Can non-Christians be saved?
What about those who have
never heard of Jesus, or the Gospel
Various Christian denominations and individuals have diverse views about the fate of
persons who are not saved by trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior during their lifetime.
These include those:
||Who have heard the Gospel and rejected it.
||Who have heard the Gospel, agreed with it, but never formally saved.
||Who have never heard of the Gospel, Jesus or Christianity.
There is no consensus among Christians on their fate:
||Very Conservative Protestant Theologians:|
Most Fundamentalists and many other Evangelicals continue the Restrictivist beliefs
taught by traditional Christianity. They believe that each verse in the Bible is without error (as originally written). They are compelled to
follow the writings of Paul and the author of the Gospel of John. Those authors appear
to have written consistently that only believers reach
Heaven. Non-believers will go to
Hell. One result of this belief is the list that the Southern Baptist Convention
occasionally prepares. It estimates the percentages of people in various
states of the US who will eventually go to heaven. Their data are based
on the number of Southern Baptist members, and the numbers of members of
other denominations in each state. From these data, they are able to
estimate the percentage in each state who are "saved."
verses supporting the Restrictivist position are:
||John 3:3: "...no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born
||John 3:15: "...everyone who believes in him [Jesus] may have eternal
||John 3:18: "...whoever does not believe stands condemned already because
he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."
||John 14:6: "Jesus answered: 'No one comes to the Father except through
||Acts 3:23: "And it shall be, that every soul that shall not hearken to
that prophet, shall be utterly destroyed from among the people."
||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"
||Romans 10:9: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be
||Hebrews 9:28: "...he [Christ] will appear a second time, not to bear sin,
but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him"
||1 John 5:12: "...he who does not have the Son of God does not have
(Quotations are from the NIV unless indicated).
||Other Conservative Protestant Theologians, including some Evangelicals:|
Many hold contrary views because of the obvious ambiguity of the Bible on
||Agnostic: We have conflicting and/or inadequate information in the Bible and
cannot reach a definitive belief about salvation.|
||Inclusivism: Non-Christian believers will avoid Hell if they worship a deity of
some sort, because God works through all of the world's religious faiths. Agnostics,
Atheists, Buddhists, etc. who do not believe in a God will go to Hell.|
||Middle Knowledge: God, having infinite wisdom, knows who would have rejected the
gospel if it had been presented to them. As a result, they never have
had the opportunity to
accept the Gospel. Those people will be transported to Hell when they die.|
||Post Mortem Evangelism: those who have never heard the gospel will be exposed to
it after death and thus given the opportunity to get to Heaven. This is sometimes called
Divine Perseverance. |
||Unitive Pluralism: All of the world's great religions offer salvation to their
members in different ways. A knowledge and acceptance of Jesus, and the sacrifice of Jesus
are not needed for a person to be saved. 4|
||Universal Opportunity: All those who were not saved during their lifetimes will be
given a vision of the Gospel at the time of death, and will be able to accept salvation at
||Universalism: All will eventually be accepted into Heaven by some process after
death. 1 This view was historically held by the Universalist
Church, one of the faith groups that formed the Unitarian
Universalist Association. One Biblical verse that supports the Universalist position
||1 Timothy 4:10: "...we have put our hope in the living God, who is the
Savior of all men, and especially those who believe.". (It may be worth noting
that mainline and liberal theologians have reached a consensus that 1 Timothy is a
forgery. It was not written by Paul but by an unknown author perhaps half a century after
One of many documents
to come out of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (often
referred to as "Vatican II") during the early to mid 1960s
was the "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church - Lumen Gentium."
Chapter 1, sections 14 to 16 discuss salvation of Catholics and others.
5 An "Assessment of this
"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
In the year 2000, Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, -- now Pope Benedict XVI -- issued a document: " 'Dominus
Iesus' on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the
Church." It stated that salvation is possible to those who are not
Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox. The prayers and rituals of other
religions may help or hinder their believers. Some practices may prepare
their membership to absorb the Gospel. However, those rituals which "depend
on superstitions or other errors... constitute an obstacle to salvation."
Members of other religions are "gravely deficient" relative to
members of the Church of Christ who already have "the fullness
of the means of salvation." More details on:
salvation of non-Catholics, and on
The most liberal Christian faith groups generally reject the necessity of salvation. They also
reject the entire concept of eternal punishment in Hell for anyone - saved or unsaved.
people in Hell because they have not heard the Gospel (and thus have not accepted it) is
viewed as profoundly immoral. It is reminiscent of some of the Spanish Conquistadors who
would enter a Native town in the New World during the 16th century, give a speech in Latin demanding that the people become
Christians and lay down their weapons. The townspeople would be given an hour to make up their minds,
the Conquistadors would then
exterminate the townspeople (men, women, and children) for not acting on the demands. Not
knowing Latin, the Natives hadn't the foggiest idea what the soldiers were asking of them. If we
view this type of act by humans as completely immoral, how could we expect it of an
all-loving God whose ethical standard is conceived as being so much higher than ours?
