A common complaint is that Christianity is too narrow, exclusive, and superior: one God, one heaven, one way to get there, and only the Bible tells you about it. This subject was introduced in ch. 3, sec. II, How to choose your faith. Now we will consider some specific questions.
A What about people who never have a chance to hear about Jesus Christ or the Bible? What about small children who die before they can understand, or mentally handicapped people? Must they all go to hell? How does God treat them? Is He fair and just? Doesn’t God love everyone?
There is a short answer and a long answer to this question.
The short answer is, frankly and bluntly, we don’t know, don’t need to know, and it’s none of our business. There is sufficient mystery in our own process of hearing and believing so as to establish our relationship with God; we need not bother ourselves attempting to fathom the mysteries of the experience and fate of others about whom we know very little. God has not fully informed us on this point, and He has the right to do as He pleases.
But the long answer is that we still cannot leave it at that and go on to the next question. There are several things that can and should be said, though this will still be an incomplete answer. We must discuss whether, and why, we can be content with less than a complete answer. Many people, both professing non-believers and professing believers, seem unable to be content with that, and think they have found a simple answer. Of course the simple answers that these two types of people have found are different. I personally believe that a simple answer could not possibly be correct.
This subject has been discussed for centuries, and a few paragraphs here will not settle it. Even among sincere students of the Bible who place Biblical revelation above human philosophy and sentiment, there is a broad range of opinions. The truth often is not what any of us would like it to be, and it usually ruffles some feathers of both Christians and non-Christians. So hang on to your feathers and read on.
Anyone who asks this question is obviously not among those who never heard, so why does he or she ask? There are several possible reasons.
One reason is simple curiosity. But there is much more at stake than this. For all of us this question applies to some of our own loved ones, and this is especially so in countries where Christians are a tiny minority and anyone considering becoming a Christian will be the first one in his/her family. For such people it is an urgent personal matter to determine what this faith says about all their relatives, living and dead. We cannot simply ignore this or give the impression that there is no answer. We must deal with this issue kindly and sensitively, but we cannot yield to the temptation to let sentiment be the sole determiner of our conclusion. The question is what God plans to do, and He is the only One Who can answer it. Since He has not answered this question completely in His revelation, the Bible, the simple answer is that we do not know, but God is just and we must trust His justice. Similar to the question of suffering and evil which is discussed later, the issue is not whether we can understand to our satisfaction, but whether there is sufficient reason to believe that God exists, and to trust God while we do not yet completely understand. Abraham asked, “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25) Can we, like him, be content to make it a rhetorical question?
We must define precisely the purported point of injustice. Two different questions are often intertwined by those who raise this question. The subject of this section is not that the Bible teaches that some people go to heaven and others to hell, and that this does not always seem to correlate justly with the standard of their behavior. That is the subject of the following section. The specific subject here is that it seems there is unequal mercy and opportunity to hear about the way to get to heaven, and furthermore that that opportunity seems to depend on the highly unreliable performance of those who happen to be in possession of this information. This is a valid point, and requires a response.
Another point that requires response is an apparent contradiction in the Bible, which claims to be the only authority by which we can answer this question. In fact, this question is a direct challenge to the authority of the Bible as God’s authoritative statement of His policies, and if an inconsistency exists then this is a strong challenge. The apparent inconsistency is that the Bible appears to teach that salvation is obtained only by hearing and believing certain information, and it also teaches that God is loving and just and wants everyone to at least have the opportunity of receiving His blessings. And there are hints that that opportunity is indeed widely distributed, such as Rev. 5:9, which states that people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (NIV) will be purchased by the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Many tribes and languages have come and gone with no known contact with Biblical revelation.
What does “fair” mean?
This question is also relevant to deciding whether this God is as loving and just as He claims to be. But as stated at the beginning of this chapter, we must be careful how we make this decision. He, not we, is the standard of justice and logic. He will judge us, not vice versa. But it is also true that He created Adam and Eve in His image, and thus placed His standard within them. From Adam and Eve onward, we have seriously distorted that standard by sinning against God, but it is still not totally destroyed, and the Bible frequently appeals to our innate God-given sense of justice and logic, for instance in Jesus’ parables and the Old Testament prophets’ denunciation of oppression and idolatry. So while we must be careful not to judge God by our standards, they cannot be totally ignored. The Bible gives us reason to expect that there must be at least a considerable degree of conformity between God’s actions and this standard which He has placed within us. As we will soon discuss, this standard is also an important key to answering the question about the fate those who never hear of the Bible or Jesus.
When God makes these statements about His character throughout the Bible, He expects that they mean something to Himself, and to us. In Romans 3:26 Paul says that one reason God went to such great effort to provide our salvation is so that He could be seen (by whom?) to be just (by what standard?) at the same time He justifies those who trust in Jesus. He seems to feel an obligation to give some proofs to us and other observers, Eph. 2:7; 3:10. And these proofs are assumed to be evaluated by some standard which is inherent in our nature. Unlike Islam’s Allah, He does not assume to be above all standards of morality and free to simply disregard our sins if He so wishes. In the Book of Job, God seems to feel an obligation to refute Satan’s cynical accusations about the motives of Job’s faith in God.
Just as the law of non-contradiction cannot be proven but is the condition for the existence of all logic and communication, perhaps the holiness of God is the condition for the existence of all ethics, goodness, perhaps even personality. It is not a standard imposed on Him from somewhere higher; there is nowhere higher. It is a statement of what He is, and a denial that He is otherwise. Although we cannot define it or derive it, it is profoundly meaningful.
Atheists see a logical contradiction in Biblical theism here. Islam’s Allah is simply amoral; like an earthly despot, he is his own standard, arbitrarily doing as he chooses and no one has the right or power to challenge him. But the God of the Bible seems to tie Himself in a logical knot with many claims of holiness, justice, and righteousness. If God is supreme and therefore simply His own standard of right and wrong, then we cannot call Him just, righteous, holy, etc. If we attribute these characteristics to Him, then we can do so only on the basis of a standard higher than God, and He is not supreme after all. This is undeniably a good question, but not necessarily a contradiction. The nature of God is of course far beyond our full comprehension, but as stated several times already, lack of complete understanding is not complete lack of understanding. Atheists excel in finding flaws in purported logical proofs of the existence of God, and most of their criticisms are probably correct. I will not attempt to deal with that subject. But then the same atheists attempt to give logical disproofs of the existence of God, and these seem to be no more convincing than logical proofs.
What about all those people?
