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Does Our Salvation Depend on our Historical Skills?

Updated on February 25, 2012

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I recently published a book called "Accessible American History." The link below will take you to a hub that provides more information, including links to book excerpts and to where it can be purchased.

Is our eternal destiny determined by our answer to a historical question?

Christianity is based on a strange premise. According to the Christian worldview, all people are sinners who deserve to be punished for their crimes when they die. And although descriptions of hell in the Bible are as vague and metaphorical as those of heaven, most Christians would describe hell as some form of eternal torment. This life, however, will only last a century (or so) at most, so our focus should be on ensuring that we go to the happy place for all of eternity. And the only way to get there is to accept the fact that God came to earth in human form 2,000 years ago with the ultimate purpose of dying for humankind’s sins. So by taking on the punishment that all of us humans deserve, Jesus made it possible for us to be saved from eternal torment. All that we have to do is believe that Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection actually happened.

One would think that our ultimate fate on judgment day would be based on our moral decisions. But as I just described, our eternal resting place is actually based on our interpretation of history. If we believe in the literal, historical truth of what is described in the four New Testament gospels, then we will be saved. But if we reject the truth of these historical documents (for any number of reasons), most notably the stuff about Jesus’ death and resurrection, we will be eternally punished. Ultimately, then, our eternal destiny is not based on the quality of our values or of our behavior. It is based on our ability to determine what some obscure guy did about 2,000 years ago.

An accurate picture of history, however, can be notoriously difficult to achieve, particularly when dealing with events that took place a long time ago in which we have limited information to draw any solid conclusions. People argue all of the time, after all, about recent events in our modern age where we have an enormous amount of sources at our disposal. So imagine how difficult it is to know if Jesus actually did the things that his heavily biased followers claimed. Personally, I hope that my eternal resting place is not based on the historical research of others or on my own skills as an interpreter of the past. As a history teacher, I know that I have often messed up “the facts,” and I am well aware that the stuff that I teach as “the truth” may no longer be generally perceived as “the truth” 10, 50, or 100 years from now. And depending on the point of view of the person writing the historical narrative, there are multiple versions of “the truth” even today. So if we humans will inevitably have limited or mistaken views of the past, it seems strange that our eternal destiny would be based on our beliefs about history.

Many Christians, however, would claim that the choice either to accept or reject Jesus is not simply a matter of historical interpretation. In particular, the choice to reject Jesus is not primarily based on a person’s reading of the facts. Instead, it is rooted in a person’s unwillingness to recognize his or her status as a sinner. If people would just look into their hearts and be willing to listen to God’s voice, then they will recognize the truth.

The trouble with this argument is that it could be used to promote any religious belief system, no matter how little basis it may have in reality. If God is going to judge us purely on our theological choices, then He better give us more to go on than the voice inside our hearts. And if people are going to claim that their beliefs are rooted in historical events, then these claims must hold up to reasonable scrutiny. For if it is simply a matter of listening to our hearts, then God’s interventions in Biblical times, from a modern person’s perspective, seem like wasted efforts. Instead of going through the trouble of researching intently the historical claims of the Bible (or of any other religions), we can just listen to our moral conscience and leave it at that.

Christians might also argue, however, that salvation does not simply come from correct beliefs. If a person’s faith does not manifest itself in good works, then that faith is not authentic: “Faith without works is dead,” after all. A commitment of faith is therefore a moral decision, not simply a decision to accept certain facts. The problem, however, is that faith, like moral conduct, is not an either/or proposition. Levels of faith exist on a continuum, as does the moral quality of one’s life. Since degrees of morality or faith vary so much from person to person, it seems strange that we can all be placed into simplistic categories of faithful and non-faithful, Christian and non-Christian. Plus, if faith without works is dead, it is also true that works without faith are dead. So even if a person lives a morally exemplary life, it is irrelevant if this person also has mistaken theology. So in the end, since no human is close to perfect, the only clear distinction between Christians and non-Christians is their different interpretation of history. Apparently, God takes our ability to interpret history properly very seriously. So it is in all of our interest to improve our historical skills. If the Christians are right, our eternal futures depend on them.


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    • Civil War Bob profile image

      Civil War Bob 5 years ago from Glenside, Pennsylvania

      Once again, FF, you're on the money in your analysis. I'd say the Lord is working through the circumstance of our meeting on Hubpages to "do a work in your life" as we Xns say; which means you're not necessarily screwed, depending on what He's got in mind for you and how you respond.

      Your comment about my being screwed is essentially what Paul wrote when he said if Xns are wrong, then we're the biggest of fools...of course, he is assuming we're not.

      I thought about self publishing, but lack of money stopped that. There is one copy in manuscript form in the Library of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia where I worked on Buildings and Grounds for 26 years until Jan. 31 when they cut back staff, so I guess I am actually published.

