A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called “Heading towards heresy” in which I began to explore the idea that God could, in the end, reconcile everything and everyone to himself. I had so many interesting conversations after starting that discussion that I’ve asked a few friends to contribute guest posts on the theme of “Hope for everyone?” If you’d like to contribute a piece, from any point of view, do get in touch.
Today’s guest post is by Josh Bell. Josh is a recent theology graduate from Cliff College. After attending Hogwarts (if he had a pound for every time a visiting sports team called him Ron Weasley…), he went on a pilgrimage to Rome, from which he has never quite recovered. There is no proof that he still prefers a tent to a bed.
The debate that has unfolded on this blog, regarding the theme of salvation and its universality (or otherwise), mirrors many I have seen in the course of my studies. As such, I will attempt to give one more facet to this debate. For those in a hurry, I have attempted to include a “tl;dr” (too long; didn’t read) summary: just look for the bits in bold.
To my mind, the key event that affects and effects Christian soteriology is not the Day of Judgement but Good Friday. According to Scripture, salvation was achieved by Christ through his death on the cross. This is my first major point: salvation is through Jesus Christ, and specifically through his crucifixion. This was the crux (no pun intended) of Paul’s message.
The centrality of the cross in salvation is key to the debate over its universality. It means that more than simply believing that “we will be saved,” Christians declare that “we are saved”: Christ’s salvation is already at work within the Christian soul, purifying it in preparation for that day when this same salvation will be fully manifested. By this reasoning then, our question is not “will all be saved?” but “have all been saved?”
How may we answer this question? What are the signs of salvation?
First: the steps to salvation. These are the precursors to our salvation: steps that we take and by which we are saved.
- Grace and Faith. Ephesians 2:8 makes it clear that we are saved by grace through faith. That is to say, that grace – the grace, or undeserved favour, of God saves us; faith – a belief and trust in the work of Christ and his cross – is the means by which we receive that grace. In Acts 16:31, Paul and Silas told the Philippian jailor, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
- Prayer. Joel 2:32 prophesies that in the days of the Holy Spirit, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” a passage quoted by Peter in Acts 2:21 and by Paul in Romans 10:13. Prayer – calling on the name of the Lord – is an assent to salvation. Note, however, that this action is in turn reliant on faith, as Hebrews 11:6 states: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
So, as we see, faith in Jesus Christ and his cross is essential to salvation. The cross is a paradox: Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and the atonement it achieved, have been criticised and even ridiculed by atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens. Hitchens wrote:
“Ask yourself the question: how moral is the following? I am told of a human sacrifice that took place two thousand years ago, without my wishing it and in circumstances so ghastly that, had I been present and in possession of influence, I would have been duty-bound to try and stop it. In consequence of this murder, my own manifold sins are forgiven me, and I may hope to enjoy everlasting life.” 
Paul wrote, in a verse previously referenced, that “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24)
It is the paradoxical nature of the cross that makes the salvation it offers unacceptable to nonbelievers. The resulting exclusivity salvation, therefore, is not the result of a mean-heartedness on the part of God, or of favouritism, (for as Peter points out, it is God’s will that none should perish), but comes as a result of the hardheartedness of non-believers, and their scorn of the free gift of salvation offered by Jesus. Therefore, if all are not saved, it is because they do not desire to be saved; it is not because God does not desire them to be saved.