We must leave the issue of God’s fairness at this point, and move on to how it applies to people.
We all must admit we don’t know exactly how much people in the past knew about the God of the Bible. We know even less about how they responded in their hearts to what they knew. And we know nothing about how God dealt with them. But we cannot help wondering and caring. The Bible does not forbid this, and it gives us some principles to guide our thinking.
The Bible says that simply by looking at the world around us, everyone knows at least that there is a God Who created us and all we see. But the Bible says that most people refuse to acknowledge this truth, but instead suppress it. We also have within us a God-given conscience (mentioned earlier) which tells us there is a standard of moral right and wrong, and we have broken that standard. We all have also suppressed this source of guidance to a greater or lesser extent. Finally, God’s Holy Spirit actively convicts and draws people toward God, but most people resist His wordless voice. So here are three sources of knowledge that we all have at least partially rejected. Romans 1:18 to 2:16 explains this. Psalm 19:1-4 also discusses what can be known from nature. And many other passages are relevant.
It is obvious that knowledge and acceptance of Jesus Christ has not always been the requirement for salvation (forgiveness of sins and acceptance with God), because of the simple historical fact that many people lived before He did, including all the great personalities of the Old Testament. The Bible clearly teaches that Job, Abraham, David, and many more were accepted on the basis of their faith in what they knew. Job and Abraham lived long before any of our present Bible was put into writing, though we do not know what other earlier documents they may have possessed. Abraham met Melchizedek, a king in Canaan, who was a priest of God. His origin as a person and as a priest is left unrecorded. This example should remind us of an important principle: The Bible does not claim to be an exhaustive record of all of God’s dealings with the human race. We must acknowledge our ignorance, and the breadth of God’s grace.
People who never hear about the Bible, let alone about Jesus, seem to be in the same situation as all of those who lived long ago, before Jesus came, and especially before the Old Testament began to be written among the Israelites beginning with Moses. And even then only a small part of the world was familiar with the content of the Old Testament. The people of those times believed as much as God told them, and the Bible says they will receive their reward. God sees their hearts and will judge them justly. God loves everyone, and wants everyone to know and love Him, but allows us to make our choice. God does not punish us for what we do not know, but for our wrong reaction to what we do know.
All people both before and after Christ obtain forgiveness and acceptance with God on the basis of Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection. Jesus Himself said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6. There is no other way to God. Those who lived before Him trusted that God in His grace would find a way to provide for this forgiveness; they looked forward to a future Savior. We who live after Jesus Christ, and hear about Him, trust that He was the One Who accomplished this great work. There has been no fundamental change with time in the criterion for forgiveness: trust in God’s grace and provision, with no claim to merit on the basis of our own good works or religious observances. Both Old and New Testaments denounce such misplaced claims. The Bible says we are by nature lacking in spiritual life, so our own “good works” are irrelevant to our relationship with God, and faith in good works or in any other god is worse than worthless, it is rebellion. This is further discussed in ch. 6, III, C, on the Bible’s concept of human nature and salvation. See also the following section on “good” people and God’s justice to them.
Even among those who have come in contact with the Bible, it is often questionable how effectively and correctly it has been presented, and therefore who can be considered to have “heard.” The requirement of course is comprehension, not merely the impact of certain sounds on the eardrum. We as Christians must humbly acknowledge that too often we are more of an obstacle than a channel for comprehension. The label “Christian” has become almost a synonym for “Western” or “kind and moral.” So-called Christianity contains every imaginable (and some unimaginable) form of empty ritual, gross hypocrisy, frothy philosophy, and unapplied orthodoxy. See the previous section.
I heard of an American inner-city resident who honestly asked why in the world God would name His Son with a swear word! Can this person be considered as one who has heard of Jesus? He may live within a block of a church where the Bible is preached clearly but coldly, which may be a major reason he makes no effort to find out more about their God. He may understand the really essential things about God better than most of the people in the church. In fact, there must be many who never came in contact with the Bible who have a clearer concept of God and His grace. For those like him who have access to the Bible’s message but don’t seek it out, it is impossible to judge why they don’t, whether from innocent ignorance, offense at the behavior of those propagating the message, or deliberate desire to avoid it. So even if we had a black and white answer to the question of the fate of those who have “never heard,” there would be a large irreducible gray area in defining who those people are.
Although it is undeniable that a large proportion of the world’s population has had no possibility of contact with the Bible, it is also true that this problem must not be overstated. The teachings of the Bible were spread much further than is commonly recognized. For example, some Jewish people migrated all the way to China in ancient times, and seem to have had a considerable influence; many traditional Chinese customs are strikingly similar to Old Testament teachings. So the Chinese people were not without an opportunity to know about the God of the Old Testament. And in even earlier times they had clear knowledge of the one supreme creator God. Obviously very few of them accepted the truth about God, but quickly corrupted it into mere ceremonies and adaptations to suit their own preferences.
Even the opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ was much broader than is commonly realized. During the Roman Empire there was much trade between Europe and China through many countries in between, and some of the traders must have been Christians. The 19th-century Protestant missionary movement was not the first time Christianity was openly brought into China, but was at least the third time of which we have record. Nestorian Christianity was brought in the 7th century, and Catholicism in the 15th and 17th. While it is true that most Chinese people had no opportunity to hear clearly of Jesus Christ, it is also true that we do not know how much opportunity there was for how many people. Some must have believed, but apparently most rejected it. We have a student at our university in Taiwan who considers herself a 13th-generation Christian, tracing back at least to the 17th century in mainland China. That of course is a very exceptional case, but it shows such cases do exist.
There are also traces of communication between ancient Europe and the Americas, and perhaps even some transmission of Christian teaching there as well. There are traces of Phoenicians in South America, Vikings in central North America, and Celts in New England.
In every culture, the earlier we go back in history, the more clearly there is a concept of one true God. People had much truth, but turned away from it and failed to pass it on.
I have read accounts of people who criticized the common practices of their society and religion, and had an amazing insight into basic spiritual truths, entirely apart from any contact with Christian missionaries. This includes some in Islamic societies, and some in the folk/Buddhist culture of China. They soundly denounced the hypocrisy and selfishness of the common practices around them, and taught that there must be a God who loves us, sees our hearts, and who requires sincere repentance and love. We who believe the Bible must conclude that this insight could only have come from God’s Holy Spirit, even though such people did not live to see the arrival of the missionary and the Bible. Might this be partly due to concepts handed down from earlier Biblical influence of which we have no direct record? Is it possible that they received knowledge from nature, conscience, and the Holy Spirit, accepted as much as they received, and were approved by God on that basis? What more does the Bible require than this?
In Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist societies there are people whose sense of guilt drives them to attempt to atone for their sins in the ways taught by their religions and customs. They subject themselves to frightful suffering in their search for release, but never obtain it. We can only leave it to the wisdom and justice of God to judge whether their repentance is genuine and sufficient for acceptance in His grace. For those who think they have by their own efforts successfully paid the penalty for their sins, there is of course still no hope.
Pioneer missionaries recount many stories of encountering people who had already realized the inadequacy of their traditional religious system, sought something better, and were in some supernatural way guided to the missionary bringing the Bible’s message, through angels, visions, etc. Many who respond when they hear the message report that for many years already they had rejected their traditional beliefs and practices and knew there must be something better. We do not qualify as pioneer missionaries, but many of the Christian university students we know in Taiwan had not yet heard of Jesus in their childhood. They now tell us that at that time they were already dissatisfied with folk religious practices, rejected them in their own hearts, refrained from participation as much as possible, and quickly accepted Christ when they heard of Him in high school or university.
How many such people may there be in the past and present? The few who openly made a statement and left a record must only be a speck on the tip of the iceberg. Countless others could have the same inner attitude, but never the opportunity or courage to express it. In many places if they did so it would cost them their lives, or at least make them outcasts from their family and relationships. This is particularly true of women and children. Even the great Syrian general Naaman professed his faith in the one true God, but told the Israelite prophet Elisha that he felt he was required toaccompany his king in the worship of idols, and Elisha replied “Go in peace.” (II Kings 5:18, 19)
A fascinating case is recorded in Amy Carmichel’s book Mimosa. It tells the story of a little girl in India who one day heard a scant few sentences about God, and then through several decades heard no more but clung to what she had heard through immense opposition and persecution for her faith. That is on the borderline between hearing and never hearing.
This is one of the hottest of the hot potatoes in this subject, and we won’t freeze it here and now any more than we will the others. There is a tension between the realities of a person’s situation and the need for courage even to the point of martyrdom. We must admit that the vast majority of professing Christians err on the side of too little courage, and have made this loophole into an excuse in the face of the least bit of opposition and ridicule. We are reluctant to give up our air conditioners for Jesus, let alone our lives. In Jesus’ parable of the seed and soils (Matthew 13:1-23) He criticized those who wither in the face of trials and persecution. Yet we must pause before we too quickly demand the courage of martyrdom in others who face circumstances we have not ourselves experienced, and who possess a tiny fraction of the truth we know. I myself am reluctant to claim I would stand firm in the face of such a threat. I do not have such strength now, but I trust God would give me the strength if and when I need it.
At least from the beginning of the writing of the Bible by Moses onward, there seem to be very few instances in the Bible or outside of it where God verbally revealed additional truth about Himself other than through the Bible writers. Once this information had been put in writing, God primarily worked through human means to distribute it. He seems to have restricted Himself in this regard. As mentioned above, even most modern-day instances of angels communicating to seekers consist of directing them to the people who could instruct them, not the angels themselves teaching these truths. The Biblical instances of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, when Jesus Himself appeared, or Cornelius awaiting Peter, fit this pattern. (Acts 9, 10)
And yet, skeptical as I am of seeing visions and hearing voices in general, there are stories which are unaccountable except as a direct revelation from God. Particularly for some Muslims, as for Saul of Tarsus (ch. 6, III, I), it seems an actual appearance of Christ is the only way to destroy their barriers against faith in Him. A man in China heard a voice telling him to believe Jesus is God. A spirit medium in Taiwan found himself preaching the gospel to his own amazement, converting himself and several others, and one of his grandsons is now the leader of the AD2000 evangelistic organization in Taiwan. Even an evil spirit has on occasion acknowledged Jesus’ deity, leading the hearers to trust Him. Those spirits were no doubt severely penalized! These are all stories from Asia. I have less contact with Africa and Latin America, but no doubt many similar incidents occur there as well. Whatever label people profess, the majority are in fact animist (ch. 3, I, D), held in fear by the power of evil spirits, and needing tangible proof that the God of the Bible can fulfill His promises of deliverance from all other powers.
Some comfort, but not too much
But all this applies to a small minority at most. We must confess that most people’s motives in religion are fear and selfishness. They fear spirits, and try to keep them from causing trouble. People are selfish, trying to get what they want when they want it. If one “god” won’t give them what they want, they don’t want him or care what he wants. They go look for another god. They are not looking for truth, virtue, or forgiveness, or the God who created them, loves them, and will one day judge them. It is much different when we trust in the love and wisdom of the God of the Bible. When He does not do what we ask, we must believe that it is not Him Who is wrong, but us. He is wiser than we are, and has something better than what we asked for. (see sec. IV on suffering and evil)
Among all the world religions’ teachings, only the Bible teaches humble repentance for our sins, and offers complete undeserved certainty of forgiveness on the basis of God’s mercy. People who are content with less than this in other religions cannot be considered to have met God’s requirements in any way. The Bible offers no hope for gaining acceptance before God on the basis of the practice of any other world religion, however “devout.” There is still no other name by which we can be saved, as Peter stated in Acts 4:12. But does this verse mean that there is no hope of salvation without hearing the name of Jesus?
It is certainly true that for those who hear the Gospel of Jesus and respond in believing faith, their faith is a result of the evangelistic activities of others. That is the way God deals with those particular people. But our topic here is how God deals with those who never hear. Romans 10:14 is one of the strongest passages quoted in support of the view that salvation is now obtained only through hearing and believing the message of Jesus Christ. But even this passage, describing the sequence from preaching to hearing to believing to calling on His Name, is based on verse 13, which is a quote from Joel 2:32 in the Old Testament, so it cannot be referring only to the Name of Jesus. Paul also quotes Psalm 19, also from the Old Testament. In the Bible, a name represents character, so calling on the Name of the Lord means reliance on His character, not merely producing the sounds of any particular syllables of a certain language. This passage and many others teach us how to obtain certainty about our eternal destiny: All who call on the Name of the Lord are saved. This excludes all who feel satisfied with any god with a different character. But this does not necessarily mean that all who are saved have called on the Name of the Lord as revealed in the Bible. There may be many who are saved but not certain, secure but lacking a sense of security. This too is tragic, and worth our effort to bring them each assurance while they are in this life.
