Hypothetical Christian Question.

Consider two fictional men, John Doe and Richard Roe. John is a very evil man. In fact he is the next Hilter and Stalin rolled into one. But he is very religious. He goes to church and prays every day. And most significantly, his faith is beyond reproach. He has full faith that Jesus is Lord and that he died on the Cross for him.

Now consider Richard Roe. Roe is a very decent and altruistic man. In fact he lives to help his fellow man. Indeed he has already given all he owns just to help the sick and needy. In short he is very compassionate and caring. There’s only one thing. Richard Roe is an atheist. He doesn’t believe in Christ or that he died for his sins.

Now this is a purely theological question: Using Christian theology (and realize you don’t have to be a Christian to do this:)), who has the better chance of going to heaven when he dies, the evil Christian or the very altruistic atheist?

This is a very obvious question, so someone may have asked it before me. But I didn’t know how to do a forum search for this one, so I didn’t know. If however someone else already asked this question, please leave a link. I’d love to read that discussion.

Thank you in advance to all who reply:)

Well, I’m no theological expert, and this question will probably quickly get into the longstanding works vs. faith debate and get over my head. But I was always taught that faith was more than just a mental affirmation that God exists and Jesus is Lord. After all, Satan believes that God exists and that Jesus is Lord, yet that belief has done him no good. From my reading of the Bible, I believe that it takes more than that. I base my conclusion mainly on this from Matthew Ch. 7:

John may be very religious, in the sense you laid out. But your scenario begs two questions.

Has John ever examined his conscience, sincerely accepted that his actions are evil and asked Jesus to forgive him?

Has Richard ever expressed any belief, or even wondered if, there’s some part of him that might continue to exist after he dies?

I think it would depend on whether Doe properly repented for his crimes. Assuming a God who isn’t a complete idiot, he’d have to really mean it, not just a, “I’m sorry, I know it was a crime (though a necessary one.)” Those parentheses will get you down with the Devil.

Roe should get into Heaven just fine.

Just my understanding, mind.

There is no one “Christian theology.” Different believers will give you different answers.

For mine, you can read Matt 25:31-46, and James 2.

As a wise man once pointed out – the only difference betweethe the Sheep and the Goats is what they did and didn’t do.

Keith Green?

Um the first thing that came to mind was: No, John - the BTK killer - will not enter heaven.

Richard, providing he is not just feeding his own ego, will surely go to heaven.

I was born and raised a very conservative Lutheran.

I’m having trouble reconciling the religious behavior of John with his evilness. Just going through the motions doesn’t count in anyone’s book, if I’m not mistaken. Most mainstream Christian denominations I’ve heard of say that if one truly accepts Jesus as his/her savior, the very act of that will change behavior. If behavior doesn’t change, there has been no real acceptance of Jesus.

Now, I can say with more confidence that Richard, under most Christian dogmas that I’m aware of, would most certainly not go to heaven, because he does not believe that Jesus is his savior. “That no man should brag” is often the justification for the “faith-alone” argument of salvation. This stems from the fact that Christian theology holds that humankind was forever separated from God when sin entered the world (through Adam and Eve) and that every person, regardless of how he/she may appear relative to other humans, is evil and worthy of condemnation in God’s eyes. Until the arrival of Jesus, the Jews had to make sacrifices to atone for sin; Christians hold that Jesus is the perfect sacrifice for all sins past and present. Only by acknowledging that atonement can one enter heaven.

So regardless of one’s actions, it is one’s belief that matters most, and belief is thought to manifest in actions.

BTW, I am an agnostic.

Assembly of God here- liberal by their standards, ultra-Right by SDMB standards:

AoG & most Evangelicals would say they’re both going to Hell, but John will undergo a more severe judgment as he is sinning in full defiance of his faith & bringing reproach upon Christ.

IMO, at the Judgment, Richard may well be among those sheep who will be astonished that his graciousness opens him to the Divine Grace in which he did not believe. However, Richard may well also be risking damnation IF he actively resisted/blinded himself to God’s call to him.

Damnation, IMO, is not just eternal torture anyway. It might just result in rehabilitation or cessation of existence. However, if it is eternal, it is a state of collapsing into the black hole of one’s essential self in defiance of the Eternal Justice & Love of God/Jesus.

Many Christians believe all humankind will be redeemed. For those that believe some will not, there are two camps: Works gets you there and faith gets you there. “Works” camps have the problem that we can never be good enough and also the problem that a lot of naughty church history has been centered around getting the polloi to do good works–indulgences is probably a nice archetypical example–and of course Martin Luther just hated the book of James. “Faith” camps have troubles because it doesn’t seem OK to just believe and be a rotten person.

Christians who want to argue that works and not faith are requisite for salvation generally fall into two camps. Read Furt’s post for the Biblical references.

  1. Those who say that works are an obligate manifestation of faith, and that without works (“works” equals basically a properly-lived life) faith is dead. That is to say, absence of a properly lived lived means you did not have faith in the first place. In short, Hitler goes to hell even if he believes Jesus is God and died for his sins and has, somewhere in his life, asked Jesus for salvation.
  2. Those who say that works alone is enough, and that God will redeem those who lived a good life even if their theology was sketchy. In short, Gandhi goes to heaven.

Christians who want to argue that faith and not works are requisite for salvation generally use the story of the thief on the cross as their Biblical cite. Here’s a guy being executed along with Jesus because he was a bad, bad man who lived a bad, bad life. At the last moment of his life he turned to Jesus, who personally advised him that he would go to heaven.

