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Christian View on the Salvation of Non-Christian

Updated on August 24, 2012
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In dealing with this topic, there are 4 major views: universalism, pluralism, inclusivism, and exclusivism. We will define each of this term in Christian context. Universalism views that everyone will be saved. Pluralism views that all religion will lead to salvation. Inclusivism views that Christianity is the absolute truth, but salvation is also accessible to those outside of Christianity; this is mainly embraced by several mainline Protestant and also the Catholics. Exclusivism views that outside of Christianity there is no salvation; this is also embraced by some groups within Christianity. The Protestant and Catholic view on this topic will be discussed.

Catholics and Eastern Orthodox tradition

Catholics are embracing inclusivism since the Vatican II council. Before that, they believe that salvation is only in the Catholic church, which means that Protestant are also condemned to hell. Now they are open to the possibility of salvation in other religions. They believes that “Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.”1 In regard to those unevangelized, the Roman Catholic Church recognises the “Baptism of Desire”, which means the fruit of baptism is brought about as a result of their desire to be baptised. “Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.”2 Hence, the Catholic church stated in Vatican II Council that they places a high regard for the practices from other religion that reflect a ray of truth that will enlighten humanity. The Eastern Orthodox Christian have similar doctrine of baptism of desire and hence categorized as inclusivist.

Protestant tradition

In Protestant tradition however, salvation is through faith alone and not baptism. Baptism is done to obey and follow the example of Jesus Christ, hence no issue of baptism for the unevangelized. For the salvation of those unevangelized, some are adhering to inclusivism and some to exclusivism. Some famous inclusivist includes C. S. Lewis, John Wesley, John E. Sanders, John Stott, and many others. Those that embraces exclusivism back their claim on John 14:6: “Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me...” (NIV) and also Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (NIV) as well as other verses in the Scripture. Those who embrace inclusivist based their argument both from the Bible and philosophy. It is quite insurmountable to imagine that God will punish those people who have never heard about him. Our God is a loving God and he is longing for the salvation of humanity. “Sanders argues that God has ways of making himself known to all people, so that they can receive the redemption he offers.”3

C. S. Lewis mention an inclusivist claim in his famous writing Mere Christianity: “Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him?”4 In his famous novel, The Chronicles of Narnia, this point is made implicit and beautiful in his last book, The Last Battle. Emeth (which means truth in Hebrew) is serving the god Tash the whole of his life. However, his truth-seeking heart leads him to Aslan, the creator of Narnia, in the after-world.5 In other words, Lewis is depicting God as justifying a heathen that is faithful to the light that he had. For more details, read The Spirituality of Narnia.

It may be helpful to distinguish between Christian and 'believers'.6 “Believers are those who have responded to general revelation and exercised the faith principle of responding to God; however deficient their theology they are made acceptable to God on the basis of this faith.”7 Whereas Christians are those who know the fullness of truth in Jesus Christ explicitly. Of course, this does not imply that there is salvation out of Jesus Christ. What it means is that although these people do not know God, God knows them. The important issue is not that we know God, but God knows us. These people are also cleansed and redeemed only through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Note that this view does not contradict John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 mentioned above.

Conclusion

In handling this topic, Catholics (and Orthodox) and Protestant differs only in the interpretation about the necessity of Baptism. The Scripture teaches us that Jesus was baptized and he ordered us to be baptized also, and this is the only thing that we surely know. Catholics has a high regard for the sacrament of baptism and salvation is achieved through this sacrament, whereas Protestant did not agree on this matter. Regarding those people that is unevangelized and from other religions, the Bible mentions to us that Jesus is the only way for salvation; there is no other way. It can be used for both inclusivism and exclusivism, though rationally inclusivism is more refined. Just as it is stated above, human beings may be able to judge whether we know God, but we will never know whether God knows us. C. S. Lewis put it best: “We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”8

References

1Catechism of the Catholic Church, ss. 1257

2Catechism of the Catholic Church, ss. 1260

3J. Sanders, No other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992).

4C. S. Lewis, ’Mere Christianity’ in The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), p. 60

5C. S. Lewis, ’The Last Battle’ in The Chronicles of Narnia (London: HarperCollins, 2008), p. 756-757.

6C. Pinnock, A Wideness in God’s Mercy: the Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992).

7Alan M. Linfield, “Sheep and Goats: Current Evangelical Thought On The Nature of Hell and The Scope of Salvation,” Evangelical Review of Theology 21.1 (Jan. 1997): 51-62.

8C. S. Lewis, ’Mere Christianity’ in The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), p. 60

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    • profile image

      Samuel Stuart Maynes 3 years ago

      My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

      In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

      The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

      1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

      2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or "Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the "body of Christ" (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

      3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

      Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

      * The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

      ** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

      After the Hindu and Buddhist conceptions, perhaps the most subtle expression and comprehensive symbol of the 3rd person of the Trinity is the Tao; involving the harmonization of “yin and yang” (great opposing ideas indentified in positive and negative, or otherwise contrasting terms). In the Taoist icon of yin and yang, the s-shaped line separating the black and white spaces may be interpreted as the Unconditioned “Middle Path” between condition and conditioned opposites, while the circle that encompasses them both suggests their synthesis in the Spirit of the “Great Way” or Tao of All That Is.

      If the small black and white circles or “eyes” are taken to represent a nucleus of truth in both yin and yang, then the metaphysics of this symbolism fits nicely with the paradoxical mystery of the Christian Holy Ghost; who is neither the spirit of the one nor the spirit of the other, but the Glorified Spirit proceeding from both, taken altogether – as one entity – personally distinct from his co-equal, co-eternal and fully coordinate co-sponsors, who differentiate from him, as well as mingle and meld in him.

      Samuel Stuart Maynes

    • profile image

      Samuel Stuart Maynes 3 years ago

      My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

      In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

      The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

      1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

      2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or "Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the "body of Christ" (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

      3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

      Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

      * The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

      ** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

      After the Hindu and Buddhist conceptions, perhaps the most subtle expression and comprehensive symbol of the 3rd person of the Trinity is the Tao; involving the harmonization of “yin and yang” (great opposing ideas indentified in positive and negative, or otherwise contrasting terms). In the Taoist icon of yin and yang, the s-shaped line separating the black and white spaces may be interpreted as the Unconditioned “Middle Path” between condition and conditioned opposites, while the circle that encompasses them both suggests their synthesis in the Spirit of the “Great Way” or Tao of All That Is.

      If the small black and white circles or “eyes” are taken to represent a nucleus of truth in both yin and yang, then the metaphysics of this symbolism fits nicely with the paradoxical mystery of the Christian Holy Ghost; who is neither the spirit of the one nor the spirit of the other, but the Glorified Spirit proceeding from both, taken altogether – as one entity – personally distinct from his co-equal, co-eternal and fully coordinate co-sponsors, who differentiate from him, as well as mingle and meld in him.

      Samuel Stuart Maynes

    • teresapelka profile image

      Teresa Pelka 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      A thought you can actually find here and there real often: if heaven is a place, who says I want to be there with you ;)