Today, when I googled the question “Will Evangelicals go to heaven?” (with the quotation marks in place), I retrieved only one result, a single page with that question on it. When I googled the phrase “Will Catholics go to heaven?” I garnered a returned-results increase of over four thousand percent.
Quite a hit difference.
Clearly it was time for a new article addressing the under-asked question above: Can an Evangelical (particularly a U.S. Evangelical, since that's where the movement grew) really be admitted to eternal paradise?
SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to conclude with a tentative and conditional “Yes.” To reach that conclusion ... which I confess is merely my flawed, human opinion on the matter ... I will tackle three of the best arguments presented against the salvation of Evangelicals. I’ll let the Naysayer have his Nay-filled Sayings, and then I will propose a counter-argument to reestablish hope that followers of the U.S. Evangelical movement truly can spend eternity with our Lord and Savior.
MY RESPONSE TO POINT 1
This argument against the salvation of Evangelicals relies on what is called the Genetic Fallacy, the illogical argument that where a thing comes from defines its current goodness or badness. A popular example showing how silly the Genetic Fallacy is can be found in the true statement “Volkswagen was established under the Nazis!” and the ridiculous conclusion, “Any American who buys a Volkswagen is pro-Nazi!”
Regardless the origin of the current Evangelical movement—and some of Mr. Naysayer’s arguments are questionable since the anti-American Independence Wesley brothers were also quite anti-slavery—it needs to be remembered that salvation of an individual in Christ is just that: salvation of an individual, not the condemnation of a group and any individual falling under its label. Many, many groups have dark spots in their past, ranging from the Inquisition’s execution of thousands of Jewish conversos by the Catholics, through the slaughter of Anabaptists by Calvinists in theocratic Holland and Calvinist Switzerland; and from the subjugation and forced baptisms of native peoples by Spanish conquistadors as recorded in their own journals, to the “Sunday Afternoon” (i.e., after church services) lynching of thousands of Southern blacks documented in Dr. James Cones’ The Cross and the Lynching Tree.
My point is this: Yes, many current groups have nefarious origins and questionable pasts. But we, unlike Whitefield, must take a more universal approach to the truth that one who is free in Christ is free indeed ... regardless of the Evangelical label and its background baggage. A current Evangelical can be free indeed from the Whitefield past and the founding of historical Evangelicalism.
MY RESPONSE TO POINT 2
While it’s true that having hundreds and even thousands of denominations is certainly not an ideal situation for a group that calls itself the Body of Christ, the comments Mr. Naysayer makes here are more a reflection on the weakness, rather than the heretical nature, of Evangelical faith. I argue that there is nothing here that would necessarily keep them from an eternity of fellowship with the Lord. I will concede his point that there are too many denominations. I will also concede his point that any move toward uniting them again really is seen as a questionable abandonment of one’s principles and even as a supportive move toward a “One World Church” of the End Times (which I concur is a fiction spun by catastrophist eschatologists).
I do not concede, however, that this splinterism is, de facto, evidence of all Evangelicals being outside of Christ.
I propose that the problem comes from a heightened sense of individualism that U.S. Evangelicals derive both from their U.S. culture and from Evangelicalism’s focus on “conversionism” as one of its driving pillars of faith. “Conversionism” is a term related to a one-time event in which you “accept Jesus Christ” in a moment of emotional surrender. Recently, it’s become vogue to refer to this experience as being “born again,” and Evangelicals fell into an unfortunate habit of equating this term (mentioned twice in the New Testament) with having reached a goal of salvation, rather than having started a journey along salvation’s path. Often Evangelicals will ask, “Have you been saved?” or “Have you been born-again?” as if that one emotional experience, important as it is, were the fullness of their Gospel experience. It’s their view of an event-dependent God, a view that confirms their individual-centered expectation of getting it all from God at once, so that one could now sing “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!” and declare “Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior!”
In the fullness of the Gospel message, salvation is not a moment locked in a Christian individual’s personal timeline, rendering Jesus from that point forward as “his” Lord. It is in its entirety a state:
in our past (“You were saved by faith in God,” Ephesians 2:8)
in our present (“It is the power of God for those of us who are being saved,” 1 Corinthians 1:18)
in our future (“We will be saved through Him from wrath,” Romans 5:9)
and, frankly, on God’s terms, outside of our perception of time itself (“the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world,” Revelation 13:8).
Salvation is a step-outside-of-past/present/future thing. It was, it is, and it shall be.
It is the rugged individualism of the American ethos, combined with the conversionism affectation of Evangelicalism, that led U.S. churches into a splintering of the Body of Christ to a degree unimaginable in history prior to the first Great Awakening. I contend that this fracturing is not best addressed by condemning Evangelicals for their habit of forming new churches whenever they’re displeased with some element of their old church. Instead, it should inspire the rest of us to continue the prayer of Christ. We must pray they overcome the easy tendency in their individualistic communities to cast off other parts of the Body. We must show them that they can stop fleeing from the Body in a misguided show of individualistic piety. We must teach them, the way Paul taught, that being a leg but not an arm does not exclude one from the wholeness of the Body, and that different parts working for common purposes make the Body whole. It is the heterogeneity, not the homogeneity, of a body’s system that makes it a successful whole.
