Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Catholic Perspective on Love Wins by Rob Bell -- Part 4 Can Non-Christians Go to Heaven?

Note: I'm currently reading Rob Bell's new and extremely popular book Love Wins. I will be posting reviews on various sections of the book as I read them while giving a Catholic perspective to the questions he poses. 

Other posts on Love Wins
Part 1--On Salvation

Part 2--On Heaven
Part 3--On Hell 


Bell begins chapter 1 with one of the most provocative Evangelical questions: Can non-Christians go to heaven?
Here's an excerpt of a story he tells:
"Several years ago we had an art show at our church. I had been giving a series of teachings on peacemaking, and we invited artists to display their paintings, poems, and sculptures that reflected their understanding of what it means to be a peacemaker. One woman included in her work a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, which a number of people found quite compelling.

But not everyone.

Someone attached a piece of paper to it. On the piece of paper was written: 'Reality check: He's in hell.'

Gandhi's in hell?
He is?
We have confirmation of this?
Somebody knows this?
Without a doubt?"

Bell continues to answer this question in chapter 6 of the book entitled There Are Rocks Everywhere. The meaning behind the title is taken from 1 Corinthians 10. In 1 Corinthians 10, St. Paul recounts the story of Moses and the Exodus. Specifically, St. Paul notes that Moses stuck a rock in the desert to give the people water. In recounting the story, St. Paul remarks that the rock was Christ.

Bell (and most people) find it to be odd that the rock is Jesus Christ. But, Bell uses the story to show that Jesus Christ can be present and has been present in places we might not think he has been. He is starting to build the case the Jesus' presence (and salvation) can be in places we might not think or expect.

During the chapter, Bell cuts to the chase and systematically outlines the different options in regards to Jesus' ability to save others.

First, he starts with a quote from the Gospel of John, chapter 14 where Jesus says, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Bell notes: This is as wide and expansive a claim as a person can make. What he doesn't say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him...."

Bell then gives three options in regards to Jesus saving others.

1. Exclusivity.
"Jesus is the only way. Everybody who doesn't believe in him and follow him in the precise way that is defined by the group doing the defining isn't saved, redeemed, going to heaven, and so on...You're either in, or you're going to hell. Two groups."

2. Inclusivity
"The kind that is open to all religions, the kind that trusts that good people will get in, that there is only one mountain, but it has many paths. This inclusivity assumes that as long as your heart is fine or your actions measure up, you'll be okay."

3. Exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity.
"This kind insists that Jesus is the way, but holds tightly to the assumption that the all-embracing, saving love of this particular Jesus the Christ will of course include all sorts of unexpected people from across the cultural spectrum."

Bell chooses answer 3. For him, it is the only way to make sense of a loving God and the truth held in Scripture.

If someone has to believe in Jesus, do all the people who have never even heard of Jesus go to hell? How is this there fault? What kind of loving God would do this? Even if they have heard of Jesus, this doesn't mean they know who Jesus truly is? Same thing before applies here. Bell continues to ask the question: What would a loving God do?

So, Catholic pop quiz: Which road does the Catholic Church take?

Basically, the Catholic Church believes that it is through Jesus Christ and through the Catholic Church that men and women are saved.

This being said, the Church does not limit the way that this salvation can occur. One can be outside the visible bounds of the Church, but through the justice and mercy of God, can be saved and be apart of the invisible Church. 

Note: Jesus Christ and the Church still provide the salvation, but others can be saved and be apart of the Body of Christ, even if they themselves don't know it.

Vatican II
Let's look at the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium (Light of the Nations), no. 16. (Titles mine).

Jews and Muslims
"In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh. On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.

Those who haven't heard the Gospel
Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.

Those who don't know about God
Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.

The need to still preach the Gospel
Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, "Preach the Gospel to every creature", the Church fosters the missions with care and attention."
Even though others can be saved, the Catholic Church believes that the most direct and sure route is through Jesus Christ and the Church. People who do not know of Jesus Christ and His Church can still go to hell based on their actions. We must continue to proclaim the fullness of truth and allow men and women to find and know that which ultimately provides salvation.

In the end, Bell has a very Catholic view of how Jesus exclusively saves others while still allowing an inclusivity towards non-believers.


Well, I think this is my last post on Love Wins. It's been fun and I have enjoyed thinking through the different questions posed. There is still much to think about. Feel free to post a question or a thought on the book. I just might write another blog post if necessary.

Other posts on Love Wins
Part 1--On Salvation

Part 2--On Heaven
Part 3--On Hell 


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