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CHRISTIAN BELIEFS ABOUT SALVATION:

CAN THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN ANOTHER "GOD" BE SAVED & GO TO HEAVEN?

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Quotations:

bullet"The departed spirit of a believer in Christ goes immediately into the presence of the Lord...When an unbeliever dies, his or her departed spirit goes immediately into Hades to experience conscious, unrelenting torment. There is no in-between place. There is no third choice." Mark Hitchcock 1
bullet"The idea that Jesus is the only way to God or that only those who have been washed in the blood of Christ are ever to be listed among the saved, has become anathema and even dangerous in our shrinking world." Episcopal Bishop John S. Spong. 2
bullet"If you are a [born-again] Christian, you will go to heaven; If you're following another religion, then by default you will go to Hell." Susie Shellenberger. 3
bullet"...I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." The words of Jesus, according to John 14:6. 4

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Salvation for non-Christian theists:

Elsewhere on this site, we discuss Christian beliefs about whether people who follow a non-Christian religion or philosophical belief can be saved and attain Heaven after death. This includes about 66% of the population of the world.

This essay has a narrower focus. It discusses whether non-Christian theists can be saved. That is, whether salvation is possible for a person who believes in:

bulletA God other than the Christian Trinity, or
bulletA Goddess, or
bulletA pantheon of Gods and Goddesses.

These individuals are all theists since they believe in a transcendent deity of some type. However, they do not acknowledge the existence of the Christian Trinity. They do not view Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) to be God and to be one person within the Trinity. They include the followers of many world religions -- Aboriginal faiths, Deism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Sikhism, Wicca, other Neopagan religions, Zoroastrianism, etc.

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Beliefs among Christians about the salvation of non-Christian theists:

Many Christians believe that if a person meets certain criteria, that they will attain salvation and will attain Heaven when they die. These criteria often involve repentance for past sins, trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior, performing various good works, engaging in specific church rituals, and/or avoiding certain behaviors. Unfortunately, there is no consensus among Christian denominations about the specific criteria needed to be saved. The unsaved are believed to be sent to Hell after death. Denominations also teach different concepts of Heaven and Hell. According to some faith groups, those in Hell are simply isolated from God; others teach that the inmates in Hell experience eternal, continuous, and rather gruesome, tortures without any hope of relief.

Religious diversity is a fact of life in North America. This forces followers of each faith group to acknowledge the existence of other faith groups within their religion, and the existence of other religions in their communities. They generally take one of three positions towards the validity of these other groups:

bullet Exclusivists regard their own faith tradition as the only completely true religion. Many believe that salvation is only assured for certain of their fellow believers. The authors of the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament) -- notably Paul and the author(s) of the Gospel of John -- seem to have taken this position. If we assume that the various "I am" statements attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John are accurate, then Jesus also appears to have taken an exclusivist position.
bullet Inclusivists, like exclusivists regard their own faith tradition as the only completely true religion. They view other religions as incomplete or partially developed faiths. Salvation for those others may be possible, but is chancy at best.
bullet Religious Pluralists: The great world religions are all legitimate, valid, and true -- when viewed from within their particular culture. Most who take this position believe that salvation is possible for devout followers of most or all religions. 5

There is a range of beliefs within Christianity: 6

bulletVery conservative Protestants: Most hold, as one of their most central and important beliefs, that the Bible is inerrant and perfectly expresses the will of God. Paul, the author(s) of the Gospel of John, and other contributors to the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament) have written clearly and consistently on salvation. They have generally taken an exclusivist position: that Pauline Christianity is the only valid religion. In fact, in several passages of the Christian Scriptures, the deities of other religions are described as demons. This leads inevitably to the restrictivist belief which has been historically taught by Christianity: that only Christian believers attain Heaven, while everyone else will go to Hell. The above quote by Susie Shellenberger illustrates this clearly. Ultimately, it would not matter one iota whether the non-Christian believes in a deity or not. Strong Atheists, those who deny that God exists, will go to Hell. The many types of non-Christian theists listed above --  followers of Aboriginal faiths to Zoroastrians -- will go to Hell. None will spend eternity in Heaven; it is restricted those Christians who have been saved.
bulletSome conservative and mainline Protestants: Many of these denominations also follow the exclusivist belief about Christianity and the Restrictivist belief about salvation. For example, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s Statement of Faith states in part:

Just as a parent is quick to welcome a wayward child who has repented of rebellion, God is willing to forgive our sins if we but confess them and ask for forgiveness in the name of Christ." 7

The implication here is that forgiveness of sins -- and thus a person's salvation and eternal destiny -- is only possible through belief in Jesus Christ and a prayer of repentance to the Christian God. This statement provides no alternative path to salvation for the four billion non-Christians in the world, whether they be theists or non-theists. In the year 2000, Rev. Dirk Ficca of Chicago delivered a paper on salvation at the Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference in Orange, CA.  According to PCUSA NEWS, Rev. Ficca, had suggested: "...that an omnipotent and merciful God might provide other avenues to salvation for Jews and Muslims and other non-believers in Christ." 8 Some conservative Presbyterians went ballistic. Twenty-one church sessions and one presbytery called for the church's General Assembly Council (GAC) to either discipline Ficca or disavow the heretical views he expressed. The Presbyterian Church remains seriously divided between its liberals and conservative wings on the topic of salvation and eternal destiny.

