The Narrow Wider Hope

The Issues At Hand - Defining Perspectives on Afterlife and Salvation

It has been very important to me to teach on the meaning of salvation from what I call a "Gospel of the Kingdom" perspective. Salvation is a concept that is far richer than going to heaven when we die, as important as that may be. Rather, salvation encompasses the whole of life, individual and corporate. It is not only about life after death, but also about the full meaning of our life in the present. Nevertheless, the question of our destiny in the "afterlife" is a pressing one. The answer to this question is an important part of the meaning of salvation. Different religions give various answers to this question. It is so central that for many the very word salvation has to do with a positive destiny in the afterlife. *

Buddhist, Hindu, Greek Views

In some forms of Hinduism and in some Greek traditions, after the payments of karma through re-incarnation, the soul attains bliss and freedom from the cycle of death and re-birth. According to the original Theravda school of Buddhism, there is no hope of personal immortality-but only the hope of attaining peace and the end of the illusion of the individual ego. Some forms of Vedanta Hinduism see the individual eventually absorbed into the being of Brahmin, never again to be a distinct individual.

New Covenant Views

The New Covenant Biblical view of the afterlife is more concrete than other sophisticated developed religious philosophies from ancient times. The resurrection provides a hope that is much more within our conceptual grasp. This afterlife will be analogous to physical existence including the recognition of friends, and the enjoyment of pleasures analogous to our life in this age. The chief pleasure will be to enjoy God. The question of who gets to enjoy this afterlife of bliss and enrichment is a crucial question. In no way does sophistication deliver us from dealing with the question. Different religions and even traditional views based in Scripture come to different conclusions. Generally, with significant exceptions, the religious perspective of traditional Judaism and Christianity was a Narrow Hope. What do we mean when we use the term "Narrow Hope"? It is a hope that some will attain an everlasting life of fulfillment after death. However, it is also a view that only those who fulfill very specific criteria can obtain this positive afterlife. In addition, it is the view that only a small minority of the human race throughout history have met the criteria. Here are some examples of classical formulations of the Narrow Hope.

Traditional Jewish Views

In Judaism we read that the righteous from all nations have a place of fulfillment in the Age to Come.[1] This looks very broad until we note how Judaism defines the righteous. The righteous are those who follow the seven Noahchide commandments. This includes abandoning idol worship. This excluded the greater part of the whole human race. Despite the greater emphasis in Judaism on a Wider Hope for human beings in general, there is little in classical Orthodoxy to support such an application for pagans. Salvation is for faithful Jews, proselytes and benay and banot-Noach (those non-Jews who follow the seven Noachide commandments). Did some think in Wider Hope terms? Yes, but this was not the consensus. Though all Jews have a place in the Age to Come, those who commit gross sins without full repentance will be excluded. Judaism's Narrow Hope was quite wide for Jews. The Essenes were an exception to this, for they saw salvation as only for the truly righteous, which was mostly limited to fellow Essenes.

Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Views

In classical Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox formulations, there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church. There was a Wider Hope tradition for the best Greek philosophers who lived a virtuous life and anticipated Biblical truth. These philosophers live in a special place near to paradise, but not fully a part of paradise. Generally, those having a blessed life in the hereafter included only people baptized into the Church and participating in the sacraments. Sacramental life in the Church was seen as necessary to salvation. This excluded Jews who were thereby seen as lost. God's rejection of the Jewish people was part of classical Catholic theology. This rejection was repudiated at Vatican II.

Evangelical Doctinal Views

The classical Evangelical Doctrine also produced various formulations. In classical Calvinism, those who were destined for a fulfilling afterlife were the elect who were predestined by God. The predestined would prove their election by confessing Jesus as savior and Lord, by being baptized and by living a righteous life. It was totally by irresistible grace, but a transformed life was a necessary part of it. Similar formulations are found in classical Lutheranism but without as consistent a view of predestination. Luther's Bondage of the Will is in accord with Calvin. Jacob Armenius rejected the strong predestination perspective and instead emphasized the free choice of the will. The saved are those who have repented and confessed Yeshua as Lord and Savior, with the accompanying transformation to follow expected (the transformation from being born again.)

Classical Dispensationalist Views

Classical Dispensationalism departed from the necessity of repentance and transformation. A joyful afterlife was attained by believing that Jesus died for one's sins and rose again. This would be affirmed by a prayer of "receiving Jesus." A person who did so believe would be encouraged to have assurance for a fulfilling everlasting life. No life transformation was necessary, for then salvation would not be by grace. This was a departure from both classical Calvinism and classical Arminian teaching. The person who so believes is said to be "born again." Dispensationalism greatly influenced Jewish missions in the first half of the 20th century.

Classical Evangelical views became prominent in Jewish missions in the 19th century and are still common in Messianic Judaism. Dispensational views remain common in 20th and early 21st Century Jewish missions. Those who are destined for heaven and who will escape Hell are only those who have sincerely confessed Yeshua as savior (in dispensationalism) and Savior and Lord in Classical Evangelicalism. In this view, the Jewish people are as lost as any other people. The election of the Jewish nation does not imply their personal salvation which is only attained by the confession of Yeshua and experiencing being born again.

John Wesley was the most noteworthy exception to this consensus and came up with a view that I call the Narrow Wider Hope. We will spend considerable space on this viewpoint and Wesley's Scriptural argument for it. In mentioning this, I should define the Wider Hope and the Narrow Wider Hope. Those of the Wider Hope perspective embrace the truth that human beings are only destined for heaven through the great act of God in the crucifixion and resurrection of Yeshua. All who are ultimately saved will only be saved through him. However, the application of that sacrifice may be very broad. Those of the widest Wider Hope are universalists. They include Pastor Neal Punt who believed that all human beings were elect. We also include John McQuarrie and Kaffman. In both systematic theologies, the case is made that all human beings will ultimately be saved. Evil men will have to pay for their sins in Hell, which is reinterpreted as Purgatory. Norman Grubb, the famous biographer of missionaries, came to the view of the eventual salvation of all. So did Carlton Pierson, a high profile religious leader and recording artist.

