Are non-Christians “lost”?

I received a newsletter from a good missionary friend yesterday that spoke of his intention to “rescue lost people for Christ”. I have always felt uneasy about that sort of language. It sounds condescending and disparaging. Perhaps I’m just being squeamish, but I think I have some biblical warrant.

The word translated “lost” in the Gospels is the perfect participle of the verb apollumi. It is not the world that is “lost” but a section of Israel. The lost-and-found parables in Luke 15 are told to the Pharisees and scribes who are complaining, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” The sheep, coin and son in the parables are lost in the obvious sense: they were part of something larger—a hundred sheep, ten coins, a household—but they have been mislaid and need to found again.

The biblical argument about salvation (my soteriology)

Emi sent me an email a while back, and because I have been slow to reply, she posted the whole thing as a comment. She notes that I argue in What must a person believe in order to be saved? i) that the mission of the church is not to save as many people as possible; and ii) that when ‘people today become part of God’s new creation people, they are “saved”… from the final judgment of death on human sin’. Isn’t that a bit perverse? If you accept that people who become part of the church are saved from the final judgment of death, why would we not go all out to save as many as possible? This is how she makes the point:

I don’t see how the falsity of the concept that our mission is to save people from hell means it is not our (ideal) mission to assimilate all cultures and peoples into God’s new creation, if still, non-Christians are at risk of the wrath of death come the final judgment.

In order to answer Emi’s astute question, I will try to set out in a more or less methodical fashion how I understand the biblical argument about salvation—my soteriology, in effect.

Two questions about “hell”

I have a very clear and consistent view on “hell” in the New Testament. The “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). That is the bottom line. But in the New Testament narrative it is the story of Israel and the nations that determines the scope and reference of the “hell” language: wrath against the Jew, wrath against the Greek; judgment on Israel in the form of invasion, destruction and slaughter; judgment on the Greek-Roman world, and on Rome in particular, in the form of civilisational overthrow; the corpses of Jews thrown over the walls of besieged Jerusalem into the Hinnom Valley; pagans bitterly lamenting the collapse of the old order.

There is no post mortem suffering, no eternal conscious torment, though Jesus is in no doubt about the horrors that his people will face before death. There will be a final judgment, but those whose names are not written in the book of life will be consigned to the lake of fire, which is the second death, a final destruction.

I don’t know how much of what I have written on the subject Lerman d’Eon has read, but he got in touch with a couple of questions. The first I’ve dealt with elsewhere. The second gives me an opportunity to dredge hurriedly through the murky literature of second temple Judaism in search of any unexploded mines that might sink my thesis.

Homosexuality, Black Friday, and the disordered human condition

In his chapter on homosexuality in The Moral Vision of the New Testament Richard Hays argues that in Romans 1:

Paul is offering a diagnosis of the disordered human condition: he adduces the fact of widespread homosexual behaviour as evidence that human beings are indeed in rebellion against their Creator. The fundamental human sin is the refusal to honor God and give God thanks (1:21); consequently, God’s wrath takes the form of letting human idolatry run its own self-destructive course. Homosexual activity, then, is not a provocation of ‘the wrath of God’ (Rom 1.18); rather, it is a consequence of God’s decision to ‘give up’ rebellious creatures to follow their own futile thinking and desires. The unrighteous behavior catalogued in Romans 1:26-31 is a list of symptoms: the underlying sickness of humanity as a whole, Jews and Greeks alike, is that they have turned away from God and fallen under the power of sin. (387)

Now, doesn’t that definition of “humanity” as “Jews and Greeks alike” strike you as odd? If Paul is offering a “diagnosis of the disordered human condition” or, as Ian Paul puts it in the Grove booklet on Same-Sex Unions, “telling the cosmic history of the failure of humanity” (24), why does Paul speak specifically of the coming wrath against the Greek (Rom. 2:9)?

The inclusion of same-sex believers and the non-inclusion of Gentiles

The purpose of this post is, first, to register the fact that J. Daniel Kirk has used Acts 15 to argue for the affirmation and inclusion of gay Christians in the church. I hadn’t seen these before—thanks, Andy, for pointing it out:

Kirk thinks that the “inclusion of Gentiles” constitutes a compelling narrative paradigm for the inclusion of LGBT believers in the church.

Same-sex same solution (simplified). And what was James on about?

Ian Paul, who is a staunch defender of the traditional view, thinks that my modest proposal regarding the relevance of the deliberations of the Jerusalem Council for the seemingly intractable controversy over same-sex unions is a “bizarre misreading of the narrative”. My sense is rather that he has misread my post, but since that could be my fault rather than his, I want to try and clarify the reasoning.

Same-sex same solution? Does the Jerusalem Council suggest a way forward?

Some years back I wrote a book called Speaking of Women: Interpreting Paul. I took the view that both sides of the debate at the time were misreading Paul in their pursuit of polemical advantage, but I came down nevertheless on the egalitarian side of the fence. I think that male headship in Paul is a social construct having to do not with authority over the woman, and certainly not with an innate authority over the woman, but with social prominence. Sadly the debate still goes on in the modern church, but as far as I am concerned there are good biblical reasons for moving beyond the historical patriarchalism both of scripture and of the church.

Jesus is Lord (still)

We visited Philippi in September. We were staying in Kavala, in eastern Greece, formerly Neapolis, which is where Paul landed having sailed from Troas via Samothrace in response to a visionary summons to Macedonia (Acts 16:11-12). The extensive ruins of the Roman colony of Philippi lie about 12 miles inland.

We climbed to the Acropolis that looks down on the ruins of the city, we wandered past the supposed prison from which Paul and Silas were liberated by an earthquake, crossed the forum to the imposing remains of Basilica B, skirted round to the octagonal Basilica of Paul with its faded mosaics, and took a leisurely stroll along the Egnatian way. A short distance from the site is the Gangitis river where Paul met and baptised Lydia (Acts 16:13-15).

The rider on the white horse and the war against the beast and the kings of the earth

Someone got in touch asking about the interpretation of John’s vision of a rider on a white horse and the war against “the beast and the kings of the earth” in Revelation 19:11-21.

What does Revelation 19 and the rider on the white horse defeating the beast, false prophet, and other kings represent? Is this symbolic of Christ’s conquest over the nations (perhaps a parallel of the millennium in Rev. 20?) or is it pointing toward a specific judge over a particular enemy (Rome or Jerusalem)?

I think the answer is “yes”, but anyway here in summary is how I read the passage…

Same-sex same old story?

The narrative-historical approach recognises that the biblical story works on different levels. Modern (evangelical) theologies tend to highlight the universal story of the individual person who is a sinner in need of salvation, etc. More recently greater attention has been given to an overarching but largely uneventful story about God and the ultimate renewal of creation, which has helped to extend the ethical and social reach of modern (evangelical) theologies.


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