      Enjoy your day!

    • Freeway Flyer profile image

      Paul Swendson 5 years ago

      As you can probably tell from this hub, I have a problem with the idea that people cannot be reasoned into the kingdom. And I have trouble making any clear distinction between the concept of "spiritually appraised" versus "appraised through basic common sense." If I am expected to toss aside my common sense and use spiritual criteria - whatever that is - it is very difficult to know which part of me is the spiritual nature talking and which is the reason. In other words, how do I know which voice to listen to?

      I am sure that when you come across someone with religious ideas that make no sense to you, you do not accept the argument that their spirits tell them that they are right. When it comes to religion, I find that people do not hold their beliefs up to the same standards as they judge the beliefs of others.

      If people accept the premise that God controls everything, then it is reasonable to argue that God caused the Civil War. Although some might make a distinction between God causing the Civil War versus God allowing it. This, of course, brings up one of the core issues of all theology: predestination versus free will. And to a certain degree, it relates back to your original point. The apostle Paul seemed to argue that people could not come to God on their own, either through reasoned argument or by any other means. Instead, we are saved through the grace of God. So we can only be saved if God chooses to save us, and the spiritual insight necessary to see the truth can only come from God. So if you are right, I am either blinded by my reliance on reason or God has chosen to not reveal himself to me. Either way, I guess I'm screwed. Of course, if you are wrong, then you are blinded from seeing the real spiritual truth, and you may be screwed. In the end, no matter what we believe, most people think that we are wrong.

      I can see why your title would rub people the wrong way. Have you ever thought of self-publishing?

      I'll check out some of your hubs some time, starting with those about the Civil War. Talk to you later.

    • Civil War Bob profile image

      Civil War Bob 5 years ago from Glenside, Pennsylvania

      FF...well done hub, voted up, useful, interesting. Paragraph #1 is a well written analysis of Christian theology. If you advocated it by the end of your hub, I'd say you were an evangelist. Your reference to James 2:18-20 is spot on, as Brits say, in your logic. Faith in Christ DOES NOT make sense when seen from a non-Born Again perspective, as 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

      Yeah, I know, this sounds like a logical cop-out verse, but it is the basis of Van Tillian apologetics; which points out that folks cannot be REASONED into the Kingdom.

      Oh, I have a BA in political science, an MAR in theology, and wrote God Caused the Civil War, a book which 71 publishers rejected as being too controversial. I'd be interested in your analysis of any of my 64 hubs. Enjoy your day!!

    • Freeway Flyer profile image

      Paul Swendson 5 years ago

      The fact that Christians argue continually about fundamental issues demonstrates to me that the scriptures are not particularly clear on variety of topics.

      Personally, I have yet to hear a version of life after death that makes a whole lot of sense. Since there is not way to know what (if anything) comes next anyway, I don't worry about it too much.

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 5 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      christopheranton: What you you are saying about Christ offering salvation only to the just who died, makes no sense to me at all.

      The way I understand it, Christ at His crucifixion went into the grave and visits all who died from Adam to the day of His death offering them all the same opportunity of salvation and redemption. Our Heavenly Father wishes none of His children to miss out on the opportunity of salvation.

      For Jesus to only visit the faithful, is not of God. I know what "Catholic" theology teaches, but it is not in accordance with the scriptures and therefore is wrongful teaching it is in error. JOHN:3:14-18 and JOHN:14:6 make this abundantly clear.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      If you knew your theology Dave, you would be aware that the salvation Christ offered was to the just who had died, not to all. The status of the dammed was not affected.

      Purgatory is the fairest option, because it allows all conditions of good people to be saved. I personally see it as more of an induction course for those who need to be "brought up to speed".

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 5 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      Even though I was raised Catholic, I see purgatory as a myth propegated by the Roman Catholic Church.

      Jesus teaches that He died for the remission of sin, all sin not just some, and that our salvation from sin is through our belief in Him, His death and resurrection.

      I PETER: 3: 18-22 tells us that at the time of Jesus death, Jesus visited the prisons, offering "His Salvation" to all who had died before Jesus without knowing Jesus truth, prisons referring to the "Graves".

      This is a part of Catholic teachings, therefore how can the Roman Catholic Church hypocritically, go against it's own teaching from Bible Scripture and establish "Purgatory". Any person dying after Jesus death would instantly automatically be offered the opportunity to accept Jesus as saviour and redeemer and either enter heaven or be sent to Hell to await the Lake of fire.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      The good thing about Catholic theology on the subject of salvation, is that it is not an "either or" situation. Because of Purgatory, there is an intermediate stage, where you can be saved and be brought up to speed on the things you need to know to get into Heaven.

      This can cover most people in the world.

      Interesting hub. Thank you. Very appropriate for a Sunday morning.