{josquote}Most proponents of a Wider Hope view are not universalists. {/josquote}

Most proponents of a Wider Hope view are not universalists.Rather, there is still a view that some will have a positive eternal destiny and some will not. However, the way to get in on the atonement is not only by an explicit response to the message of the Good News, but by various other means. Making an ultimate commitment to goodness, or responding rightly to the truth in nature and culture are also seen as sufficient to attach people to Yeshua. Of course, those who have a Wider Hope view also apply this to the Jewish people who can be included in the atonement of Yeshua by rightly responding to God and the revelation of God in the Hebrew Bible. In such a view, no one knows the proportions of those who have rightly responded and those who have not. However, God is just and has given every human being a significant chance to respond. The numbers of the "saved" or those destined for a positive destiny after this life could be a majority of human beings-or may not be such a large number. In general, those of this persuasion are optimistic about the number and proportion of humanity included in a positive afterlife. 

The Narrow Wider Hope also embraces the view that there are ways to respond to God other than by explicit response to the Good News and Confession of Yeshua. This may include a response to the revelation of God in nature and culture so that one does turn to God or the Good. However, other statements of Scripture mitigate against this hope and warn against having too much confidence in such responses. We are not given much expectancy that such responses are widespread. Indeed, it is thought that Scripture teaches that people generally do not respond positively to these sources of revelation and truth. Therefore without the Gospel being presented, it is likely that people will be lost or destined for eternal destruction. Rather than rest upon the hope that people are responding to truth and revelation in nature and culture and are thereby included in some way in the salvation that is in Yeshua, the proponent of the Narrow Wider Hope believes that it is not wise to put much hope in this possibility.

However, in the defense of God's justice, we can argue that there is a broader equality of opportunity such that no one is left without real opportunity. Thus, our orientation to presenting the Gospel does not substantially change. Indeed, for the assurance of one's destiny afterlife, explicitly confessing and embracing Yeshua is central. In addition, the proponent of the Narrow Wider Hope holds that it is generally true that people are destined for a positive everlasting destiny only by their explicitly embracing Yeshua. This is also the primary basis for our confidence in the destiny of others, both Jew and Gentile. The Narrow Wider Hope would accept the possibility that Jews can be included within the salvation that is in Yeshua by rightly responding to the true revelation of God that is contained in Judaism. One might reasonably observe that there is more opportunity for those involved in Judaism since there is more revelation within Judaism than in any other religion or culture that does not explicitly embrace Yeshua.

In general, the question I am addressing is this: "How important is the explicit embrace of Yeshua for receiving salvation (which includes joyful everlasting life in the Age to Come?" In addition I respond to this question: "How great is the need of Jewish people to embrace Yeshua? Is there a really a Wider Hope and if so, how wide is it?" I also evaluate, "How does this contributor's view differ from other views and what are the strengths and weaknesses of this contributor's view?" The first questions will permeate the paper and the last ones will figure significantly in the conclusion. With this in mind, let us go to the body of the paper.

The Case for the Narrow Hope

I believe that our theological interpretations are influenced by how Scripture was mediated to us through those who first become our mentors and teachers. Scripture texts are strung together with a particular interpretive slant. We are unaware that there is any such slant, but think we are simply being given a straightforward presentation of Bible teaching. Imagine my surprise when I found that the texts which had been used to support the pre-tribulation rapture seemed to be out of context-misapplications of those very texts! In the same way, any presentation of texts in support of narrow or Wider Hope views needs to be dealt with by pursuing one great question, "What does this text really mean?" A second question is, "Have I been given an interpretation of this text which is not supported by the evidence?" With this in mind we proceed.

The Narrow Hope view is supported by numerous Scriptures from the New Covenant writings that individually and together appear to make a strong case for the Narrow Hope. Let us look briefly at these texts. They are mostly from the Gospel of John and the Pauline writings. Here is the list from John:

"Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." (John 1:12)

"Yeshua answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." (John 3:3)

"Yeshua answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.". (John 3:5)

"Do not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.' " (John 3: 7).

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (John 3:36)

"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." John 5:24

"Yeshua said to them, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." John 6:53.

"I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins." John 8:24

"I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father, but through me." (John 14:12).

The great verse in Acts 4:12 states:

"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

Also in Acts 16:30, 31 we read the words to the Philippian jailor who asked,

"Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" "They replied, believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."

Romans provides these texts:

"This righteousness from God comes through faith in Yeshua/Messiah to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:22, 23)

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Messiah Yeshua your Lord." (Romans 6:23)

"That if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile . . . for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10:9,10) .

These verses above do not exhaust the entire corpus of supporting texts, but are sufficient to give us evidence claimed for the Narrow Hope/Evangelical understanding which is also held by many Messianic Jews-a view which has been massively influential in our movement. The import of these texts seem very clear to a proponent of Narrow Hope.. Those who believe and embrace Yeshua are "saved," that is they have the certain prospect of a fulfilling and everlasting life after death. This embrace of Yeshua includes trusting in his atonement for our sins and his resurrection. The opposite is also true; if one does not confess, believe in, or embrace Yeshua, one is lost and has only the prospect of eternal death, loss, or Hell. The texts say that to not believe in Yeshua is to die in one's sins and this implies being lost (John 8:24). To not believe means that the wrath of God rests upon them. Only those who are born again through believing in Yeshua are saved, only those who confess with their mouth and believe with their heart, have everlasting life (Romans 10:9,10). Since all have sinned, the only way out of the dilemma is to be born again through Yeshua in an explicit embrace of the Good News. Only in doing so, can one see the Kingdom of God, and have a positive afterlife.

