Who gets saved?
What is the scope of salvation?
That seems to be the question and, surprisingly, it comes from an atheist.
JH McKenna, over at Humanist Plus, makes such an argument in his post titled, “If Christianity is True, Everyone is Saved”. He does a fair job of collecting the arguments, but I want to specifically interact with one part of his post.
He collects the arguments into a group called “all are saved”, and he states them rather succinctly. The first that he mentions goes like this:
[The] divine plan of salvation will have only snagged a fraction of the human race, barely a squad, which would hardly be a ‘successful’ scheme of salvation. Would we deem a rescue mission ‘successful’ that saved one person out of a quarter million?
I like to call this the “numbers game” objection because it defines “success” by numbers rather than God bestowing grace on the unworthy. The simple truth of the matter is this: no one deserves to be saved. The fact that anyone is saved is, for lack of a better term, a miracle. God can save a single, soul and it would be a success because he did it for no other reason than to demonstrate to his enemies that he could.
The second argument,
[The] devil wins in the end if the majority of humans are damned to hell.
Since Satan, or the Devil, is just as condemned as fallen man, he wouldn’t actually win. However, let’s say if this is the circumstance, then the Devil would only win if every fallen man wound up with him. If Satan’s intent was to drag the entire human race down, he fails, and fails utterly if God saves anyone.
[It] would be inaccurate to say Jesus died for the sins of the world. It would be more accurate to say Jesus died for the sins of those lucky enough to have gotten exposed to Christianity and believed it.
It would only be inaccurate if we take the Greek word translated as “world” to mean the entirety of humanity rather than the typical, biblical usage to refer to kinds of people. People aren’t saved by Christianity, they are saved by God’s grace, which he is free to extend to anyone who believes in him. Christ’s self-sacrifice satisfied God’s justice and wrath against sin. This argument is refuted by believers in the Old Testament who were saved by their faith, which is a gift of God, and nothing else. Christianity is merely the means, the fulfillment that God uses to draw men presently to himself. The direct refutation of this seems to be in Revelation 5:9-10, that says, “from every tribe and language and people and nation,” God has saved people.
Argument number four:
[There] are many moral and highly decent people in all other world religions and in no religion, and many of these are as/more moral than Christian believers in Jesus. Are Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, and Gandhi really in hell? And what of the good Cro-Magnon men and women whose lives were already nasty, brutish and short? Did they awake post-mortem to discover an infinitely worse future?
This objection assumes that good works are enough. The crucifixion account in Luke seems to undermine this assumption when one of the thieves is told that he will be in Paradise with Jesus because of a simple plea to be remembered. The other thief died still mocking. The thief who expressed faith, even in the simplest terms, was saved by grace and not by works, grace that was not extended to the other. Further, this is merely an appeal to human pride, which is ultimately saying, “I don’t need God.”
[There] have been numerous mentally ill people, and small children who died young, who could not possibly have understood what was at stake in the story of Jesus.
Here’s an attack on God’s justice. I take the biblical position on this: “the Judge of the earth will do what is right.” I’m not going to obligate God to save anyone. The fact that he does is merely a demonstration of his mercy, something else that God is by no means obligated to demonstrate. God is not a respector of persons. God can justly condemn anyone, whether they are 90 minutes or 90 years old. It is merely human hubris to assume that he cannot.
[There] are people who have been exposed to Jesus’ story, but the tellers of the story so mangled the story and behaved so badly that the hearers rejected the message along with the messengers.
Scripture says that God will hold those who distort his message responsible for it. What God requires is a simple faith in him, and nothing else.
[Being] un-exposed or under-exposed to requisite information should excuse from guilt. Most people never heard of Jesus, or if they did they had only the murkiest understanding of him. This it true of the present moment too. Even with our vast instruments of communication, most people on the planet know nothing or very little of Jesus. (Again: What if Americans’ salvation depended upon knowing all about the Hindu God Ganesh?)
It’s not about knowledge. Man is guilty before God because of what he does and not what he knows. Scripture is clear, man has enough knowledge of God from the creation to not only know that God exists, but to also give thanks to him, and live righteously before him. Man, however, suppresses this knowledge and does what is unrighteous.
[It’s] inhumane and unjust to damn all people for the crimes of Adam and Eve. Our human systems of jurisprudence don’t believe in inherited guilt, and therefore we don’t punish or execute children for the offenses of parents—or great great grand parents.
This is a variation on the previous argument. Adam’s sin, as the representative of humanity before God, serves to demonstrate man’s creaturely nature and how just and merciful God can be with his creatures, but every man is ultimately responsible for their own sin. We sin because we are Adam’s descendants and it takes a work of God to transfer fallen man into the kingdom of Faith in Christ.
[Since] God has been called ‘all merciful’ it would be consistent with God’s mercy to forgive and save everyone.
This objection seeks to place God’s merciful nature in contra-position to his holiness and justice. God is not obligated to show mercy; however, he is obligated to punish unrighteousness. God could, at the very moment a sin is committed, bring his wrath to bear on the offender but he extends mercy, withholding that which he could rightfully and justly bring to bear. Forgiveness is an act of mercy, but mercy isn’t enough, because there’s a debt that needs to be paid. God chooses to bestow grace upon those who deserve his wrath, and pays the debt himself through the self-giving of Christ.
[Since] Jesus told his students to forgive the same offender 490 times (70 x 7, he said), it would be consistent with this rule for God to forgive all of humanity.
This is one of those instances where the context of the passage matters as well who was speaking. Let’s be clear, God is not obligated to forgive anyone anything. In the parable from which this teaching is drawn and butchered to make this argument, the point is that one person was forgiven a tremendous debt but, rather in spite of the mercy that he is shown, goes and assaults a fellow servant for a considerably smaller debt. The point is to mirror the mercy and forgiveness that has been shown. What is missed is that in not reflecting the mercy shown to him onto his fellow servant, the former servant has his entire debt reestablished and full payment was required. The mercy shown was rescinded because of ingratitude. It would then be inconsistent of God not to judge in righteousness because an image bearer would be rejecting the forgiveness that has been offered.
Now, I’m going to pause here because the final objection that is raised requires a post of its own, because it deals with the concept of what “all” means in a specific context, so it will require some serious exegesis of the text to unpack and this particular post is long enough. So, stay tuned for part 2.