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Themes and beliefs of Christianity


Historic and current Christian beliefs

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set of scalesBackground:

The Christian Scriptures (New Testament) speak frequently about Heaven or Hell as the two alternatives for one's eventual eternal destination after death. From the beginning of the Christian movement, its followers have debated about what criteria determine to which of the two destinations they will personally be sent.

The general historical belief among Christians is that one's default destination will be the torture rooms of Hell with its unending agony due to flesh-eating worms, flogging, darkness, isolation, excruciating heat, unbearable thirst, etc. But some humans -- presumably a small minority -- will be "saved" and go to Heaven to be in the presence of God and Christ. Heaven is viewed as a glorious destination, wonderful beyond description or comprehension,. Often Heaven is believed to be reserved for a select few that often consist only of Christians from one's own denomination.

The Christian Scriptures appear to be ambiguous about the criteria for salvation. Unfortunately, for those who believe in the existence of Hell, salvation is perhaps the most important topic affecting the rest of their life. Such believers urgently need certainty concerning their personal fate and those of their family and friends.

Faith groups teach diverse beliefs about salvation. Down through history, Christian churches have taught a range of beliefs about two main topics:

bullet Whether a person is saved solely through faith only, works only, rituals only, or some combination of these three.

bullet Whether a person, once saved while living on earth, will always be saved -- OR -- whether a person can be saved and then lose their salvation.

A further complication is a misbehavior called "the unforgiveable sin." A literal reading of the Bible seems to indicate that if a person commits this sin, they can never be forgiven. Thus, they will spend eternity in the torture chambers of Hell. Unfortunately, there are literally dozens of interpretations being circulating of what this sin exactly involves. Not knowing its precise definition has generated real terror among many devout Christians.

Still another complication involves same-gender sexual behavior. In I Corinthians 6:9, Paul writes that "arsenokoitai" will not attain the Kingdom of God. Unfortunately, this Greek word was created by Paul himself. Its precise meaning is ambiguous. Various English translations of the Bible have rendered this passage as referring to residents of Sodom who attempted to rape angels, boy prostitutes, sexual perverts, men who sexually abuse boys, men with a homosexual orientation, men who misuse sex and men who engage in sex with other men. So a reader of the Bible can never be certain whether this passage implies that they will go to Hell.

Paul Gross, in a book review, discussed the fear that religious conservatives feel about the possibility that they and/or their family members might not gain -- or might gain and then lose -- their salvation. He writes:

"For nonliteralists and non-believers, such terror for the fate of self and loved ones is almost impossible to imagine. But for true believers it is all too genuine; the fear and pain are just as urgent as those ecstatic feelings of release and righteousness that come with the conviction -- once it really is conviction -- that one is among the saved." 1

Author Rob Bell (1970-) is an evangelical, an author, a Christian speaker, and the founder and former pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church -- a megachurch located in Grand Rapids, MI. He has written a number of books about salvation:

  • His 2011 book, "Love Wins" is shaking conservative Protestantism to its roots because of his opinion that God gives second chances -- that a person who is not saved during their life on Earth will be given a second opportunity. 2 This is the Universalist belief system, a belief condemned as a heresy by most Christians down through the centuries. However, Christianity was never quite able to completely suppress the belief. As Bell writes:

    "At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God." 3

This book created a firestorm within fundamentalist and other evangelical theologians and believers. Three thousand members of his congregation left. He resigned to organize a new congregation which allegedly had 10,000 members by late 2012.

  • His 2012 book, co-authored with Don Golden, is "Jesus Wants to Save Christians: Learning to Read a Dangerous Book." 4 A book review by Spirituality and Practice says:

    "Bell and Golden present a clarion call for a justice emphasis within Christianity and, given the nightmarish developments in the U.S. and the world, it could not have come at a better time!: 4

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Topics covered:


We recommend that you read these two essays first:

bulletIntroduction to salvation from a Christian perspective

bulletThe diversity of Christian beliefs about salvation

bulletBackground Material:
bullet What does salvation require according to the ancient creeds and the Bible?

bulletWhat must one do to be saved, according to:
bulletThe Christian Scriptures (New Testament)


Jesus -- what did he seem to teach about salvation? in Matthew 25 & Mark 10

bulletThe early Christian church


Southern Baptists and other evangelical/conservative Protestant denominations

bulletThe Presbyterian Church (USA)

bulletOther faith groups

bulletThe general U.S. public

bullet "Chasing Jesus:" Do only Christians have a chance to attain Heaven??
bulletIs salvation permanent, revocable, always attainable?
bulletOnce saved, always saved? Or can a person lose their salvation?

bulletCan a person lose their salvation (or be prevented from gaining their salvation) by committing the "unforgivable sin"?  
bulletSalvation for others:
bulletCan non-Christians be saved? i.e. Agnostics to Zoroastrians

bulletCan non-Christian theists be saved? i.e. those who believe in a God or Gods other than the Christian trinity

bulletDoes the Roman Catholic Church believe that non-Catholics can be saved?
bulletOther topics:
bullet Diverse Christian beliefs in salvation: Who gets to go to Heaven; who to Hell?

bullet Comparing the strengths & weaknesses of belief systems about salvation. Do any make sense?

bullet An essay by Susan Humphreys: I too have a dream! That one's salvation depends on ones acts, not one's beliefs.

bulletEmails that we have received about salvation
bullet Is Hell a just and fair punishment? Is it compatible with the attributes of God?

Some related topics:

bulletWhat religious groups believe about the afterlife: heaven,hell, purgatory, etc.

bulletWhat does the Bible say about heaven, hell, purgatory, etc.?

bulletAt what age are people "born-again?" At what age should evangelistic efforts be concentrated?

bulletWhat Christians believe happens to a person immediately after death


  1. Paul Gross, " Lying for God: The Dover Debacle," Skeptic Magazine, Vol. 14, #3, 2008, Page 73. Gross reviewed the following book:

    Book cover image Lauri Lebo, "The Devil in Dover: An insider's story of dogma v. Darwin in small-town America," New Press, (2008). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store. The book describes the legal battle over the constitutionality of teaching Intelligent Design in the public schools of Dover, DE. It received a 4.7 star rating (near the highest possible) by Amazon customers.

  2. image of book cover Rob Bell, "Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived," HarperOne, (2011). List price: $22.99. sells it for $13.79 in hardcover and $9.99 in Kindle eBook format. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store.

  3. Ibid, Page 109.
  4. book cover image Rob Bell & Don Golden, "Jesus Wants to Save Christians: Learning to Read a Dangerous Book," HarperOne, (2012), List price: $14.99. sells it for $10.94 in paperback and $13.43 in Kindle eBook format. The latter is a rip-off price estabished by the publisher. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

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Copyright © 1997 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2016-FEB-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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