The late Francis Schaeffer was a very forceful proponent of the Narrow Hope view. His book Death in the City details his view.[2] Anyone who holds that so many are to be eternally lost is challenged to present a theodicy-a defense as to how God remains just in condemning so many. Schaeffer argues that all human beings deserve everlasting separation from God. The greatest sin of all is failure to submit to God and his sovereignty and worship the creature rather than the creator. This sin manifests itself in explicit idolatry-or a much more subtle idolatrous form in self-worship and all those things in our lives that find a place outside of the will of God. Schaeffer takes a corporate dimension of humanity into account. All individuals who are lost, are lost either because they or their ancestors personally refused the knowledge of God. The refusal of this knowledge creates God-deficient cultures which are rightly under the judgment of God. So lost-ness is a corporate judgment; it is not only an individual matter. Humans deserve Hell. A person's rejection of God is an enormous evil in God's eyes.

Continuing in this understanding, the first chapter of Romans presents a view of a humanity that has rejected the revelation of God in nature and culture. (culture?) Because God judges individually as well as corporately, it is only in the preaching of the Gospel, that a new opportunity for salvation is given to people who have rejected the former revelation. This view also answers that question of the fairness of the historical process whereby the Gospel is offered to some centuries before it is offered to others. Even the Wider Hope view, in all its varieties outside of universalism, has to deal with this. Corporately, those who embraced the historical revelation in Scripture (first the Jews and then Messianic Jews), bring the Gospel to others over historical time. Judgment on peoples is corporate and that those who bring the Gospel create new communal connections that bring people into the Kingdom; this modality fits perfectly within the ways of God's justice.

Creating a new corporate reality is part of God's way of justice. It is not merely an individualistic matter as is often imbedded in Western views. Rather, justice is both a matter of judging individually and with equality according to the violation of the Law of God. This justice also judges cultures for their corporate responsibility in their ancestral rejection of revelation. Individuals can be lost as part of their larger corporate being. Because Abraham walked with God, the new opportunity for salvation spread and will continue to spread forth from Israel to the nations. According to Schaeffer's and similar others, motivation in bringing the Gospel to others, a new corporate reality is created. Those who bring the Gospel become part of the life of those who are offered the Gospel; hence, a new corporate reality spreads from those who bring the Good News. Because people made choices which produced God-deficient cultures, people must be the instruments to reverse this through the spreading of the Good News. Schaeffer is a moderate Calvinist who asserts both election and human responsibility for a response to God.

Personally, I can not find any logical objection to Schaeffer's view, but there may be reasons of the heart to resist such a stark position. We require evidence from the texts of Scripture and not merely a subjective response if Schaeffer is to be challenged. Most who hold to a Narrow Hope view will see Judaism as being a deficient culture because of the failure of our ancestors to embrace the testimony of the Apostles to ancient Israel. On this basis it is argued that Jews now need the Good News as much as the people of other cultures.

{josquote}Personally, I can not find any logical objection to Schaeffer's view, but there may be reasons of the heart to resist such a stark position.{/josquote}

It is interesting that John Hagee, who is one of the more important Christian Zionist leaders today, combines a Narrow Hope view for the peoples of the earth with a very Wider Hope view for Jews. All faithful Jews will be given opportunity to embrace Yeshua when He returns. This includes a resurrection opportunity for those Jews who have died. Judaism provides a way to faithfulness that brings Jews within the realm of salvation. This is Hagee's reading of the covenants with Israel and his interpretation of the meaning of, "All Israel will be saved," from Romans 11.

Verses Used in Support for the Wider Hope View

A significant number of Scriptures are used to support Wider Hope view points. We list the most significant ones. Amazingly, some of these texts are in the same writings from John, Paul and Acts, as the texts used to foster the Narrow Hope view.

First from the Gospel of John:

"The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world." (John 1:9)

"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:18)

"May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:21)

"Everyone who loves has been born of God, and knows God." (I John 4:17)

From Acts we read the following:

"Then Peter began to speak, ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.' " (Acts 10:34)

"Yet he has not left himself without testimony; he has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." (Acts 14:17)

"From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth, and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘ We are his offspring.'"

Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver, or stone-an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people every where to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed." (Acts 17:24-31).

Other texts provide these statements:

"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jer. 29:13)

"Since what can be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature-having been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Romans 1:18,19)

"Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men" (Romans 5:18)

"For as in Adam all die, so in Messiah all will be made alive." (I Cor. 15:22)

"For by grace you have been saved through faith (genitive), it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph. 2:8)

"This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Messiah Yeshua, who gave himself as a ransom for all men, the testimony given in its proper time." I Timothy 2:3-6)

The Wider Hope and Universalism

Generally, those with a Wider Hope perspective embrace the verses we have quoted above as clearly teaching the Wider Hope view. On the basis of these verses, they interpret the verses that appear to teach a Narrow Hope view. Of course, the proponents of Narrow Hope embrace the Narrow Hope-oriented verses and at the same time-through the same matrix of verses, Wider Hope proponents make their case. Some of these same verses are interpreted not only as a basis for a Wider Hope, but as the widest hope possible: Universalism. While some verses, like the ones in Acts, seem to just say that human beings can respond to God even if they have not heard the Good News explicitly, the other verses that speak in terms of "all" are taken to mean that eventually all human beings will be saved. Even Adolph Hitler, by this view, will eventually be saved, though it will take a long, long time of purgation. The Universalist thus sees people in several categories: those who have responded to the Gospel and walk in assurance of salvation; those who have responded to Goodness for itself and thereby have responded to Yeshua without knowing it (for they have responded to his light, and He is the light that lights every man), and those who are given to evil but who will eventually embrace Yeshua. Those in the last group will spend much time in purgatory. Philippians 2 and Isaiah 45 are added to these arguments. The ultimate, positive embrace of Yeshua (not merely a forced acknowledgement that does not save) is evidenced in the saying that "every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Yeshua is Lord''