The debate among Christian theologians
There is a broad spectrum of opinions from “exclusivist” to “inclusivist” to “universalist.” The exclusivist says that only those who explicitly hear of Christ can be saved. The inclusivist says that faith in some other religions will also be accepted by God as their basis for salvation. The universalist says God loves everyone and will in the end take everyone to heaven, from St. John to Hitler. Universalism is clearly inconsistent with Biblical references to hell and many people who go there. Bible-believing Christians cannot accept universalism, but they are currently (at the turn of the millennium) carrying on a lively debate along the exclusivism-inclusivism range of the spectrum.
One solution, which is widely advocated in some circles, is based on the hint about people from the Bible verse which refers to “all tribes and languages…” quoted earlier. Given the narrow exclusivist position, the only way it seems that this verse could be true is if it includes those in unevangelized tribes who died in infancy, before the (indefinable) “age of accountability.” The assumption is that God knows who would believe if given the chance, and if He knows they will not be given the chance then He takes them from this world before they have become capable of committing deliberate sin. With such a clean slate of behavior, they are eligible to enter heaven without consciously hearing and choosing to believe the Biblical gospel. This is apparently based on the assumption that the requirement for entering heaven is not that the person must make a decision of acceptance of faith in God, but that he or she must not make a decision of rejection and unbelief. It may be relevant that the rate of infant mortality tends to be highest in societies most removed from contact with the Bible and its message.
This is an interesting speculation, but it seems to be guessing beyond what the Bible clearly states just as much as some other conservative alternatives. It does not really solve anything, or at least raises as many new problems as it answers. Is it possible for God to know whether people will choose to believe at some point in a future which for them does not exist if they die at that moment? This is extending God’s omniscience from the actual future (the subject of sec. III) to the potential, or hypothetical future, the endless “what if”s of life. Even omniscience cannot be expected to know something about which there is nothing to know. If the assumption is that each person’s decision is already determined soon after or even before birth, this seems to undermine the concept of “age of accountability,” as well as the concept of free will. I hope there is a better answer.
There is a fascinating example which seems to support the position that God chooses to leave some people unsaved. Jesus stated that God knew what would have brought the people of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom (the outstanding examples of wickedness in the Old Testament) to repentance, but did not do it, Matthew 11:20-24. But He also said that the people of Tyre and Sidon will fare better in the judgment than the people who heard Jesus and rejected Him. Jesus did not explain the precise meaning of “fare better.” Perhaps it means they will receive a lighter punishment, not acceptance as believers delivered from punishment. Perhaps it means that some, not all, of those people would have repented openly if given such an opportunity, and God saw their hearts and accepted that as sufficient faith to receive salvation. This means that such people did repent privately under circumstances which are not recorded. Jesus said that if His miracles had occurred in Sodom, it would have remained. In the story of Sodom (Gen. 18:16-19:29), God promised Abraham that if only ten righteous people could be found in the whole town, He would not destroy it. But He did. So Jesus is not saying that Sodom would have become totally righteous, only enough of them to avert destruction. He said that they would have repented if He had done His miracles there; He did not say they did not repent under circumstances unknown to us. We do not know whether a few of the inhabitants of Sodom did make a genuine decision of repentance in the moments before they died as the city was burned. But all of those to whom Jesus spoke rejected Him, and therefore none of them would be acceptable to God.
Another relevant point is that Jesus was talking about real people who were alive at a particular time and place in the past, not hypothetical people who could have lived then if they had not died younger. So this still does not support the view that God knows all the “what if”s that do not occur, such as who would believe if they lived longer than they in fact do.
The questions left unanswered by this statement of Jesus demonstrate the complexity of this question, and the impossibility of a simple answer. Therefore the widely-circulated simple answers need not constitute a stumbling-block in the way of someone’s faith in the Bible.
To those who advocate the exclusivist position, I ask a question which requires an answer from the Bible, not just theologians’ opinions: If knowledge of Christ is now the prerequisite for salvation for everyone everywhere including those for whom it is humanly inaccessible, then precisely when did this become the prerequisite for, say, South AmericanIndians? For that matter, was knowledge of the Old Testament revelation ever necessary, and if so beginning when? What was the requirement for their salvation in, say, 2000 BC, before any written revelation existed anywhere? Or was there no possibility of salvation for them then either? Did God not give them any opportunity comparable to that given to Job, Abraham, and many other early believers who lived long before their stories were recorded in the Bible? What was the requirement for these Indians in 500 BC, assuming that at that time they had no access to Biblical revelation? What was the requirement in AD 500, assuming they had no access to the news about Jesus Christ? If at that point the requirement was to hear about Jesus, then at what moment between 500 BC and AD 500 did that requirement begin? Was a person in South America who died at one moment with a certain heart attitude and knowledge acceptable to God, and one who died at the next moment with the same attitude and knowledge unacceptable? Similar questions can be asked about even more isolated tribes in many remote locations of the world.
Can we really insist that the exclusivist-sounding Bible passages (“no other name,” etc.) mean that at a certain moment God changed His principle of dealing with the entire human race? I am asking what the Bible says, not whether what it says strikes us as “acceptable,” and not what a consensus of conservative theologians has concluded.
And what does Romans 2:1-16 mean? It seems to say that Gentiles who genuinely sought to find and please God based on their conscience were accepted by Him. But I have heard the alternative interpretation that this passage refers to the Gentile believers in the church at Rome to which Paul was writing, so there is some uncertainty in this passage’s meaning. I would not base a broad conclusion, either inclusivist or exclusivist, on this passage alone.
The position I have presented falls between exclusivist and inclusivist, not fitting within either definition. It does not close the door to those who have not heard the name of Jesus Christ, but it does not open it to those who accept and depend on other religions. There is still “no other name” that will get anyone an inch closer to the Maker of heaven and earth. The other world religions do not worship the same God by a different name. Devotion to those gods will not be accepted by God as devotion to Him, in fact it is a barrier to such acceptance.
I have not seen anything exactly like this position even mentioned by other writers (except one). I have not read extensively on this subject. But some of what I have read claimed to be a survey of much more, and did not mention such an option. I hesitate to differ even slightly with so many whom I highly respect, and who are much more competent in Scripture and theology than I am, but this is my understanding of the Bible at present, which is open to further information and correction. The one similar viewpoint I have seen is expressed by Dr. Gregory Boyd (see book list at end of ch. 5).
