Saturday, January 22, 2011
What is The Fate of Pagans?
I was reading the other day a book by the author David Platt called Radical. I thought the book was so good I bought it--but I ended up being disturbed and shaken by it. Most of the book I am in much agreement with. He decries the poor state that much of modern Christianity is in nowadays. Especially how most preaching puts the self smack in the center of things. Most popular spirtual books constantly appeal to the self. What can Christ do for YOU. How can God get YOUR life in order. But Platt reminds readers that true Christianity is about denying the self and sacrificing one's worldly possessions for the sake of the Lord. He tell us that Christ's teachings about denying the world, disowning even one's family for Him were indeed very radical.
And it made me wonder too: would I be strong enough to deny anything, if the Lord were to require it?
I was actually cheering him on throughout most of the book. Until I got to the chapter on the unsaved. Platt basically argues with an equal egree of passion, that those who have never heard of Christ are necessarily damned. A common beleif, but also an obviously controversial one. Platt beleives those who have never heard the
gospel are subject to a different sort of accountability than those who have and willingly rejected Christ. But they are denied Heaven nonetheless. To support his postion he gives the example of an innocent tribal bushman who dies without knowledge of Christ. Would he go to heaven? Platt answers "Yes," then turns that answer upon itself. The key word here is "innocent." The innocent man, according to Platt, does not exist. In other words, we're talking about the whole idea that God demands absolute perfection, which, of course, is impossible to live up to, and the only answer is Christ.
To show that Heaven as a default destination for the pagan will not work, Platt puts his readers in the position of a missionary who tells a potential convert who previously has not heard of Christ, that before, he had an automatic ticket to heaven, but now that he's heard, he might go to hell! This last is a straw-man argument. I am not, and I doubt others are, suggesting that a person who has never heard that actual facts of Christ's life, death and resurection is going to heaven by default. Imagine: would King Montezuma of the ancient Aztecs go to heaven, after they sarificed hundreds upon hundreds of people to a pagan deity? What about Caligula, not to mention the other corrupt Romans who were into all manner of cruelty?
The inevitable reponse from a lot of Christians can almost be heard already. The moment you bring that up, the common response is, in general, that Christianity has nothing to do with behavior and everything to do with beleif. The whole "saved by grace, not works" thing. If you're an OSAS beleiver, then IF King Montezuma or Caligula had heard the right facts, and DID have a fleeting moment of genuine faith, then they both would be in heaven, and niether would even have had to repent! These two examples, the Aztecs and the Romans, show very clearly cultures dominated by sin-nature and in need of redemption by Christ. When it comes to those who have never heard, there is more of concern to missionaries -then promoting Christianity as a get-out-of-hell-free ticket. Which, by itself, will only appeal to self-interest.
But that's really the point, as far as Platt is concerned. What is really at stake when it comes to the position of Inclusionism (the belief that some may be saved apart from hearing the actual facts about Christ), is the fear factor. In other words, what really worries Platt and others like him is not so much that souls of the pagan will be otherwise lost, but the future of Christianity and Christian
culture in this life. If we were to tell a potential convert, for example, that he really should accept Christ, but he still can get to heaven if he doesn't, is he still apt to convert? Humans by nature, are conservative. And let's face it, the world is becoming increasingly secularized. The fear that one's culture is imperiled is understandable. However, Christ did not call his followers to be cultural warriors, and it is the fear of cultural anhililation that is, I beleive, behind the renewed insistence that those who have not heard are necessarily lost.
I have long taken the position of C. S. Lewis on this on. Lewis was an inclusionist, who took the position that virtuous pagan who ernerstly sought truth would make it to heaven, even if circumstances determined that he lacked the correct facts. In other words, it is the condition of one's that determines salvation, not access to the facts. The Word of God is written on each of our hearts as well as in the Bible.