{josquote}He never resolves the paradox.{/josquote}

Karl Barth provides us with an interesting approach. He is not willing to blunt either the texts that tend to universalism or the texts that seem to restrict salvation to those who embrace Yeshua with radical commitment. Cornelius Van Til, a Narrow Hope Calvinist, accuses Barth of universalism in his book "Christianity and Barthianism."[3] However, it is really much more subtle. Barth is willing to embrace paradox as an essential part of truth (Is this the influence of Kierkagaard?). Therefore, Barth holds forth the universal hope of salvation for all, while also presenting the embrace of the Gospel as the way to be saved without which men are lost. He never resolves the paradox. This has special connection to the election of the Jewish people. Barth's embrace of "All Israel shall be saved," from Romans 11 fits the same pattern of his Wider Hope affirmation. One of the reasons I included Ephesians 2:8 in the texts used by Wider Hope proponents is that they are very insistent that the Greek puts forth the view that it is the faithfulness of Yeshua that saves us, not our response. It is by faith that we are saved, that is His faithfulness, not our subjective faith response. It is argued that almost all references to salvation by faith in Paul are of this order. This is certainly an over statement since Romans 10:9,10 make our subjective confession and believing in the heart a key to salvation. In addition, Abraham was justified by his response in Romans 4. Johannine texts and Hebrews make the response of faith in the subject crucial to entering into salvation. One can clearly see the genius of dialectical theology in seeking to do justice to both sets of passages without an easy harmony.

Wider Wider Hope Views, (Excluding Universalism)

The contrasts among Wider Hope views lie in different interpretive approaches to Scriptures, which Scriptures are given greater weight, and how human beings are evaluated. Those in the present category do not see the passages that are taken to be universal as referring to all people as individuals. They credit the assertion that there are really evil people who are destined for everlasting separation from God. The rejection of the Good News when rightly presented, with the accompanying conviction of the Holy Spirit, does lead to the great danger of separation from God. However, inclusion in everlasting life through the atonement of Yeshua is connected to making an implicit response to the unseen Yeshua by such things as committing one's life to Goodness itself, to depending on the grace of God (as in Ramanuja's Vadanta Hinduism), responding to God through the covenants given to ancient Israel, responding rightly to natural revelation or the truth within one's culture. The passages that warn of everlasting damnation and the obvious reality of truly evil people, convince these folks that there is a serious life choice to be made that determines one's salvation. All of the Wider Hope texts are taken as supporting the wideness of God's mercy, but not without limitation. The percentages of those saved and lost is simply not within our human ability to discern. In addition, our assurance for the destiny of others should be primarily by their embrace of Yeshua.

It is interesting that many do find it troubling that the great mass majority of humanity will be lost. Even a Narrow Hope theologian, Benjamin B. Warfield, argued that the greater number of humanity would be saved. He argued that the numbers saved at the end of this age, before the Age to Come, would be so huge that it would dwarf the number lost through all of history. This hope was based on the great number that Scripture stated would turn to God at the end of the Age. The Wider Hope view expands to include those who have not specifically confessed Yeshua. Many Puritans and Wesleyians also held to a great universal conversion of the nations at the end of days. This is my view as well based on Isaiah 2, 11, 45, and 61 and many other texts. I do not know, however, if this great number is greater than the number of those who will be lost.

Arguing the Narrow Hope View

Basically, the proponents of the Narrow Hope view hold that those passages used to support both universalism and the Wider Hope are really to be interpreted in quite a different way. For example, that all will bow the knee to Yeshua (Phil. 2) is understood either as the general massive conversion of nations at the end of days (Narrow Hope optimists) or of the forced bowing of both the saved and lost (Narrow Hope pessimists). That the truth will be testified to all in due time from I Timothy 2 is to be interpreted to mean that the testimony will come to all ethnic groups, but not to every individual that has ever lived. The latter would require an opportunity to embrace the testimony after death. (Dawn Bible Students (an off-shoot of Jehovah's witnesses) holds that all who have not had opportunity to accept or refuse the Good News will be resurrected to have their opportunity in the Millennial Age. The difference of interpretation turns upon the meaning of all, as in all individuals that have ever lived-or as corporate in meaning.

We find similar interpretations for every Wider Hope text. An example is found in the perspective that Yeshua is the light that lights every man, yet only producing social order, not implying that all have that light sufficient to respond to the truth so as to be saved. In the same way, the knowledge of God in Romans 1 is knowledge that is rejected, not knowledge that any longer gives an opportunity to respond and be saved. As in Calvinism, it can only now be suppressed knowledge that brings condemnation. Acts 10:34 only implies the righteousness of proselytes to Judaism in that day who really sought God as Cornelius. For such people, God finds the means to bring them the Good News and they explicitly will says "yes" to it. Acts 17 provides a larger challenge. What does it mean to say that God overlooks the former ignorance? It only means that he did not destroy those societies up until that time. It does not mean that people were in any way included in the grace of salvation.

Finally, statements in Romans about salvation being given to all men, are a matter of its offer or its potential-not a matter of its actual effect. All men are not thereby saved. In Calvinism, it is difficult to see how the offer is real, but Arminians have no difficulty on this point. The atonement is sufficient for all, but only applied to those who embrace Yeshua.

