Are Non-Christians Really Going To Hell?

hell(H/T)

As he so often does, Mark Driscoll shared something on social media that got some folks (like me) pretty riled up.

Shocking, I know.

Anyway, here’s a screen grab from Facebook of what he said.

Screen Shot 2014-01-10 at 1.04.13 PM

For many Christians, this is the gospel summed up in 140 characters or less – Jesus came to make people Christians and if you don’t explicitly become a Christian, then you’re damned to an eternity in hell.

Even the slightest hesitation at affirming this message is painted by those who hold to this position as heresy of the most vile kind. But is it really?

Are non-christians really going to hell?

Now, before your evangelical upbringing takes over, shuts down your higher cognitive functions, and you denounce me as a heretic in the comments section, I ask that you pause before sentencing me to hell to consider a few things – a few Biblical things.

Let’s assume for a second that Driscoll is right and non-Christians are going to hell. What would be the implications of that be, biblically speaking?

Well, for starters, that would mean that everyone in the Old Testament is going to hell because not a single one of them were Christians, none of them had ever even heard of the name of Jesus, and not one of them were anticipating Jesus to come and save them from their sins – because they already had a sacrificial system to take care of their atonement for them.

So, because the Old Testament saints didn’t make a confession of Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, Abraham, Moses, David, Ruth, and all the rest must be burning in hell, right?

But things get even trickier in the Old Testament when we consider the cases of Enoch and Elijah. According to the Bible, both men – neither of whom were Christians – were taken by God directly to heaven. Which leaves us with a pretty clear conundrum – either the Bible is wrong and they actually went to hell or we’re wrong and maybe, just maybe there are non-Christians in heaven.

Now, by the time we get to the New Testament, things get really awkward for our non-Christians are going to hell gospel.

You might recall a fellow named Jesus. He was a Jew. Born a Jew. Lived as a Jew. Crucified as a Jew. Rose again as a Jew.

Never a Christian.

Does this mean Jesus is going to hell too because he never renounced Judaism and accepted himself as his personal Lord and Savior? Because if so, then things are going to be really really awkward in heaven.

But that’s a huge rabbit hole to go down. So, for the sake of the argument, let’s say Jesus gets to go to heaven even though he wasn’t a Christian. Fair enough? Great.

Well, what did Jesus have to say about the eternal destiny of non-Christians?

Now, before you jump the gun and join Driscoll in a rousing chorus of non-Christian damnation, consider this – Jesus never said non-Christians are going to hell anywhere in any of the gospels. In fact, he never talked about Christians at all, no one did until, according to the book of Acts, after Pentecost. You would think if “become a Christian or go to hell” was actually the heart of the gospel, Jesus would have said so.

But he didn’t.

Ever.

Even after Pentecost, Paul never makes the claim that non-Christians are going to hell in any of his letters. Sure, he talks about the ungodly and the pagans, but if ungodly means non-Christian, then Jews would fall under that umbrella and, considering Paul thought Christians were being grafted into Israel, then we’ve got a serious and confusing problem on our hands.

And before we go arguing that the damnation of other non-Christians is implied, we should remember that Paul was a pretty good theologian who said what he thought. If he believed all non-Christians were damned to hell, you would think the greatest theologian in the history of the church would have taken the time to mention such an important point in no uncertain terms.

Instead, he says radical, anti-exclusivist things like “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Not exactly the words of a man damning people to hell.

But, isn’t that “our Lord” part important? And while we’re at it, sure the word “Christian” doesn’t appear in the gospels, but doesn’t it basically just mean a follower of Jesus, “our Lord?”

I’m glad you brought that up, because this is where things get really messy in our quest to damn non-Christians to hell.

What exactly does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?

Are you really a follower of someone because you claim to be with your words or because you demonstrate it with your life? Does saying a special prayer make you a follower or does doing the sorts of things Jesus did make you his follower?

If it’s the latter, then we’re in a little less murky water with the Old Testament since we could argue that many of the saints in those books did the sorts of things followers of Jesus would do.

But that still leaves us in a sticky situation when it comes to all those tax collectors and Samaritans and Roman soldiers and Jews that Jesus seemed to welcome into the kingdom because they were willing to follow where he led. And that’s to say nothing of people today who incarnate the love and grace of Jesus in ways distinctly reminiscent of the teacher from Nazareth, yet who never claim his name. They embody Jesus in a way very similar to those in the Old Testament who knew nothing about Jesus. Would Jesus really treat them differently than the tax collectors, Samaritans, Roman soldiers, and Jews of his day? If he did, wouldn’t that make him more than a bit of a hypocrite?

So, once again, we find ourselves in a bit of a conundrum – either Jesus was wrong and there are no non-Christians in the kingdom of God or we’re wrong and maybe, just maybe they’re not all burning in hell after all.

But we’re saved by faith alone, you say.

Well, that’s actually Luther, not the Bible. Likewise, faith = intellectual ascent is also not the Bible. It’s evangelicalism. The sort of faith the Bible talks about is faithfulness to God through a particular way of life. It’s why all the heroes in that famous chapter in Hebrews are listed as heroes of the faith because they were faithful with their lives, not because they agreed to a list of ideas – or even because they declared the name of a person they never heard of as their personal Lord and Savior.

