In Surprised by Hope, NT Wright suggests that the primary thing to emphasize in evangelizing is Jesus himself rather than dying to sin and going to heaven. The New Testament writers emphasized a bodily resurrection and a new creation with heaven and earth coming together.
Though Wright believes that, at the end of days, all must confess faith in Jesus to be included in the resurrection, he states that many of the New Testament passages about hell are misinterpreted. In the sub-section entitled, Beyond hope, Beyond Pity Wright deals with the doctrine of hell. He says that when Jesus warned about hell, he was warning about an eternal dimension in the here and now. The passages where he seems to warn about life after death are metaphoric and not to be taken literally.
Wright contends that Jesus simply didn’t say anything new about the future life; he was primarily concerned about announcing that God’s kingdom was coming ‘on earth as in heaven.’ He reinforced the idea that judgement would be something horrible in space-time history, within a generation.
Wright says that hell or final judgement is not a major topic in the letters and that the vivid pictures towards the end of Revelations are among the hardest parts of scripture to interpret. Though Wright steers clear of dogmatism, he does believe that judgement is necessary. “In the justly famous phrase of Miroslav Volf, there must be ‘exclusion’ before there can be no embrace.’ He concludes that evil must be accounted for and that God is committed to setting the world right in the end.
Evangelical John Stott found the concept of annihilations to be better than the eternal torment espoused by most evangelical Christians. In this view, the souls of those who don’t accept Jesus will simply cease to exist. He believed that Matthew 25:46, “They will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” must be not interpreted as meaning that the lost suffer for all eternity.
According to Dallas Willard, a world class Christian philosopher, traditional evangelical atonement theories — penal substitution — can miss the whole point. It is all about a state of being. Thus it is not so much believing in the cross but entering into the cross. Willard states that God doesn’t say “Jesus is the way.” He says “I am.” “I am” points back to Exodus 3. People assume that when Jesus states his exclusiveness that he’s talking about the exclusiveness of Christianity–that anyone that does not have knowledge of the historical Jesus is automatically closed off from God. We thought of salvation as having the right beliefs and that was what made God let us in. That leaves most people out.
Willard believed that everyone who deserves to be saved will be saved no matter where they are or what they do and our Scriptures talk about that. For all who seek God with all of their heart, and defined in terms of coming to love Him, not just having the right beliefs about Him, but coming to love Him and their neighbor as themselves. To align yourself experientially with Jesus and learn to live in this world by the creative power of God, which is eternal living.
You’re not saved because you are a good Christian or a good Buddhist. You are saved because of the heart. Who you are on the inside is the most important thing) Because you love God and love others out of your love for God.
Many theologians believe that one is accountable to the extent that he has encountered the New Testament message. A person cannot refuse something that has not been clearly offered. It should be obvious that many Jews have never seen or heard anything resembling good news, but only demonic hatred. I still believe that many Orthodox Jews exhibit greater faith, in waiting for the Messiah, as they understand him, than certain nominal Christians.
Mother Teresa nursed the homeless with her own hands and helped them to die reconciled with their own gods. She fulfilled the great commission, salvation through faith in Christ, by caring for the sick and the poor. She believed that the concrete act of doing was far more important than the abstract act of believing in God.
In Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles, the figure of Aslan represents Jesus. A woman wrote to Lewis, concerned that her son had more love for Aslan than the Jesus he met in church. Lewis encouraged her by writing that the root of her son’s love for Aslan came from his love for Jesus.
This caused me to wonder if there are many who worship the real Jesus even though they don’t formally know his name. I found my answer in Mere Christianity. Lewis wrote that although Jesus is the only way to heaven, it doesn’t mean that Jesus cannot save those who no fault of their own do not acknowledge him. He also stated that any prayer made to even a false God or the imperfectly understood real God is accepted by the true God. “In the parable of the sheep and goats (Matt. 25:3 and following) those who are saved do not seem to know they have served Christ.
Lewis hints at another possibility that would upset most evangelicals–that some will eventually receive God’s grace after death. He insists that heaven is more than a reward for right belief but a consequence of one’s faith enacted here on earth–a kind of going home to the one we have known all along. He points out the difference between a child passing a French exam and being given a bicycle as a ‘reward’ and the same child being given, instead, a month in Paris now that she is able to enjoy and profit from it.
The final state to which we look forward to is connected to what we enact here on earth. While Lewis admits that it’s not a totally accurate example, he contends that it helps.
After a lifetime of rejecting God’s love, going to heaven and being surrounded by it could prove hellish to some. This implies that one man’s heaven could be another man’s hell. Damnation, in this view, is not a place of eternal, physical torture but the terrifying condition of separation from God.
George MacDonald, the nineteenth century fantasy writer and universalist was one of the most important influences on C.S. Lewis. While Lewis never adopted universalism, his familiarity with MacDonald’s writing contributed to his own wrestling with the doctrine of hell as eternal, conscious torment and his search for a less morally disturbing account of hell.
To this end, Lewis famously argued that the sufferings of hell are not imposed by God as a sort of dungeon master, who eternally subjects his victims to unimaginable tortures. Instead, he saw that the sufferings of hell are self-imposed. Lewis’ two main treatments of this topic are found in The Problem of Pain and The Great Divorce.
In Lewis’ view, when human beings inexplicably choose hell, God respects their autonomy. He writes: “
I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the gates of hell are locked on the inside.”
In The Great Divorce, the character of George MacDonald observes: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”