do not believe you can be saved outside of accepting Christ’s forgiveness but that Christ’s forgiveness may extend wider than we think”
    I also think Christ’s forgiveness “extends wider” than we might think but I am unclear as to how you are suggesting that people can “accept”  that forgiveness (ie an action on their part) without explicit faith in Christ. Can you explain how that might be?

  14. Sorry Simon, I’m aware that I appear just to be asking questions. Allow me to clarify the basis of my previous question.
    ISTM that the Bible is clear that salvation comes through the regeneration of the heart by the Holy Spirit so that a man who previously was at enmity with God now becomes his friend. In the language of Ezekiel their hearts are turned from stone to flesh.
    But it also appears obvious to me that such regenerate people instinctively claim Christ as their own. There is a clear and obvious and explicit faith in Him.
    you appear to be arguing that God would save people but not have them make this clear obvious and explicit claim of faith – they would be Christians who do not properly know Christ.  I am unable to see how you reconcile that with the Scriptures – there do not appear to be any ignorant Christians in the Scriptures.

  15. Good question again

    Explicit faith in Christ saves us – I am a strong believer in that.
    But as I think Peter pointed out in a private email to me it is ultimately Christ’s work on the cross that saves, not our faith, or we are saved by works rather than by grace.
    So I am simply saying that there are passages of scripture which suggest that Christ’s grace may extend beyond what we are sure of. THat doesnt undermine the confidence we have in having a saving knowledge of Christ in the here and now. And as I have shown in my writings, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the Pauline doctrine of salvation through faith, though central to the New Testament, has other passages alongside it which suggest that God can go beyond these boundaries if he so chooses. He is sovereign after all and he can choose to save who he wills, operating his forgiveness through Christ’s death on the cross.

    Thanks for raising this issue.

  16. Thanks Simon,
    I see this coming to an end. I fear the great danger with your position is, rather than honouring the work of the Spirit (which I am sure you seek to do) it actually undermines it by suggesting that salvation is granted for good works or occurs without faith in Christ.
    Surely the Spirit of God is the Spirit of Christ and as and when He works in the life of the Amazonian tribesman to regenerate him, He also makes Him love Christ? You appear to be suggesting that either it is not the Spirit’s work or that when He does work He just doesn’t actually point them explicitly to Christ. I trust you see how big a problem I would perceive that to be.

  17. I don’t think it is being suggested that good works save anyone. It is by the faith of Christ that we are saved and not by works. I think the question that should be asked is this, “if the Amazonian tribesman will never explicitly hear in his life the name of Christ, are we willing to say that we as fallen humans know for sure that Christ can’t and won’t find some other way to reveal Himself to that tribesman?”

    All of creation proclaims Christ name. That is why the Amazonian Tribesman is held responsible for his turning away from God. It seems, however, that if that same tribesman will never get to hear the gospel that there is a possibility that God will reveal Himself to Him anyway. Are you willing to say that God can’t reveal Himself to someone through a means other than scripture? I’m not saying it is definitely done, but that it is possible for God and not contrary to scripture.

    Now, I think the balance of this picture is this: Assume there is a person for who Christ has been revealed who hasn’t heard the Word preached from scripture. That person would necessarily be endowed with the Holy Spirit. If that person were to hear the gospel preached the Holy Spirit working in him would move him to faith in Christ as proclaimed in the gospel.

    Does that make sense? All of creation proclaims and reveals its creator. We are not exempt from proclaiming the gospel in this view because we know that belief in Christ allows us to participate in his death and resurrection.

    Let me add two more things to this: first, note that I don’t believe that anyone who has access to scripture will be able to come under the saving grace of Christ without belief in Christ. This hypothetical I’ve presented is purely the exception to the rule.

    Second, let me say this: we already believe that this happens. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob never had the scriptures. They did not know Christ nor believe in Christ, and yet we don’t believe that they were saved by their works. They were saved by Christ’s death and resurrection just like us and God revealed Himself to them in other ways. So we already believe this happens for some people that never hear of Christ, why are we so willing to say that God will refuse to do it now?

    So, in summation: I agree with Simon that salvation comes only through Christ’s faithfulness but that I’m not sure we should be willing to say that God will not reveal Himself to people who do not have access to the written Word.

    Also, as I said above, I believe this is C. S. Lewis’s view, which of course doesn’t make it scripture, but since he is a better theologian than I, I hesitate to disagree with him without a lot of careful study.

