Catholic teaching on salvation, he said, “is like a rich oil painting of Jesus, as compared to a black and white line drawing or even a cartoon. It has the basics found in the line drawing, but with subtle colors, shades, and hues not found in the other approach.”
But Talbot concurred with Bell's evangelical critics in rejecting the notion of universal salvation.
“The mystery of iniquity is that some will actually choose to turn from God for eternity,” he said. “This seems inconceivable to most of us, but scripture and tradition says that some will.”
Dr. Douglas Groothuis, an evangelical philosopher and apologist who teaches at the non-denominational Denver Seminary, gave CNA his perspective on several subjects where Bell takes an unconventional turn in “Love Wins.”
“Some evangelicals hold that while salvation is through Jesus Christ alone, some in the New Covenant era may be saved by Christ without having known of the Gospel as such, if they fulfill certain conditions.” But, Groothuis said, “others deny this.”
Many evangelicals are committed to the principle of salvation by “faith alone,” which teaches that no human act other than believing in Christ has any bearing on one's salvation.
But Groothuis said “most evangelicals” would accept the possibility of God making a “final offer” of salvation to individuals at the threshold of death. Catholic teaching holds that this could occur, although it is impossible to know whether or not it actually happens.
“Love Wins” also contains a passage in which Bell expresses anxiety for the fate of those who die suddenly and unexpectedly, without having become Christians. He indicates that the notion of an immediate and final judgment after death makes God turn from “kind and compassionate” to “cruel and relentless, in the blink of an eye.”
But Groothuis said that this issue of death and judgment required a clearer understanding of God's providence, a subject on which evangelicals largely concur with the Catholic Church.
According to Catholic teaching, God has complete sovereignty over the beginning and end of life, and complete foreknowledge of human decisions. From these principles, it can be inferred that no one dies “before his time,” meaning that all those who die are either prepared to face God and be saved – or else, would never have chosen to be saved even if given additional time.
Groothuis agreed with this traditional understanding of God's providence, and said it could help both evangelicals and Catholics to understand the logic of an irrevocable judgment immediately after death – because, he indicated, every person is either prepared to face the judgment, or would never have prepared themselves in any case.
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“God is sovereign over life and death, “ he stated. “Nothing surprises God.”