Wider Hope Arguments

In the same way that Narrow Hope views lead to certain interpretation of the Wider Hope Scriptures, so the Wider Hope Scriptures lead to their specific interpretation of the Narrow Hope Scriptures. Most proponents would look at the Scriptures of John and note that John is specifically speaking about the kairos moment (a special divine time of opportunity and destiny) which brought the Jewish people to a defining moment. The right or wrong choice was destiny-determining for the individual and the nation. So also in the presentation of the Gospel to this day, this kairos moment comes to people. Their individual and corporate choices determine their destiny. To reject the Son in the context of Holy Spirit conviction for the truth brings condemnation. John should not be read in terms of universal statements about peoples, but in terms of such a moment of exquisite responsibility for truth that can not be denied without great culpability. This is understood as the context of the Johannine language. It is as the words of Acts 17, "Now he commands . . . to repent."

Almost all views teach that men are only condemned for refusing the truth that they can know. Those who have not heard the Gospel are not condemned for the refusal of embracing Yeshua, but their refusal of the truth that they do know. However for Wider Hope people, to hold that men are so condemned, has as its corollary in that they could embrace that truth that they know and not be under God's condemnation. Acts 10:34 does not state that its truth is only for proselytes, but for all people who do righteousness as a life-orientation in every culture. Such folks must be in some kind of grace-state because of the light of Yeshua that gives light to every man. That there is no other name according to Acts 4:34 is not stating the ultimate perdition of all who have not explicitly embraced Yeshua. Rather it is telling us that all who are ultimately saved will be saved by Yeshua's atonement, for all will eventually realized that their salvation is in Him. Furthermore, the Hebraic sense of "Name" means the essence of the person's meaning. One can respond to that essence of truth without yet knowing the historical Yeshua since He is that "light who lights every man." Finally, his name is the one to be proclaimed as the only name given to maximize the opportunity for salvation through the preaching of the Gospel. This verse does not preclude the Wider Hope understanding.

This is then applied to Jewish people. Though there was a special responsibility that brought condemnation to the Jewish nation in the first century, and the experience of the terrible destruction of Israel and Jerusalem by the Romans, we can not say that all Jews necessarily are outside of the grace of God from that time forward. There is no biblical statement to that effect that all Jews thereafter who have not explicitly embraced Yeshua are on their way to Hell. Instead, anti-Semitism and an entrenched anti-Judaistic theology among Christians has made the true hearing of the Gospel impossible for many Jews. There is no logical or biblical reason why a proper response to the covenants with Israel, especially the Abrahamic Covenant, would not place Jews within a grace context in a relationship with God. The time of Jewish responsibility for embracing Yeshua is also and continues to be kairos time and not a specific post-chronos (ordinary chronological) time. The truth in the Hebrew Scriptures which is reflected in Judaism, in spite of what some would see as aberrations, is sufficient to lead one to God. ...If [truth] it was sufficient in pre-Yeshua days, it is sufficient now.  Indeed, one can not draw any line in chronos time where a person would be condemned and lost; ten minutes after the resurrection or after Shavuot (Acts 2) or 100 years later. The time of responsibility for the Gospel is when it is presented with Holy Spirit power bringing conviction.

{josquote}...If [truth] it was sufficient in pre-Yeshua days, it is sufficient now. {/josquote}

However, whether for Jews or Gentiles, the maximum opportunity for salvation is through the Good News presented in the power of the Spirit which brings conviction. Most conservative Wider Hope proponents are clear about this.

Key Proponents of the Wider Hope and Narrow Wider Hope Views

Key recent conservative proponents should be noted. Jacque Maritain, the Catholic philosopher, is one important proponent.[4] His views greatly influenced Vatican II. (It might be noted that Catholic theology today is Wider Hope.) Proponents also included Dr. Stuart Hackett of Wheaton College and later of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Dr. David L. Wolfe of Wheaton and later Gordon College; Clark Pinnock of Macmaster University and formerly of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; and Douglas Harrink[5] of The King's University, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. These all argue for such views. In a limited way I would include Kenneth Kantzer, the former dean of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. C. S. Lewis would also be included in this number. Billy Graham recently made it clear that he holds to such a view (Narrow Wider Hope) in an interview with Larry King and in a Time magazine interview. I have not included liberal theologians in this list since the pivotal presupposition of scriptural authority can be lacking. Of course, Conservative Jews who believe in an afterlife as well as some more modern Orthodox thinkers hold to their own versions of a Wider Hope view. Following are some short summaries.

Stuart Hackett and David Wolfe (from lectures and oral discussion) argued in ways parallel to Jacques Maritain. His Maritain's book, The Range of Reason, gives a good summary. Catholic Michael Novak's book Belief and Unbelief [6] presents a similar argument. Basically, all of these argue for a God-consciousness, or a consciousness of ultimate Good in all people. When one responds to God or to Goodness in itself and for itself, and decides to live by Goodness, one comes into a place in God's grace. Such a person knows Yeshua in an intuitive but indefinite way. They do not know him as the historical Yeshua, but know the reality of the truth which is ultimately Yeshua Himself. Maritain called this knowledge by connaturality. (Some have called these "beneficiaries" "Christians unawares" or "unconscious Christians." This last phrase is unfortunate and not used by most since the person is not unconscious of the reality of the choice. One sees more than hints of this in those special people who live for others. One example is Ramanuja's idea of depending on the grace of God for everlasting life or, for instance, the goodness of Socrates. Optimists think that the percentages of such people who respond without yet receiving the Gospel are large, while pessimists hold the numbers to be small and skeptics simply say they do not know. However, anyone who really turns in heart to the Truth is included within the salvation of Yeshua.

Kenneth Kantzer taught that anyone who sincerely sought the truth and sought to live by it would be saved. Such a person was not in the same category of those who have not embraced the journey to know and live by the truth. However, Kantzer believed that all such people would be led on to the explicit confession of Yeshua before their death.

John Sanders in No Other Name has given a very comprehensive summary of Wider Hope.[7] This is perhaps the most important book yet written on the Wider Hope.