Now, not for a moment does this negate Jesus’ declaration that he is the only way to the Father. It simply expands that exclusivity beyond the contrived parameters we place upon it. It expands the centrality of Jesus beyond our demands that people openly and explicitly acknowledge that we’re right about everything. If this isn’t true that people can come to the Father through Jesus without actually declaring themselves to be Christians, then we have no way to account for the salvation of those in the Bible who never claimed Jesus as Lord.

So if that’s true, if the Bible does indeed make space in heaven for those who never claimed the name of Jesus before he was born and if Jesus made space in the kingdom during his ministry for people who never claimed to be Christians and if there are people today living out the life of Jesus though, like their Old Testament counterparts, they know him not, then we need to be extremely careful about making absolute damnation claims about people the Bible doesn’t seem so interested in damning to hell.

In other words, when we go around declaring the damnation of non-Christians, the only thing we accomplish is that we end up making a huge mess of the entire Bible.

All of that to say, despite what so many like to claim, telling people they’re going to hell is not an act of love. It’s just arrogant and judgmental.

It’s the work of Pharisees who think they control the keys to eternity.

So, are non-Christians going to heaven?

Well, according to the Bible at least two are (Enoch and Elijah), three if you count Jesus.

Beyond that, I have no idea who is or isn’t going to heaven because I’m not God.

And neither does Mark Driscoll or anyone else.

God is the only one that gets to decide our eternal fate, which is why Jesus told us to judge not when it comes to heaven and hell because the same charity we afford in our judgment of others will one day be extended towards us. And since extending charity to people we don’t like or disagree with is something most of us are pretty terrible at, it’s probably a good idea that we heed Jesus’ words and stop declaring who is and who isn’t going to heaven.

Otherwise, the day may come when we, not they, are the ones who find ourselves warm and toasty.

Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt

  • pastordt

    Well, amen! We don’t know, we cannot know, we don’t need to know. We need to live the Jesus life, period. And as C.S. Lewis – and even Jesus himself – remind us – there are sheep in the flock that we don’t know. And we’ll all be a little bit surprised when we get there. And that is a very, very good thing. The less time we spend worrying about who’s in and who’s out, the more time we have to let the Spirit do deep work in us, changing us more and more into the image of God, helping us to live the gospel where we are. Thanks so much for this.

  • Leigh Ann

    Micah –
    Fabulous article – I’ve thought the same for quite a while now. Jesus and the Old Testament “heroes” (as they’re so commonly termed) were Jews. I’ll go ahead and open a can of worms and mention that 3 faiths pray to the God of Abraham – Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. I’m pretty sure that some people are going to be thoroughly shocked when they enter through the pearly gates of Heaven and see lots of folks they didn’t anticipate seeing! Saying all that – I have a question that maybe you can help with. In John 14:6, Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but through me”. This is a verse that many Christians use to “prove” Christianity is the only way. Is this a context or translation issue? I’m always a little stumped by this one when someone brings it up. Thanks!

    • Leigh Ann

      Well – two things to clarify. One – I know your name is Zack not Micah. I had just read a Micah Murray tweet and wrote his name instead. Oops! Two – I said “Muslim” is the name of a body of faith. Before I get yelled at by other commentators, I do realize that the faith is Islam and the followers are Muslim. My brain sometimes outruns my fingers…

      • ZackHunt

        I’ll forgive you, but just this once. :)

    • Brian Pike

      Hey Leigh Ann! May I add my two cents about this verse? I have thought about this verse a lot over the years and I would love to share an ‘aha’ moment during one of my readings a few years back of this that speaks to the context.

      In evangelical circles, this verse is seen as Law the vast majority of the time… “you have to believe in Jesus, and only in Jesus if you want to get to ‘heaven’…” Notice the extremely high emphasis on what we have to do in order to be saved. Obviously, this stems from the word ‘but’ or ‘except’ and alas, I cannot speak to how faithfully that word is translated from the Greek.

      However, taken in context, you have to also look at the end of the previous chapter: John 13:31-38. In this passage, Jesus tells his disciples that he won’t be with them much longer, nor can they go where he is going. Understandably, this freaks the disciples out! As Thomas says in 14:5, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

      And of course we get to Jesus’ answer in the next verse(s). “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Judging from the disciples’ questions, is this a heavy-handed response, or a sympathetic response?

      I see it as a sympathetic response. Jesus is telling his disciples and us, that in this confusing world that offers many paths to follow that supposedly lead to Life, he is simply stating that when we follow him, we need not doubt that we are on the path to Life. Seen this way then, I find it hard to believe that Jesus is precluding any other pathways to Life. He is simply saying that “if you’re lost, follow me and you’re going in the right direction.”

      This way then, this verse is all Gospel – what Christ has done for us! This verse is to give us a sense of peace rather than a club to beat people on the head with. This response from Christ is supposed to foster a sense of inclusiveness and welcoming rather than continue the notion that this Life is quite exclusive and available only for those on the inside. And alas, it taking this verse and leaving it to stand-alone like this speaks to the Biblical illiteracy that seems to be pervading our Christian world today.

      Any thoughts?

      • Leigh Ann

        Brian –
        Thanks for your comment – and yes, this makes sense to me. I’ve never thought it was as cut and dry as people made it out to be, but I’ve never been able to put it into words. I agree – I do see it more as a sympathetic response rather than a cut-and-dry “this is the only way you’re going to Heaven” response. Thanks again!

