CHRISTIAN BELIEFS ABOUT
CAN THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN ANOTHER "GOD" BE SAVED & GO TO HEAVEN?
|"The departed spirit of a believer in Christ goes immediately into the
presence of the Lord...When an unbeliever dies, his or her departed spirit
goes immediately into Hades to experience conscious, unrelenting torment.
There is no in-between place. There is no third choice." Mark Hitchcock
|"The idea that Jesus is the only way to God or that only those who have
been washed in the blood of Christ are ever to be listed among the saved, has
become anathema and even dangerous in our shrinking world." Episcopal
Bishop John S. Spong. 2|
you are a [born-again]
Christian, you will go to heaven; If you're following another religion, then
by default you will go to Hell." Susie Shellenberger. 3|
the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by
me." The words of Jesus, according to John 14:6. 4|
Salvation for non-Christian theists:
Elsewhere on this site, we discuss Christian beliefs about whether people who follow a non-Christian religion or
philosophical belief can be saved and attain Heaven after death. This includes
about 66% of the population of the world.
This essay has a narrower focus. It discusses whether non-Christian
theists can be saved. That is, whether salvation is
possible for a person who believes in:
|A God other than the Christian Trinity, or |
|A Goddess, or |
|A pantheon of Gods and Goddesses. |
These individuals are all theists since they believe in a
transcendent deity of some type. However, they do not
acknowledge the existence of the Christian Trinity.
They do not view Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) to be God and to be
one person within the Trinity. They include the followers of many world
religions -- Aboriginal faiths,
Wicca, other Neopagan
religions, Zoroastrianism, etc.
Beliefs among Christians about the salvation of non-Christian theists:
Many Christians believe that if a person meets certain criteria, that they
will attain salvation and will attain Heaven when they die. These criteria
involve repentance for past sins, trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior, performing
various good works, engaging in specific church rituals, and/or avoiding certain
behaviors. Unfortunately, there is no consensus among Christian denominations
about the specific criteria needed to be saved. The unsaved are believed to be
sent to Hell after death. Denominations also teach
different concepts of Heaven
and Hell. According to some faith groups, those in Hell are simply isolated from
God; others teach that the inmates in Hell experience eternal, continuous,
and rather gruesome, tortures without any hope of relief.
Religious diversity is a fact of life in North America. This forces followers
of each faith group to acknowledge the existence of other faith groups within
their religion, and the existence of other religions in their communities. They
generally take one of three positions towards the validity of these other
Exclusivists regard their own faith
tradition as the
only completely true religion. Many believe that salvation is only
assured for certain of their fellow believers. The authors of the
Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament) -- notably Paul and the
author(s) of the Gospel of John -- seem to have taken this position. If we
assume that the various "I am" statements attributed to Jesus in
the Gospel of John are accurate, then Jesus also appears to have taken an
Inclusivists, like exclusivists regard
their own faith tradition as the only completely true religion. They view
other religions as incomplete or partially developed faiths. Salvation for
those others may be possible, but is chancy at best.|
Religious Pluralists: The great world
religions are all legitimate, valid, and true -- when viewed from within
their particular culture. Most who take this position believe that
salvation is possible for devout followers of most or all religions.
There is a range of beliefs within Christianity: 6
|Very conservative Protestants: Most hold, as one of their most
central and important beliefs, that the Bible is inerrant and perfectly
expresses the will of God. Paul, the author(s) of the Gospel of John, and
other contributors to the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament) have written clearly and consistently on
salvation. They have generally taken an exclusivist
position: that Pauline Christianity is the only valid religion. In fact, in several
passages of the Christian Scriptures, the deities of other religions are
described as demons. This leads inevitably to the restrictivist belief which has been
historically taught by
Christianity: that only Christian believers attain
Heaven, while everyone else will go to
Hell. The above quote by Susie Shellenberger
illustrates this clearly. Ultimately, it would not matter one iota whether the non-Christian
believes in a deity or not. Strong Atheists, those who deny that God exists,
to Hell. The many types of non-Christian theists listed above -- followers of
Aboriginal faiths to Zoroastrians -- will go to Hell. None will spend eternity
in Heaven; it is restricted those Christians who have been saved.|
|Some conservative and mainline Protestants: Many of these
denominations also follow the exclusivist belief about Christianity and the Restrictivist belief
For example, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s Statement of Faith states in part:
Just as a parent is quick to welcome a wayward child who has repented
of rebellion, God is willing to forgive our sins if we but confess them and ask
for forgiveness in the name of Christ." 7
The implication here is that forgiveness of sins -- and thus a
person's salvation and eternal destiny -- is only possible through belief in Jesus Christ and
of repentance to the Christian God. This statement provides no alternative path to salvation for the four billion non-Christians
in the world,
whether they be theists or non-theists. In the year 2000,
Rev. Dirk Ficca of Chicago delivered a paper on salvation at the
Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference in Orange, CA. According to PCUSA NEWS, Rev. Ficca,
had suggested: "...that an omnipotent and merciful God
might provide other avenues to salvation for Jews and Muslims and other
non-believers in Christ." 8 Some conservative
Presbyterians went ballistic. Twenty-one church sessions and one presbytery
called for the church's General Assembly Council (GAC)
to either discipline Ficca or disavow the heretical views he expressed.
