16 February 2009

What in heaven's name?

The steady march of Christianity Today toward a kind of modified universalism
by Phil Johnson

A few years ago, when Pulpit Magazine had multiple departments and was updated only once a month, I wrote a column in which we regularly chronicled and critiqued the cavalcade of errors that parade themselves each month in the pages of evangelicalism's house organ, Christianity Today. I'm perpetually amazed at how far from evangelical principles that magazine can stray and yet continue to pretend it's the voice of mainstream evangelicalism.

What follows is a column I wrote in 2003. Unlike most things I write, I kept no copy of this article on my computer, and when they took down the old Pulpit archives, I thought it was gone forever. But I recently found a backup copy I had made on my mom's computer. Here it is for your reading pleasure:

eter Kreeft, former Protestant apologist, recent convert to Roman Catholicism, renowned professor of Philosophy at Boston College, and author of more than 40 books, wrote a dreadful book a few years back, oxymoronically titled Ecumenical Jihad (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996).

The book took the ecumenical rationale behind Protestant-Catholic alliances like "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" to the next logical step. Kreeft claims the only viable solution to what ails modern society is for all the world's religions to unite.

Kreeft, whom many still regard as an articulate foe of postmodern secular moral relativism, is actually arguing for religious pluralism (which is nothing but a different form of moral relativism). He is convinced that Christians have no hope of winning the "culture war" unless they abandon the exclusivity of the gospel's claims and forge ecumenical alliances with all the world's major religions—including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

According to Kreeft, Christians "can and should investigate and learn from the wisdom of other religions" (p. 79). And why not? Kreeft thinks "the Holy Spirit seems to be working in other religions . . .. In studying His works, we are not studying something foreign and threatening, we are studying the Spirit and works of God, wherever His breath blows" (p. 83). Kreeft insists that "the very same God we worship in Christ is the God the Jews—and the Muslims—worship" (p. 160). Not only that; he also believes even "truth-seeking" agnostics and atheists may be unknowingly worshiping the true God "under this divine attribute of truth" (p. 161).

Kreeft is convinced that if all the religions of the world do not immediately embrace one another and form an alliance, we will lose the war against secularism. "I think it is very likely that the time will soon come—perhaps it is already here—when the emergency is so great that prudence dictates a moratorium on our polemics against each other and our attempts to convert one another" (p. 38). "There is no need for any competition. There is plenty of truth to go around" (p. 83).

Peter Kreeft's large-heartedness toward other religions has not dampened his enthusiasm for the Roman Catholic agenda. He makes this clear throughout his book, but it is best seen in a chapter near the end of the book titled "The Eucharist and Ecumenism," which Kreeft closes by promising that "the power that will reunite the Church and win the world is Eucharistic adoration" (p. 164).

He is speaking, of course, about the Roman Catholic practice of worshiping the communion wafer, based on Rome's teaching that the elements at the Lord's Table literally become blood and flesh by transubstantiation. Kreeft isn't quite clear why he believes this (of all things) might now have some mystical power to bring unity among the world's religions—especially since "eucharistic adoration" was universally condemned by the Reformers as idolatry, and both Jews and Muslims also regard the practice as idolatrous. But on the closing page of his book Kreeft once again solemnly assures readers that "the distinctly Catholic devotion of the Eucharist (and to Mary) may prove to be the key to victory in ecumenism and in the 'culture war'" (p. 172).

The book's back cover carries endorsements by Protestant ecumenists Charles Colson and J. I. Packer. Colson says of Kreeft, "On the front lines in today's culture war, Kreeft is one of our most valiant intellectual warriors." Packer's infamous endorsement says,
This racy little book opens up a far-reaching theme. With entertaining insight Kreeft looks into the attitudes, alliances, and strategies that today's state of affairs requires of believers. Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox alike need to ponder Peter Kreeft's vision of things—preferably, in discussion together. What if he is right?

Of course, if Kreeft were right, truth wouldn't matter much anyway. If he were right, religion in general would be a more potent force against the powers of evil than the truth of Christ in particular—and that notion is both antichristian and historically inaccurate. So Kreeft is not right. And Packer, of all people, surely knows this.

