Is There Opportunity for Salvation after Death? -- By: Millard J. Erickson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 152:606 (Apr 1995)
Article: Is There Opportunity for Salvation after Death?
Author: Millard J. Erickson


Is There Opportunity for Salvation after Death?

Millard J. Erickson

[Millard J. Erickson is Research Professor of Theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.]

[This is article two in the three-part series, “The Destiny of the Unevangelized,” delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, February 8–11, 1994.]

This article discusses another aspect of the question of whether those who have never heard the gospel will be saved. Perhaps, some argue, those who have never heard the gospel explicitly will yet have opportunity to hear and believe in the future, after death. Might there be an opportunity beyond death, when the message will be presented? This view—which goes by various names but will here be called “postmortem evangelism”—has experienced something of a resurgence of interest.

This view has had a fairly long history, though only in recent years has it been popular. For much of its earlier history, it has existed virtually on the fringes of Christianity. Only recently have orthodox or evangelical Christians expressed interest in it. This view is an alternative not only to the orthodox position, but also to the implicit faith position. It agrees with the former in that faith must be explicit, that is, a person must consciously understand and accept Jesus Christ as his or her Savior. And postmortem evangelism agrees with the latter (that faith may be implicit) in that God is considered unjust and unloving to condemn anyone to eternal punishment who has had no opportunity to hear of Christ’s redemptive work.

Doctrinal and Logical Inferences Given in Support of Postmortem Evangelism

According to Bloesch, hell is part of God’s loving plan. It is exclusion from communion with God, but not from His presence.

It is to be thought of as “a sanitorium of sick souls presided over by Jesus Christ.”1 Bloesch’s concept of election, which draws on Karl Barth’s doctrine, enters into the consideration, so that he contends that “even those who dwell in unbelief are elected by God in Jesus Christ, though not to salvation as such but to the exposure to salvation.”2 While hell is not seen as providing purification in the sense advocated by Nels Ferré, Bloesch does not exclude the idea that some might be transferred ultimately from hell to heaven.

We do not wish to build fences around God’s grace, however, and we do not preclude that some in hell might finally be translated into heaven. The gates of the holy city are depicted a...

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