  • Michael P

    “You might recall a fellow named Jesus. He was a Jew. Born a Jew. Lived as a
    Jew. Crucified as a Jew. Rose again as a Jew.”

    What happened after he was crucified? He didn’t just jump to rising again.

    I like this article, but you missed a big point here because Jesus did go to hell. But what both you and Driscoll missed is that Jesus being fully God and all defeated sin and death.

    • ZackHunt

      Actually, the earliest form of the Apostles’ Creed doesn’t include the clause “descended into hell” nor is there anything in scripture that explicitly says he went there. There are passages like 1 Peter 3:18-20 that talk about Jesus preaching to souls in prison, but that doesn’t necessarily mean hell, at least not as we use the term today.

      All that to say, Jesus might have, he might not have, but I don’t think Jesus visiting hell has any significant bearing on the point of this post which was simply that we are not in a place to judge who goes where and doing so can create massive problems in the Bible.

      • Michael P

        Don’t avoid the subject Zack!

        I agree the biggest issue is that we try to sum up our lives and the lives of others into the 140 characters like you said. Everything is so big because we are all connected now, and it becomes easier to disconnect ourselves by compartmentalizing entire groups of people and you said correctly, judge them, and I’ll add, without a trial.

      • Jon

        Jesus could not go to hell, as in eternally separated from God, since he is God! Further preaching to the souls in hell would do no good, their fate sealed. Instead the creeds talk of Sheol and hades. Basically the place of the dead. Likely all the dead were in one place with the righteous in Abraham’s bosom awaiting the opening of heaven by Christ and that is the message that was preached.

      • Karen

        You may, or may not, realize there is a thoroughly developed tradition in the Eastern Orthodox Church about what it means that Jesus was in the grave/Hades/Sheol (in creedal terms, “descended to hell”). Here, God, the Son “rested” in the grave on the Sabbath, having finished His work on the Cross. There’s an excellent book, Christ, the Conqueror of Hell, by Bp. Hilarion Alfeyev of the Russian Orthodox Church that expounds the historical understanding of this aspect of the meaning of Christ’s death, as it developed in the Church, East and West.

    • Matt Lukowitz

      So if Jesus did go to hell, then why did he? Because he was not a Christian? Because he was Jewish? I think the point still stands to show the absurdity of Driscoll’s statement.

      • Michael P

        Agreed. All in all it’s not a salvation issue. What happens after our death and what happened before Jesus’ coming will never be a salvation issue. It’s what our response to his salvation and grace is, that will save us.

      • B

        Jesus descended into hell because the weight of our sin makes any individual unrighteous before God. There is none righteous, so thank Jesus that he came and covers us. He is all God sees when he looks at us. Without the sacrifice of Christ our sin would necessarily separate us from the love of God, just as the human Christ was separated in death for three days from the face of the father. What then did Jesus die for if not to save us from the crops that sin harvests? The wages of sin are death. God is loving and the majority of his grace is not understood by us, but let’s not forget that Jesus didn’t just come here to say “hi, please live better.”

  • Jon

    …..but his holiness pope Marc said so!!

    Barf

    Such a great commentary Zach! You know as an evangelical, the question of “what about the Old Testament figures before Jesus” or “what about people who have no opportunity for hearing about Jesus” are questions every 10 year old child asks, only to be dismissed and corrected in a convoluted way. Instead perhaps we should take notice of the plainness of the theological error!

  • daryl carpenter

    The venerable Old Testament characters aren’t burning in hell because hell probably hadn’t been invented at the time. But then neither had the concept of heaven. Heaven and hell may have been borrowed from Persian religions such as Zoroastrianism, which Jews would have in contact with during the Babylonian exile and beyond. In most of the Old Testament people simply died (they went and ‘slept with their fathers’). A book such as Daniel begins to hint at concepts such as the afterlife, but a lot of people see that book as one of the last written in the OT.

    As you mention, they’re are one or two exceptions, like Enoch and Elijah (also perhaps Moses, who in later traditions was taken up in heaven without dying. This might explain his appearance at the Transfiguration, because spirits of dead people don’t exist, right? But what about Samuel and the witch of Endor? Oh just shut up will you…)

    Whatever the case, if Driscoll is the type of person in heaven I’m not sure I’d want to be there anyway.

  • Ryan

    Thanks for the post. It might be helpful if you defined your understanding of what evangelicals mean when they say “Christians”. Also, it seems that the primary focus is that OT people went to heaven, therefore the Driscoll statement is false. However, I would assume that Driscoll’s statement inferred that only Christians go to heaven after the death and resurrection of Christ. Just curious if you could make arguments for your point if you define “Christian” and refine the Jews went to heaven arguments.

  • Scott Lipsey

    Does anyone go to hell and if so what is the condition that they are eternally judged on?

  • Rebecca Erwin

    Great points! I am glad to know I am not alone in this boat. All I know is I am loved by God, saved by Jesus and sealed with the Holy Spirit. How I love that redemptive work IS my only responsibility.

  • I’m so nooma, bro.

    Why do Christians think they are going to Heaven when they die? Is it John 14? Don’t you have to read in quite a few assumptions to come to that conclusion? Is it because the promise of everlasting life must mean going to God’s big home in the sky with football and lots and lots of food?