Anyway, the most talked-about chapter in Kreeft's book is a chapter titled "What Christians Can Learn from Confucius, Buddha, Muhammad, and Moses." Here Kreeft chronicles an out-of-body experience (OBE) he claims he had while storm-surfing off Hawaii in the wake of Hurricane Felix. Kreeft says a wave broke over him and he nearly drowned. His mind left his body, and he experienced not heaven, but purgatory (p. 96)—which is what all good Catholic philosophers experience in their OBEs.

Perhaps Kreeft is merely being whimsical. If so, he does not admit it. He tells the story as if it really happened. He even prefaces it with this: "Whether what I experienced was Heaven or earth, I cannot say. Whether it was real or unreal, objective truth or subjective fantasy, I cannot say. All I can say is that it was certainly truer, incomparably truer, than the chapter I was planning to write. That's why I threw the old one away" (p. 86).

One wonders what kind of drivel must have been in the original draft of the chapter. In any case, if Kreeft's OBE account is "incomparably truer," it's a really good thing he threw the original draft away.

Kreeft's vision of the afterlife begins "on a Heavenly beach" (p. 86)—which turns out to be only "the outskirts of Heaven, the place you call Purgatory" (p. 96). Here he encounters and converses with Confucius, Buddha, Muhammad, and Moses, all in succession.

Each one of those historic religious figures qualifies for heaven, in Kreeft's view, because he thinks they all taught moral principles compatible with the teaching of Christ. Whatever may be faulty about their views is simply going to be refined in purgatory. In fact, when Kreeft's vision of Buddha employs a biblical allusion, Kreeft decides that Buddha must have "had a theological crash course somewhere in Heaven" (p. 92).

But when Kreeft meets Muhammad, the voice of the Lord solemnly tells him, "He will teach you the heart and soul of all true religion" (p. 98).

Kreeft says he was originally dumbfounded by Muhammad's presence in heaven. But then this exchange took place:
I turned the conversation to another point. "Are you a Christian now or a Muslim?"

He gave what seemed to me an evasive answer: "Why do you say 'or'? How can one be a Christian without islam to the one God?"

Because I thought his answer evasive, I challenged him more directly. "If you come from Heaven and not from Hell, what do you say to this?" And I whipped out my Rosary and held aloft the crucifix, as I would to Dracula. To my wondering eyes, Muhammad fell to his knees and crossed himself. My response was the only possible one: I bowed the knees of my mind to the words of a man who had bowed his knees to my Lord and His Mother . . .. (pp. 99-100).

And on it goes. Kreeft clearly has an unbiblical view of heaven and a faulty understanding of the gospel. And if he truly got this vision of heaven during an OBE and takes it seriously, then that's all the more reason not to take him seriously.

But when the editors of Christianity Today recently posted an article on heaven at their Web site, guess whom they got to explain "What Heaven Will Be Like" to their readers?

That's right. Peter Kreeft.

The article is filled with speculative, unbiblical, and fanciful reflections from Kreeft's philosophical mind. References to Scripture are few. And Kreeft's answers are often hopelessly vague or incomplete. For example, his answer to the question "How do you get to heaven?" (A: "It is free.") utterly ignores all the most significant points of the gospel—sin, atonement, repentance, and the cross and resurrection of Christ. In reply to the one question that most deserves a distinctively biblical and Christian answer, Kreeft dropped the ball.

No wonder. Kreeft doesn't think it's necessary to believe anything about Christ in order to get to heaven. He says (in his answer to question 34) that he believes "good pagans, Hindus, et cetera" will go to heaven.

He writes,
People who have never heard of Christ, and thus have neither consciously accepted him nor consciously rejected him, must also get to Heaven through Christ, for there is no other way. That much is clear from Christ's own words. But it is not clear what is going on in the unconscious depths of the souls of such people. Only God knows. Perhaps they know and love him in the obscure form of a deep, unconscious desire and love.

The article is just another sign that the editors of Christianity Today have self-consciously embraced inclusivism (the belief that heaven will be populated with people who have no explicit knowledge of Christ or faith in Him). And they are trying to position that view as a kind of moderate middle ground between rank universalism and the biblical view that faith in Christ is necessary, because "he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18).