  18. Thanks

    Yes I think we are getting near the end of the debate

    Just to clarify one or two things (and by the way there are no hard feelings here – I have enjoyed this discourse)

    1) I have never argued that everyone will be saved
    2) I have simply stated that there are passages in the bible which talk about salvation only through Christ and other passages which suggest a FUTURE salvation which might include a wider salvation and I have highlighted these passages above. I have never suggested that those outside the visible born again church are saved now but suggested that some of these scriptures suggest to me that Christ’s salvific work, or the “extent of the atonement” (a brilliant phrase that I heard the other day) may encompass more than the visible church as God is just and may have mercy on people who a) never heard the gospel b) were prejudiced against the gospel
    3) I clearly state above that I do not believe 2) wholeheartedly but that I do not know – only God knows. I just present the texts of the bible and say there is a variety of approaches when you look at the texts (which I hope I have shown above)
    4) I then state that actually this is all for me similar to the sin of Adam and Eve which is the knowledge of Good and Evil and their desire to be like God. My view is that we preach the gospel and offer it to all and don’t build up barriers which suggest that other people are already beyond the scope of salvation. We have to be careful with our language and presentation and not give the impression that Judgement Day has already occured and that we have already landed in the Promised Land and everyone else is already accursed. I can think of many Christians I have met who have given this impression to their non Christian family and friends and it has been counter productive to mission.  We are here to proclaim “good news to all – Christ has come and brought peace between God and man” (hence the effectiveness of the Christmas and Easter message if we preach it right to our culture)
    5) I do clearly believe in regeneration and that we can only KNOW we are saved if we accept Christ’s saving work on the cross on our behalf and are born again by his Spirit. We need ABSOLUTE certainties on these issues in the here and now and any future hope that God could be gracious in judgement (based on the above texts) should not make us doubt our own salvation. Rather in my view, any future hope (and surely we WANT people to come to God eternally do we not?) should inspire us to realise that the God we have encountered supernaturally is a loving God, and that helps us in our walk with him in the here and now. It certainly does with me. If I believe that God willfully wants huge sections of the population of the world to go to hell it does rather undermine my view of him as a loving God. At the same time, I am not saying that hell is not a reality. It is ultimately God who will judge on percentages.
    6) I clearly also state above that when Jesus was on earth there were plenty of people who did not experience a born again experience or understand the cross etc but who are talked of as people who have found favour with God, who are told that they have found salvation, and there is also talk of holy people beyond the visible church. I give plenty of examples of this from Jesus ministry. The key question is – are these “salvific encounters” only possible with the incarnate Jesus during his lifetime on earth two thousand years ago, or could these “salvific encounters” continue and take place on the day of judgement, when Jesus judges every human being. I hope they will, though I do not know. I hope they will because I have love for all humanity and obviously pray that in their encounter with Jesus on the Day of Judgement, some of those who did not know they were doing things for Jesus, actually are rewarded (obviously here I am referring to the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats).
    7) So any more broader mercy in judgement is clearly in my writings referred to the Day of Judgement and not the present situation where I agree huge sections of the world live in spiritual darkness and lack of knowledge of God and many moving away from God and becoming less like Jesus with each passing day. 

    I hope that clarifies some of my thinking. Its a fascinating debate.

    with warm Christian love in the gospel


  19. thanks Simon,
    Just a few questions to clarify. you write:

    are saved if we accept Christ’s saving work on the cross on our behalf and are born again by his Spirit.

    but it looks to me like you are saying that one can be regenerate without explicitly speaking of Christ. That feels heavily at odds with the repeated testimony of the New Testament that the regenerative work of the Spirit makes people love and trust Jesus. I wholeheartedly affirm that the Spirit can reach the Amazonian tribesman and regenerate him, it’s just that if He does then that tribesman would love Christ and proclaim such – at least that’ s how the NT reads to me.
    Second, you have on a number of occasions spoken of a “second chance” at judgement day. For such a prominent and key part of your theological structure does it not concern you that there is no Scriptural attestation to such a scenario and more than enough to suggest that death is the end of any gospel hope? Doesn’t the psalmist repeatedly remind us that no-one calls on God from Sheol? For such a key part of your framework to lack any Scriptural support surely should call you to reconsider.

  20. Dear David

    I can see we are going to be debating these issues till the Day of Judgement – which is fine by me as I find your questions very probing and helpful for me as I review my own position on these matters. Thank you for your recent set of questions.