Many, perhaps most, people belong to a particular faith group because they were
brought up in the faith group of their parents. So, Evangelical children will almost all
be "saved" whereas children of very liberal Christian families or
children of Muslim families will remain
"unsaved". Most liberals would consider it unreasonable to expect an all-loving God
to send the latter to Hell for the simple reason that their parents were from the wrong
||The general population: Most Americans believe that
anyone who leads a
good life will eventually spend eternity in Heaven. They hold beliefs that are more
related to the religion of Zoroastrianism than to historical
Christianity. They frequently believe in some form of final judgment at which one's good
and bad deeds are evaluated and compared. Those who receive a passing grade are sent to
Heaven; those who fail end up in Hell. This concept would be difficult to implement
fairly: If a passing grade were set at 50%, then those with 49.99% would be tortured for
eternity in Hell, and those with 50.00% would be rewarded with heaven. This would appear
to be an unjust, unfair treatment for a person who might fall short by only one good deed.
If a person had been allowed to live just 10 minutes more, he might have done one more
good work (or one fewer evil deed) and be given eternal reward in Heaven.
Current beliefs among the American public about salvation:
||The Princeton Religion Research Center (PRRC) 2
that 6 in 10 Americans " completely agree that the only assurance of eternal life
is a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Since the PRRC estimates that 8 out of 10
Americans regard themselves as Christians, then about 75% of Christian adults hold some
doubt about inclusivism. |
||According to the Barna Research Group, among adult
||86% believe that "eventually all people will be judged by God."
||57% believe that good people will go to Heaven
||39% believe that those who do not accept Christ as savior will go to
||46% agree and 47% disagree that all good people will go to Heaven.
||There appears to be some shifting of opinion among conservative Christians. The 1996
in Review by the Zondervan News Service quoted Ron Nash, author of "Is
Jesus the Only Savior?":|
"1996 helped reveal serious theological differences among America's 50 million
evangelicals...In the issue of salvation, a growing number of evangelicals are embracing a
position known as inclusivism which teaches that while the redemptive work of Jesus
may be necessary for salvation, it is not necessary for people to know about Jesus or the
gospel to receive the benefits of that salvation. It seems clear that 1997 will see this
dispute to become even more divisive."
||A Beliefnet/Newsweek poll conducted in 2005-AUG asked 1,004 randomly
selected American adults about their religious beliefs. 7 One of the
questions was: "Can a good person who isn't of your religious faith
go to heaven or attain salvation, or not?" Results were:|
||Yes, they can attain heaven
||No, they cannot attain heaven
The margin of error of the Beliefnet/Newsweek poll is ~+mn~3 percentage points.
Unfortunately, this poll seems to have been designed with the
assumption that everyone believes in the existence of heaven or
salvation. The approximately 10% of the population who are Agnostics,
Atheists, Free thinkers, Humanists, secularists, etc. generally have no
concept of Heaven or salvation, and thus would be at a loss to answer
the question. This may be the reason why 24% of the "Non-Christians"
either had no opinion or didn't answer. One defect of the poll is that
persons who do not identify themselves with any religion or who follow a
non-Christian religion are lumped together under the category
"Non-Christian." These are two very different populations.
The data from Evangelical Protestants is curious. Many, perhaps most, sermons
in Fundamentalist and other Evangelical churches stress that nobody will attain
Heaven unless they repent of their sins and trust Jesus Christ as Lord and
Savior. In spite of this, at first glance, almost 7 out of 10 Evangelicals
appear to reject this central belief. Perhaps they interpreted the reference to
"a good person who isn't of your religious faith" as referring to a
member of another Christian denomination, rather than a to person from a
non-Christian faith. Most Evangelicals believe that a certain percentage of
members in all denominations are saved and thus would attain heaven.
Unfortunately, this poll seems to raise more questions than it answers.
||President George W. Bush revealed his personal Universalist belief
during an televised interview:
Question: "Do we all worship the same God, Christians and Muslims?"
Bush: "I think we do. We have different routes of getting to the
Question: "Do Christian and non-Christians, do Muslims go to heaven
Bush: "Yes they do. We have different routes of getting there."
Tentmaker is a site dedicated to the concept of Universalism. See: http://www.tentmaker.org
The Princeton Religion Research Center (PRRC), "Survey Trivia From The PRRC" (The PRRC is an inter-faith,
non-denominational research organization founded in 1977 by George H. Gallup, Jr. It specializes in creative, practical research,
utilizing worldwide Gallup survey facilities.)
Geo. Barna, "The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators, Word Publishing, Dallas TX (1996).
The term "pluralism," when used by itself, is ambiguous. It is sometimes used to refer to religious diversity.
Other times, it refers to the belief that all religions are true.
"Dogmatic Constitution on the Church - Lumen Gentium. Chapter 1: "The Mystery of the church," Sections 14 to 16," at:
"The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: Dedicated to 'The Immaculate'," at:
"Newsweek/Beliefnet Poll Results," Beliefnet.com, at:
"Bush is a universalist," YouTube, 2006-MAY-04, at:
Copyright © 1997 to 2006 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1997-JUL-13-
Latest update: 2006-SEP-03
Author: B.A. Robinson