Kreeft echoes the Roman Catholic view that faith may be merely "implicit":
Christ the Savior is not only a 33-year-old, 6-foot-high Jewish man, but also the eternal God, the Logos that enlightens every individual (John 1:9). Thus everyone has a fair chance to accept him or reject him, whether implicitly (for all light of truth and goodness is from him) or explicitly. We are not saved by how explicit our knowledge is; we are saved by him.

He tries to defend the historical pedigree of inclusivism:
This is a traditional, mainline Christian position, from the time of Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria to the time of C. S. Lewis. It is halfway between the liberal view that one can be saved in other ways than Christ (for example, by good intentions) and the frequent fundamentalist view that it takes an explicit knowledge of Christ to be saved.

That, again, is precisely the position CT's editors now take. The book review section recently panned a universalist book for trivializing grace. But in the process, the editor was compelled to add this:
Note that there's a significant distinction between universalism—the view that all people will be saved, indeed, in some versions, that Satan himself will one day be redeemed—and the position often called "inclusivism," according to which people who have not knowingly accepted Christ may nevertheless be saved by his sacrifice on the cross, for God can read their hearts.

Three years ago, the same editor gave a sympathetic report on a lecture series at Wheaton College where John Sanders (of Open Theism fame) was advocating inclusivism. Sanders echoed Peter Kreeft's views on a number of key points, saying he sees "a remarkable similarity in the discussions about the divine nature in the major religious traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam."

That article closed with another paragraph attempting to portray inclusivism as a mainstream position:
In his lecture, which was followed by a lively question-period, Sanders took pains to emphasize that his view can be placed in a long Christian tradition that includes C.S. Lewis, John Wesley, and Saint Thomas Aquinas. Whatever its merits, it cannot therefore be dismissed, as some would wish, as a capitulation to the fashions of contemporary culture.

Certainly there have been individuals in the evangelical movement who have seemed to feel the lure of inclusivism. But has it ever really been a mainstream view among evangelicals? Certainly not. CT's rejection of the exclusivity of Christ is just more evidence of how far that magazine has strayed from her Protestant evangelical heritage.

Phil's signature


Luke said...

How can Kreeft be so lucid and sensible sometimes, for example The Journey, and then write nonsense like this? The saddest part of your article was reading about JI Packer's endorsement. It'd be like picking up a copy of The Shack endorsed by Carson. Packer is so sharp and so classically evangelical! With so much information in the world and so little time we rely on endorsements, and so when they go wrong it's upsetting and disconcerting.

Stefan said...

I'm just trying to get over the idea that all the world's problems will be solved if only we united in adoration of the eucharist. Has this been run past the adherents of those religions that are supposedly worshipping Christ without realizing it? It seems to be a peculiarly exclusivistic position for an inclusivist (emphasis on "peculiarly").

Jonathan Moorhead said...

I tend to think that rejecting this type of inclusivism will be the basis for future persecution of the church.

PS- I enjoyed your sermon last night (Russian time, that is).

Kim said...

I'm just wondering how Kreeft came to the conclusion that Jesus was 6 feet tall. Perhaps Buddha or Mohammed told him during his stint on the outskirts of heaven.

catalystblog said...

What a sad state of affairs is some segments of the Church in. The apostic (if there is such a word) slide continues and is being greased with dribble such as you have highlighted.

Rick Frueh said...

When you present spiritual goofiness upon a plate of literary rationalism, you have provided a full course deception. The pros and cons of the information overload in the west provide the moving parts with which to create much theological mischief.

Not everything that is thought provoking is worth provoking a new thought. And when a seemingly orthodox evangelical converts to Roman Catholicism it is usually the result of a profound loss of spiritual vitality, followed by a dry place, and ended with a search for the new/old/new in order to restart something. In short, you quench your thirst at a mirage.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Years ago I found all the old CT's (on Carl Henry's watch) in the university library and spent many happy hours reading them. Solid, evangelical. Then CT, sometime in the 70's or 80's, made the economic decision to become more of a Time mag for evangelicalism, and their increasing inclusivism really reflects the inevitable strain for advertising dollars and wider circulation. Selling birthright for pottage comes to mind.

donsands said...

