The Lostness of Mankind
by K. Neill Foster
General Assembly, July 1996
The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada
The lostness of mankind has fallen on hard times. It is no longer common nor popular to preach about hell. Christianity Today, looking around at the spate of new books on damnation, concluded that there was great interest in a gentler and more kindly damnation (May 27,1991).
James Davison Hunter, from who we will hear more later, has found in his surveys
"a softening of doctrinal certainties" among undergraduate and seminary students who describe themselves as fundamentalist Christians. There is especially "a measurable degree of uneasiness within this generation of Evangelicals with the notion of eternal damnation" (Dixon 1992:11).
One of the most memorable services I ever participated in was in Rolla, British Columbia. My message was on hell. Six young men were clearly converted in a single evening and the fear of God was upon us all. My regret after twenty-two years of evangelism, most of them coming after that event, was that I preached so few times on the wrath of God and eternal punishment.
If today's pagans hope for a kinder and gentler damnation, I am partly to blame. I have generally failed to warn of the wrath to come.
Delimitations: The length of this paper precludes major discussions in several areas. Word studies on gehenna, hades, and aionion for example, are not included here. Substantive discussions on hermeneutics and inerrancy might be added, but would crowd out some of the current issues. With the literature available and the source material at hand, I am confident that most of you are able to pursue these matters for yourselves.
LOSTNESS AS BIBLICAL BEDROCK
The Bible clearly teaches that mankind is lost. Men and women are lost because their eyes are veiled (2 Corinthians 4:3). Jesus Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). The lost coin, the lost sheep, the lost son all tell us the same thing (Luke 15): Mankind is lost. He is without peace and without hope and without God in this world (Ephesians 2:12).
1. The lostness of mankind was anticipated. Before the foundation of the world, a sovereign God knew that Satan would fall from heaven (Luke 10:18). Satan, in the view of some, drew as many as a third of the angels of heaven after him in his rebellion (Revelation 12:4). Further, God knew that man would sin, that Adam would fall and that sin and death would pass upon the human race. Even with that foreknowledge, God chose to create man in the likeness of Himself.
Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). I will go so far as to say that God never intended for human beings to go hell, but they nevertheless fall into the awful place called hell.
That the Creator foreknew the events that would befall the human species, that He knew in advance that man would fall and that He knew millions would follow Satan and his angels into an incomprehensibly awful place is more than I can properly understand. I can understand that the believers were chosen in Him before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:3).
That sin so affronts His character and person that an eternity in such a prepared place for lost human souls is no offense whatsoever to the integrity, holiness and purity of Almighty God, that is more than I can meaningfully comprehend.
Nevertheless, orthodoxy requires me to affirm, and without a hint of hesitation I comply, and the Bible surely supports the thesis, that mankind is eternally lost, deserving an eternal hell, and that at the coming of Christ,
He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10)
I wish this were not so, that there were no hell. But if we are serious at all about the Bible, there is a hell. Real people are going there.
With C.S. Lewis, who was weak on the specifics, I must concur,
There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than [hell], if it lay in my power. . . I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully: "All will be saved." (Dixon 1992:25)
2. The lostness of mankind assumes the sinfulness of mankind. The Scriptures abound on this point. "All we like sheep have gone astray. . ." (Isaiah 53:6). "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). "There is no one righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10). Paul makes it clear that through Adam's sin, all of humanity was contaminated with a dreadful stain, a corruption eternally lethal. Likewise, Paul makes clear that just as Adam was the conduit for sin to reach all of mankind, so now Jesus Christ, the second Adam is the one through whom redemption reaches all the world (Romans 5:12-17).
CS-When our first grandson was born, I suggested rather early that perhaps he had a fallen nature. His devoted mother (and my dear daughter-in-law) was appalled at such a concept. However, she is learning. Not only has our first grandson developed his carnal and sinful nature, the second grandson has come along. The common consensus is that he is a Foster. His mother's witness, "He is just so bad!"
3. The lostness of mankind assumes retribution for sinful mankind. The way of the transgressor is hard (Proverbs 13:15). The wicked shall be turned into hell and all the nations that forget God (Psalm 9:17). The Bible makes clear that the wrath of God abides upon those who do not believe (John 3:36), and further, that this wrath is no less than eternal punishment. "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" (Matthew 25:46).
