In an article a few months ago, Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote: “For many people in the world, the gospel will be bad news.” Later, this: “For them, the gospel is bad news because it describes who joins God in His eternal kingdom and who spends an eternity in hell.” Later, this, with respect to who should “proclaim the gospel to all peoples: Every believer and every church.”
Rankin insists that those who don’t even have a chance to “hear and believe” are doomed and that those “even in our own society” who hear but don’t believe are also doomed to hell. Therein lies the problem with what believers in general, especially evangelicals, see as their prime reason for spreading the gospel, i.e., saving people from hell.
Those who share Rankin’s belief present a gospel so bereft of logic and divine sensitivity as to be incomprehensible if not outright ridiculous/sadistic. For fundamentalists, Rankin’s proposition is actually negated by their belief in predestination, foreordination, foreknowledge or fore/pre-anything endemic to the “foundation of the world,” since God has initiated and changed courses within the creation numerous times, well-documented in scripture. God would not have planned before the creation for the times he would change his mind after the creation…just plain common sense.
For those who don’t share Rankin’s inflexible claim but believe that those who hear and reject also are doomed, common sense dictates the better course should be never exposing anyone to the gospel, thus making sure no one rejects it and inherits hell in the bargain, i.e., forget the Great Commission enunciated by Christ to take the gospel throughout the world. Indeed in this rubric, believers shouldn’t have children since, as potential unbelievers, they might be “lost.”
Preachers sometimes sermonize that salvation for an unbeliever is dependent upon a specific believer’s diligence in introducing that unbeliever to the gospel and his need to appropriate it, thus avoiding hell. This potential guilt-trip, besides being unfair to both believer and unbeliever, indicates that a given human being’s eternity depends upon the action or inaction/apathy of another person. This is unconscionable. The witness must be made with no thought of the recipient’s acceptance or rejection; otherwise, missionaries could be doing a disservice in introducing such risk.
This also remarks the unfairness of anyone’s inheriting hell because he/she never heard the gospel. Accusing God of that sort of chicanery/venality is absurd and blasphemous, especially in light of John 3:17, Jesus speaking: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (NIV). That’s the whole world...in his hands. That’s straightforward enough and behooves believers to emulate Christ’s ministry, which involved responding to the physical needs of unbelievers while pointing them to God, not as potential eternal torturer but as current enabler, counselor and, ultimately, eternal Savior.
Generations of believers in virtually all denominations of any size have been brainwashed at one time or another with the fact that the end-all/be-all of Christian endeavor is ensconcing people on the fire-escape from hell. Nor have multitudes been spared from the fundamentalist philosophy that anyone outside the “elect” has no chance at heaven, no matter any circumstance relative to belief, unbelief, sin, good works, whatever. This latter is weird, if only in light of its obvious nullification of both freedom of choice and prayer for any purpose.
This doesn’t denigrate the good intentions of pastors, evangelists or Sunday School teachers who’ve diligently attempted to keep people out of hell “the best way they knew how.” It is to say that the greater effort by Jesus always involved showing/teaching people the right way to live and treat others, with the right way to die being an ancillary consideration. So...heaven can wait.
Insisting that the saving ministry/crucifixion/resurrection of Christ regarding eternity does not directly apply to everyone is to trivialize God’s plan since God intends reconciling himself with his entire creation – no person of which asked to be born – through the work of Christ, the actual incarnation of God. Pastors must indicate the ways salvation and reconciliation differ, as well as how they’re connected. God is ultimately responsible for the current/eternal condition/welfare of everyone, reconciling himself with people now and forever through the work of Christ (the only way to God) whether they like it or not or even discern it.
This is the positive approach to sharing the faith. Salvation is as important in real time as in eternity, actually more important since eternity holds no problems. The most important real-time aspect of becoming “saved” is instant communication and fellowship with God, allowing for prayer, worship, and the knowledge of how to live, the actual grounding of a soul for both now and forever. This is worth serious thought during the resurrection season, remarking the fact that the end-game is God’s alone, and that it was/is played out at an incomprehensible cost.