"Perhaps they know and love him in the obscure form of a deep, unconscious desire and love." Kreeft

And more likely, perhaps they are unrighteous, "for there is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that seeks God. There is none that does good, no, not one. There is no fear of God before their eyes." Romans 3:10-12,18

You would think CT would simply expose this imposter, with the Holy Scriptures, which is the Church's all sufficient authority. I suspect the Bible has little meaning to CT anymore.

Tim said...

Well, the magazine is called "Christianity Today", not "Biblical Christianity" (I think that name has already been claimed by a blog somewhere). I guess that makes it okay for CT to be a barometer of the spirit of the age that is infesting much of the church in modern times.

DJP said...

Good, but disturbing stuff, Phil.

I wonder whether that is where Billy Graham got the exact same notion.

Packer's endorsement is disappointing, but not shocking to me. Reading Iain Murray's Evangelicalism Divided gave me some very disheartening perspective on Packer, Stott, and Billy Graham.

Jon MacArthur, btw, comments on the whole here

Marie said...

Sadly, this doesn't surprise me. Some of CT's stuff is so good (like their recent cover piece on "Marketing Jesus"), yet in the same issue they had a several-page spread on contemplative mystic Richard Foster. They LOVE the Emergent Church, Brian Maclaren & his group. The book section of this month's issue featured almost all contemplatives and medieval Catholic mystics. (That doesn't count their large color ads for "The Shack").

It is just depressing, because I really think CT is an accurate reflection of the state of the evangelical church in America. Something like half of all self-proclaimed evangelicals don't even believe a personal faith in Christ is a prerequisite for salvation.

I'm surprised, though, that J.I. Packer would endorse something as unsound as that, though. His "Knowing God" is extremely deep and insightful.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Marie: "It is just depressing, because I really think CT is an accurate reflection of the state of the evangelical church in America."

Yep. I'm a current subscriber to CT for precisely that reason.

PJ: "Kreeft doesn't think it's necessary to believe anything about Christ in order to get to heaven. He says (in his answer to question 34) that he believes "good pagans, Hindus, et cetera" will go to heaven."

As DJP (and John MacArthur points out) this view has been promoted for quite some time, long before Peter Kreeft. I really don't see how this reconciles with the dogmatic position of extra ecclesiam nulla salus by the Roman Catholic Church, but I'm told that it does.

Here's a recent article by recently deceased Cardinal Avery Dulles called Who Can Be Saved? that largely affirms what Kreeft wrote in Ecumenical Jihad.

Dulles conclusion:

"Who, then, can be saved? Catholics can be saved if they believe the Word of God as taught by the Church and if they obey the commandments. Other Christians can be saved if they submit their lives to Christ and join the community where they think he wills to be found. Jews can be saved if they look forward in hope to the Messiah and try to ascertain whether God’s promise has been fulfilled. Adherents of other religions can be saved if, with the help of grace, they sincerely seek God and strive to do his will. Even atheists can be saved if they worship God under some other name and place their lives at the service of truth and justice. God’s saving grace, channeled through Christ the one Mediator, leaves no one unassisted. But that same grace brings obligations to all who receive it. They must not receive the grace of God in vain. Much will be demanded of those to whom much is given."

David S said...

Another advance for Saruman. Our list of allies grows thin.

olan strickland said...

Great post Phil! These types of posts reveal the unbiblical and ungodly philosophies of popular and powerful false teachers who Kreeft in (I meant creep in ) unnoticed and secretly introduce destructive heresies. These men are opening a wide gate that leads to destruction with their inclusivism and they do not understand that salvation must be exclusive for God who is holy and just to forgive sinners and remain just Himself. Not only does Billy Graham embrace such rank heresy as pointed out by DJP but so does Rick Warren who believes that religious pluralism is the answer to the world's problems - watch and listen here

Citizen Grim said...

"Kreeft is convinced that if all the religions of the world do not immediately embrace one another and form an alliance, we will lose the war against secularism."

Kreeft's analysis is silly, because God doesn't "lose" anything.

I get frustrated sometimes when Christians treat the Gospel in the same way they might treat "democracy" or "the free market," etc - that is, human ideas that must be promoted and advanced or they will disappear.