Another spectrum of opinion is on the role played by human choice and action, both our own and others’, in determining our destiny. Calvinism teaches predestination; this means God fore-ordains who will believe and be saved and who will not, and thus explicitly denies that we have a free will to choose whether to believe or not. Arminianism emphasizes our free will, and gives us credit for playing a role in accomplishing or even deserving our salvation, and thus seems to run afoul of Biblical teaching about God’s sovereignty and our total lostness in sin. It seems to me that both are attempts to unscrew the inscrutable. I have heard or read comments that Calvin himself was not a Calvinist as it later came to be defined. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Arminius was not an Arminian. I don’t have the time or resources to pursue this point.
I personally take a firm stand as a Calminian, or Arvinist. The Bible teaches both God’s sovereignty and our free will, leaving the relationship between them something of a mystery for now. Mystery or not, we have a free will and are responsible for what we do with it, just as we use electricity and many other things without fully understanding them. If they are not careful, Calvinists and Arminians may share with atheists a refusal to accept what they cannot comprehend. (See also the brief discussion on how God knows the future, sec. III.)
The Bible teaches that we have no merit or ability of our own to please God or save ourselves. Even our faith is a gift from God, not something inherent in our own nature (Eph. 2:1-10, etc.). Our choice to believe is not a “good work” that somehow merits God’s saving grace. The only thing of which we are capable independent of God’s grace is to reject His offer of salvation. Human free will appears to be the only thing in the universe that is capable of refusing to fulfill God’s plan. It is a frightening privilege.
The motive for evangelization
If there is, as suggested above, some possibility, however narrow, for people to be saved without hearing about Christ, then what motivation is there for missionary work among them? This is precisely the objection that many conservative Christians raise against this possibility, claiming that it undermines the motive for evangelization. If God sees everyone’s heart, and it is possible for the heart to be right without specific knowledge of the Bible, then it would seem that whether or not a person has heard the preaching and teaching of the Bible will in the end make no difference. Each person makes his or her own decision based on however much he knows. Thus it seems that the most we can do is help those few who are willing to be saved, and the many who are not, to become more aware of their respective status. If their eternal destiny is not dependent on what we do, then it seems unnecessary to sacrifice our lives to evangelistic activities. There is a certain appeal in such logic.
On the other hand, the motivation for evangelism can also be weakened by the belief that others’ eternal destiny is dependent on hearing the Biblical message. When we present the truth, most people reject it, and thus we have only increased their responsibility and condemnation, and should have left them well enough alone. Many people, especially liberals and universalists, have presented exactly such an argument against carrying on missionary activity, and there is a certain appeal and logic in it.
Even many conservative Christians of Calvinist predestination persuasion have had the attitude that God will save whomever He wants to, and needs no help from us in doing so.
Thus both views, inclusivist and exclusivist, have been used as reasons to de-emphasize evangelistic efforts, and this is not a very useful criterion for choosing between them.
Is others’ eternal destiny really determined, or at least influenced, by our actions? This seems an unbearable responsibility, not to mention an injustice if others may suffer eternal damnation as a result of our negligence of duty. But the Bible clearly connects believing with preaching and teaching, from the Old Testament instruction to fathers and prophets (Deut. 6 to parents, the commissions of Isaiah and Jeremiah, etc.), to Paul’s teaching in the New Testament (Romans 10:14; I Cor. 1:21). And the Bible does clearly place on us some responsibility for others, for instance in the “watchman” passages in Ezekiel ch. 3 and 33. I don’t know what God means when He says to Ezekiel that if we don’t warn people about the consequences of their wickedness then He will require their blood at our hands. And I can’t claim to have done all I could to warn them. But I can only trust God’s mercy for myself as well as others, and do my best not to find out what He means in these statements. In the meantime I continue my work as a cross-cultural missionary.
The category of people with which we have contact is nearly equivalent to that of those who hear the Biblical message. It is an undeniable fact that in most such cases it was the human influence of another person that brought them to their first awareness of their need for salvation, and of its availability through Jesus Christ. And it was this human agent which persuaded them to make a decision of faith. This in itself proves nothing about how God chooses to deal with those whom He allows to live and die without such contact with the Bible.
This seems in one sense to be God’s preferred means of bringing about such a decision, though in fact it is applicable to only a minority of the earth’s population throughout history. What would have happened if they had never had such influence? This is one of this world’s countless “what if”s that must be left to God’s management. Why does one person choose to believe and another reject? We do not know. The human heart is a deep mystery, of which we have about as much comprehension as a dog watching an opera.
This question is analogous to questions about whether praying really makes any difference. And it has a similar answer. The simple answer is that the same God who told us our salvation is predestined also commanded us to preach it to others. Whether we understand why and how that works is irrelevant. Even those who invoke hard-line predestination as a pretext for not praying must ponder the possibility that God predestined that they should pray. And similarly that they should preach as if others’ decisions will be influenced by it, believing that God has predestined others to believe through their labors. The only sensible question is “Did He really give us this command?” not“Why? And how does that make sense?”
We undeniably exercise and receive much influence with each other. We are responsible for the influence we have on others, and for what we choose to accept from others. We can and often do reject others’ influence. The Bible contains some stern warnings about our influence on others, as well as about our own choices. Only God can justly allocate the guilt involved.
Even if it is true that all we do does not change anyone’s eternal destiny, it does not follow that we should therefore not do missionary work. That argument could also apply to all humanitarian and social reform efforts. It is interesting that those who most vocally oppose missionary work, and cite this argument among others, are often also the most active in these other endeavors. Perhaps this is because many of them do not believe we have an eternal destiny, but believe this life is all that exists. Even if our missionary labors only increase others’ comprehension of God’s grace and presence in this life, that would be sufficient motivation. Without such teaching, those who have a relationship with God remain spiritual infants, secure but lacking a sense of security. Both their spiritual life and growth are linked to the efforts of those who preach and teach.
It is clearly true that God cares very much about our condition in this brief earthly life, both physically and spiritually. It is not dismissed as trivial in comparison with eternity to come. The Old Testament prophets protested against oppression of the powerless, and warned oppressors that God saw and cared and was keeping accounts that would one day be balanced. Jesus said God even cares about a sparrow falling, so He certainly cares about our needs and feelings. When He saw that His friend Lazarus was dead, Jesus knew not only about the future resurrection but knew He planned to raise Lazarus within the next few minutes. Yet seeing His friends’, and their friends’, grief, He wept (John 12:35).