    And what is hell? Is that a literal place? Is it below our surface? Have we just converted hades/Sheol/Tartarus from the Bible into being the devil’s home where people that don’t have Jesus in their heart go after they die? And do they physically go or do just their “souls/inner beings” go?

    Would it be okay to be simply agnostic on the afterlife and just focus on the one you have now, while you have it?

    • Elexa Dawson

      “Why do Christians think they are going to Heaven when they die?”

      I’d really like to hear anyone’s answer to this question. I have only recently realized that the biblical presentation of the good news is not primarily about going to heaven.

    • Justin Mitchell

      I guess one good argument for it is Luke 23:43

      “41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
      42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. ”
      43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”"

    • The nooma bro guy again

      It’s great to be asking these questions. Salvation in the Bible is rarely about the afterlife. In the OT especially, salvation is much more of liberation, or coming home after exile. In the NT, among any things, it is a new life, in the here and now, with Christ. Salvation, biblically, is deliverance from outside forces, but also a new life within funded by God.

  • Rachel

    I really want to make sense of this. It speaks to some questions I’ve been struggling with lately. But it also pushes against what I’ve been taught all my life. So here’s my question – very sincerely asked – What about the classic “salvation verse” John 3:16? How does it fit in here?

    • Jon

      It fits in as one verse among thousands. We need to read the Bible as a whole and look at the whole thing. Read the gospels, Jesus talks almost entirely about a faith with actions. Belief is only the beginning not the end. I’d encourage you to explore Catholic theology on this. They do an excellent job presenting a holistic view of scripture.

    • I’m still so nooma, bro.

      So is salvation going to heaven/not going to hell? That may be a better question to ask yourself.

      • Rachel

        That is what I’m asking. What makes someone “lost”? How do they “perish”?

        • Noomabro guy

          It’s great to be asking these questions. Salvation in the Bible is rarely about the afterlife. In the OT especially, salvation is much more of liberation, or coming home after exile. In the NT, among any things, it is a new life, in the here and now, with Christ. Salvation, biblically, is deliverance from outside forces, but also a new life within funded by God.

    • Flaxen Saxon

      I am so glad I’m an atheist and don’t have to answer such insane conundrums. There is no god. Accept it and start enjoying your life unfettered by religious nonsense.

      • http://leakingmommybrains.blogspot.com/ Rachel Rogel

        Too late for anything to be simple for me.

  • Greg Dill

    When I get to heaven, I shall see three wonders there. The first wonder will be to see many people there whom I did not expect to see; the second wonder will be to miss many people whom I did expect to see; and the third and greatest wonder of all will be to find myself there. (John Newton)

  • daryl carpenter

    It’s unloving to not say that

    Anyone who uses split infinitives is going to hell.

    /grammar nazi

  • daryl carpenter

    Are Non-Christians Really Going To Hell?

    Whilst I admit there’s a lot of ambiguity about the language and concepts Jesus uses in the passages when he talks about ‘hell’ (is it Hades, Sheol or Gehenna? Is the torture eternal?), and I agree that very little that Paul says implies a postmortem place of torture (most of the epistles seem to view a type of annihilationism: ‘the wages of sin is death’, i.e. death, not a place of conscious torment, just death,), to disagree with the idea that non-Christians are going to hell is seriously going against historical Christianity over the last two millennia. Were all the great Christian thinkers, Catholic and Protestants alike, wrong about such a crucial a concept?

    Now, I’m not saying every single person over the centuries have thought the same thing. (I believe Origen, perhaps the first great Christian intellectual, late in his life espoused something close to universalism, which made some suspect he was a heretic – in fact, that’s probably why he isn’t Saint Origen) but are people comfortable about saying the church messed up on something so important? If so, what currently cherished and ‘inviolable’ pieces of doctrine could generations later than are own possibly dismiss as misguided or downright wrong?. The incarnation? The resurrection? The idea of heaven itself?

    • Karen

      Daryl,

      I’ve looked at the historic record on some of the issues you raise (universalism, the incarnation, resurrection, heaven, etc.) in some detail over the past few years.

      From what I now understand from current and past teaching in the Eastern Orthodox tradition (which is arguably relatively more stable dogmatically and more consistent in its practice and teaching over the centuries with those of the earliest Christians than the churches in the West, whether RC or Protestant), by the 5th century, a version of universalism attributed to Origin (there is some debate, apparently, about whether this was really what he taught) that followed pagan beliefs of Origen’s time, was rejected because it taught the “pre-existence” of souls and many incarnations of the same–basically a form of reincarnation–so it was not what modern Christians understand by Universalism that was dogmatically and officially rejected in the historic Councils of the Christian Church. (Sorry for that long sentence!) Belief in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ have been stable in the EO tradition for 2,000 years. There is no reason to suppose that this will change. By orthodox Christian definition (again from those earliest centuries), any religious groups purporting to be “Christian” and teaching something different about these things than was taught at the time of the formation of the ancient Creeds (e.g., Apostles’, Nicene), is not genuinely “Christian” but is, in fact, some other faith misusing the name. I doubt Zack would disagree with this.