But we know that the faithful remnant will always have God at their side, at their back, leading them. God does not lose wars, and He most certainly will not lose the war against secularism.

ljchan said...

Okay, I give up. Which one in the photo is Kreeft, which is Packer, and which is Colson (perhaps the chap on the right)? They don't look all that ecumenical here, though. Perhaps this is an old photo, from their more evangelical days...

Solameanie said...

All I can say is that I am aghast. How easy it is to lose one's mind, and what a lesson not to put typically respected theologians on too high a pedestal.

Anonymous said...

Quite simply...this left me in shock, mouth agape.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Chris said...

Sadly, Kreeft and other pluralists and popes and universalists and agnostics and clever-minded, broad-road distorters of the True Gospel will spend eternity in hell grawing upon every blasphemous word and anti-biblical concept they so readily peddled to those who are weak in the faith--unless they repent! We should pray that Kreeft repents and comes to the end of his own man-centered and hollow philosophies...and for certain folks at CT as well for that matter, who are always at the ready to publish the latest winds of false doctrine for itching ears within the "Christian community". With or without an actual pulpit, people who write books and articles on theological matters of faith and doctrine are likewise teachers in their own right, because people who read what they write learn from them, which means they have a greater responsibility to God, and will thus recieve a greater judgement.

Craig Boyd said...

Meanwhile, the Lord continues to draw His elect to Himself through the faithful preaching of the Law and Gospel.

chrish said...

Maybe I'm bordering on heresy (or merely derailing a thread), but I don't think I have a problem with the idea that, after death, God responds to a person according to the way that person did/would have responded to Him.

When presented with the Gospel, a person has no excuse. What happens if that person is not? I don't mean to suggest my understanding of what is "fair" binds God, rather to suggest that the all-knowing God would be able pick His elect, even from the peoples who had no opportunity to hear His word.

If I've derailed this meta, my apologies.

Carol Jean said...

And why Tony Campolo is still held in such high esteem in some evangelical circles is also baffling:

"There is much in Christianity that would suggest exactly the same thing [living up to the truth as you understand it], particularly Romans the 2nd chapter, where the apostle Paul says "What do we say of those who do not accept the law of God," and I would add "as we understand it," "and are faithful to all the things that God calls us to do--will God not have to make room for them?" He asks that as a rhetorical question, leaving the reader with the obvious sense--"but of course." So I think that the apostle Paul would be a lot more generous towards Islamic people than most of my evangelical brothers and sisters are."

Check out all the Baptist churches on the itinerary for the "Positive Prophet of Red Letter Christianity."

The Seeking Disciple said...

So much apostasy around us! I don't know much about Kreeft other than I know that emergents love him and that speaks volumes to me if the emergents love him. I do know from reading your article that Kreeft is most certainly wrong about both his views about other religions and heaven. We must stand for God's truth no matter what!

Tax Collector said...

"Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain."


olan strickland said...

chrish: When presented with the Gospel, a person has no excuse. What happens if that person is not?

chrish, with that philosophy the worst thing we could ever do is present someone with the gospel because they would then become accountable.

However, Romans 1 makes it plain that all men are accountable and without excuse whether they have heard the gospel or not. And Romans 10:13-17 makes it plain that men must hear the gospel in order to be saved. Even in the book of Acts you discover that God saves His elect by sending His elect to tell them about Jesus.

donsands said...

I just now bumped into a man from Pakistan, who is here in America. He pulled up outside my office asking for directions.

We told he the way he needed to go, and he said, "God bless."

As he pulled out of the driveway, "I yelled, The Lord bless you!"
He stopped his car, and yelled, "The Lord Jesus Christ be praised and bless you. This is a divine appointment!" He then pulled back in the driveway, and we learned he is a Pastor.
Pastor Falak Robson, Emmanuel Gospel Ministry (Regd) Pakistan.
He grew up Muslim, and was converted, and is all about preaching the one true Gospel of Jesus Christ in order to reach the unreached Muslims.
He actually preached a short John 14:6 message to us, which blessed me, and said he was envolved with Faith Theological Seminary.
He even went across the street to witness to a gas station attendant, who was from Nigeria.