The Presbyterian Church remains seriously divided between its liberals and conservative
wings on the topic of salvation and
Other mainline Protestant denominations are more liberal, and lead towards
inclusivism or pluralism. They accept at least the partial validity of other religions and believe that
their followers can be saved.
|Roman Catholics: The church takes an partly inclusive position
towards non-Catholic faiths. A commentary on a Vatican II document the "Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church - Lumen Gentium." reads:|
"5. The non-Christian may not be blamed for his ignorance of
Christ and his Church; salvation is open to him also, if he seeks God
sincerely and if he follows the commands of his conscience, for
through this means the Holy Ghost acts upon all men; this divine
action is not confined within the limited boundaries of the visible
[Roman Catholic] Church." 9
This would seem to imply that salvation is available to
non-Christian theists, but not to Agnostics, Atheists, Buddhists, etc
who lack a belief in a personal God. However, in the year 2000, Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a more pessimistic document,
called: " 'Dominus
Iesus' on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the
Church." He wrote that the prayers and rituals of other
religions may help or hinder their believers. Those rituals which "depend
on superstitions or other errors... constitute an obstacle to salvation."
Members of other religions are "gravely deficient" relative to
Roman Catholics who already have "the fullness
of the means of salvation." 10 More details on:
salvation of non-Catholics, and on "Dominus Iesus."
|Liberal and some mainline Christians: Many note that all
of the major religions teach an Ethic of Reciprocity
-- like the Golden Rule -- which
requires that their followers behave lovingly and decently towards their fellow humans
-- including those of other denominations and those of other religions.
Many accept the principle of religious pluralism: that
each of the main religions of the world are legitimate,
valid, and true, when viewed from within its own culture. "John
Hick, for example, sometimes argues that the fundamentals of the major
religious traditions correctly describe different aspects of ultimate reality
and sometimes argues that ultimate reality is unknowable, leaving all
religious on roughly equal ground." 11,12 This
leads logically to the principle of salvific pluralism: the belief that the followers of all theistic religions can attain
salvation. That is, one is saved by devoutly believing in -- and following the
expectations of -- a God, or Goddess, or pantheon of deities from any of
the major world religions.|
In the fall of 2000,
Kenneth Himma, published an article "Finding a high road: The moral case for Salvific
Pluralism." 13 He assumed that:
|God is a personal being of perfect morality.|
|There are only two states after death: salvation and punishment in
Hell for those who are not saved.|
In his article, he attempts to prove that "a morally perfect God
would not punish devout persons of certain non-Christian [theistic]
traditions." Since there are only two possible states after death,
then it logically "follows that there is more than one path to
salvation." Himma argues that "God's moral perfection is
inconsistent with Christian exclusivism." 13 He thus deduces that
salvific pluralism is true, that followers of non-Christian religions can
be saved as a result of following their own faith.
- Mark Hitchcock, "The Complete Book of Bible Prophecy,"
Tyndale House, (1999), Page 216 and 219.
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- J.S. Spong, "A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith
is Dying and How a New Faith is Being Born," HarperSanFrancisco,
(2001), Page 179.
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- Susie Shellenberger, "Life
on the Edge;" a radio program directed at teens. It is sponsored by
Focus on the Family, a Fundamentalist Christian agency. The episode
aired on 2001-MAY-5.
- From the King James Version of the Bible.
- For more detailed information on religious exclusivism, inclusivism,
and pluralism, see our essay "Reacting to religious
- For essays on this web site, we define as a Christian any person or
group who sincerely, thoughtfully and prayerfully believes that they are
Christian. We acknowledge that there are dozens of other more restrictive
definitions of the term "Christian." More
- "Brief Statement of Faith," at:
- "Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a Diverse World: An
Inter-generational Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference Focusing on
Interfaith Relationships," 2000-JUL-26 to 29, at:
- "Dogmatic Constitution
on the Church - Lumen Gentium. Chapter 1: "The Mystery of the church,"
Sections 14 to 16," at:
- " 'Dominus Iesus' on
the unicity and salviific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church"
- "John Hick: Religious Pluralism,"
A review of Hick's book An Interpretation of Religion,
- John Hick, "Interpretation
of Religion," Yale University Press, (Reprinted 1991).
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- Kenneth Himma, "Finding a high road: The moral case for Salvific
Pluralism," International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, (2002-AUG)
Copyright © 2003 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2003-JUN-5
Author: B.A. Robinson