Defending the Faith: What about those who have never heard?

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  • Semi-Strong Louisville, KY
    June 17, 2013 1:23 p.m.

    Tyler D,

    First of all, it’s Superman. I have no idea why anyone could hold another opinion . . .

    Reference Ghandi. Allow me one more – Nelson Mandela (curiously both of them passed through South Africa).

    He could have crashed and burned his country – plunging it into a near endless cycle of violence. Instead, he chose the way of forgiveness.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    June 17, 2013 9:47 a.m.

    @OnlytheCross – “Men and women have been creating their own religions from the beginning”

    Best quote of the entire thread… couldn’t agree more!

    From my reading of the Bible it seems like Jesus spelled out only one criterion for attaining everlasting life – Love – which Paul affirmed in Corinthians.

    By my understanding of history, the modern leader who best took this core teaching of Jesus to heart and most sought to put it into practice was Gandhi – who according to many Christians is currently burning in hell (a view that would be hilarious were it not tragically deranging the minds of millions).

    Even from the perspective of your own book/teacher, let alone mine as a non-believer, all this back and forth looks like children arguing the relative merits of Batman vs. Superman.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    June 17, 2013 9:08 a.m.

    The Bible never settles these disputes so much as it exacerbates them. If theology is the lens through which you study the Bible, you’ll most likely merely find justification for what you already believe.

    Would Calvin have argued predestination if 16th century science included quantum physics which demonstrate that particles of matter don’t behave in a predictable manner? I suspect he would have even in the face of the problems posed by science. Religious belief really is that powerful.

  • EternalPerspective Eldersburg, MD
    June 17, 2013 4:26 a.m.


    You made comments alluding to the Bible as the only way to know what can be revealed about God. You said ongoing revelation is part of the man-made side warned about in the Bible as false doctrine in the latter days. You also said there is no doctrine from Christ about work for the dead.

    Is not the entire Bible an account of revelation given through living prophets who were called to build the church or kingdom of God upon the earth?

    Does it not say that God is the same unchangeable being past, present, and forever?

    Why then would all these patterns be gone for good after Christ's first coming and the Apostles who built up His church after the crucifixtion until it fell away?

    Why would God never again restore the very same patterns that are the foundation of the Bible that contains many prophecies of a restoration in the latter days?

    If you read the New Testament more closely, you will also see passages of Jesus and the Apostle Paul after His death speaking about the work for the dead and the Spirit World where they await the resurrection.

  • Semi-Strong Louisville, KY
    June 16, 2013 4:01 p.m.


    If there is no free will, then I am not sure why we are talking or why what I believe or do not believe matters.

    Those whom God wills to save will be saved. The rest are condemned. All through no action or thought of their own. God is in control of every aspect of our lives. If we do well and are blessed, He did that. So to, if we sin and are cursed, He is responsible. We can neither obey nor rebel. We are mere puppets.

    We are blessed for what He ordained. We are condemned for what He makes us do. So, again, we created some of us to the end of enduring torture forever for what He made us do. We would find such a person unworthy to hold even the earthly position of father.

    Also, where is the miracle of Christ? For what did He come? To expiate his own sins (sins we committed because they were His will)? His suffering was not a gift but justice. He is the responsible party.

    Simply put, without free will neither our lives nor the gospel makes any sense.

  • sharrona layton, UT
    June 16, 2013 11:38 a.m.

    @ Twin Lights. “*To affirm free will is to compromise Grace”, M Luther.i.e..
    Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Thomas Aquinas taught this *doctrine.
    These giants of Christian history derived their view from Holy Scripture."...even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have you been saved)" (Eph. 2:5).

    Paul locates the time when regeneration occurs. It takes place 'when we were dead.' With one thunderbolt of apostolic revelation all attempts to give the initiative in regeneration to man are smashed. Again, dead men do not cooperate with grace. Unless regeneration takes place first, there is no faith.
    …You must all be born from above(John 3:7 Grk N.T.)
    "Lazarus, come out!"(John 11:43)Lazarus came out, he didn’t say I will not come out.

    Aquinas insisted that regenerating grace is operative grace, not cooperative grace. he spoke of a grace that comes before faith, which is regeneration.

    @Semi-Strong, Where do you get your authority?
    …as many as did receive and welcome Him, He gave the “Authority” to become the children of God…(John 1:12)

  • Semi-Strong Louisville, KY
    June 15, 2013 3:10 p.m.


    Check out a blog called johns ramblings on the “Jesus spoke more about hell than any other topic” issue. It didn’t sound right and he shows it is not.