4. The lostness of mankind assumes the eternal duration of divine retribution. The punishment spoken of by Jesus Christ is eternal in its duration (Matthew 25:46). The smoke of the torment of souls that have been cast into the lake of fire ascends forever and ever (Revelation 14:11).
Larry Dixon has made a powerful argument on this point.
How can one deny that the "place" which has been prepared for the "devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41) is not the same "place"-("the lake of burning sulphur,")-into which he will be thrown at the judgment (Rev. 20:10)? Those human beings whose names are not found in the Book of Life (Rev. 20:15) will be, as far as we can discern, the same ones (described as "goats") that Jesus will reject and send "into the eternal fire" (Matt. 25:41). That "place" will be a place of unceasing torment (Rev. 20:10). If it is just for God to eternally torment the devil and his angels, why would it not be just for the wicked who merit His wrath to experience the same fate? (Dixon 1992:89).
5. The lostness of mankind assumes that the punishment is not annihilation. In recent times both John Stott (1990) and Clark Pinnock (1992) have argued against eternal punishment and for the annihilation of the wicked. Annihilationists reject the plain statements of Scripture about the eternality of hell (Matthew 25:46), and the plain implication of "forever and ever" (Revelation 14:11). At the heart of this departure from orthodoxy are two things.
The first is an unwillingness to believe that a holy, righteous and just God could ever, rightly and properly, send any human soul to hell. Louis L. King, describing those who falter in their belief of the plain sense of Scripture, suggests that
They have substantiated their views, however, not by a contextual interpretation of all relevant Scripture but rather by fashioning their concepts of God's love, justice and morality after their own. (King 1991:22)
The second is a flawed hermeneutic which is willing to do anything to circumvent the clear intent of plain Scripture. The Roman Catholics call this hermeneutical flaw "casuistry" and A. W. Tozer observed, "Casuistry is not the possession of the Roman Catholic theologians alone" (1963:2). The Pharisees did the same thing with their tithing. By saying that something was already dedicated to God, by saying that it was Corban, they turned the truth of God on its head (Mark 7:9-13).
CS-Charles Kraft does the corban/casuistry routine rather well. He observes that in a certain tribe in Nigeria, those who were considered mature men had to have two wives. Accordingly, he affirms, elders in the church in that culture should have two wives. (Kraft 1979:106)
Kraft's error demonstrates how the misuse of hermeneutics can be used to thwart the plain sense and obvious meaning of Scripture. His interpretation seems anthropologically informed but is nevertheless a clear repudiation of Paul's admonition that an elder should be "the husband of one wife" (1 Timothy 3:2).
LOSTNESS AND BIBLICAL SALVATION
6. The lostness of mankind assumes that salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has come to seek and to save those who are lost (Matthew 18:11). When John the Baptist saw Him, he cried out, "Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). The same Scriptures which affirm salvation through Jesus Christ also make it clear that it is possible to drink of the wine of God's fury. Those who receive the mark of the beast and worship him will be in a place of torment with burning sulphur. "And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever" (Revelation 14:11).
There will be the sheep and the goats. Some will enter into eternal life, and others will go away to eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46).
7. The lostness of mankind assumes the total uniqueness of Jesus Christ. The uniqueness of Jesus Christ is under challenge. John Hick's, The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions, and Paul F. Knitter's, No Other Name: A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes Toward the World Religions are the key books.
The Scriptures are clear. Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Peter is equally explicit, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Romans 10 pronounces so powerfully on this issue that some who want alternate routes into the kingdom simply fail to address it.
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. How, then can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they be sent? (Romans 10:13-15a)
8. The lostness of mankind assumes a salvation that is not universalism. Universalism is not generally a problem for evangelicals in its primary form. Plainly put, universalism affirms that all will eventually be saved, that none will be lost. Romans 11:32 is cited, "God has consigned all men to disobedience, that He may have mercy upon all." Other texts are summoned as well: Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:16-20; and Romans 5:18. However, the broad strokes of the New Testament do not lend themselves to universalism. A broad way and a narrow way. Sheep and goats. Lost and found. Eternal life and eternal torment. The New Testament, unless one has developed a totally devious hermeneutic, is a minefield full of exploding texts which the universalist simply can not overcome.
