Hell, we might say, with apologies to Jean-Paul Sartre, is for other people. Hitler, Pol Pot, child molesters perhaps—though there is always the possibility of repentance. The closer we come to our loved ones, even those who have forthrightly rejected faith in Christ, the harder it is to contemplate such a fate. And what about the Hindu family that moved in down the block last year, or the Buddhist émigré from Tibet, or the devout Muslim who teaches at the local college?
Last week at Wheaton College, in the latest installment of the McManis Lecture Series on Religious Pluralism, John Sanders of Huntington College spoke on "The Wider Hope: An Evangelical Inclusivist Understanding of God's Work Outside Christianity." Sanders, whose work in the "openness of God" movement among evangelical theologians—see his book The God Who Risks (InterVarsity Press)—has been widely discussed and debated, starts with the biblical assumptions of "God's universal salvific will" (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9)" and "the particularity and finality of Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-3; Acts 4:12)." Given this starting point, Sanders takes up what he calls "the soteriological problem of evil," that is, "what does the creator God, who wants all to be saved in Jesus Christ, do to accomplish this goal?"
It should be clear from the way that Sanders frames this question that he rejects the popular notion, advocated by John Hicks among others, that all the world's "great" religions are equally valid and that all offer a path to the truth that transcends any particular expression of the divine. Nor does he argue for a Christian universalism: the view that "all people are given the opportunity to receive Jesus and all will, sometime or another, be saved." On the other hand, ...1
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