  • blueshawk

    Conceivably heaven is being fully alive and aware in Christ without the limits of these bodies and the dimness of our vision. Maybe the wonders of Christ that can be known and experienced now are small and partial compared to seeing God face to face. Maybe the greatness of what is yet to be blinds us to the hell that this world already is, and more so when grace is no longer present. The torment of hell for a non christian may not be any active torture on the part of God, but their continued eternal existence as they are apart from Christ without even the grace that God extends now. Sometimes think that the comforts that the church has here in the US blind us to how things really are in God’s view, and how good they will be when all things are according to Christ.

  • Kevin C. Neece

    So, here’s what a dear friend of mine wrote in response when I sent her this article. I heartily agree that your use of Scripture is minimal and sloppy, as is your apparent understanding of what little you directly reference. Here are her words:

    “I’m not jiving with this article. The author seems to have a low regard for Scripture as he does not quote it accept once…and then out of context. Jesus spoke about Hell more than anyone in the Bible and says that people, apart from His righteousness granted to them through belief in Him, go to Hell, are condemned, and face God’s wrath…( Matt. 25: 46) (Luke 16: 19-31) (John 3:18), and John talks more about this condemnation apart from Christ in (John 3:36.) Old Testament believers did anticipate and speak about a coming Christ…they believed God and were given His righteousness by faith through grace…see Gal. 3. 6-9. (Rom. 4:11). Old Testament believers went to Paradise, where Jesus said he and the crucified man who believed in him would go before Christ rose and went to the Father (Luke 23: 43). And salvation by faith through grace is not just Luther…It’s Paul (Eph. 2: 8-9), Peter (Acts 4:12), (2 Peter 1: 2-4), John (1 John 5:1) and Jesus (John 5:24) (John 11:26). Works demonstrate the authenticity of the believer’s regenerated life…a regeneration that occurs because of the Holy Spirit. Warning people that Hell is real and those who do not love Him are going there is loving. I don’t damn people to Hell, but I do tell people that Hell is real and Jesus is the believer’s salvation. He became my sin, and I became His righteousness. The wrath of God is a quality of God that is as much a part of His holiness as His love. And the cross and Hell are the places where the wrath of God are seen in holiness. When Paul talks about nothing being able to separate me from the love of God in Christ…(Rom. 8:38-39) which is the only verse I saw in this article…Paul is speaking to believers who are being slaughtered because they are telling non-believers that Jesus is the way to God…the verse does not apply to non-Christians. As a lover of Jesus, nothing separates me from His love because I am in Christ…where all God’s love is poured out on His Son. Those who do not have the Son do not have life. They have Hell.”

    • ZackHunt

      Thank you for sharing, but it is not my use of scripture that is sloppy. Your friend does a great job of representing sloppy biblical scholarship by presenting a decidedly modern evangelical take on scripture as if that was the definitive meaning of the passages she quotes when not only is it often not the case, but in some instances it is blatantly and demonstrably false – “Old Testament believers did and speak about a coming Christ.”

      As for the minimal accusation, my lack of proof texting doesn’t mean scripture is lacking from my post. It saturates the entire post, which you would recognize if parenthetical citations weren’t your requirement for use of Scripture.

      Proof texting with scattered passages doesn’t demonstrate Bible grounding. It simply demonstrates her/your/anybody’s ability to use a concordance (or Google).

      • Kevin C. Neece

        I’m going to be honest Zack. I thought this post was a joke until I got about halfway through and realized you were serious. Though I tracked with some of what you said toward the end, on the whole, your reasoning is loose and unsupported. You do not cite any specific Scriptures and when you do, you ignore their audience and context. Until you can come up with something more solid than denigrating someone for a) having a theology you disagree with and b) actually citing sources in their work, I’ll take it that we can’t have a productive conversation.

        • Jeff Bys

          I think Zach’s post is a great example of The American Jesus…a theological discussion without the use of scripture.

        • Jim

          I do have to agree with Zach that he did use a lot of scripture in his post. He just didn’t quote any. That’s fine. It would have been nice to get some references, so we could go look up what he’s references. However, lots of scriptural references in this post.

          • Jeff Bys

            What Zach offered up was commentary, not scripture. With the lack of actual scripture connected to the points trying to be made, what comes through loud and clear to me is Zach’s disdain for Driscoll and all who agree with him. Any reasoned theoligical argument that may be present in this post is fuzzy to me with the lack of connection to actual scripture. If the purpose of the post was to get a few attaboys from folks who already agree with Zach, then ok…I guess it makes sense. But if the intent was to help others see clearly where Zach feels they are wrong, I just don’t see how he has done that.

          • Jim

            I agree that it is commentary, but isn’t anything we write commentary? Zach references a lot of scripture without quoting it. I know where nearly all of his references came from in the Bible, except for some of the references about Jesus. I did have to try and guess at those. While it would have been more helpful for us as the reader to include references, I don’t think we can dismiss his arguments simply because he didn’t quote scripture. Part of arguing for biblical theology is doing it from patterns in the Bible rather than from specific verses. I think this is what Zach is doing. I disagree with his conclusion, because I think he mishandles the patterns of the Bible. However, that is a very different argument than saying this: You didn’t quote scripture, so I don’t have to listen to you.