Strong views of biblical authority negate universalism. Inerrancy as a doctrine held collides impossibly with universalism. A high view of Scripture is the mortal enemy of universalism. A hermeneutic which clings to the analogy of faith, the comparison of Scripture with Scripture, a hermeneutic that pays attention to the very words of Scripture (Romans 3:2) is not fertile ground for universalism. Conversely, hermeneutical imprecision and irregularity are invitations to theological error. As we shall see, however, evangelicals are much more susceptible to hybrid forms of universalism such as inclusivism.
9. The lostness of mankind assumes a salvation that is not inclusivistic. Nearly ninety years ago the Baptist theologian Augustus H. Strong coined the phrase "implicit faith" as part of his nascent universalism.
Since Christ is the Word of God and the Truth of God, he may be received even by those who have not heard of his manifestation in the flesh. [I cannot help remembering that every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God! KNF] A proud and self-righteous morality is inconsistent with saving faith; but a humble and penitent reliance upon God, as a savior from sin and a guide of conduct, is an implicit faith in Christ; (Strong 1907:842)
Some would suggest that the real roots of this issue reach back to the twenty years of heresy arguments over salvation by works between Pelegius and Augustine (Cairns 1954:149). In the modern era this one grievous error in the writings of a sometimes respected scholar lay dormant, for the most part, for eighty-five years.
Then in the sixties, a Roman Catholic writer, Karl Rahner, who has been in the forefront of this current assault on orthodoxy, and reflecting the universalism of Vatican II, posited "Anonymous" Christians among those who have never heard of Jesus Christ (Erickson 1991:284).
In the nineties of this century, the whole idea of inclusivism and pluralism, along with the hope that natural revelation might be enough to secure salvation for those who have never heard of Jesus Christ has literally exploded. There are dozens of books, most of them advocating in one way or another a repudiation of the exclusivism of past generations of orthodoxy.
Millard Erickson sees this deviation from the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as a form of universalism in miniature, calling it "universalistic inclusivism" (Erickson 1991:28-29).
The situation is now so serious that Ramesh Richard of Dallas Theological Seminary says,
. . . the question is not how evangelicalism will thrive, but whether it will survive the articulate intellectual friction that inclusivism generates at different levels. (Richard 1994:12)
Nash says, "The acceptance of this biblically unsupported opinion [inclusivism] carries an enormously high cost" (1994:175). Philipps was surely understating when he admitted that inclusivism might be "a watershed issue among evangelicals" (1992:242).
10. The lostness of mankind assumes a salvation that is not by works. You might find it amazing that evangelicals seem to be falling in massive numbers into a "salvation by works" mode (Ephesians 2:8-9). The trends are extremely worrisome, particularly when the lostness of mankind is under consideration.
The research of a University of Virginia sociologist is especially telling.
A "recent survey of evangelical and college seminary students [not C&MA] showed that 32 percent and 31 percent (respectively) no longer hold these teachings" [the lostness of those who have never heard of Jesus Christ] (J.D. Hunter 1987:35-40). The same writer also hints that "without this particularity, there is no orthodoxy (historically understood)," and later plainly admits that when one out of three of the evangelical college students and seminarians surveyed felt that there was some hope for those who had never heard of Jesus, it presented a "very important" difference in perspective from historical orthodoxy (1987:34-35).
When comparing seminarians who believe that "Jesus is the only way for salvation except for those who have not heard of Jesus" with those who believe that "Jesus is the only way period" on a number of items, a pattern was found to hold true. For example, the former were less likely to hold evangelism as the highest priority in the church, more likely to believe that social justice is "just as important" or "almost as important" as evangelism and much less likely to choose missions as a career path - by two to one [emphasis added] (1987:258).
For those of you wondering how all this relates to salvation by works, bear with me. Hunter builds his case and then zeroes in.
. . . only 67 percent [of evangelical collegians and seminarians] agreed that ('unless missionaries and others are successful in converting people in non-Christian lands, these people will have no chance for salvation" (Hunter 1987:36).