    Yes, the Bible’s writers warned of false teaching and the Holy Spirit is the inspiration of that which is sacred. And there will certainly be a judgment day.

    As to creating your own theology. Martin Luther did so. Sola Scriptura was, in part, the Protestant answer to the lack of authority going back to Christ and the Apostles.

  • OnlytheCross Bakersfield, CA
    June 15, 2013 1:20 p.m.

    Catholics and Mormons have added post-death salvation to the Biblical message. Jehovah's Witnesses and several liberal quasi-"Christian" groups deny the Biblical hell altogether. Modern Judaism has differing opinions; Islamists universally agree on its existence and purpose. To give your opinion on the subject is interesting, but it is just another opinion. Jesus spoke more about hell than any other topic.

    Every man has free will in his thought processes and how he defines his faith. Men and women have been creating their own religions from the beginning. Satan has been allowed in the earthly domain also, according to both Testaments. You can accept or reject those possibilities; you cannot disprove them.

    The Biblical writers warned of false teaching. Paul claimed that the Holy Spirit was the inspirational author of all sacred scripture. So you can create your own theocratic world, just don't twist ancient texts to your own whim. Call it false or absurd and assure folks that there is no Judgment Day, if you want.

    But Dr. Petersen's opinion is still one man's view that creates all sorts of post-death possibilities that Jesus Christ never taught.

  • Semi-Strong Louisville, KY
    June 15, 2013 10:12 a.m.


    Twin Lights here.

    Yes, Trinitarianism preceded the council. So did other views. That was one reason for it.

    The quote you provided indicates that God makes the choice of whether we receive faith and all of its benefits or not. So, my question to you remains. Do we (us not Adam) have free will or not? Does God save or condemn us based on his caprice or upon our response to the gospel (our actions, our belief)?

    If the former, then would you agree that God is cruel to create us knowing that He will condemn us based on His actions rather than ours? What would you think of an earthly father for doing this?

    Here is what Christ said:

    If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

  • J.D. Aurora, CO
    June 15, 2013 9:39 a.m.

    I have always had concerns about some of our beliefs as well, but Brother Terryl Givens spoke at a fireside and reminded us that we do not have to take the BOM as literal to be able to go to the temple. This gave me great peace.

  • sharrona layton, UT
    June 15, 2013 9:25 a.m.

    @Twin Lights We are simply puppets?

    "Before the fall, man had been created with a free will, so that, had he been willing, he might have kept the law; his nature was pure; the disease of sin had not yet reached him... But having desired to be as God, he died - and not he alone, but all his posterity. Since then in Adam all men are dead, no one can recall them to life, until the Spirit, which is God himself, raises them from the dead." - Ulrich Zwingli.

    A. Choices are not made in a vaccuum; we choose in accordance with our desires:
    B. The Bible teaches that the Fall corrupted Man to such a degree that, by nature, we desire not to cooperate with God.

    God did not choose to force the 1st century Jews to have Jesus crucified. But He knew that they would do it, and He chose to allow them to do it. They are responsible for their choice to do it, and will receive just judgment for their sin.

    RE: The word "Trinity" was first used by Tertullian (c.155-230)well before the creed.

    June 14, 2013 7:54 p.m.

    Many Evangelicals get hung up on "by grace and not by works" because they oversimplify the Atonement. Many LDS get hung up on works because they, too, oversimplify the Atonement. The simplification consists of describing a situation that is primarily two dimensional with a one-dimensional model.

    Evangelicals err in assuming that we need not participate in our own salvation other than by acknowledging the Savior. Some LDS err in assuming that we must do all we can and the Savior does the rest.

    My understanding is that the Savior has done His part, and now we must do our part. But we cannot do any part of what the Savior did, and He will not do what we must do. They are different tasks. A simple analogy is the airplane. In order for the airplane to fly, the propeller must pull (or push) the plane forward. The forward motion doesn't lift the airplane, but it does create sufficient airflow over the wings to lift the plane into the air. In other words, if we will use our will to move forward, Christ will use His to lift us.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    June 14, 2013 7:28 p.m.


    Christianity changed significantly from the time of Christ to the Council of Nicaea. Also, the Trinitarian dogma that survived the council was not the only view of early practitioners (though none by then could be called primitive - nearly 300 years had passed since the time of Christ).

    We believe in both faith in and salvation through Jesus Christ. Though we differ on certain specifics, neither side should be so impolite as to accuse the other of not loving the Savior and following him as they understand the gospel.

    I don’t believe that hedging bets is possible religiously. God is never fooled.