An Evaluation: Prospects and Dangers

The failure to recognize that we live with mystery is one of the great problems in my view with dogmatic Narrow Hope and dogmatic Wider Hope people. C. S. Lewis noted that God has not explicitly told us or made himself clear concerning those who have not had opportunity to embrace the Good News.[8] The very verses we have quoted for both sides do show that there is mystery. I do not want to go as far as Barth in embracing contradictory paradox-but I also want to warn against too hastily and easily harmonizing texts by minimizing the force of one set of texts or the other. Though some with a more Greek philosophical orientation would like to see all fuzzy edges disappear in all our theological definitions; some matters of Scriptural presentation do leave us with possibilities and with some uncertainty. Humility in the face of those aspects of Scripture is important. That Yeshua rose from the dead is clear. That Yeshua is deity is very clear. Resolving God's sovereignty and the openness of history due to human choice is one of those unresolved mysteries.

{josquote}The failure to recognize that we live with mystery is one of the great problems in my view with dogmatic Narrow Hope and dogmatic Wider Hope people.{/josquote}

In this regard I believe that John Wesley had the greatest clarity in dealing with the texts we have quoted.[9] Wesley realized that the Bible did not give us an optimistic view of the destiny of men and women who died without explicitly confessing Yeshua. Therefore, the motivation to proclaim the Good News was born of a passionate love and desire to minimize the number who would be lost (meaning eternal destruction or separation from God). At the same time Wesley knew that he could not preclude the possibility of people turning to God through the revelation of Yeshua in nature, culture and conscience. If they did so, they entered into a realm Wesley called prevenient grace. Prevenient grace, according to Wesley is that grace that comes to a person before he or she is fully converted. To make a choice for Yeshua, one must first come under the influence of such grace. This was Wesley's answer to Calvinists who taught that only the elect would ever choose salvation and in a sense are saved before the choice. One can be under the influence of the grace of God which enables a choice but still say no. In addition, one can say "yes" to revelation from God without knowing the Gospel story. Thus, for Wesley there are not just two categories of human beings; the saved and the lost. There is a third category, namely those who embrace the revelation that God has given and are thereby on the road to Yeshua. Is it necessary that they embrace Him before they die? It seems that this was left a mystery in Wesley's teaching.

Charles Augustus Hopkins Strong, the greatest 19th century Baptist theologian came to similar conclusions as detailed in his Systematic Theology. The 19th century witnessed the rise of Protestant missions in a substantial way. Generally, missionaries found what they were expecting. Most pagan cultures were degraded. Darkness was profound. However, now and then missionaries would happen upon a tribe that had renounced their idols and were seeking the one God above the gods. There are numerous direct testimonies from missionaries from that period attesting to cases where people responded to that which God had made known through the natural order of things. Strong lists examples.[10]

The primary motive for Methodist evangelism was to see that human beings did not end up eternally lost. This was not the only motive. The motive of obedience in proclaiming the Good News, pleasing God and the eschatological motive were also present. With regard to this last motive, Methodists understood that the progress of the Gospel moved history to the climax of the end of this age and the full dawning of the Age to Come. Yet, "saving souls" for eternity was the primary motive. I presented something of this viewpoint in my book Jewish Roots in its first printing in 1986.[11] I have made it clear that I am most sympathetic to Wesley's handling of Scripture on this matter. He credits both sets of Biblical texts, whereas I find that proponents of the Narrow Hope view and the wider Wider Hope view do not acknowledge texts on the other side, opting instead to try to explain them away. I think Wesley is better than Barth because he does not leave us with a stark paradox but has a reasonable harmony of the texts. Additionally, I think there are significant negative repercussions to both a Narrow Hope view and a wider Wider Hope view.

Difficulties in Wider Hope Views

First of all, those who hold to a wider Wider Hope view, in my experience, usually find it impossible to maintain a deep burden that people explicitly embrace Yeshua. In my experience in the mainline denominations, I have rarely found people who were effective in evangelism who embraced a wider Wider Hope view. I do not think there is any example of an effective movement of Gospel progress in any stream or denomination that has embraced a wider Wider Hope view. Those who think that such a view will lead to greater effectiveness, in my view, are very wrong and are speaking from a speculative ivory tower perspective, and not from the reality of historical evidence. It is very difficult to not be oriented as though others are in a safe place even though they have not confessed Yeshua. Once this mindset has become consciously or unconsciously embedded there is a great diminishing of zeal to bring others to explicit faith in Yeshua. For some in the wider Wider Hope perspective, this would have to be an almost unconscious orientation. People will be seen as good or as having responded to revelation if they are "nice" and not particularly bad. The Bible picture of human evil calls into question our easy evaluation of "nice" people. Those of us who reflect on the Holocaust should note that Hitler only succeeded because so many we would have judged as "nice and good" were shown to be self centered and willing to see the Jews destroyed for the sake of their own security. Self-centeredness is damning and can be dominant in apparently good and nice people.

The wider Wider Hope position is that the motivation to evangelize is fueled by the desire to see people enter a more enriching fullness of faith than is possible in either the revelation from nature and culture, or that is available from Judaism without Yeshua. However, this motive has never been proven sufficient for effective evangelism. One may argue that the eschatological motive is sufficient. This is an important motive indeed, and is emphasized by Paul in Romans 11 and by Yeshua in Matthew 24. Again, this as a sole motive has never proven sufficient for effective evangelism. One may add to this the motive of obedience and pleasing God. Again, any of these motives for evangelism either separately or together, have never proven adequate. This holds true for both Jewish outreach and Gentile outreach. Only the motivation of compassion to see that people are not lost to eternal death has proven sufficient throughout history. Only this produces the requisite intercession and anointing of the Spirit to be effective. The other motives do enhance our passionate commitment. They are important additional and correct motives. This seems to hold true for Jewish evangelism as well. In Israel, the United States, Russia, Ukraine and South America, we find whole movements of Messianic Jews that were only birthed though those who had the passion from that motive to see that people were not lost but would have everlasting life. There may be people who have the wider Wider Hope view and are effective. However, they are exceptions. Story after story of effective evangelism comes after the people involved in witness were given a revelation of the great need to the ethnic group to be reached. Their heart is broken by perceiving their lost condition. They cry out in intercession and receive extraordinary anointing to accomplish the task. We have no other evidence for broad effectiveness for either Jewish or Gentile Evangelism. In general I believe that the holding of wider Wider Hope views will eventually produce a decrease in the numbers in our Messianic Jewish movement.