Also take note, Hunter saw something else coming, and early on caught the essence of salvation by works in the postulation of salvation for special cases among those who have never heard. The "virtuous pagans" who never hear of Jesus Christ but still would be saved are clearly to be "exemplary people whose lives were characterized by extraordinary good will and charity" (1987:37)
Hunter returns to the salvation by works theme in anticipating evangelical beliefs of the emerging generation:
For a substantial minority of the coming generation, there appears to be a middle ground that did not. . . exist for previous generations. For the unevangelized and for those who reveal exceptional Christian virtue but are not professed Christians [emphasis added], there is hope that they also will receive salvation. . . . Needless to say, this posture would, and in fact does lessen substantially the sense of urgency to evangelize the unreached. (1987:47)
The evangelical propensity toward relativism appears to be carrying us back into selective Galatianism.
In a paper delivered in November 1994 at the Evangelical Theological Society in Chicago, I wrote:
A common trait of inclusivists is a persistent failure to see that their advocacy of implicit ideas ultimately involves salvation by works. Good works are expected from holy pagans who have never received the life-changing gospel and who have never had more than general revelation to guide them. . . . When the agenda ideas of universalistic inclusivism play themselves out, the advocacy of implicit Christianity and implicit faith involves salvation by works. The implicit Christianity of inclusivism is contrary to both Galatians and Ephesians. It is just as error-laden as Galatianism or Pelegianism ever were. (Foster 1994:7)
In describing inclusivism, Nash is emphatic at this point.
The old gospel grounds salvation on the work of God while the new gospel makes salvation dependent on the work of man. The old gospel views faith as an integral part of God's gift of salvation while the new gospel sees faith as man's role in salvation. (1994:133)
11. The lostness of mankind assumes a salvation that is not secured by natural revelation. If mankind is not so lost as our fathers thought, and if the orthodox view needs adjustment, how do the lost find eternal life without a preacher? (Romans 10:14). The answer, in case you have not heard, is by general revelation. Holy pagans and implicit Christians find salvation in this manner.
Piper strenuously objects to the concept of salvation through general revelation.
Nevertheless there is a felt difference in the urgency when one believes that preaching the gospel is absolutely the only hope that anyone has of escaping the penalty of sin. . . I cannot escape the impression that this [salvation by general revelation] is a futile attempt to make a weakness look like a strength. On the contrary, common sense presses another truth on us: the more likely it is that people can be saved without missions the less urgency there is for missions. (Piper 1993:119-120)
Later, Piper again deals sharply with the same issue.
Those who affirm that people who today have no access to the gospel may nevertheless be saved without knowing Christ try to argue that at this idea "enhances our motivation to evangelize the lost." . . . it is a futile effort. The arguments fall apart as you pick them up. (Piper 1993:164)
Responding to this controversy, The Board of Managers in the United States has recently gone on record in a most emphatic way.
Statement on the Destiny of
Those Who Have Not Heard
The Christian and Missionary Alliance believes that natural revelation is insufficient for salvation; that Christ's death and resurrection is the only sufficient ground for salvation; that one must personally repent of sin and turn in faith to Christ to receive the gift of salvation; and further, that Christ's atonement is the necessary basis of salvation because humans do not live up to the light received from natural revelation according to Romans 1-3.
We continue to adhere, to what we believe to be, the clear witness of Scripture, that those who do not hear the gospel are lost as surely as those who hear the gospel and reject it.
The Board of Managers
The Christian and Missionary Alliance
12. The lostness of mankind assumes the validity of the missionary imperative. The lostness of mankind is but one motive, a powerful one, for missionary enterprise (King 1991). One of the reasons that the lostness of mankind is so essential to The Christian and Missionary Alliance is that if this doctrine be eroded among us by universalistic inclusivism, or any other "ism," we could become unhinged in the sense that the two organizations that came together in 1887 (The Christian Alliance and The International Missionary Alliance) might be divorced. Could we some day become The Christian Alliance?
Piper reminds us:
. . . common sense presses another truth on us: the more likely it is that people can be saved without missions the less urgency there is for missions. (Piper 1993:119)
John Hick, the pluralist makes it clear, inclusivism will certainly "negate the old missionary compulsion" (Hick 1993:143).
The lostness of mankind is one motive for world evangelization. It is not the only motive. Surely the glory of God is the primary motive.
To avoid an erosion of what Dr. Louis L. King has called "an article of faith" (1991:1), the lostness of mankind, we must guard against
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