    On the issues of “It is a gift; but it won't be forced on you” and “Trust in the Creator of the Universe to be able to reach all His creations with His message and offer” and "He who has the Son has life. He who does not have the Son does not have (eternal) life" we have no disagreement.

    Of course we believe in “The Book with all the documentation” too. I read it frequently.

    I love Christ and try diligently to hear him (though I often fail).

  • OnlytheCross Bakersfield, CA
    June 14, 2013 6:25 p.m.

    No, Craig Clark. Your version is fiction. Read some accurate history; revisionism is easily exposed.

    Distinction simple: There is either one God, one Way, one Hope and Faith through Jesus Christ, or there is polytheism, polygamy, pagan ritual, reworked theology and new revelations. Hedge your bets, because the Biblical salvation isn't multiple choice. It is a gift; but it won't be forced on you. Trust in the Creator of the Universe to be able to reach all His creations with His message and offer. Or create your own fiction and trust in your scenario.

    "He who has the Son has life. He who does not have the Son does not have (eternal) life."

    I'll take The Book with all the documentation. The other offer did not bring me spiritual birth or knowledge of The Holy One. But I wish you all the best in your journey. I pray you hear His voice when He calls.

  • coltakashi Richland, WA
    June 14, 2013 5:14 p.m.

    The Book of Mormon teaches at Alma 7:11 that Christ's atonement not only involved the assumption of the burden of all the sins if mankind, but also included knowing our suffering and trials. After all, if Christ is God then he is omniscient, knowing us and every experience of our lives. We are also told that he loves all of us, with the infinite capacity of God, an omnipotent love. That surely means that his compassion for all mankind who ever lived anywhere us infinite as well. Why would he not want to save us, if we are willing? Is that beyond the power of God?

    This understanding, that God does NOT "hate the Chinese", but loves all mankind, leads the Latter-day Saints to emulate God's compassion for all. In the book American Grace, the authors report that Mormons have more generous feelings toward people of other religions than any other denomination has toward outsiders. It is because Mormons believe they are called by God to love them as his other children, as deserving of eternal joy as anyone.

  • atl134 Salt Lake City, UT
    June 14, 2013 5:05 p.m.

    "or tithing"

    Man could very easily invent that, after all it's not all that different from taxation.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    June 14, 2013 4:01 p.m.


    ".....Thank you, Dr. Petersen, for keeping the distinction clear between Mormon Christianity and Biblical Christianity...."

    The distinction is not so clear as you imagine, not that there ever was a Biblical Christianity to begin with. The religion of Jesus and his first disciples was the Judaism of their time. Then a decade or so later along came Paul who tried his hand at preaching another gospel while out of the other side of his mouth declaring accursed anyone else who tried to do it.

    That’s pretty much how Christianity continued on for the following two millennia. That’s the short version anyway.

  • hermounts Pleasanton, CA
    June 14, 2013 3:30 p.m.

    I used to listen to a lot of Christian radio, and i remember on a talk show I listened to, the host saying that we should be glad anyone gets to be saved, because no one deserves it. I like Brother Peterson's answer better though.

  • christoph Brigham City, UT
    June 14, 2013 2:56 p.m.

    No man would ever invent fasting or keeping the Sabbath holy or tithing or law of chastity or marriage; must have come from above.

  • Brahmabull sandy, ut
    June 14, 2013 1:26 p.m.


    Where is the source for this story? It sounds to me more like a story that was either given after the arm healed, or embellished as these types of stories usually are. I admit miracles do happen, but telling him it would be healed by a certain day seems silly to me.

  • plainbrownwrapper Nashville, TN
    June 14, 2013 1:25 p.m.

    @OnlytheCross --

    But there is also:

    ""If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world." John 12:47

  • OnlytheCross Bakersfield, CA
    June 14, 2013 1:19 p.m.

    Below are some Biblical teachings that are essential to this topic of those who (theoretically) didn't get the memo. You are free to reject them, just not to rewrite them and call them the originals.

    (Thank you, Dr. Petersen, for keeping the distinction clear between Mormon Christianity and Biblical Christianity. That clarifies the issue and allows free men to know between what they are choosing: Joseph Smith's 19th-century revelations or that poor old, reworked, fallacious Biblical document. Yeah, the one with over 10,000 evidentiary fragments.)

    1- You err because you know not The Truth.
    2- You perish because of unbelief.
    3- Man is without excuse; God is clearly revealed and evident from His Creation. (Romans 1)
    4- Man cannot respond if his ears are closed to God's Word.
    5- "If you will hear His Voice Today, do not harden your heart, as in the rebellion." (Heb. 3:7,8)

    So Dr. Petersen is correct in not liking the Biblical message. If you don't hear His voice, someone is responsible.