We must have a balance, neither minimizing this life as insignificant in comparison to eternity, nor focusing on this life to the exclusion of eternal considerations. Eternity is not a reason to neglect the needs and sorrows of this life, but it does provide great comfort and assurance in facing them. This applies to the problem of suffering and evil, sec. IV.
The conclusion of the matter
We can only stand in awe at God’s grace that anyone has any opportunity for salvation, and that we can have the privilege of playing any role in His plan. Then we must obey His commands to the best of our understanding and ability. Beyond this, it is for now a mystery to us, and must be left to His management.
The Bible teaches God’s love and grace toward all. He wants all to be saved, I Tim. 2:4. This truth is not in conflict with Jesus’ statement about some people who would have repented if they had seen His works, mentioned earlier. After all is said that can be said on the basis of Scripture, justice, and logic, we can only marvel at the wonder that anyone is saved, and bow to God’s authority to deal with us as He chooses, Romans 9:19-24. This is the strongest passage quoted in support of Calvinist predestination. But it says “Who do you think you are?” in reply to those whose attitude is “Who does God think He is?” Even this very chapter ends with the explanation that Israel was rejected for lackof faith (vs. 31, 32), not arbitrary predestined rejection. They are held responsible, not viewed as helpless victims to whom God refused to give the gift of faith. And Romans ch. 1 to 3 is devoted to vindicating God’s justice in reply to honest questions. The God of the Bible does not evade legitimate questions.
So we still must humbly bow before His holiness and sovereignty, and seek His undeserved mercy. After all that has been said, we are back where we started, with an incomplete answer leaving us to trust that God is just. It seems we could have saved all the intervening paper and ink. But hopefully at least we are clearer now on the issues and implications involved, what is wrong with some of the alternative answers, and the basis on which a partial answer is possible.
This conclusion is unsatisfactory to many people. It does not satisfy our curiosity. It gives no simple answer. It firmly rejects universalist assurances that everyone will go to heaven so there is not even a problem to worry about. But it also falls short of exclusivist doctrine, because it does not totally close the door to all those who have not explicitly heard of Jesus Christ. However, it still gives little comfort to those, Christian or non-Christian, who raise the question because of their concern about what the Bible says about their departed loved ones. They must admit that very few of their relatives, friends, and ancestors gave any indication of humbly and sincerely repenting from their sins and seeking a relationship with the true God who created them. In fact they gave many indications of a different attitude. On the other hand, a person’s relatives may include one or two who were genuinely humble, honest, loving, and (if given any opportunity to express their feelings) dissatisfied with the traditional gods and practices. Regarding such relatives, perhaps we can give their living loved ones some hope from the Bible. But not certainty.
This answer will not shut the mouths of those who have chosen to judge God as guilty of injustice until proven innocent. We fall short of proof either way; we have neither proven the Bible reasonable nor proven it unreasonable. But for those willing to accept it, this answer should disarm the objection that the Bible seems to teach that God deals unjustly with those who have never heard of Jesus. That is where we must leave the subject for now. This book is not primarily about theology, but about the relationship between faith and science, including logic.
What about those incapable of choice?
Finally, there is one other point to mention. The Bible does not tell us specifically how God deals with those who apparently never become morally responsible, never capable of consciously choosing either good or evil, belief or unbelief: small children who die, the mentally handicapped, etc. But the Bible does tell us God loves everyone, and He is just. It seems that at least a portion of such people do end up in heaven, because that seems to be only way in which there could be people from “all tribes and languages” as discussed earlier. Some hints on this subject are contained in:
II Peter 3:9
B Is it fair for a good person who does not believe Jesus to go to hell, while a bad person can believe Jesus at the last minute and go to heaven? What about people who are moral, kind, and have peace of mind? Isn’t that good enough? Doesn’t God love everyone? Isn’t He fair?
As stated in the previous section, it is not only in non-Western countries that Christians have parents, relatives, and friends who are not Christians. This is true of every Christian in every country, including the “Christian” countries of the West. The hard-line viewpoint is not merely the compassionless product of theologians with no personal stake in the issue. The question of God’s fairness is not a forbidden one, but it must be raised softly and humbly.
The previous section dealt with the question of apparent unequal opportunity to hear about the way to heaven. This section is about the problem of apparent injustice in awarding heaven, in comparison with different people’s behavior in this life. The conclusion of this section is that the Bible teaches that no one deserves to go to heaven, so no one can claim injustice on account of not going to heaven, although that is precisely what many people claim. If a person is humble enough to give up that claim, he already has one foot in the kingdom of heaven! And it is only with such a person that we can continue to discuss this point.
The God of the Bible has a plan. He created the world for us, and He created us to be His children and thus to share His love and glory. He did not need our help; He is almighty. He is not lonely; He is a Trinity. He has no deficiencies; He is perfect. But for some reason we cannot now understand, He still felt He wanted to have us. No matter how much “good” we do in this life, that alone does not make us God’s children, and if we do not become God’s children we do not accomplish our purpose for existing. Becoming God’s child does include doing good. The question is not whether to do good, but what constitutes “good,” and for what motive.
What would be fair?
The question of “fairness” is irrelevant. Some people do much that is good, but all of us have failed many times. In fact, even at our best we are totally undeserving of God’s grace; we have much within us that is evil, no matter how hard we try to cover it up from others and even from ourselves. So if we are really wishing to raise the issue of justice, the question is not why some may go to hell but why some may go to heaven. Who has ever been perfectly moral or loving, or had peace of mind? None even claims to be perfect (ch. 3, III). Only one person has been perfect: Jesus Christ. We are accepted because Jesus is accepted, and we have chosen to belong to Him. (Ephesians 2:8-10; see ch. 6, III, C) The Bible says we cannot earn God’s acceptance by performing acts of devotion to any religion, including Christianity. If Christians cannot be accepted by being good enough, what sense would it make for us to believe that anyone else can do it? What sense does it make for others to ask us to believe that?
If there is a lower standard for acceptance, what is it, and by whom is it defined? The problem is not just law-breaking, but shame at failure to attain a standard. There is no standard so low that we can attain it. And the problem is not attaining our own standard, but God’s. I have never heard anyone claim God revealed a lower standard to him or her; I have only heard people giving God advice about how to administer heaven. I have seen no reason to think He will pay any attention.
Our good actions cannot cancel our bad ones. Tell the policeman, “I stopped at the red light fifty times, so you can’t give me a ticket for going through it fifty times.” What will he say? Tell the judge, “I saved three people’s lives, so you can’t punish me for killing three people.” What will he say? What do you want him to say if you are one of the three who are killed? Or would you want a law passed stating that the punishment for murdering someone is to save someone’s life?
