In his book, Erasing Hell, Francis Chan writes,
The one thing all Christian Universalists agree upon is that after death there will be another chance (or an endless string of chances) to choose Jesus. The Universalist view depends upon it. So we need to wrestle with all the postmortem second-chance passages to see if they actually teach this view. The problem is, there aren’t any passages that say this. No passage in the Bible says that there will be a second chance after death to turn to Jesus.
In the previous blog, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Saved by Whose Choice? I address some points I take issue with regarding Chan’s opinion-based, Christian-Universalist blanket statements, but more importantly, his view on “choose Jesus”. In this blog, I will answer Chan’s erroneous claim that there are no scriptures to support the idea of salvation after death.
Is it true that there are no scriptures supporting postmortem salvation?
The easiest answer is, no. There are scriptures that support postmortem salvation, it’s just that the fundamentalist mind has been trained and retrained to interpret these scriptures according to the idea that the majority of mankind spends eternity in the flames and torment of hell.
I’ll name just one small segment of scripture and leave the rest of the homework up to curious readers –
…Christ once for sin did suffer – righteous for unrighteous – that he might lead us to God, having been put to death indeed, in the flesh, and having been made alive in the spirit, in which also to the spirits in prison having gone he did preach, who sometime disbelieved, when once the long-suffering of God did wait, in days of Noah… 1 Peter 3:18-20
Here we see that Christ died for everyone. In the group called “humanity” there are two subgroups, that is the “righteous” group and the “unrighteous” group. The righteous group originally has only one, Jesus Christ. He is the only human being who ever lived without sinning. Everyone else, no matter what religious background, race, sexual orientation, mental or emotional state, position or rank, etc. is (or was) included in the group called “unrighteous”.
Then we are told the reason Jesus, the righteous, suffered for us, the unrighteous. Why? “…that he might lead us to God.” Reconciliation is a theme throughout all of scripture, interwoven among all the stories, like arrows pointing us to the Messiah, the Son of God.
Someone might ask how or why Jesus should lay down His life to save us. What does it look like? “…having been put to death indeed, in the flesh, and having been made alive in the spirit”. This is true of anyone who has a clear conscience before God, because they understand the significance of the work of Christ. The reason that some do not have a clear conscience is that they have not yet been “made alive in the spirit”. Or as Jesus says, “If any one may not be born from above, he is not able to see the reign of God.”
And now we arrive at the part that clearly indicates postmortem salvation – Jesus, “in the spirit”, goes to “the spirits in prison,” people who have been dead for thousands of years who were “not able to see God”. Why? To “preach”.
Ironically, the currently living people who either do not want to or are not able to see that the reign of God extends even into death will interpret this, saying that the spirits in prison are not people who have already died. If they admit that these are people who have already died, then they say that Jesus’s message to the dead people was one of His own victory, Good News that did not apply to them. Or if they admit that Jesus’s message was one of salvation, that the text never says anything about how the people respond to Jesus’s message. Perhaps they all reject His message.
To all of this, I say, take a step back and think about it. What is Jesus’s mission, according to this scripture? To bring the unrighteous to God. I think that pretty much rules out the idea that Jesus’s message was anything but Good News, after all, salvation is a prerequisite of our being reconciled to God. Regarding the idea that the people reject His message, I suppose this could be an unlikely possibility, but only if there were no other universal reconciliation texts. Instead of appealing to scriptures not in the context and running off on a bunny trail, I’ll just stay right here and point out that there is no information about their response, positive OR negative.
Again, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves the most obvious question. Does Jesus succeed in His mission? Does Jesus bring the unrighteous to God? Either He does, or He doesn’t. If He doesn’t, then this means that He either CAN’T or WON’T. If He can’t, then He is not sovereign. If He won’t, then He is a liar. Either way, He fails His mission.
But what if the fundamentalists are wrong? What if there’s hope? What if He actually succeeds in His mission? Isn’t that what this scripture seems to indicate? He suffers and dies and goes where no one else can go and live to tell about it, to the mysterious reality we call death. He goes to people who, while they were living, “disbelieved”.
Why would He go to the long-dead unrighteous, if not to “lead [them] to God”? If no one ever sees God’s reign once their earthly life has passed in disbelief, then why does Jesus go to them? To rub it in their faces? You’re screwed?! Too late for you!? Nanee nanee boo boo?! You should have believed when you had the chance!?
I don’t think so.
Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Fumbled Fables