I Just Don’t Think This is Right

God bless Peter Burfeind for offering up a response to the Aaron Rodgers/Rob Bell nonsense. For those who haven’t paid attention, Rob Bell has polluted the mind of another person — this time it is Green Bay Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers who had theological questions and sadly had Rob Bell provide non-answers.

I belong to a Bible Study called the “Dead Theologians Society.” We used to read living theologians, but Rob Bell is our cautionary tale. We only read dead ones now so as to avoid the theologians who wind up like Bell, whose name appropriately rhymes with his most likely final destination.

All that said, I disagree with Burfeind’s argument. God bless him for his attempt, but it does not sit right with me. The tl;dr version of his argument is that those people in the jungle Aaron Rodgers is concerned about will die and descend to the land of the dead and hear the gospel preached after death. To be fair, there are some who believe various forms of this — that some can find salvation after death or that when all the earth is raised for Judgment Day those who never heard will be given an opportunity to be saved.

I think Hebrews 9:27 is on point that ” it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” But what Burfiend, Aaron Rodgers, Rob Bell, me and others grapple with is the feeling of unfairness. How can it be that there are those who are created in the image of God, who never even have the opportunity to hear about Jesus, who then go to hell?

The starting basis, of course, should be a different position.

All of us go to hell except through salvation. Our standards of what makes a good person are different from God’s standards. We may think we are good or innocent, but we are all borne into sin and except for repentance and accepting Christ, we go to hell.

But there are points beyond this starting point.

First, we should understand that the native in the jungle who has never heard of Jesus will actually fare better on Judgment Day than Aaron Rodgers and Rob Bell if they continue on their present course. Jesus himself makes clear that those who have never heard of him will not be judged harshly and those who have heard of him and rejected him will be judged very harshly. Those who benefited from the blessings of Christendom and rejected it will really have a bad day on Judgment Day. It is what the author of Hebrews gets at in Hebrews 2:2-3. “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” He is, in the original, using nautical terms his audience would have understood. Basically he is saying that judgment for those who know where the harbor is and how to get in to it, but fail to do so before the storm comes, will sink.

Second, we need to understand that all people have the general revelation of God. There are those in the jungle who have never heard of Jesus, but they act godly out of the general revelation they have perceived. Salvation may be by faith alone in Christ, but judgment will be based on works. The law is written on their hearts (Romans 2:15) and they are without excuse (Romans 1:20) given God’s nature can be seen in nature.

Third, the story of Cornelius needs to be taken into account. In Acts 10, the centurion Cornelius has never heard of Jesus, but is a very godly man. God, through his angels, ensures that Cornelius is connected to Peter so that he can hear the special revelation of God about Jesus Christ. Through that, Cornelius becomes a believer. We should not underestimate God’s ability to use his angels to ensure the unbeliever in the jungle destined for eternal glory will connect to the missionary who shares the gospel.

Fourth, we should exercise some humility and recognize we don’t have the full answer. What of those who lived at a time after Christ’s resurrection, but before the spread of missionaries? We know that those who never had the chance to hear will fair better than those who knew of Christ and rejected him. We should trust in God here without knowing His will.

That leads to the last point. We presume it is unfair of God to exile so many for eternity after the last day. But our sense of fairness is a sense of fairness premised on our sin. God is the most fair and the most righteous. He made Pharaoh for the purpose of demonstrating His glory. He made you and me to glorify Him. We may not have the answer, but God does. And if God created an entire class of people only to send them to hell, he did so for a greater, better purpose than we can understand. But I think we have to have some theological humility to understand we do not have the full picture. We have what we have in scripture. We have some ways to guess. But all things really do work for the good of those called according to His purposes and we should trust he will send us all out to providentially connect with those He wants to hear the message.

I just think the question of the salvation of the tribesman in the jungle, often asked with good intentions, has a faulty premise. People are confusing God’s justice with God’s mercy. Through God’s justice all people are going to hell. Through God’s mercy, some get a reprieve. We all stand condemned, but through faith we get eternal life with Christ. As Paul makes clear in Romans, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

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Erick Erickson

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