In addition, it is very important to have a proper evaluation of the condition of people we seek to reach. Romans 1 is quite clear concerning the general condition of the pagan world. This is a world characterized by idolatry, suppressing God's revelation, and sometimes ultimately devolving into uncontrolled passions which manifest in perverted sexuality. So no one should be lulled into any complacency in regard to the condition of the pagan nations of the world. As Messianic Jews, I would think that we would take little comfort in the condition of the Islamic peoples.

With regard to Jewish people, the New Covenant already gives warning concerning the danger of works righteousness, pride, and hypocrisy which were causes of blindness to Yeshua at that time. Yeshua said to the religious leaders of his day, that had they known the Father, they would have recognized and embraced Him. We may point to the providential blindness as a reason for hope (Romans 11). Such providential blindness may imply mercy for those who have been blinded. Yet it may also be judicial hardening which does not imply greater mercy. Such hardening has led to furtherance of Gentile salvation and is temporary. At any rate, the conclusion of Romans 3 is that Jewish people in general have violated the covenant sufficiently that we can say they need to embrace the Gospel to ensure their eternal destiny with God. At least Romans 3 is saying that the atonement of Yeshua needs to be offered for all people. However, Romans 3 seems to be saying more. It seems to be saying that there is no difference not only with regard to the objective atonement as being necessary for all, but that a subjective faith response to Yeshua is important for all for eternal destiny. .

Additionally, we can empirically evaluate the condition of the Jewish people. Many are Orthodox Jews who, in my experience, do not profess to have a living relationship with God. It is even more so among Conservative and Reform Jews. Of course there are many exceptions. Furthermore, the moral condition of the larger secular Jewish community is alarming, to say the least. Though we do not ultimately judge any individual and do not know the heart with certainty, can we not see that our people are in great need? Is it not proper to say so? Relativism, New Age philosophies, immorality, atheism, skepticism and terribly wrong commitments to causes like abortion rights are rampant. Only the Gospel has the power to pull our people back from the brink.

A word about gentile believers witnessing to Jews. There is a strong consensus among UMJC leaders that Jews are called to live and identify as part of their people. This means we are not to assimilate. Gentile witness often conveys that the "one new man" of Ephesians and the "no difference" between Jew and Gentile of Galatians 3 must translate effectively as an end of the importance of Jewish life and identity. This can be an impartation of error both in the presentation of the Gospel and in the first lessons of discipleship. Therefore some have held that it is better that Gentiles be told to not seek to lead Jews to Yeshua. I share the concern on the issue of assimilation. However, I believe that in light of the error of the wider Wider Hope view, this is not an option. The importance of presenting the Gospel to our people is a superceding concern. The answer is to see the Church as a whole embrace a commitment to the truth that Jewish people are not to assimilate. Much better is to lend ourselves to efforts such as The Road to Jerusalem where the Church is mobilized to fully support Messianic Jews. In this there is education for Gentile believers to call Jews to maintain Jewish life. This should be part of the presentation of the Good News.

Moreover, the idea that Gentiles should not seek to encourage Jews to make a decision for Yeshua, while yet hoping that we as Messianic Jews will be able to accomplish the task of evangelism is another ivory tower view. Why? Because the vast majority of Messianic Jews in our movement came to know Yeshua through the witness of Gentiles, and this continues to this day. To discourage Gentile witness to Jews is a great mistake. We will find ourselves sawing off the proverbial limb upon which we are sitting. Surely many Jews have become members of Churches that have little understanding of Jewish calling and identity. We all grieve over this. However, we can pray that God will open eyes and call them to their Jewish calling and identity. As the consensus of Christian leaders continues to know that this is right, this becomes more and more a possibility.

Difficulties in Narrow Hope Views

The Narrow Hope view also provides us with its difficulties. This lens too easily thinks that it can judge who is, and who is not "saved" on an individual basis. It involves a judgment of the unseen heart. It does not take into account those Scriptures that more than hint at a wider mercy from God for those that seek the Truth. I see no gain in holding to this position over against the Narrow Wider Hope view. For one thing, it makes us so narrow that others will unnecessarily dismiss us as bigots. When Billy Graham was on Larry King's show and was asked concerning the destiny of those who have not accepted Yeshua, he made two statements. One was that Yeshua was the way and that he was called to proclaim salvation through believing in him as that way of salvation. He made it clear that there was a danger of being lost. Secondly, however, he also said that the destiny of those who have not had opportunity to receive Him was a mystery and that God was the judge, not Billy Graham. He trusted that God was merciful and would save all that He could. He held out hope for God's mercy. This seemed to satisfy Larry. At least Billy Graham did not look like a narrow minded bigot.

