Editor’s note: Byker Bob, Pasedena Guy10 and James Pate, yes there was a post here but the contrast and comparison chart was simply not working and unfortunately wordpress was not flexible enough to shrink it to size so I had to rearranged something different. To the greater audience, this is a piece that Mark Tabladillo of Jesus Loves Fellowship message board wrote in 2001 about his thoughts about the unevangelized dead and his own survey of the many theories of the destinies of such. Mark has always something interesting to say and I thought this one was absolutely no exception. May all have good read of his post!
Classically, WCG would produce booklets which asked questions, and through the text went ahead and showed the answers to those questions. IMHO, they could have saved money by printing simple booklets with a new question on the cover, and put the answer “Jesus Christ” on the inside.
I brought up this postmortem evangelization question with my girlfriend Stefanie, and she did not recall that we had talked about the question before. At first look, she said there is no way God was going to give people a chance to live at the judgment, because that was the essence of the strong message which she had been taught about what the judgment is. In many minds, the judgment is all about opening up the book of life, and if your name is in there, you’re in, and if not, you’re out. With such a simple story, it does not seem like a time to call people.
And yet, it’s also interesting that at the same time, the “books” are opened too. The books are clearly a record of all which has happened. Some people keep scrapbooks and diaries, but these books appear to have a written record of all which has been done, as if a stenographer were watching us at all times — it makes sense, for how could we be guaranteed justice if we did not know the Lord was always paying attention?
Rev 20:14 clearly says that the lake of fire represents the “second death”, and if so, the question is what the “second life” is all about. It is my personal belief (and I will contrast it with competing beliefs) that it is possible for the Lord to call someone at the judgment. This belief is called “postmortem evangelization”. I’m not saying that this is a prophetic event or even a likely occurence, but a definite possibility.
However, the belief does not start with an assumption on Revelation or a creative attempt to fill in the blanks. The assumption starts instead with the question of whether God will present himself to all people and give them a chance for salvation.
Those of the strong Calvinist bend believe that “Limited Atonement” applies — namely that Jesus Christ died ONLY for those who would ultimately accept him. Therefore, by the strict interpretation of this belief, Jesus did not die for any who would reject him. Quickly we get into the debate of whether or not God knew beforehand who would accept and who would not.
Perhaps someone of that thought would draw a distinction between forgiveness and atonement. After all, the Lord Jesus asked for forgiveness for all those who chose to kill him at his crucifixion. Could it be that he was prophesying that all those present would be saved? And if so then we could say that forgiveness and atonement were the same thing. More simply, the counterargument would be that Jesus could forgive an unrepentant sinner, and that unrepentance would also mean that the person had no covering atonement.
However, I believe that forgiveness by God (as in the case with the women caught in adultery) amounts essentially to atonement. Granted, what the words mean are different, but IMHO they require one another.
And even in a practical sense, I find it hard to forgive someone who does not have covering blood. In that sense, I don’t have to ask the question of whether someone is a Christian or not before I forgive them — and that question does not bother me when someone cuts me off on the highway.
But again, the core question is about whether God will present salvation to all. Perhaps largely influenced by the WCG teaching, I believe the “Day of Atonement” is for all Israel, and it is clear in the historical Jewish tradition that everyone was covered, even the stranger in the gates. Even Ruth the gentile (and ancestor of the Lord) was covered too. The covering during Atonement was different from the other ongoing sacrifices — this sacrifice was not offered by the WORKS of the Israelites, but instead was offered by the High Priest. It was an act of faith and trust in the High Priest which extended the ceremony to the rest of Israel.
Therefore, the conditions today are quite similar — those who believe by faith that they will be covered will be.
At the end of the day, however, the debate will still remain whether God did know in advance who will accept him and who will not.
That issue aside, the core question on “postmortem evangelization” is less about the what the Lord could possibly do in the time between a human birth and the time of final judgment (just before the second death, literally at the last moment of “second life”), and more about what God’s intention is about saving all mankind.
I personally challenge people to think about how little we know about what happens at the point of death. Many stories and testimonies are around about “near death” experience, and we simply do not know what the process is of the spirit leaving the body, and the mechanics and specifics of what happens. Could your whole life “flash before your eyes”? Is there communication with God? Does God speak between the first death and second life?
Further, as I started this message, we don’t know what the “second life” will consist of. Historically, WCG speculated that the “White Throne Judgment” would be a period of 100 years. Some jokingly said that since many who died were babies (as in abortion), would not many be resurrected as babies? And who would want to change those diapers? On the other hand, perhaps the second life resurrection is like the creation of Adam and Eve, fully grown adults. Others speculate that the time is much shorter, being made like waiting in line for court where a sentence would be handed out.
My core belief is based on the idea that as in Adam all die, and so in Christ shall all be made alive. Some qualify the second “all” to mean all who accept Christ, but who ever asked me if I accepted Adam? Inherently, IMHO we all accepted Adam’s way, namely the way of man, which today is called humanism.
What is above is enough background to perhaps solve the question, or provide a basis for your own investigation. To help this process, what appears below is a chart from a book called “What about those who have never heard?” — three views on the destiny of the unevangelized (authors Gabriel Fackre, Ronald Nash, and John Sanders).
This book presents a comparative study of this question, and while three viewpoints are well discussed in the text, the authors acknowledge five identifiable viewpoints which all fall within (and this is important) historical and non-heretical Christianity (the footnote on the chart says “The listed adherents of all these views agree that Jesus is the ONLY Savior”).
Granted, there are aspects of these five viewpoints below which some may have already considered “heresy”, but what is important is having not only the viewpoints summarized, but also scriptures to look at (there are a few listed to get started), and also some names of prolific authors to look up. Thus, if you really wanted to know (for example) Origen’s beliefs on this topic, you would know that you could find them.
Views on the Destiny of the Unevangelized
Definition:God does not provide salvation to those who fail to hear of Jesus and come to faith in him before they die.
Key Texts:John 14:6, Acts 4:12, 1 John 5:11-12
Adherents: Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Carl Henry, R.C. Sproul, Ronald Nash
Universal Opportunity before Death
Definition: All people are given opportunity to be saved by God’s sending the gospel (even by angels or dreams) or at the moment of death or by “middle knowledge”.
Key Texts: Daniel 2, Acts 8
Adherents: Thomas Aquinas, James Arminius, John Henry Newman, J. Oliver Buswell Jr., Norman Geisler, Robert Lightner
Definition:The unevangelized may be saved if they respond in faith to God based on the revelation they have.
Key Texts: John 12:32, Acts 10:43,1 Timothy 4:10
Adherents: Justin Martyr, John Wesley, C.S. Lewis, Clark Pinnock, Wolfhart Pannenberg, John Sanders
Divine Perseverence (Post-Mortem Evangelization)
Definition:The unevangelized receive an opportunity to believe in Jesus after death.
Key Texts: John 3:181 Peter 3:18-4:6
Adherents:Clement of Alexandria, George MacDonald, Donald Bloesch, George Lindbeck, Stephen Davis, Gabriel Fackre, (Editor’s note: Felix Taylor is a 21st century adherent!)
Definition: All people will be saved by Jesus. No one is damned forever.
Key texts: Romans 5:18, I Corinthians 15:22-28, I John 2:2
Adherents: Origen, F.E. Schleiermacher, G.C. Berkouwer, William Barclay, Jacques Ellul
What about those who have never heard?” Three views on the destiny of the unevangeluzed, Fackre, Gabriel J., editor, Intervarsity Press, 1995, page 20.
Copyright (c) 2001, Mark Tabladillo