          • Jeff Bys

            Agreed. On all counts. And I would not argue that “you didn’t quote scripture, so I don’t have to listen.” It’s more like “you didn’t quote scripture, so I have a hard time understanding you.” I actually often find myself listening more intently to those who disagree with me than those who agree with me. I don’t pretend that all of my beliefs are correct, and I try to understand those who believe differently than I do. Zach clearly had scripture in mind when he wrote this, but, as you say, I believe he mishandles the patterns of the Bible….or what we can know about God based on His Word. I am also aware that many people believe what Zach seems to believe on this particular subject. I just have trouble understanding how Zach can read the same Bible as me and come to the conclusion he does. I just think, if his intent in this post is to teach and rebuke, that it would be helpful to clearly tie his beliefs to the scriptures from which he draws those beliefs and help us understand how he came to that conclusion. When I read his post, I just don’t see where he offers up to those who disagree with him solid reasoning as to why we should change our mind…drawing clear ties to scripture may do that. I don’t know…perhaps he is more clear than I am thinking and I just don’t see it because I believe differently than he does.

          • Cassie Chang

            Yeah funny that. It’s not as if Christians have had disagreements for the last three thousand years.

        • Andrew Bossardet

          Could we talk briefly about what it means to “use Scripture?” I am going to point to a far better writer than me for some of the answer: http://natepyle.com/stop-using-the-bible/ But I will comment that I agree with Zack’s take that “using Scripture” does not mean “citing Scripture.” Allusion and rich integration mean far more to me than simple citation. Part of it, Kevin, is that proof-texting is less contextual than having an appreciation for the breadth of Scripture. Then again, “you don’t understand the context” is a knee-jerk response in Evangelicalism, loosely translated to “I disagree,” so maybe serious Bible students ought to consider that “context,” while extremely useful, is better to give us a range of meaning than an exact “right” meaning.

          As to the article itself, I liked it in the question it asked. I don’t think using the “Jesus as Jew” argument is particularly compelling, nor is the Old Testament argument my favorite (both can be argued around pretty well). However, the argumentation that focuses on what the Bible says in its breadth about hell is extremely compelling. Thank you!

      • OwenW

        “by presenting a decidedly modern evangelical take on scripture” – Classic tactic of exegetical arguments: explain the other argument as being defined by some other narrative and you thus implicitly prove that it is not correct but a controlled, distorted reading. A subtle form of the ad hominem fallacy.

        Furthermore, claims of “prooftexting” is an easy to go way to denounce an oppositional argument. It is almost as common as Godwin’s Law.

        How about engaging in Scriptural discussion and SHOWING, rather than trying to invalidate the argument by trite but superficial criticisms? Maybe the evangelical reading is in error, but your response to invalidate without substance does little to actual change the conversation.

      • Nicolynn

        First, Old Testament believers did speak about a coming Christ. They received & wrote prophecies of his coming. Over 44 Old Testament prophecies.
        Secondly, I love what you said here “because they were faithful with their lives.” Thank you. That’s the true definition of Christianity.
        Lastly, I don’t mean to get technical, but the thing is there are major differences between the Old and New Testament, namely the fact that one is old and the other is new.

        My point being… things were done differently… they lived by the 10 commandments… God reserved His salvation for those He considered His people based on their acts (which again, takes us back to the 10 commandments, in theory, not literally b/c in Noah’s day there were no 10 commandments). Stay with me now, since the first sin of Adam and Eve, animals had been sacrificed to atone for His people’s sins. That’s how they got to heaven. Not just by their good acts, but by the blood of their animal sacrifices that were dedicated to God.

        Now in the New Testament, Jesus is the sacrifice. His blood covers His followers sins. Anyone who follows Him is saved. Hear me, follows Him. Not good deeds. Not a similar, but not quite walk. Jesus is THE way. There is NO other way. I wish you’d made that clear. Also Biblically, in the New Testament, good deeds won’t get you into heaven. Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Nothing you do yourself is going to save you.
        Now the grace and mercy found at the cross doesn’t give anyone license to freely sin. Repentance is an important factor in salvation. You’re meant to turn away from your sin, but Jesus blood is there for when you make a mistake, because we’re human.

        My point is, those without Jesus’ blood will perish. & yes, Biblically God has EVERY intention of making sure that everyone gets a shot at salvation. SO the hell speech is indeed necessary. There is a way to say it though… I wrote my dad a letter when I was 13… it said
        “Dear Dad,
        You’re going to hell…”
        *sighs* to this day, he won’t let me forget it.

    • Alex

      I agree with 90% of what you said. I do not think he failed to quote scripture- he just didn’t give verse and chapter numbers. He did misrepresent Ephesians 2:8-9 as a quote simply from Luther. However, overall I can understand the point of his article in this-Christianity as a religion is not the path to God. God is the path to God. I believe that when Jesus said in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart he rose from the dead, you will be saved.” You can be a non-Christian and believe this. Now, the whole notion of your works being the means by which you are saved by God is not true and goes contrary to God’s sacrifice on the cross. The whole of Romans is the explanation, to the Jews, that God’s law could not save man, that just by living right, which most Pharisees did, would not save man. It was only by worshiping the One true God. The works that man do are an evidence of that believe in God (1 John: 1-5) In short, I believe that God became flesh to be sacrificed as a ransom for many- Jew, Greek, pagan, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu- and that no mere works can save you. However, God did not come to establish a new religion but to liberate us from religion and a legalistic mindset. Also, what Mark Driscoll said was not love.

