Will Everyone Be Saved?

A recent search of Christian bestsellers revealed, among others, the following titles: “Worthy: How to Believe You are Enough and Transform Your Life”, “Untangle Your Emotions: Naming What You Fear and Knowing What to do About It,” and a personal favorite, “Think This Not That: 12 Mindshifts to Breakthrough Limiting Beliefs and Become who You were Born to Be.” While empowering and potentially powerful, each of these books left something wanting. What was missing was a sense of fear and awe of the Almighty and His view of sin.

One area in which the Western Christian has largely become inured to some aspects of the Gospel message is in the fact that no one really talks about Hell anymore. Gone are the days of hellfire and brimstone preaching that invoked deep fear in the unbeliever, a message that was of value in evangelism. In fact in many Christian circles a belief is becoming more prevalent that no one has reason to fear the fires of Hell because everyone will be saved anyway. This is called Christian Universalism and is a mindset that undermines the Gospel and an orthodox view of the effects of sin and the promise of the eschaton.

It is easy for pastors and preachers today to leave out those teaching that are hard to hear, and to gloss over the more difficult parts of the Bible message. Often these conversations become uncomfortable and pastors are afraid they will lose their audience if they emphasize those things no one wants to hear. This is understandable. No one wants to consider the concept of eternal conscious torment and the desire in our society to reduce the harshness of Hell as a destination for unbelievers is tempting. However to do so is to take the easy road, not the difficult and narrow way that Christ has called His followers to walk.

The truth of the Bible is that Hell is a very real place and is the final eternal destination for those who do not put their faith in Christ. If this is scary, uncomfortable, and even abhorrent to our modern belief systems does not make it untrue, as much as we may want to believe so. Teachers such as Clark Pinnock and others have postulated that to believe a God of Love would also send unbelievers to a place of eternal anguish is unconscionable, therefore we must allow that God would not eternally punish sinners. He writes: “How can one imagine for a moment that the God who gave his Son to die for sinners because of his great love for them would install a torture chamber somewhere in the new creation in order to subject those who reject him to everlasting pain?” [1]

While we should never take away from the love of God, which defines His very nature and character, it is not mutually exclusive that God could simultaneously love His creation and be judgmental of sin in His holiness. Pinnock’s view of this angry deity who plans pain and torture for His creatures in the eternal future disregards some key aspects of God’s nature, namely that it is God’s love which has in fact provided a means of escape from that future. Millard Erickson notes: “We should also observe that God does not send anyone to hell….It is a human’s choice to experience the agony of hell. His or her own sin sends them there.” [2]

Thus it is the unbeliever’s commitment to their unbelief and a life of sin that results in eternal separation from the Father, for He is holy and cannot share space with unholiness. The Gospel message is that He made a way to remove the sin of His creatures, thereby rendering them capable of sharing His presence forever. You may ask: “What then of the people in the world who die without ever hearing the Gospel message? Is it fair for God to condemn them to hell?” No easy answer arises to that question but several considerations may be addressed. First, the creature cannot tell the infinite and omniscient God what is fair and what is not. Second, Romans 1 tells us that through general revelation God’s eternal power and divine nature are clearly and universally recognized. Paul does not explicitly state this revelation of God is capable to be salvific, but some room remains to read that passage in such a way. [3] Finally C.S. Lewis and others have posited the possibility that God accepts unknowing pagan worship as worship to Himself when the worshipper is otherwise ignorant of the One True God.

In short, this brief article is not intended to answer all the theological questions around the doctrine of Hell. Rather the intent is that the reader should recognize that the Biblical Hell is a very real and very terrible place from which everyone should be saved if possible. This is the Gospel and the responsibility of the believer. We know not everyone will be saved for at the final judgment some are brought to eternal life and some are cast into eternal punishment. No longer should the preacher gloss over those difficult and uncomfortable topics. If believers truly understand the Scriptures and recognize the necessity for God to distance Himself from sin in eternity, they should also feel the weight of the potential future of hell for unbelievers. In so doing they will also be emboldened to speak the truth, in hopes and prayer that their hearers will turn away from sin and to God, thereby avoiding that future conscious torment.

1. Quoted from Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology, rev. ed. Moody Publishers: Chicago, 2008
2. Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology, 3 rd ed. Baker: Grand Rapids, 2013.
3. From a Reformed perspective, general revelation may be seen as a means of efficacious grace (Enns). From an Arminian perspective, people are condemned not because they have not heard of God, as everyone has heard of God through the creation. Rather that they continue to reject God despite His revelation.

2 Comments on “Will Everyone Be Saved?”

  1. Hi Nathan: Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I have been pondering the idea (or reality) of hell a lot lately…even thinking of producing a documentary on it. I wrote and produced the feature films “Translated’ and “God on Trial”. Even though I graduated from EBC in 1975, I had so much mixed feelings about hell, that I couldn’t sign an agreement on the Open Bible doctrine which included eternal damnation/suffering. I thought this quote you cited was typical of the attitudes expressed by evangelicals like RC Sproul and Lee Strobel: “Millard Erickson notes: “We should also observe that God does not send anyone to hell….It is a human’s choice to experience the agony of hell.
    With all due respect, 99% of human beings IMHO will do almost anything to avoid pain and agony…I think it is ludicrous to think that any human being would willingly, knowing the consequences, choose an existence of eternal suffering…. much, much more could be said, but at this point I would tend toward annihilation as a synonym for “perish”…only God possesses immortality and I can’t see Him condoning immortal agony.

  2. Jerry thanks so much for your comment. I agree with you about the near impossibility of coming to grips with Eternal Conscious Torment. I did not get into it too far in this small piece but a Scriptural argument can be made for a separation of the torment of hell after the judgement that follows this life vice the Final Judgement. I would like to believe that souls in Hades (or in Hebrew, Sheol) may be allowed to reconsider the choices made in this life after the taste of temporary punishment. However that is difficult to synch with passages like Matthew 25, where phrases such as “eternal fire” and “eternal punishment” (ESV) are used in the context of the Final Judgement. I would welcome your thoughts further on this topic. Of course we must be true to the text while simultaneously working to wrap our minds around very difficult topics. You are welcome to respond here or engage further through email: nathanamerson@newhope.edu.

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