What a blessing to meet this wonderful man, and getting to know him with only such a short period of time, and to exchange e-mails, so we can encourage one another, if the Lord leads. Especially, after reading such nonsense as from this imposter Kreeft.

Thank the Lord for His true pastors. They are few, and I pray that God would remove the imposters from the pulpits, and replace them with some genuine preachers, perhaps some Luthers, Calvins, Knoxs, and Wesleys.

Stefan said...

Donsands: That's an amazing story, especially given its providential timing (and with a sermon on John 14:6 to boot)!

May the Lord God do great work through Pastor Robson (!? sounds like an English name) and the many fellow workers like himself.

Carol Jean said...

I have a friend who is a former Muslim (Pakistani)and is now a missionary to American Muslims. Former Muslims look at Kreeft and Campolo like they're wing nuts. They're astonished that anyone would leave a Muslim under the bondage and of Allah and the Koran. They can't imagine anything more unloving.

Barbara said...

Carol Jean quoted Campolo as saying, in part...

...Romans the 2nd chapter, where the apostle Paul says "What do we say of those who do not accept the law of God," and I would add "as we understand it," "and are faithful to all the things that God calls us to do--will God not have to make room for them?"

Um, where in Romans 2 does Paul say that? It's not in my Bible. Not only that, the sheer tone (since when does Paul suggest what God will "have to" do? I seem to recall a portion of Romans 9 where he said, "Who are you O man who answers back to God?") just reeks of...well, it just reeks. Different voice, different herd, not the Shepherd I know and love.

Jesus Is Coming Soon said...

pleas help the church i have been attending is seeker emerging I THINK.
the assist pastor writes for "RELEVENT magazine (an editor)
our church seems to be friend with a united methodist that had brian mclaren and friends last oct. (near by)it is very youth oriented and older people like me seem out of place. there are not many choices here help!!!!!!!

Puritan Lad said...

Yikes. I would prefer a magazine entitled "Christianity Yesterday".

Chris said...

or "Christianity Astray" might even be a better title!

To the one who is stuck in that church on the emergent decline: my suggestion is to leave it and make it clear to your pastor, respectfully, why you are leaving--that you are on to his tactics of inserting emergent heresy (antinomian, gnostic, or otherwise) into the congregation, many of whom I would imagine are completely in the dark on the matter, or entirely apathetic to the necessity of discernment. Take it from me, as I've taken my family out of 3 churches that were going in that same direction over the past 4 years. You will not convince wayward leaders who are actively pursuing this nonsense to change, and listening to such false teaching week after week will eat you alive. Better to leave, lest you sin in your heart in your aggrivation at such a blatant departure from gospel truth.

Luke said...

I was thinking about Packer's endorsement last night and I came up with a solution. Packer, despite his obvious smarts and from all appearances, godliness can like me be lazy and proud sometimes. Maybe this time he thought: "Oh that Kreeft fellow, smart and anti-secular, oh look here is his new book, OK need to write another endorsement, skim the book, read a few pages, done. Opphs, it turns out Kreeft wrote a dodgy book, I'm too proud to admit I was lazy and didn't read the whole book."

I know I can only trust Jesus for the truth and everyone will eventually let me down even Carson, Driscoll and the author of even this blog, but this Kreeft and Packer revelation a disheartening discovery.

[Oh the irony: word verification is "belief"]

trogdor said...


I'll leave it to the moderators to decide if this is meta-derailing, but until they say so, I'll give it a shot. Your question:

"...I don't think I have a problem with the idea that, after death, God responds to a person according to the way that person did/would have responded to Him.

When presented with the Gospel, a person has no excuse. What happens if that person is not? I don't mean to suggest my understanding of what is "fair" binds God, rather to suggest that the all-knowing God would be able pick His elect, even from the peoples who had no opportunity to hear His word."

There are several ways to respond here, but first, we need to distinguish between two ideas. The way this idea was first presented to me is that all those who never explicitly hear the gospel go to heaven (because they never had the chance to reject Jesus, or something). This seems to be the idea olan was responding to, and his response fits well. The scripture proclaims that they are not, in fact, innocent (Rom 1-3, Eph 2, etc).