As for peace of mind, it is impossible to prove anything about others’ feelings, but I cannot imagine that others have the kind of peace of mind that Christians can have. How can there be peace without believing we are in the care of a God Who is perfectly loving, wise, and powerful? (See ch. 6, IV.) At best others can only have a peace of resignation, fatalism, escape, and anesthesia.
What is forgiveness?
There seems to be an unnecessary stumbling-block on the definition of forgiveness. Many people seem to think forgiveness means pretending no sin was committed, no one is at fault. That is self-contradictory; if we say there is no fault, then what is there to forgive? Forgiveness is the statement that wrong has been done, but that the just penalty will be set aside, withheld, canceled. The judge who has the right to inflict the penalty forfeits that right. We are not others’ judge, but we do have the right to compare their words and actions with God’s standards and observe where they do not match up. We have the right to expect God to inflict punishment on such deviations. Forgiveness means we release our hopes of seeing Him do so, and particularly of “assisting” Him in doing so. It would require an extensive study to cover all that the Bible has to say on this subject. Read Romans 12:14-21 for a start.
This decision in our hearts may have no effect at all on that person’s attitude or behavior, particularly if he is not aware of it. And it does not change how God will deal with him. But it makes a tremendous change in our own condition. Holding a grudge places me, not the villain, in a prison, under a burden. It gives him control of my thoughts, feelings, and probably health. Forgiveness releases me. It is possible, but not certain, that I may have the opportunity to express my decision to him, and that that will in turn have some influence on his own attitude and behavior toward me and God.
Who is good?
If a person does not wish to know God better, and is too proud to admit he needs God at all or has done anything wrong to need forgiveness, does God consider him a good person? A “good” person who rejects God influences many other people to reject Him too. Jesus said the greatest command of all is to love God. If a person has broken that command, and influenced many others to do the same, he has committed the greatest sin, even if he never does anything else wrong. And of course we all do many things wrong. So we would be wise not to emphasize our doubts about God’s justice; if God were strictly just we would all be condemned already, and we would have no basis to object. God has the right to dispose of us however He chooses. We must request mercy, not justice. See also sec. IV, on the problem of evil.
A person who commits many obvious sins is less likely to influence others to be like him. If he finally confesses, repents, and asks God’s forgiveness, he is in the end better than the one who remains to the end a proud “good” man. Now don’t go and quote me as saying that it’s all right in the end to rob a bank, commit murder, and so on! We are comparing degrees of evil, not pronouncing anything good. And it is debatable whether there are degrees of evil. But we won’t debate it now.
In Taiwan there was much publicity of Chen Jin-sying, a man involved in the kidnap and murder of the daughter of a popular TV actress. He was finally arrested, but not until he committed some more murders and many rapes. While awaiting his execution in 1999, he professed to believe in Christ as a result of the work of a chaplain who visited him often. This was widely publicized, and discussed. Christians considered his faith, if sincere, as sufficient to assure that his sins were forgiven, but the majority of the population, especially the leaders of Buddhist organizations, strongly protested such an idea as a violation of fairness. But if such a man has no hope of forgiveness, then neither do any of us. This subject is discussed further in ch. 6, III, B and C.
Broadminded “tolerance” is so ingrained in Buddhists that Christians have for centuries found it frustrating to try to introduce the Biblical gospel to them. No matter how clearly and even bluntly the differences are stated, the average Buddhist smiles politely at the conclusion and says “It is the same.” But when Christians considered Chen Jin-sying eligible for forgiveness, Buddhists cried in no uncertain terms “That is different.” One murderer taught the whole island more about forgiveness than generations of missionaries and pastors had.
We must repeat what was explained in ch. 3, III about the meaning of “believe.” This is no magic incantation; it is a deep, genuine attitude and commitment. The Bible does not say people can escape eternal punishment just by saying some words at the last minute, so don’t plan to do that. That is extremely dangerous. It is explicitly refusing to trust or serve God with your present life, using it all for yourself, and then hoping to throw it to God after there is nothing more left. God sees our heart. We cannot fool Him with false words.
We cannot judge others’ hearts, to say whether their belief is real or not. But we can see their words and actions, and can say that they are not acting and talking like a believer should. Being saved should change our behavior, but changing our behavior does not make us saved.
A person who has heard the truth and rejected it for most of his life has cultivated an attitude of selfish rebellion, and is probably not able to genuinely change his attitude even when he knows he is near death. If he professes belief, he is probably only frightened and sorry for the results of his choice.
Most people who “believe” when they fear they are about to die, but then do not die, turn out not to be believers at all, but go on living just as they did before. Their professed “belief” was false. Of course, there are also some such people whose behavior really is changed, showing that their belief in God is real. For those who professed belief and then died, we can only hope it was real, but we will not know until we have departed from this world ourselves.
Another danger of planning on “last-minute salvation” is that we often do not know when our last minute has arrived until it has already passed! It often comes suddenly, in accidents, violence, strokes, heart attacks, natural disasters, etc. The news gives us daily reminders of this grim fact of life.
Is this too cheap? It is the only way that is fair, equally available to everyone old or young, rich or poor, educated or uneducated.
No other religion has this kind of acceptance. If a person is satisfied with another religion, then he has not admitted his need for forgiveness nor sought a close relationship with God (see sec. A). It is this attitude, not his lack of hearing or accepting Jesus Christ, that makes him unacceptable to God. It is not God who rejects him, but he who rejects God. God loves everyone, therefore God will not force people to be with him who do not want to be. Heaven would not be heaven if it were full of dissidents!
God’s goal is not simply to have good people and a harmonious society here on this earth and in this life. His goal is that we have an eternal relationship with Him. Review ch. 3, II, C, 2.
Jesus Himself taught that the way to heaven is narrow, and few find it, or rather are willing to accept it. The road to destruction is broad, and most go that route. Matthew 7:13, 14.
As was stated at the beginning of this section, questions of God’s fairness must be raised softly. If we really think them through honestly, we may in the end regret that we ever raised the subject. And they certainly are not sufficient basis to reject the Bible as unreasonable.
C Why does the Bible say Christians should not marry non-Christians?
The simple answer is, “Because God says so.” But many people, both Christians and non-Christians, take offense at this, because they feel like this expresses superiority and rejection of others, so we must say more about what it means in order to clear up this misunderstanding. Even many Christians have decided that this is so offensive that it must be wrong, and they reject it, either denying that that is what the Bible means, or looking for reasons why the Biblical teaching does not apply to our situation here and now. In fact, they even encourage Christians to marry non-Christians, saying it is a good way to bring others to faith in Christ.
