SAVED! (part 4): What About the Village in Africa?

This is the 4th article on my thoughts on salvation.  To catch up, check out the intro, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd entries.

It’s a common question: what about the rural village in Africa that has never heard of Jesus?  Will they be saved? This was the question I gave the least thought into as an evangelical.  If they don’t know Jesus, they don’t go to heaven.  It’s really that simple.  But as I began to formulate my thoughts on salvation, I realized that those beliefs would directly affect the Village in Africa question.  So let me answer the question according to what I believe by sort of backing my way into it, that way you have a look into my own thought progressions.  This will probably take two blog entries to answer.


You might have already read in part one of this series how I believe that salvation from the biblical perspective is more about a process than it is a moment in time.  That’s really an oversimplification.  Just like any event, the Passion of Christ carries two facets:  the actual event itself and the effect that event has on others.  How we respond to an event is very important.  A small gust of wind causing mild turbulence may be nothing to the frequent flyer, but that same turbulence caused by a small gust of wind could also traumatize an individual who fears flying, or even remind them of the 9/11 attacks and create an emotional connection.  How we receive and event and respond to an event matters.  Salvation was created and made possible through the event of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and resurrection on the third day, but salvation is actuated by the response of the individual.  This is an important distinction.  A person can never take credit for their actions and behaviors making salvation possible (works righteousness), but their response is an important part of salvation being actuated upon them.  It’s like a gift being offered, but it’s up to you to receive it.


I hope evangelicals would agree with this, because it’s the reason they go out and preach the gospel.  They are looking for that individual response.  This is why I don’t quite understand the Calvinism vs. Free Will debate.  Salvation can come from Christ alone and still demand a free will response as it is actuated upon an individual; because receiving the gift and the creation/offering of that gift are two very different things.  So the question really is about how salvation is actuated, not about how it was created…which leads me to my next thought line.  I’m not a Calvinist in that I don’t believe that God randomly chooses people to go to heaven or hell like a roll of the dice in Yahtzee.  I’m also not a Universalist in that God doesn’t scoop everyone into the heaven train no matter who they are.  I believe in the individual, free-will response as the actuating of salvation in Jesus Christ.  I believe who we are on this earth matters.  The choices we make and the life that we live matters.  I think it matters how much we embrace salvation and allow Christ to transform us into his image throughout the process of our lives.  On the center-set model, it matters what direction our life is heading.


So if it matters how we respond to God’s salvation in Christ, how much do we need to respond in order to gain salvation?  I don’t know.  I don’t think I’m supposed to know.  I’m supposed to know the direction and the goal that is Christ-likeness…and that should be enough.  At some level we have to come to the point of trusting God.  He showed us who He is in Jesus Christ…what He cares about and what He values.  Do we not have enough to go on to know the Way, the Truth, and the Life?  Why do we need to dissect it further?  Let’s let the saving up to God!  At my ordination interview, someone asked me what I would say to a 9-year-old who wanted to know if her mother was in heaven or hell.  My answer?  I don’t know.  But I believe this…that God offers salvation to all of us through Jesus Christ.  We have to admit that such questions are not simple, because we’re not the ones making the decision.  Sometimes these things don’t always make sense to us.  On the center-set model, some people start heading in the right direction at an early age after they walked down to the front during a Billy Graham Crusade.  Some people changed course in the last waning moments on their death beds.  Does that seem fair?  No, but like the story in Matthew 20 says, it’s not up to us.

So if it’s not up to us, are there other possibilities of salvation being actuated upon people who don’t fit the conventional standards of what it means to respond to God’s gift of salvation?  People in a rural African village perhaps?  Next and final blog entry in this series coming soon…


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