Also, logically this is a really difficult one to swallow. Consider the island illustration, where a missionary shows up to an island with 1000 natives, preaches the gospel to them for the first time, and 100 believe. That night a typhoon hits and everyone dies. If it had been a day before, and this idea is true, all 1000 would go to heaven. Now, only 100 go to heaven and 900 go to hell. This makes missions/evangelism one of the most hateful things a person could possibly do! If this idea is true, better to keep silent and guarantee they go to heaven, than to preach the gospel and possibly (or probably) condemn them to hell.

But, there is another way to take the question, and I think this is more what was meant. I'm thinking you meant, among those who never hear, could God determine what they would do if they did hear, and assign eternal destiny on that? Keeping it brief, here's how I'd answer that:

1) We do know how they would respond. Unless born again by the spirit, they would reject Christ. See Rom 1-3, John 3, or really any sane discussion of total depravity.
2) Given that (a) God has set faith in Christ as the standard, (b) God would know which way people would respond, and (c) God is sovereign, is there any conceivable reason to think that God would not direct events such that the gospel will reach every person who will respond positively? See Acts 16:6ff for example.

Now even while writing all that, I had to wonder whether it was worth trying to answer. Because when it comes down to it, certainly God can do whatever He wishes. I think the scriptural and logical evidences are pretty overwhelming in favor of the "conscious faith in Jesus Christ" position, but what if it isn't? What if it's actually ambiguous - I find no evidence whatsoever for the contrary position, but what if the case for the necessity of conscious faith is not as strong as I believe? Well then, what else do we know?

We know that God has commanded all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17). And we know that God has commanded us to proclaim the gospel to all peoples (Mat 28, etc etc). And we know that we are always to be ready to preach the gospel at all times to everyone, even to those who are torturing or killing us (1 Peter 3:13ff).

So the question "so what about those who don't hear?" is largely a non-starter (yet somehow I've managed to write a bunch on it). As far as we're concerned, we need to proclaim the gospel to all, and take it to the ends of the earth. Our lord and master has commanded it. (Note: the following is not an accusation at you) I'm afraid that the question itself is less often a search for knowledge and understanding, and almost always seeking an escape clause for those not wanting to go or send in missions, or afraid to acknowledge Jesus before man. We know what's commanded; we need to do it.

donsands said...

"..given its providential timing"-Stefan

The Lord has those extra holy coincidences for us at times doesn't he.

This pastor said the church in America is asleep, and Islam is gathering those who are left by the wayside. He says we need to be preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and telling Muslims that Jesus Christ is God.

Barbara said...

@ Trogdor-

Dude. I am so printing that off and sticking it in my wallet for the next time somebody throws that argument at me. Thank you for putting it so concisely - I tend to get tongue-tied and wordy on my own.

SolaMommy said...

Trogdor: Burninating the Meta


Anonymous said...

it is kinda sad....for every nugget of wisdom Kreeft had, he said two foolish things(wiping people's memories so that we can bear the realization of the lost in hell? yeah right...)

That being said, I don't think that Christianity Today is:

1. that enamoured with the emerging church. Mark Dever is not really impressed with their line of theology.
2.That far gone. Yeah, they need to re-evaluate their positions on certain issues, but there are still some good parts to it.

Chris said...

Sadly, it seems we've come to a place in evangelical Christianity whereby the hunting for 'good bits' of sound teaching here and there is all so many hope for anymore. Whether it be a church, a so-called "Christian" university, a book, a magazine, a radio station, a television station, etc....we've come to a place where folks get excited when they find a nugget of truth here or there....like people who walk up and down a beach with a metal detetector looking for lost coins and jewelry

Chris said...

It should be a rare thing to find the heresy, not the other way around...but we know this is not the case, particularly in these last days.

Rick Frueh said...

" but I don't think I have a problem with the idea that, after death, God responds to a person according to the way that person did/would have responded to Him."

Ahh...a post mortum free will!! God can do what He wills, however that possibility is not taught in Scripture.

Stefan said...

"We've come to a place where folks get excited when they find a nugget of truth here or there."