    Your first question is about how people who are not “born again” or regenerate can come to know Jesus as their living Saviour and Lord. As I make clear in my answers above, I don’t KNOW that they will come to know Jesus as their Saviour and Lord. I am only reacting to the large number of scriptures which talk about a wider salvation, and which I have listed above. And the scriptures I have outlined above which clearly point as Jesus being the Judge – and as I do not believe Jesus has a split personality I will assume that when He returns to judge the world he will be pretty much like the Jesus we saw on earth.

    You seem to think I am an ardent universalist – I am not. But I am against a trend in the church that is acting as God and which ignores some of the wider passages which talk about a more optimistic judgement, (this is assuming we both agree that 95% of the world’s population going to eternal torment is undesirable and that we should look at those Scriptures which have a more hopeful tone in a positive light, rather than trying to interpret them down to just the elect, as many do? ).

    I have a wonderful book, endorsed by evangelical leader Michael Green, called “No Other Name – Can only Christians be Saved?” from the C S Lewis Centre, and written by John Sanders. It is heavily endorsed by Peter Cottrell formerly of the London Bible College  on the back.

    Sanders outlines the different positions on salvation to Universalist to Exclusivist to PreDeterminist and so on. I thoroughly recommend it.

    Like me, Sanders seems wary of saying he knows exactly what will happen but he does have an interesting chapter called “Eschatological Evangelization” (p 177 onwards) which is about the idea of a “Second Chance” or an opportunity to respond to Christ beyond death.

    In the chapter the following points are made

    1) The Bible teaches that explicit rejection of Christ leads to hell, not ignorance of Christ. The text quoted here is Matthew 16.15-16 and Matthew 10.32-33
    A key verse is JOhn 15.22
    “If I had not come and spoken to them they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin”

    2) The Bible talks about Christ’s descent into hell and his preaching of the gospel there.
    Key amongst these is this passage
    “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself, and he gave Him authority to execute judgement because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgement” (John 5.25-29)

    Many regard the prophet Hosea’s statement that “I will ransom them from the power of Sheol, I will deem them from death. O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting?” (Hosea 13.14) as a prophecy concerning the release of souls from hell by Christ.

    Ephesians 4.8-10 talks about “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men. (Now this expression, “He ascended” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is HImself also He who ascended far above all the heavens that He might fill all things”

    Sanders comments
    “Proponents of the evangelization-after-death  position interpret this text as meaning that Christ descended into hell and led out of that captivity a great number of people” Paul’s point is that no part of the universe was to be unvisited by the Son of God. Other texts speak of those “under the earth” as confessing Jesus as Lord (Phil 2.10 Rev 5.13) and of Christ possessing “the keys of death and Hades” (Rev 1.18)”
    Then of course there is the key verses in 1 Peter 3.18-20 and 1 Peter 4.6.
    I haven’t got time to list all the arguments of Sanders’ chapter but at least I have shown that there are some scriptures to support my hope.
    Take care for now.

  21. Thanks Simon,
    Again, appreciate you setting it out. Perhaps 2 points of clarification at the end.
    1. I understand that you are not a universalist. FWIW, I think you’ve worked very hard to set that out and the underlying tension that you see there.
    2. I don’t think the argument that Christ preached the gospel in hades actually holds. I spent a bit of work on my dissertation looking at that passage and was immensely helped by the exegetical work in Dalton’s “Christ’s Proclamation”. If you’re interested in digging through my argument with respect to 1Pet 3 and Eph 4 then here and here should do it for you.
    Go well.

  22. Thanks David

    I will look at this research that you have done. Thanks for pointing me in that direction.

    It’s been a fascinating exchange. There is a possibility that Ruth Gledhill may refer to it in her blog – from what I heard yesterday. So we may both suddenly see the dialogue mushroom in the coming days. I had better focus on my work as a church minister though, although I am sure I will be tempted back into the debate! Its such an interesting one.

    Ultimately my main concern is how Christians relate to and care for others. Do they see eyes with the eyes of Christ, with love, or with eyes of condemnation. As I know many Calvinist Predestinationist Conservative Evangelicals who do look with the eyes of Christ, I fully accept that one can take your position and be a wonderful witness for the gospel, and be very loving to those who aren’t in the church, even though there may be variations on the view of eternal destiny. Wasn’t this debate precisely going on between two of the great evangelists, Whitfield and Wesley, with Wesley taking a slightly less conservative view? Oh know, I am starting the debate again….

    Take care

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