If what I am calling “the” emerging question is as central as I think it is — and that question is ‘what about those who do not know about Jesus Christ’?, then the entire “in vs. out” issue is immediately raised as well. The 4th and 5th chps of Terry Tiessen’s Who Can Be Saved? deal with two questions: Who needs to be saved? and Whom is God Trying to Save?
Let me give Tiessen’s answers briefly, ask a question or two for our conversation, and then put a little flesh on his answers.
Who needs to be saved? Everyone — since all are guilty of and corrupted by sin.
Whom is God trying to save? Elect.
Is the shape of these questions too individualistic? Even if those questions are shaped too individualistically, do the central issues remain? If his view is correct, is the decline of missionaries (as evangelists) something that needs immediate attention? Or, in your view, does it matter if someone hears about Christ? What advantage is there for those who have? Do all need Christ?
Now some flesh on huge questions and I apologize to Tiessen that I have to summarize him so briefly.
Tiessen believes in original sin in that all humans — every last one of them — infants to adults — all across the globe — are both guilty and corrupt. Every human being inherits original sin; God chose (for whatever reason) to sum up all humans in Adam and Adam’s sin is ours. All our guilty before God for Adam’s sin and all are corrupted in that each person has an inclination to sin. Therefore, everyone needs the salvation in Christ.
The definitive verse is Romans 5:12: “sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all sinned.” This sense that we are all in Adam and we inherit Adam’s sin flows straight from this passage.
Question that arises here for many of my students: What if the Adam/Eve “story” is mythic rather than real? What does that do for the notion of original sin? (I’ve heard that scientists do know the DNA of the original parents.)
Chp 5 gets into a Calvinist theory of God’s intent, and I think I can summarize it this way: Jesus is the only Savior (John 14:6; Acts 4:12 etc); how we describe what “save” means varies by metaphors (sacrifice, new creation, reconciliation, victory etc); this gets him into the major issue.
If the work of Christ is effective, and if Christ died for all, then his work of redemption is effective for all. That spells universalism. Since the Bible has a particularistic theme, then Christ did not die for all; he died only for the elect. God’s intent was to save the elect. That spells, not universalism, but particularism. Tiessen believes in the latter. It is not reductionistic to say that many think one must choose between these two options.
The alternative, usually Arminian, view is that Christ’s death was sufficient for all but efficient only for the elect/those who respond in faith.
We addressed some of this with Olson’s book, but I cannot accept the near-universal Calvinist claim that if one gives the final decision to humans (the work of Christ is sufficient for all but only those who believe receive its benefits), then somehow humans contribute to their salvation. The reason I don’t accept that is because of the Bible’s emphasis on human responsibility, the summons to believe and obey.
Furthermore, I believe the intent of God is to provide a sacrifice for all: that is what 1 John 2:2 says: “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (Tiessen understands this to mean the exclusiveness of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for the redemption of any who do believe.)
Tiessen’s next chp deals with to whom God reveals himself — as Tiessen works out his thesis of accessibilism.