  • Karen

    Zack, I’d certainly agree there are many modern, unbiblical misconceptions of the nature of both “heaven” and “hell.” Certainly, language like Driscoll’s tends to perpetrate some of those misconceptions. I also agree that we can’t in any final sense know who will be tormented by a post-mortem encounter with the living God and who will find that encounter bliss because we can’t see into the heart of others nor know their end (what they will become) the way that God can, and so our language and judgments should reflect this reality. Scripture encourages us to think of ourselves as the chief of sinners and to imitate Christ in His humility (1 Timothy 1:15, Philippians 2:3) so if we live in the hope of heaven for ourselves (basing it on our awareness of God’s mercy and love revealed in Christ), surely we can hold that hope for others as well. This doesn’t mean we deny that hell/gehenna is the destiny of the unrighteous/unrepentant sinners.

    The first part of your post strikes me as satire. Who says the OT righteous didn’t believe in (trust and obey) Jesus, just because they didn’t know Him by that name? Whenever the Lord appears to OT believers (e.g., Genesis 12:7), the Fathers of the Church understood this as a pre-incarnate manifestation of God the Son. According to Scripture, no man can see the Father (or the Holy Spirit) or has seen Him at any time, but it is the Son who discloses/declares/reveals the Father (John 1:18, John 6:46, John 14:9). Every encounter human beings have with God, where the Lord manifests His physical presence in human form (e.g., Genesis 32:24, 30) is in and through God the Son–even in the OT. Obviously, this doesn’t mean the OT saints were privy to all the details about His (to them) future incarnation.

    Also, does Jesus really “go to” heaven in the sense we commonly understand such language? This doesn’t really make sense, given that all of us “live and move and have our being” in God, according to the Apostle Paul in Acts 17:28. Presumably this doesn’t change when we transition from this life to the next–we simply become aware of it on a whole new level. Jesus, though incarnate as a human being in time and space, in a mystery is also God, the Son, pre-existent from all ages and a member of the Holy Trinity. So, really, Jesus (God, the Son) IS Heaven. The Trinity is Heaven. Being “in Heaven” is not different than being in God’s Presence and Being.

    Also, doesn’t Mark 9:49 seem to imply every single one of us is “going to hell” as Jesus teaches it in this passage?

    Some food for thought about the nature of heaven and hell as understood by some first-milennium Orthodox Christians here:

    http://silouanthompson.net/2008/08/river-of-god/

  • Jim

    Interesting post. If I’m reading correctly, your post centers on two arguments: 1) No one in the Old Testament confessed Christ as Lord. 2) Jesus talked about the righteous inheriting eternal life and not about Hell. Is this an accurate reading of your post?

    1) While no one in the Old Testament could have said, “Jesus is my Lord,” in a sense, the saints of the Old Testament are Christians. I agree that it is anachronistic to put that label on anyone in the OT. However, the religion of the Old Testament finds its fulfillment and continuation in Christ and the Christianity that followed him. You reference Paul’s description of us being grafted onto the tree of Israel. In Christ, gentiles are grafted in. But You use this as proof that non-Christians can make it into heaven. While no one in the Old Testament would have claimed that name, they participated in the same faith. In the grafted tree metaphor, Paul also mentions how those who rejected Christ are cut off the tree of Israel. Christians, whether Jew or Gentile, are the inheritors of the Biblical faith that Christ himself had.

    2) Paul and Jesus often set up a split between the righteous and the unrighteous where the righteous inherit eternal life and the unrighteous do not. Your suggestion above seems to say that people who live love like Jesus did are the righteous. Yet Jesus’ standard is loving God with all your heart and all your strength and all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself. While there are some very good people in the world, none of us live up to that. Perhaps the Gospel of Matthew’s take on Jesus’ ministry is instructive here. Matthew shoes Jesus as Israel boiled down to one, who does everything Israel could not. Like Israel, He comes out of Egypt , crosses the Jordan, wanders in the wilderness of temptation, delivers the law from a mountain, et al. Jesus is the true Israel and the righteous servant of God that Israel couldn’t be. In baptism (for sacramental Christians like me- by faith for others), we are incorporated into Christ and receive his righteousness.

    When I preach, I say it like this: We are all destined for eternal damnation because we don’t live up to God’s design in our lives. However, God has given all humanity a way to escape that: Jesus Christ. Through incorporation into him in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we receive his righteousness and become resurrected human beings, restored in Him.

  • Brian White

    There’s a point to be made that, if the evangelical narrative of hell were real, Driscoll’s comment is absolutely right.

    I don’t think we talk enough about what it actually means to believe in hell and the disconnect between evangelical theology and practice. If hell is unending, unimaginable torture and you are going there forever unless you meet certain criteria before death, it would not just unloving but the greatest injustice not to spend every waking moment telling people. The youth pastor organizing hell houses, the people handing our Chick tracts, the people going door to door and talking about damnation are logically acting according to what most evangelicals believe.

    If one believes in the kind of hell Driscoll believes in, and they aren’t shaking their non-Christians friends and family about the collar until they confess Jesus as their Savior and are baptized, have they fully considered what horror they believe?

  • Abby Normal

    Just earlier today I was reading an article about nominally Christian “rehabilitation” camps where teenagers are pretty much systematically brainwashed and tortured to purge them of such sins as rebellious behavior. This is all, supposedly, done in order to save these kids from Hell.

