The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Pagan Salvation Apart from Formal Profession of Faith in Christ

The possibility of universalism is at least enhanced by 3 NT texts undermine the claim that salvation depends on a formal profession of faith in Christ in this life:

(1) In 1 Peter 3:19 “prison” is an image of the abode of the evil dead from the time of Noah. This focus is due to Peter’s use of the Great Flood as an image of baptism. The assumption is that these evil dead can respond to Christ’s preaching and thus be redeemed:

“…He [Christ] went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah…(3:19)”

Some try to evade this implication by identifying “the spirits in prison” as the Nephilim. But this interpretation seems to be precluded by the resumption of “the spirits of the dead” in the phrase “the Gospel was preached even to the dead” and the use of “spirit” in 4:6:
“…the Gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh, as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.”

(2) Members of the original Corinthian church mourn the fact that deceased unrighteous family members have missed out on salvation. So, with Paul’s approval, they practice a ritual of proxy baptism for their unrighteous discarnate loved ones. Paul views this ritual as a small part of the process by which God will ultimately become “everything to everyone:”

“…so that God may be all in all (Greek: panta en pasin” =“everything to everyone”). Otherwise, what will those people do who receive baptism in behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf (1 Corinthians 15:28-29)?"

The Jewish background of such proxy baptism is a redemptive ritual performed by Judas Maccabaeus during a key battle against the Syrian Greeks. In 2 Maccabees 12:39-46 [a book in the Catholic OT), Judas and his soldiers find small idols in the clothing of slain Jewish freedom fighters and conclude that their deaths are punishments for idolatry. But then they pray for their salvation and finance a sin offering in their behalf:

“He [Judas Maccabaeus] also took up a collection…and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering …For if he had not expected that those who were fallen would rise from the dead, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead…Therefore, he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.”

(3) Paul teaches the possibility of salvation for pagans who have never heard the Gospel:

“To those who by patiently seeking to do good seek for glory, honor, and immortality, He will give eternal life…When Gentiles who do not possess the Law do instinctively what the Law requires, these…are a Law to themselves. They show that what the Law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness (Romans 2:7, 14-15).”

Their lack of access to God’s written Torah allows them to be exempt from guilt through violation of that Law: “…sin is not reckoned when there is no law (Romans 5:13).” In their case ignorance can be a valid excuse: [Paul:] “God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, but now He commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).” This teaching represents an application of Jesus’ principle that God judges us on the basis of how much spiritual light we have received: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required (Luke 12:48).”

I would refer you to the Eastern Orthodox article on Inclusivism. And the conservative, Calvinist theologian at Rev. Dr. Jay Moses: What Does Salvation Mean in a Multi-Religious World?. Along with the article on Red Road Christianity.

I agree with the first video’s Greek Orthodox perspective, though conservative evangelicals would summarily dispatch it by invoking contrary NT claims. My OP’s biblical survey is intended as a biblical antidote to such anticipated rebuttals.

Calvinist Jay Moses 's presentation in the 2nd video has value as a plea for interreligious tolerance and mutual understanding. It might have been strengthened by a focus on the widespread evangelical slander of Rick Warrren for his alleged embrace of Chrislam. To see just how false this is, read this post:

Rick Warren, still a proud Southern Baptist, has developed and promoted an ambitious AIDS program in African that can be far more effective through cooperation with Muslims in the various regions. By signing joint Muslim-Christian accords and speaking at national Muslim conferences, Warren is admirably building bridges for a healthier relationship with Muslims worldwide.

What I disliked about Jay Moses’ presentation is his cheap shot at Billy Graham’s alleged exclusivism, which is refuted by the following polemic against Graham’s spiritual evolution:

I have heard evangelical pastors excuse Graham’s later more inclusivistic perspective on the grounds of growing senility, but in fact his views have simply matured over the years.

This controversy reminds me of my boyhood pastor who hosted the longest Gospel TV program in North American history. My family attended his church for my first 21 years and every Sunday night he preached a fiery evangelistic Gospel message, compete with an altar call. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn that in his 80s he scandalized many evangelicals by conceding that people from pagan cultures who don’t understand the Gospel can be saved apart from faith in Christ.

In my view, the most neglected biblical text for this thread’s theme is Amos 9:7.
In addition to the call and covenant with Abraham, the exodus from Egyptian slavery is a founding act whereby Israel becomes a people of Yahweh. But this chosen status is not unconditional. When Israel neglects social justice, God lifts the veil on how He has also been a guiding force for the long journeys of other pagan groups to the Palestine region:

“Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel, says the Lord. Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt and the Philistines form Caphtor, and the Arameans from Kir (in modern Iraq–Amos 9:7)?”

Yahweh also implies that He is equally the revelatory God of the Ethiopians as He is for Israel. In my view, this Amos text has profound implications for the mediation of salvation through pagan spiritualities.