  • OnlytheCross Bakersfield, CA
    June 14, 2013 1:01 p.m.

    Suechology: When in doubt, go to The Book for the answers. Humans aren't perfected yet. God promises to answer and save "All who seek after Me." (John 3:12-21)

    Skeptic: Why are you weighing in on issues and doctrines that you reject? Are you attracted to the possibilty that you don't have all the answers yet? You pose good questions about why Christians (or any religious evangelist) takes their message to anyone. Read each religion's mandate for your answer. Jesus told His followers to share, defend and protect His Word, because He loves all men and came to take their guilty verdict. But you can keep yours and take your chances at a Judgment Day. (Matthew 28:19; Revelation 19:11-20:15).

    Dr. Petersen: Interesting article and opinion. From the first century to the present men have been accepting, rejecting or rewriting their own gospels. God is gracious with His liberty. He gives you your choice. Just not the choice to plagerize His Word. Thank you for making your distinctions with His original document.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    June 14, 2013 12:45 p.m.

    Tyler D,

    As you may know, Mormonism does not look at most people suffering what we call Outer Darkness. It is reserved for those in “open rebellion” (knowingly opposing God). For the rest are Kingdoms of varying glory. We are told that the glory of the least of these “surpasses all understanding”.


    If “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” Then our free will is moot. We are simply puppets on God’s stage and for reasons unexplained He who loves us and sent his Son to save us condemns some of us unmercifully to hell and others he decides to save. We are like pieces of china, some to be held in a lovely cabinet, others to be tossed and broken and neither for anything to do with us.

    If God were to have made us to purely so we could suffer, then He would be cruel and unworthy of his station. If you or I knew a father on earth who had kids and treated them so disparately, we would call him unfit. I believe better of God.

  • suechology Mission Viejo, CA
    June 14, 2013 12:11 p.m.

    This was something that always bothered me growing up in a protestant church. I asked my Mom about it and her answer was "Well, we send missionaries and do the best we can". Not really an answer that addresses fairness. When the missionaries taught me the truth of God's plan I was so excited. Your story is one I have experienced as well, since my baptism. You said it well. Thank you.

  • skeptic Phoenix, AZ
    June 14, 2013 9:07 a.m.

    What about those who have never heard, don't want or need to hear and are totally happy with their own religion and superstitions and have no desire or us for others. Why can't others leave them in peace and just mind their own relationship with adopted religion and superstitions. The whole idea of if you don't agree with my believes then I have to change you is just nonsense. If there is a god who created all things for what they are then he has no preference for one or another's religion or superstitions he would just view them all equally absurd.

  • Rikki Michelle London, 00
    June 13, 2013 7:58 p.m.

    When I was 15 my dad died of a massive coronary attack. Being a man of science he personally had trouble with the belief of God but never once discouraged my in my relationship with God. My Catholic Priest at the time, rather than console me following the loss of my father, blatantly informed me that my beloved father was in Hell because he chose not to believe in God... That was my last time attending a Catholic Church!! I am a Christian and believe that having Made Us, God Knows our Hearts and Souls and it makes sense to me that He judges us based on our Heart and Soul and the lives we live!! My Dad was a Gift from God & I look forward to seeing him again in Heaven!!

  • sharrona layton, UT
    June 13, 2013 7:53 p.m.

    RE: Twin Lights, The mission of the Christian church is to preach the Gospel to all people in every nation. Because He is just, God will not punish a person for not responding to a message they have never heard.

    .. “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.(Romans 9:13-16)He will save the elect.

    RE: Mountanman. 1Peter 3:18. Some of the angels who fell with Satan were not content with their ‘proper abode’ and therefore began to live among men (and women) as men. God’s judgment upon them was to place them in bonds so that they can no longer promote Satan’s purposes on earth.

    Spirits is only used of human beings when qualifying terms are added, otherwise the term is restricted to supernatural beings. …the unclean spirits,…(Luke 4;36)

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    June 13, 2013 4:02 p.m.

    Consider all the various images the human race has ever had of God down through the ages. Who came up with them in the first place? Priests? Tribal elders? Warriors? Artists?

    Belief in the divine matters to us. To God, it's no big deal. Certainly nothing worth persecuting someone over for not believing. Nothing to enable Tribe A to curry greater favor with unseen power over Tribe B with whom there happens to be fierce competition for control of a territory.

    If we humans knew the real stories of how some of these cast-in-granite understandings of a God of wrath and judgment got started in the first place, we might feel embarrassed.

  • Mountanman Hayden, ID
    June 13, 2013 3:33 p.m.