    And then I realized that the history of Christianity is riddled with atrocities all done with the same intent–saving people from Hell.

    I’m not talking about Marky D being annoying or some loon handing out Chick tracts. You guys remember the Salem witch trials? The Inquisition? And now shady Christian rehab centers. Shoot, at least once a year I read in the news about some well-meaning parent that inadvertently starved their kid to death in the name of ensuring their ticket to Heaven.

    And for what? Trying to avoid a place that we don’t even have any objective proof of existing?

    What I would love to see is for more Christians to admit the truth–that we have absolutely no bloody clue what happens to anyone when they die. All we have been using as “proof” throughout the millenia has been a handful of vague, heavily disputed Bible verses that, in the end, prove nothing at all. That so many abuses can be traced back to this doctrine makes me want to scream.

  • Tom

    Let’s be real about all this. Jesus was not a Christian, nor was there such a thing as Christianity during his ministry. In all his references to hell, he doesn’t say if you are not a Christian you go to hell, because there is no Christian faith. He clearly states that you must be free of sin/live a pure life following his path and (being a Jew himself) the Ten Commandments. I don’t see why someone who is not a Christian can’t be just as pure as someone who is. I mean, how can any argument even exist when the construct of being a Christian is completely man-made by normal people decades after Jesus’s death? Jesus doesn’t/didn’t differentiate between Christians and Non-Christians, only those who followed a path similar to his and didn’t sin/repented when they did. Just saying. Good and valid points from both sides. And remember, honest discussion leads to better understanding, on both sides.
    God Bless

    • Lily

      I get what you mean, and in fact I agree mostly. However when you talk about being ‘free of sin/living a pure life’ that is IMPOSSIBLE on our own. In the context of this article, being a ‘Christian’ won’t get you into heaven, but I would add that being good, pure non-Christian won’t either because our righteousness is as filthy rags before God. When we receive God’s righteousness, as the old testament saints did, then we are welcome into His kingdom. The old testament saints longed for the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. Through His sacrifice we all can walk in God’s righteousness amen! But don’t be fooled, self-righteousness (counting your own works) is an insult to God.

  • JoeM27772

    People do make many excuses regarding Jesus Christ and Salvation. There are many variations of “Truth” in the world. That is for certain. Put any two pastors together, and it becomes a fight in the ring. Why? Because worldly religious education and church institutions are far from TRUTH. And they have the most influence over the masses. And this falls in-line with the false religion that scriptures have been exposing since they were written.

    You REALLY want to know TRUTH? You really want to know what GOD requires for eternal life?

    I highly recommend going to this website. Spend the day there and enlighten yourself. Then decide what you would like to believe.

    http://www.hallvworthington.com/Deficiencies.html

  • PB

    Hey Zack,

    So can I know if I am going to Heaven?

  • David Puleo

    Brother Zack Your article does a gross injustice to the bible. In fact, you didn’t even use the bible to support your argument. Your theory is based on works and if we are saved by our works then yes Non believers can go to heaven, However, we are saved by Grace. No good work we do can merit eternal glory! Lets look at what the bible says about this topic.

    “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things?” Luke 24:25, 26.

    The prophets spoke of Jesus. This is a clear example of the old testament believers awaiting the savior. If this isn’t explicit enough check this one out:

    Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad,” John 8:56

    Abraham saw the promise of God the Christ who would bear their iniquities

    By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities,” Isaiah 53:11

    Zack the bible is clear on this topic. The old testament believers believed in the promise and awaited it. To say they were not Christians is to not even deal with the issue. Were they believers? Yes! Let’s look at some more scripture brother.

    At that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world Ephesians 2:12

    Do you see being without Christ is to be without hope and to be without God.

    The center of the faith of old testament believers was the Messiah the Christ!

    There is none other name under heaven given unto men, whereby we must be saved,” but only by Christ, Acts 4:12.

    The faith is exclusive and holds Jesus above all others. Which I am sure you do not doubt or believe. However, I think your article is more law than it is Gospel and basin g it off a persons work rather than the work of Jesus Christ.

    The blessing of Abraham cometh on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ,” Galatians 3:14. “He that believeth not is condemned,” Mark 16:16. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” Hebrews 11:6. “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ,” 1 Corinthians 3:11.

    Only through Jesus Christ, do we have the promise that was given to Abraham
    Those who do not believe are in fact condemned regardless of how moral or noble they are.

    Those who have no faith in Christ cannot please God

    The foundation of our assurance is what Jesus did on the cross.

    I pray this article was helpful and I pray you study further to understand this truth of God making Christ the only way by faith and not by works or morality Jesus is not just our Example but he is our Savior!! Grace and peace!!

  • Melissa Toye

    Very compelling! I also found this post: http://scaredofhell.com/hellforbelievers.html that does give examples of scripture. I am pleased to find support for what I have long believed in my heart. Thank you. Thank you Zack!

  • Erika Kathleen

    this is stupid. first of all, you are ignorant of anything Biblical. you obviously need to study it more before you start acting as though you know for a fact that Jesus didn’t show up in the old testament (because he did)…secondly, did you really ask if Jesus who is God in the flesh was going to hell for not “receiving Himself as Lord and Savior?” 1st of all, He is God. 2nd, Jesus didn’t need a Savior like the rest of us because He is SINLESS. maybe next time you decide to mock Christianity you should study a little more first.