Ain't that the truth? It's like, "Oh! That preacher embraces the five solas!" or "Wow! This church teaches the doctrines of grace!" or "Hey! That radio minister is a Calvinist!"

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SolaMommy said...

"Ain't that the truth? It's like, "Oh! That preacher embraces the five solas!" or "Wow! This church teaches the doctrines of grace!" or "Hey! That radio minister is a Calvinist!"

That is so true...

RealityCheck said...

"...we've come to a place where folks get excited when they find a nugget of truth here or there....like people who walk up and down a beach with a metal detector looking for lost coins and jewelry"

So true!

Jeremiah said...

Quick question: Does accepting the idea that unborn and newborn children go to Heaven count as inclusivism, or does it only pertain to those who believe that adults who, by their merits and right actions, can also go to heaven?

Anonymous said...


I'm surprised at the Packer blurb. Did he owe Kreeft a favor???

Kreeft is a step or two removed from joining the likes of John Hick.


nedbrek said...

If only people would read their Bibles, the true nuggets would drive them to true conclusions:

A CT editor said:
"God can read their hearts"

That's right. Their desperately wicked hearts!

'he [Kreeft] believes "good pagans, Hindus, et cetera" will go to heaven'

That's right! Except there is none good.

Phil Johnson said...


Infants who die and adult pagans who die are different cases. You don't have to be an inclusivist to believe God shows a special grace to dying infants.

That's a big subject and there's no space to elaborate here--but the sins of an adult who has never heard the gospel are deliberate, premeditated, willful violations of the person's own conscience. Not so with an infant.

Without explicitly saying that dying infants go to heaven, Scripture suggests that God is merciful to infants who die. But Scripture is quite explicit about the disposition of adult sinners who die without conscious faith in Christ. They are without hope.

One of these days we'll take up that subject in depth, but it would de-rail this discussion, so we'll leave it at that.

Joshua Cookingham:

I don't know how anyone with historic evangelical convictions can read CT and say they are "not that far gone."

A cup of coffee with a spoonful of sewage is still about 96 percent coffee. The proportion that's good doesn't nullify the bad taste and potential health risk of the bad part.

And the sewage level in CT nowadays is a lot more than 4 percent.

Anonymous said...

As a former Roman Catholic, I am keenly away of the "Church's" ecumenicism and now as a Baptist Pastor of CT, Colson's and Packer's defection from the exclusivity of the Gospel.

Here is where the line needs to be drawn and the Gospel vigorously defended (Jude 3). Great stuff!

Pastor Mike Holtzinger

Jair said...

But C.S. Lewis said it, so it must be true!

By the by, thanks Trogdor, I never really had an adequate response the the perceived need for fairness before you laid that out.

Sovereignty solves problems before they even exist.

Anonymous said...

"I don't know how anyone with historic evangelical convictions can read CT and say they are "not that far gone."

Lol. I confess I'm not that wise in terms of Historical Knowings of Christianity, I'm learning more though.

The problem is that I have found very many good things that DON'T contradict Scripture at Christianity Today. Just as I've found things that DO at reformed sites like Slice or DefCon. Not her though....lol.

I agree that there are many things that they say that are either not really grounded in Scripture, or flat out wrong. However, they also have a good deal many things that are in perfect accord with Scripture.

I think the problem is that Christianity Today is mostly editorials written by everyone in the Christian community....

Kitty Foth-Regner said...

I spent the first couple years of my spiritual journey -- not sure I can even call it Christian at that point -- on a steady diet of C.S. Lewis and Christianity Today, with a little Kreeft thrown into the mess. Imagine my confusion as I read the Bible; I could only conclude that I just didn't understand it, because wasn't Lewis the smartest man who ever lived and wasn't CT the voice of evangelicalism?

In His perfect timing, the Lord directed me to a solid Bible-teaching church and I escaped this web of near-universalism and began to discover His glorious truth. Phil was right about this in 2003, and is right today. (Besides, he makes me laugh; who says real Christians have no sense of humor?)

TAR said...

It is always sad when what appeared to be wheat in the field turns out to be a weed.

One positive is that other weeds out themselves as they try to attract us to the fake in the field (Colson and Packer)

2Pe 2:1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.