What is the Eternal Fate of Non-Christians?

If you were to ask the average person on the street what they think Christianity says about where people go when they die, they would probably respond with: “Either heaven or hell.”

Is the Christian position as simple as heaven or hell?

For some people, it would be that simple. But within the Christian Church, there is a wider conversation. Even when it comes to Christians, there is a growing acceptance that our eternal destiny is not as disembodied spirit in heaven but as resurrected people on a resurrected earth. N.T. Wright has been helpful in getting us back to the view of Jesus and the Apostles.

But what about non-Christians? What happens to them? I asked that question on a poll on Twitter:

What view is closest to your belief about the eternal fate of non-Christians?

— Stephen Bedard (@SJBedard) March 8, 2023

While a majority of respondents held to the traditional view of eternal conscious torment in hell, more than half held to other views.

There is a growing number of Christians that hold to annihilationism, or as they prefer it conditional immortality. They believe that instead of being tortured forever, those who are not in Christ will be destroyed or annihilated.

Of course, there are varieties even of that view. Some might believe in a temporary conscious existence in hell before destruction at the last judgment. Others would believe that they are gone at death and simply are not raised at the resurrection.

There is also a growing number of Christians that hold to a form of universalism. There is more than one type of universalism and I won’t go into every variety here. But Christian Universalism is not the claim that every religion is equally true. Rather it claims that all are saved through the sacrifice of Jesus and there is no salvation outside of Christ. But what Jesus did on the cross is powerful enough to save everyone, whether or not they believe during this life.

Again, there are differences of interpretation of what this looks like. Some include time in hell as a sort of purgatory. They might see some going to hell because they are not ready for heaven, but that eventually hell will be emptied as each person eventually submits to God. Others would say that every person will be saved by the time they die. I’m sure there are other varieties as well.

What I find interesting is that the people who hold to annihilationism or universalism or not just those in sects or in the most liberal denominations of the Church. These are people who are very orthodox in their faith and who may be evangelical or evangelical-ish. What was once on the fringes is becoming much more mainstream.

You might be wondering what I believe. I am hoping for universalism but I will admit that I am not convinced of it biblically. I see the theological logic of universalism but I don’t see either Paul or Jesus accepting that all would be saved. In fact, they seem to teach the opposite.

But I don’t hold to eternal conscious torment either. I think much of our modern concept of hell is based more on Greek myths of Tartarus than on the Bible. If I had to choose one position, I would tentatively hold onto conditional immortality.

But I’m still hoping for universalism.

The post What is the Eternal Fate of Non-Christians? appeared first on Stephen J Bedard.






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