Other mainline Protestant denominations are more liberal, and lead towards inclusivism or pluralism. They accept at least the partial validity of other religions and believe that their followers can be saved.

bulletRoman Catholics: The church takes an partly inclusive position towards non-Catholic faiths. A commentary on a Vatican II document the "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church - Lumen Gentium." reads:

"5. The non-Christian may not be blamed for his ignorance of Christ and his Church; salvation is open to him also, if he seeks God sincerely and if he follows the commands of his conscience, for through this means the Holy Ghost acts upon all men; this divine action is not confined within the limited boundaries of the visible [Roman Catholic] Church." 9

This would seem to imply that salvation is available to non-Christian theists, but not to Agnostics, Atheists, Buddhists, etc who lack a belief in a personal God. However, in the year 2000, Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a more pessimistic document, called: " 'Dominus Iesus' on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church." He wrote that the prayers and rituals of other religions may help or hinder their believers. Those rituals which "depend on superstitions or other errors... constitute an obstacle to salvation." Members of other religions are "gravely deficient" relative to Roman Catholics who already have "the fullness of the means of salvation.10 More details on: salvation of non-Catholics, and on "Dominus Iesus."

bulletLiberal and some mainline Christians: Many note that all of the major religions teach an Ethic of Reciprocity -- like the Golden Rule -- which requires that their followers behave lovingly and decently towards their fellow humans -- including those of other denominations and those of other religions. Many accept the principle of religious pluralism: that each of the main religions of the world are legitimate, valid, and true, when viewed from within its own culture. "John Hick, for example, sometimes argues that the fundamentals of the major religious traditions correctly describe different aspects of ultimate reality and sometimes argues that ultimate reality is unknowable, leaving all religious on roughly equal ground." 11,12 This leads logically to the principle of salvific pluralism: the belief that the followers of all theistic religions can attain salvation. That is, one is saved by devoutly believing in -- and following the expectations of -- a God, or Goddess, or pantheon of deities from any of the major world religions.

In the fall of 2000, Kenneth Himma, published an article "Finding a high road: The moral case for Salvific Pluralism." 13 He assumed that:
bulletGod exists.
bulletGod is a personal being of perfect morality.
bulletThere are only two states after death: salvation and punishment in Hell for those who are not saved.

In his article, he attempts to prove that "a morally perfect God would not punish devout persons of certain non-Christian [theistic] traditions." Since there are only two possible states after death, then it logically "follows that there is more than one path to salvation." Himma argues that "God's moral perfection is inconsistent with Christian exclusivism." 13 He thus deduces that salvific pluralism is true, that followers of non-Christian religions can be saved as a result of following their own faith.

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References used:

  1. Mark Hitchcock, "The Complete Book of Bible Prophecy," Tyndale House, (1999), Page 216 and 219. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
  2. J.S. Spong, "A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying and How a New Faith is Being Born,"  HarperSanFrancisco, (2001), Page 179. Read reviews or order this book
  3. Susie Shellenberger, "Life on the Edge;" a radio program directed at teens. It is sponsored by Focus on the Family, a Fundamentalist Christian agency. The episode aired on 2001-MAY-5.
  4. From the King James Version of the Bible.
  5. For more detailed information on religious exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism, see our essay "Reacting to religious diversity."
  6. For essays on this web site, we define as a Christian any person or group who sincerely, thoughtfully and prayerfully believes that they are Christian. We acknowledge that there are dozens of other more restrictive definitions of the term "Christian." More details.
  7. "Brief Statement of Faith," at: http://www.biblehistory.com/Salvation%20Presbyterian.html
  8. "Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a Diverse World: An Inter-generational Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference Focusing on Interfaith Relationships," 2000-JUL-26 to 29, at: http://www.horeb.pcusa.org/peace2000/
  9. "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church - Lumen Gentium. Chapter 1: "The Mystery of the church," Sections 14 to 16," at: http://www.christusrex.org
  10. " 'Dominus Iesus' on the unicity and salviific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church" at: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/
  11. "John Hick: Religious Pluralism," A review of Hick's book An Interpretation of Religion, at: http://brindedcow.umd.edu
  12. John Hick, "Interpretation of Religion," Yale University Press, (Reprinted 1991). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
  13. Kenneth Himma, "Finding a high road: The moral case for Salvific Pluralism," International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, (2002-AUG) 52: 1-33.

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Copyright © 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.|
Latest update: 2003-JUN-5
Author: B.A. Robinson

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