Once we pray and instruct our Evangelical brethren in this, we will begin to save them from the myth of church unity being evil.
MY RESPONSE TO POINT 3
Mr. Naysayer, sir, you go too far in calling Evangelicals “idolaters.” While I admit that they sometimes approach the Bible the way radical Islamists approach the Qur’an – as a physical relic worth killing over—by no means do all or even a majority of them fall under your sweeping accusation that they hold the book up as an idol.
Also, I think you’re mistaking all of Evangelicalism with its Christian fundamentalist arm. U.S. fundamentalism is a significant but still fractional segment of the entire U.S. Evangelical movement.
A bit of history: Henry Van Dyke was a Christian scholar of a more liberal bent. Van Dyke proposed, among other things, that the faith held dear by conservative Calvinists, Evangelicals, Presbyterians, Methodists and the like be adjusted to say that all dying infants immediately went to heaven. That preposterous request was one of the straws that broke the conservative camel’s back and led to the drawing up of Christian “fundamentals,” a decree meant to halt such modernist heresies as Van Dyke’s “all babies go to heaven” idea and the creeping suspicion that maybe the Pope wasn’t really the Antichrist. These five fundamentalist principles included reference to the “inerrancy” of Scripture as their first and foremost item (just as you alluded to in your argument). The principles formed the foundation of what is called “fundamentalism” in the U.S. today. That arm of the Evangelical movement is about a hundred years old. It is younger than the Evangelical movement by a century and a half, and should not be treated as if it were the same undertaking. They overlap of course, but they are not identical, and I am not prepared to argue here that all fundamentalists go to heaven.
As to your point of Evangelicals elevating their respect and admiration of the Bible to the level of “worship,” I feel you overstate the case dramatically. You sound, in fact, very much like one of those Evangelicals you oppose, one who might insist that Catholics “worship Mary,” even though the Roman Catholic Church’s stance against any such thing is quite clear. Mr. Naysayer, Evangelicals do not worship the Bible. They may use language that makes one suspect they elevate it too highly (for example, your admittedly valid point about the Bible never calling itself “the Word of God.”) But I feel such excesses can be dealt with through education rather than through condemnation of the entire movement as a book-worshipping cult.
If I were to educate an Evangelical, I would start by explaining that Biblical inerrancy is not the same thing as Biblical literalism or even Biblical infallibility. One does not need to throw away the entire Bible simply because Jesus references the mustard seed as the “smallest of all seeds on the Earth” when clearly it literally isn’t. One does not need to throw away the entire five books of Moses simply because Jesus, when confronted with their literal words about permissible divorce, dismissed their usefulness by saying ... about Scripture inspired by God ... “Moses only permitted that because of the hardness of your heart. That’s why that bit was in those particular Scriptures. It’s your fault.”
Further, I would educate my Evangelical friend that inerrancy in teachings, doctrines, principles, and ideas of faith does not mean the same thing as inerrancy in biology, cosmology, physics, genealogies, or mathematics (as in the case of 1 Kings 7:23, which incorrectly calculates the value of Pi to be an even 3.0).
And should my Evangelical friend feel ill at ease because he believes the Bible declares itself to be factually, scientifically, and historically infallible, I would ask him where it makes that claim. Certainly not in 2 Timothy 3:16, which characterizes Scripture as being profitable and useful for training and equipping a child of God to do good works. “Profitable and useful” are descriptions of a tool, and a most impressive one, but in no way say “scientific infallibility.” And certainly not Romans 15:4, which likewise treats the writings of old as instruction tools and texts of encouragement. 2 Peter 3:16 concedes that there are things in Paul’s letters that are hard to understand and can be misused, just like in all Scripture; 2 Timothy 2:15 implies that the word needs to be studied thoroughly to divide it rightly and to apply it as a child of God.
And my Evangelical friend is likely, finally, to say: “But 2 Timothy 3:16 states directly that all Scripture was inspired, breathed into, by God. If there are any mistakes in it, doesn’t that make God fallible or a liar? Doesn’t it?”
To that I will say, still teaching: “You’re mistaken. That verse doesn’t say Scripture was breathed by God. It says all Scripture is breathed by God, is inspired by him, is in the present tense, not was in the past tense. That clearly shows that the act of inspiration dwells within the reading as much as it does in the writing, in hearing the Scriptures and applying them now. All Scripture is inspired by God, continuously given by the breath of God. And God is still breathing, still inspiring the works of righteousness directed by that passage. It’s that step-outside of past/present/future thing all over again. It is God ... still speaking.”
Mr. Naysayer, I consider you thoroughly rebutted.
Simply because Evangelicalism was of questionable birth does not make its current adherents into reprobates immune to God’s salvation.
Simply because its American adherents are subject to a cultural ethos of rugged individualism does not mean there is no hope for some, the remnant within, who work for the unity of the Body of Christ.
Simply because some of them fall into the Pharisaic trap of worshipping the letter while forgetting the true nature of the Word of God, our Savior Jesus, does not mean they are all idolaters.
If they abide in Christ, they can be saved. Though a thousand fellow Evangelicals fall to the left, another thousand fall to the right, there is still hope in Christ that will lead to the salvation of particular Evangelicals.
Let us not grieve the Holy Spirit by thinking otherwise.
Cosmic Parx a.k.a. YoYo Rez