Don’t know if this will contribute or not, but I have a best friend of mine that was raised evangelical. The arms in the air, the whole business.

I raised a hypothetical question to him along the same lines:

A dude that was raised in a hut speaks a language only his tribe knows. He is a great man, working only for the good of his people. He is essentially flawless. Some white missionary comes to the jungle speaking a language he doesn’t understand very well and bringing him books he can’t read. The jungle man treats them very well, but when they leave he doesn’t think anymore about what the missionaries told him.

Does this man go to hell because he was preached the Word and didn’t chose to believe what they said?
My evangelical friend says yes, he will burn in Hell.
When I asked my friend if the thought that was fair, he changed the subject. I told my friend that I hoped God wasn’t a big prick like that.

I’ll discuss my thoughts on each seperately. FTR, I was raised Anglican but my current beliefs rest, well, somewhere else. I generally try to refrain from these sorts of questions, but since it’s purely theoretical I’ll play along. FTR, I don’t believe in hell in the traditional sense but I haven’t really come to a conclusion yet as of what that means.

John Doe is a fairly simple one for me. Taking what you’ve said at face value that he actually believes, it would seem to me that what he does is the very definition of evil. That is, it’s one thing to do the wrong thing out of ignorance, but it’s another thing to know better and do wrong anyway. So it seems to me that he is consciously choosing to sin and thus has most likely not received salvation. I would argue that he isn’t even a Christian as I would say that being such requires more than just believing in Jesus but actually following his teachings akin to political terms like RINO/DINO (Republican/Democrat in name only); that is, does he REALLY believe if he continues to do evil deeds? I guess I don’t believe it’s possible that faith alone is enough because a man of faith will also do good works.

The latter one is a more interesting case. Someone who actively trying to do good would seem to be a better candidate; however, I also believe that no human being is capable of living a sin-free life and that any amount of sin fundamentally separates us from God, which would seem to also make him inelligible. So, in this example, I guess I also don’t believe that works are enough because I think faith is required for even those few moments where we all stray.

It seems to me we’re left with a guy who has theoretically had his sins forgiven but continues to sin versus a guy who sins very little but hasn’t had his sins absolved. So, it really comes down to what happens at the final judgment. Some believe that once you’re dead, that’s it, and thus both would be damned. A more liberal view of some would be that the final judgment is more of a second chance where everyone has the truth revealed to them and get another chance where only the truly wicked will still not accept it. While the latter certainly seems more palatable, I honestly don’t know which I believe because, well, neither is relevant to my situation since I believe (so I’m not like the latter) and I try try to do good works (so I’m not like the former).
TLDR: Either neither gets in to heaven, or both do; I don’t really see how one could get in and the other wouldn’t.

I would say that the question as posed is a contradiction. John cannot be both of the things he is stated as being. Therefore the question is meaningless.


In a strict interpretation, I’d say neither.

Doe is evil. Despite going to church and reading his Bible or whatever, he is obviously choosing not to live a good life which is in opposition to the teachings of Christ.

Roe has rejected the idea of Christ. The Gospels make clear that the only way into Heaven is through Jesus.

The “hut dweller” scenario can be decided one of two ways. One would be the notion that, again, no one gets in unless it’s through Jesus. This was certainly the opinion of the first disciples since the idea of evangelizing the world was to get people saved. If ignorance was an excuse, the disciples should have kept the knowledge of Christ silent so the rest of the planet would get a pass.

Another would be to suggest (and some would be no doubt offended by the idea) that your hut dweller is spiritually a child and Jesus states that children are saved by their spiritual innocence. You’re not judged until you’ve had the chance to make a choice. But this goes against the notion of global evangelicalism.

I was raised Catholic, spent several years in a non-denominational church and then returned to a sort of quasi-Catholicism (mainly ‘ethnic’, really) for what it’s worth.

This seems to be a True Scotsmen theme here. No Christian who accepts Jesus could commit heinous acts. How about Hans who went to church faithfully and accepted Jesus as his personal savior yet worked in a concentration cap? Well he’s no true Christian.

No, when you sin, you’re supposed to repent and make a bona fide attempt to change your life and stop doing those things as part of your attempts to live a Christian life. It’s accepted that you will sin and even that you will repeat past sins. But spending every day being Hitler & Stalin rolled into one would suggest that John Doe doesn’t repent and hasn’t tried to change his life. Despite his personal faith, he’s just keeping a pew warm in church.

The question itself is kind of like saying “I never practice, can’t catch the ball and can’t run but I show up to every single game. I’m convinced I’m the best football player ever so do I win the Super Bowl?”

Well, no offense to your friend but he’s full of it. The way you set up the problem, jungle man doesn’t understand the language very well and can’t read the books. Therefore he never heard/read/grasped the Word being preached.

The God I believe in doesn’t have an English-only requirement.

Heck, I know a lot of Evangelicals who believe that those who never hear will still be damned. Then again, I also know a lot of Evangelicals who believe that God has more tricks up His sleeve to get them in than others might think. I’m with the latter group.

It’s not a ‘True Scotsmen’ fallacy when the classification in question depends on certain behaviors. For example, it’s not a ‘True Scotsmen’ fallacy to state that a vegetarian who eats meat is not a ‘true vegetarian’. Likewise, no true Christian would commit heinous acts like vaporizing 15 million people out of spite.