About a year previous, one of the leaders of a major Jewish outreach was also on Larry King's show with a noted Rabbi. The Rabbi accused the leader of having an abhorrent and narrow view that all those who have not explicitly embraced Yeshua were going to Hell. He stated that the leader believed that the victims of the Holocaust went from the ovens of Auschwitz to the eternal barbeque in Hell. This was an emotional tactic that was not totally valid. However, it had its effect. The leader had nothing to say and responded as if this was his view. Jesus was presented as the only way, and this meant explicit confession in this life every case. Instead, the leader could have asserted that Yeshua was the way to salvation for Jew and Gentile, and the way to assurance for one's eternal destiny. At the same time he could have said that God would mercifully judge all who sought the truth and to live according to righteousness in dependence on his grace. This is the basic teaching of the Judaism of the Siddur.

Conclusions

In conclusion, I have put forth an argument for a view I call the Narrow Wider Hope. It affirms the following:

1. That we are to act on the basis of the general "lost-ness" of people, both Jew and Gentile. We are only to be at rest with regard to their destiny when they have explicitly confessed and embraced Yeshua and have given evidence that this embrace is sincere. This evidence shows an authentic transformation and a growing ability to bring forth good fruit. We may meet people who give evidence that they know and walk with God, but have not yet embraced Yeshua. We need not condemn them as lost and judge their hearts, but we are not to have confidence in their destiny unless they embrace Yeshua. They may be on the road to him.

2. We are also to hold open the possibility of a wider mercy or hope on the basis of the many Scriptures quoted here. This hope should be held in a way that does not blunt our zeal to see people embrace Yeshua. At the same time, this hope enables us to give a more powerful theodicy arguing for the justice of God in the face of evil-and giving answers to those who ask, like Larry King, concerning the destiny of those who have not explicitly embraced Yeshua. Indeed, many who claim to hold to no Wider Hope view show that this is not so when they are asked concerning their departed loving grandmothers. Somehow they hope there was some transaction whereby they were received into heaven.

We might feel better were we to hold to a wider Wider Hope view. We would be lulled into a greater sense of false peace. Yet what is to be gained by holding to such a view. If it blunts our zeal, it may lead to fewer being brought into everlasting life. If the wider Wider Hope turns out to be so, and that would be wonderful-we will have lost nothing by not holding it today. I believe the reason against holding to it, is that the evidence of Scripture is against it. Practically, I think we have shown that it is better to not hold to it.

As well, the Gospel is the way to maximize the opportunity for salvation for all people. Francis Schaeffer is correct, in my view, with regard to the God-deficiency of cultures as traced to the decisions of ancestors. Most have rejected the revelation of God in nature and culture. Gospel presentation when backed by intercession and a godly life is the way to maximize the opportunity of salvation for all peoples. It is truly Good News because it gives a new opportunity for response for all those who responded wrongly in their ancestry and in their present orientation in life.

I put forth the case for the importance of both Jew and Gentile explicitly embracing Yeshua for assurance concerning their eternal destiny after his life, while yet holding to the possibility of God's wider mercy (which may in fact include others in his grace who have not made an explicit confession of faith). I would agree with Kenneth Kantzer's hope that in some way people would embrace Yeshua before death or even in the transaction of dying. However, I do not know that this will always be the case. I am willing to rest in the mystery of God. Ultimately, as C. S. Lewis said, God has been clear on the destiny of those who sincerely embrace Yeshua, but he has not clearly told us concerning others. Therefore, we had better do our utmost to see all people embrace Him. Our only clarity is in the destiny of those who truly embrace the Gospel. This makes us "narrow."


Dr. Daniel Juster is the Director of Tikkun International, a network of congregations and ministries in the United and abroad. He was a honors graduate in Philosophy from Wheaton College, completed graduate course work for Philosophy of Religion at Trinity Evangelical Seminary, and received an M. Div. from McCormick Theological Seminary. He also received a Th.D. from New Covenant International Seminary, New Zealand. Dr. Juster is an author of several books on Messianic Jewish theology, theology and apologetics including Jewish Roots, a Foundation of Biblical Theology, The Biblical World View, An Apologetic, and Revelation, the Passover Key. Dr. Juster serves on numerous boards as part of furthering the Messianic Jewish Movement and the progress of the Church.

Notes

* A Paper Prepared for the UMJC Theology Committee Forum, Spring, 2008.

[1] Cohen, Abraham, Everyman's Talmud.

[2] Schaeffer, Francis, Death in the City: Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1969.

[3] Van Til, Cornelius, Karl Barth and Evangelism: Nutley, New Jersey; Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1964.

[4] Maritain, Jacque, The Range of Reason: New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, pp. 66-85.

[5] Harrink, Douglas, Paul Among the Post Liberals: Grand Rapids, Michigan; Brazos Press, 2003 see especially 25-45.

[6] Novak, Michael, Belief and Unbelief.

[7] Sanders, John, No Other Name: Grand Rapids, Michigan; Eerdmans, 1992. Sanders provides and amazing list of Wider Hope proponents from the early Church Fathers, to the Middle Ages, to Reformation and Post Reformation theologians up until and including the 20th century. The list is not short!. The numbers of famous leaders and theologians who held to some level of the Wider Hope should cause to realize that this is not a heresy, but was put forth by many well received leaders and thinkers who were clearly within the orthodox tradition of their denominations.

[8] Lewis, C. S., Mere Christianity.

[9] Sanders, John, No Other Name presents a summary of Wesley's view on this to my knowledge. See pages 249-251, and for more complete information, in Wesley's Works, Vol. 6, p. 286; Vol. 7; 197-199, :258, 353.

[10] Strong, Charles Agustus Hopkins, Systematic Theology: Valley Forge, Pa; The Judson Press, 1967 reprint of 1906 edition, pp. 664, 666, 843,844. It is quite amazing to read his argument. It has amazing parallels to the argument in this book. Strong was a very forceful proponent of the narrow Wider Hope.

[11] Juster, Daniel, Jewish Roots, A Foundation of Biblical Theology: Shippensburg, Pa., Destiny Image: 200 3rd. edition, pp.

 
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