In the Old Testament, Moses’ instructions to the Israelites were very clear in forbidding marriage with other nations (Ex. 34:15;16; Deut. 7:3, 4). The problem was not ethnic prejudice but was a difference in religious faith. (See also Josh. 23:12, 13; I Kings 11:1-6; Exra 9:1, 2; Neh. 13:23-29; Mal. 2:11.) There are numerous examples of people who accepted faith in God and became part of Israel: Rahab from Jericho and Ruth from Moab became honored as ancestors of Jesus, and Uriah the Hittite was one of David’s outstanding soldiers. The New Testament has similar teaching. Paul says (I Corinthians 7:39) “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.” An often-quoted verse is II Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” This passage is talking about business and personal relationships in general, not marriage in particular, but marriage is certainly the closest of all relationships.
Some people raise the question, “The Bible has some passages that teach Christians how to lead unbelieving spouses to believe, so how can you say this method is wrong?” The Bible does have these passages (such as I Corinthians 7:12-16; I Peter 3:1), but this was written to those in the early church who had not been believers very long, so they probably were married before they believed. The Bible’s teaching to those who believe before they marry is very clear.
Motives and principles
First, this principle does not mean Christians are better people than others, though of course Christians are supposed to be better, and should be more likely to be willing and able to be a good partner. But it is no guarantee. Some Christian couples have very unhappy marriages, and many non-Christian couples have very happy marriages. So this is not the crucial point.
The basic issue is a matter of priorities in life, which affects many things in which a married couple must cooperate: how to spend their time and money, what kinds of entertainment and friends they choose, and how to raise their children. A couple ideally share many things in life, but at best a non-Christian cannot share the things that are (or should be) most important to a Christian, and at worst they have conflict over many matters, which is unpleasant for both of them. So we see that the reason God forbids such marriages is that He loves us, and He is preparing the best for us and protecting all of us, both Christians and non-Christians, from many avoidable problems.
Marriage always involves many adjustments, and some conflict often occurs in the process. It requires basic agreement on goals and values, and acceptance of each other. Trying to change each other produces conflict. But a Christian hopes that everyone will decide to believe Christ, especially of course the non-Christian partner. This places pressure on the partner.
Romance and marriage is in fact one of the least effective ways to try to bring another person to believe in Christ. Becoming a Christian means deciding and promising to trust and obey God (ch. 3, II, A). At the very beginning, a mixed marriage is disobedience to God’s command, expressing that the Christian considers the partner more important than faith and God. This is not a good example that helps the partner accept Christ and see that faith in Him is the most important principle in life.
In fact, if a Christian is willing to compromise his principles in this area, the partner cannot help but wonder how many other principles might also be compromised. And the non-Christian accepted such a compromising person, in fact encouraged the compromise. So, right at the beginning of the marriage, it seriously weakens the couple’s trust in each other’s honesty and commitment to promises. Also, there is no basis for expecting the non-Christian partner to agree in applying Biblical teachings to marriage and family situations.
The Christian has also compromised his ability to pray about the problems that are sure to arise in any marriage. How can he confidently pray for God’s blessing and help in dealing with problems in marriage, when he or she knew that the marriage itself was disobeying God’s teachings? It is still possible to pray, of course, but it must begin with “Lord, I got myself into this problem, but please help me with it anyway.” The prayer is very uncomfortable and embarrassing, and many times the Christian simply does not even dare or bother to pray, and unfortunately doubts that God is willing to help.
Second, another reason romance and marriage are ineffective in bringing others to belief is that the emotions involved in the personal relationship are a barrier to making a clear decision about believing Christ. The non-Christian feels under pressure, and is confused; it is difficult to know whether he or she really wishes to trust God, or just wants to reduce the pressure and please the partner. There are many cases where a partner indicates a decision to believe and begins attending church before the marriage, but sooner or later after marriage decides to stop. Therefore a romantic relationship between a Christian and non-Christian should not even be allowed to develop, let alone lead to marriage. It is certain to become an awkward situation for both of them. It is exploiting the non-Christian’s emotions to let a relationship begin but then say, “We can continue if…” We cannot control our emotions, but we can refuse to let our emotions control us.
Consequences and offense
Third, a Christian hopes the children will also become Christians. But a non-Christian partner at best does not share this desire, and may oppose it. There may be conflict over whether or not the children should go to church. Even if the non-Christian expresses no opposition, the simple fact that one parent is not a believer is an influence pulling the children away from considering faith important. The influence on children is a main point of the Old Testament passages listed above.
When children are grown up and choosing their own marriage partners, a Christian parent hopes they will choose Christians, but what can he or she teach the children when the parent did not set this kind of example? It is a dilemma; both possibilities are wrong. The parent can either encourage the children to marry a non-Christian like the parent did, or say that their marriage was a mistake, which is certainly an offense to the non-Christian who has tried hard to be a good partner. So the marriage, which was supposed to be all right in order to avoid offense, ends up causing greater offense.
A Christian is not only concerned about his or her own children. There are many children in Sunday school and the youth group at church; can he or she be a teacher or advisor? What kind of advice can he/she give these young people when his/her own example is one of disobedience to God’s command? The marriage is thus a hindrance to participation in these ministries.
There are many Christian couples who did exactly what we are discussing: got married, or at least began the romance, when one was a Christian and one was not, and afterwards the non-Christian became a Christian. We are thankful that these persons became Christians. These examples of “success” are often considered good examples, to encourage other Christian young people to do the same. But this good result is only by the grace of God despite disobeying His instructions. It is not a representative sample of the result of such marriages, because it does not indicate how many other couples there are in which the partner never has become a Christian. The success rate only seems high because most of the others are no longer visible. Some such Christian partners continue going to church anyway, but many give up because of the conflict it produces. So rather than bringing the non-Christian to faith, it takes the Christian out of active participation in Christian groups, and in some cases the Christian even gives up his or her faith. The percentage of such “failure” is actually much higher than “success,” perhaps as much as ten times more. It is impossible to obtain accurate statistics, but ask any pastor who often has these people coming to him telling about their terrible problems and asking for advice.
Thus we see that the Bible’s instructions about marriage
are really very reasonable, protecting us from many kinds of trouble. They
are not a valid basis for doubting and rejecting the Bible.