Mormon studies, baptism, salvation, theology
Lord, are there few that be saved?” (Luke 13:23). This question has troubled thinkers from Christianity’s beginning. The faithful readily accept that, save Jesus Christ, there is “none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Yet, the same loyal followers of Christ wrestle with the puzzling reality that countless persons have lived and died never hearing of Christ, let alone having had an adequate chance to accept the salvation he offers. What is their fate in the eternities? Are they forever excluded from salvation? Thomas V. Morris, former professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, describes this unexplained “scandal” in his book The Logic of God Incarnate:
The scandal . . . arises with a simple set of questions asked of the Christian theologian who claims that it is only through the life and death of God incarnated in Jesus Christ that all can be saved and reconciled to God: How can the many humans who lived and died before the time of Christ be saved through him? They surely cannot be held accountable for responding appropriately to something of which they could have no knowledge. Furthermore, what about all the people who have lived since the time of Christ in cultures with different religious traditions, untouched by the Christian gospel? . . . How could a just God set up a particular condition of salvation, the highest end of human life possible, which was and is inaccessible to most people? Is not the love of God better understood as universal, rather than as limited to a mediation through the one particular individual, Jesus of Nazareth? Is it not a moral as well as a religious scandal to claim otherwise?
This “scandal,” otherwise known as the soteriological problem of evil, stems from the logical tension between three propositions: (1) God is perfectly loving and just and desires that all of his children be saved; (2) salvation comes only through an individual’s appropriation of Christ’s salvific gifts; and (3) countless numbers of God’s children have lived and died without having a chance to hear about, much less accept, these saving gifts. Would a truly loving and just God condemn his children simply because they never heard of his Son or his salvific gifts? Some very influential Christian thinkers have answered in the affirmative, and, consequently, some critics have labeled Christianity as a religion of damnation rather than salvation.
Paulsen, David L.; Cook, Roger D.; and Mason, Brock M.
"Theological Underpinnings of Baptism for the Dead,"
BYU Studies Quarterly: Vol. 55:
3, Article 6.
Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/byusq/vol55/iss3/6