    As a missionary I have often read 1 Peter 3:18 and then 1 Peter 4:6 to answer these questions to our fellow Christians. Most were amazed that this doctrine is taught in their own Bibles. A few attempted to dance around with their own interpretation, but like all truth, in the end, there it is!

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    June 13, 2013 2:18 p.m.


    "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?"

    For Paul, the answer was obvious for the Jews. But what of the Gentiles (the rest of us)? Paul did his best to become that preacher to the Gentiles, but millions before and since were never reached.

    It is nice to think that one could conjure the idea of Christ on their own, with no scriptures and none to preach, but that is simply not how it has worked. The idea of God (generally) sure. but the specifics of the gospel? No.

    If that were the case, there would be little need for missionaries. Nor for sending Bibles to poor or cloistered countries. In fact, there would be hardly any need for scriptures at all.

    The gospel would erupt spontaneously all over the world and would have preceded the introduction of Christian missionaries. When Christian missionaries arrived in a new land, instead of teaching the native peoples the gospel, they would have been taught instead.

  • Tyler D Meridian, ID
    June 13, 2013 1:52 p.m.

    Great article!
    But we can easily extend this idea further – what about those who have heard but don’t believe for a whole bunch of reasons that have nothing to do with character (i.e., their heart not being in the right place)? The two main reasons being 1) they are strongly attached to their own tradition (and have even had spiritual experiences within that tradition – which ALWAYS acts as confirmation for a tradition’s truth), or 2) they simply cannot buy all the supernatural stuff.

    A God that would torture people for all eternity, not because of their actions but based on whether or not they believed this or that, is a monster.

  • sharrona layton, UT
    June 13, 2013 1:19 p.m.

    RE: Is a person punished eternally by God for not believing in a Christ of whom he never heard?
    The answer is NO!
    If God is just, that cannot be the case. If God were to punish a person for not responding to a message he had no possibility of hearing, that would be a gross injustice; it would be radically inconsistent with God’s own revealed justice. We can rest assured that no one is ever punished for rejecting Christ if they’ve never heard of Him” (R.C. Sproul).

    "That there exists in the human minds and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man being aware that there is a God, and that he is their Maker, may be condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to his service." (John Calvin institutes)

  • estreetshuffle Window Rock, AZ
    June 13, 2013 10:59 a.m.

    I read a story of one of those big bad motorcyle gang types, not the wannabe type but the real thing. He had a bad accident to which he died and came back to life. When in Heaven the spririt which he calle Jesus said that his mangled arm will heal on this date. Sure enough his arm was healed on that date. He said that Jesus is cool. This shows that our God is merciful to all; no matter what stage in life we are at. A Waylon Jennings song quotes that he would rather be with a merciful God than to be with one who condemn to hell those who have sinned ultimately. I feel God is accepting and merciful to all no matter what.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    June 13, 2013 10:20 a.m.

    The Mormon concept of multi-tiered degrees of glory is too convoluted for orthodox Christianity to want to do anything with other than dismiss as fanciful theological nonsense. But its vision of God’s judgment making allowances for individuals on a case by case basis sounds more like justice than the heaven or hell divide that seals one’s fate for eternity. It seems to me that the concept of eternal progression begs for some measure of philosophical consideration.

    It’s hypothetical, of course, as are all theories of salvation. I don’t know if there is a life after death or what awaits us if there is. But Joseph Smith’s religious imagination truly was revolutionary.

    “Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?" (Robert Browning)

  • Unwieldy Toaster Bluffdale, UT
    June 13, 2013 8:50 a.m.

    What if I could conceive of a God that is even more just and efficient than your God? Does that make my God more true? Or more real? Whenever you compare religious ideas things break down pretty quickly for me and it seems that your just arguing about the color of unicorns.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    June 13, 2013 6:11 a.m.

    I agree with Dr. Peterson. I would add that the God some proclaim is a narcissist and illogical. He created us for the purpose of worshiping Him forever. Further, he puts us on earth with families and trials of all sorts only to later put us in heaven (but only if we are lucky enough to know about Christ and accept him) without our families and without getting to use the knowledge and wisdom gained from our time here.

    Simply put, if our purpose is to sing and worship God forever, what does this earth life have to do with preparing us for that end? Like Dr. Peterson, I would find such a God unworthy of worship. As Abraham asked "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"

    When we do one day see the end from the beginning and see God's justice and mercy (for which he sent his Son) I believe we will be compelled to acknowledge (not by force but by the sheer logic of it) that God has been more than merciful, more than just, more than kind. That we will see the far reaching power of the Atonement and be fully amazed.