“According to the Christian religion, what happens to people who never heard about Jesus, after they die?” This is one of the common questions asked today by people in our culture trying to figure out if Christianity is a healthy or sick belief system. People ask me this all the time. While certain forms of Protestant Christianity circled the wagons around a forensic view of salvation and ended up saying anyone who doesn’t make a decision for Jesus is lost eternally, other forms of Christianity have offered a variety of good, grace-filled answers to that question. Wesleyan theology has offered several very well nuanced answers which take a broader view of the scope of the atonement of Jesus upon the cross. I believe these Wesleyan views to be more in line with the whole teaching of the Scriptures, (and happen to enjoy broad commonality with views from other orthodox churches across the family tree down through the centuries). I will explore some of them in this section of the blog. For now, a few snippets from John Wesley can get us started.
“I do not conceive that any man living has a right to sentence all the heathen and Muslim world to damnation. It is far better to leave them to Him that made them, and who is ‘the Father of the spirits of all flesh’; who is the God of the heathens as well as the Christians (1 Timothy 4:10), and who hateth nothing that He hath made.” ( Sermon 125, point 14 ‘On Living without God’)
“It cannot be doubted, but this plea [lack of knowledge] will avail for millions of modern Heathens. Inasmuch as to them little is given, of them little will be required. As to the ancient Heathens, millions of them, likewise were savages. No more therefore will be expected of them, than the living up to the light they had. But many of them, especially in the civilized nations, we have great reason to hope, although they lived among Heathens, yet were quite of another spirit; being taught of God, by His inward voice, all the essentials of true religion. Yea, and so was that Mahometan, and Arabian, who, a century or two ago, wrote the Life of Hai Ebn Yokdan. The story seems to be feigned; but it contains all the principles of pure religion and undefiled.” Sermon 106, On Faith, I 4.
And then there’s this:
Perhaps there may be some well-meaning persons who carry this farther still; who aver, that whatever change is wrought in men, whether in their hearts or lives, yet if they have not clear views of those capital doctrines, the fall of man, justification by faith, and of the atonement made by the death of Christ, and of his righteousness transferred to them, they can have no benefit from his death. I dare in no wise affirm this. Indeed I do not believe it. I believe the merciful God regards the lives and tempers of men more than their ideas. I believe he respects the goodness of the heart rather than the clearness of the head; and that if the heart of a man be filled (by the grace of God, and the power of his Spirit) with the humble, gentle, patient love of God and man, God will not cast him into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels because his ideas are not clear, or because his conceptions are confused. Without holiness, I own, “no man shall see the Lord;” but I dare not add, “or clear ideas.” Sermon 125: On Living Without God, 15.