I want to take a brief break from a specific look at Matthew to ponder a thought or two related to the ramifications of some things I have heard in the evangelical tradition.
If you watched the most recent video, you’ll know that most people I talk to about hell and the idea of ultimate redemption will get to a point of saying, we don’t really know. We don’t really know all that God will do, or how He will deal with people that have had much less of an opportunity to respond to Him than I have, for example. We’re just trusting Him to do the right thing.
I agree. However, if that’s the case, I wondered in the video why we’re willing to accept, even embrace, within evangelicalism not only the traditional perspective of heaven and hell but also a view that would say the majority of people will go to hell, and not accept, or even tolerate, the suggestion that God might ultimately redeem everyone. If we don’t really know, it seems to me the possibility of ultimate redemption at least ought to be part of the discussion.
In the video I recounted the story of a guy from our denomination saying that our best estimates tell us that maybe ten percent of all people are actually born again. I told of a seminary professor who said he thought there would be fewer people in heaven than we think. So, not only do we accept a perspective that says the majority of people will go to hell, but we teach it to the next generation of future pastors.
Doesn’t that seem curious?
We train these future pastors to share their faith; we encourage them to be part of God’s mission in the world: “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” We say from our pulpits that the most important people at church are the next 100 that walk through the door. We have programs that reach out to our communities; we send missionaries to the “uttermost part of the earth.” And yet, for all our efforts to preach the gospel, for all our attempts at evangelism, for all the programs we create, the dollars we spend, and the missionaries we support, there will be fewer people in heaven than we think. Our efforts will be largely unsuccessful.
Shouldn’t that make us pause?
Of course the evangelical response to such an observation will be the story of the boy throwing starfish from the beach back into the ocean (It made a difference to that one) and I don’t discount that. We do care about each individual person. Each person’s life transformed by God’s power is significant. Every individual who realizes and accepts what Jesus has done for them is cause for celebration. Each discouraged person that finds hope, every sinner who finds forgiveness, every dead man who finds life is awesome!
But fewer people in heaven than we think? Most of our efforts for not? The majority of the human race ending up in eternal conscious torment? Jesus dies for everyone but only manages to save a very few?
Hmmm. . .
Maybe we should be willing to consider the possibility that God might continue to pursue people until He ultimately redeems everyone. Maybe at least we should be willing to accept that perspective within the discussion.
Because, despite the starfish, fewer people in heaven than we think is not good news.
Ultimate redemption is.
Really good news, really.
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