Why Study the Heathen?
Terror of the Nazis’ Third Reich had spread across most of Europe as the Second World War moved into full swing. Rumors of concentration camps were filtering back to the United States. People fortunate enough to have escaped these death camps were circulating eyewitness accounts telling of mass extermination of Jews. At this point, the world had to ask itself, "Are these rumors true, or are they just part of a ‘smear campaign’ against Germany?" However, the issue soon encompassed millions of people, and it was necessary to take a closer look. When it appeared that the rumors might be true, a full investigation was initiated. As it turned out, Nazi Germany was committing wholesale genocide.
Hindsight allows us to see the magnitude of the Nazis’ war crimes, but when the rumors first started, it was unclear how widespread the problem actually was. The world we live in is full of alleged injustices, but we do not have the time to pursue thoroughly the validity of each. When prioritizing the issues to be studied, we have to determine the potential scope of the problem. A problem that affects millions of people takes a higher priority than a problem that affects only one person.
This same principle applies to the study of the heathen. We must determine what priority should be given to this subject. When talking about the heathen, are we only speaking of a few thousand people, or billions. As you will see from this study, the classification of heathen could include several billion people.
Is the study of the heathen just another complicated doctrine over which we Christians can split hairs? While it is true we are to study and be familiar with all the doctrines in the Bible, should we consume much of our time and energy doing an in-depth study of something that "doesn’t really concern us"? There is only one good reason to do an in-depth study of the heathen. That reason is: The heathen are destined to Hell, and we as Christians can make it possible for them to go to Heaven. If this is true, then this issue is extremely important.
While it is true that the Bible is unclear on some aspects of the heathen, it is clear on many important issues concerning the heathen’s fate. After several years of research, we have come to the conclusion that the study of the heathen warrants serious consideration. Because of the importance of this issue, we have decided to print our findings and present some aspects you may not have considered. We recognize there are still many unanswered questions, therefore, we are attempting to present this as non-dogmatically as possible. You decide for yourself.
One of the most commonly asked questions is: "What about those who have never heard the gospel?" Although this seems a very simple question to ask, the answer is difficult. To answer this emotional question, you must look closely at what the Bible teaches, and not at your feelings. Your feelings on this topic must carefully be separate from the facts. The destiny of the heathen is not dependent on how you feel, but on how God operates. Isaiah 55:8 states plainly God’s ways are not our ways.
As with any doctrinal study, it is extremely important to be consistent with all the teachings in the Bible. No major doctrine should be based on only a few isolated verses. When studying a doctrine, all Biblical passages must be considered. We have discovered several issues concerning the heathen that many Christians have never thought about. These questions must be asked and answered. They cannot be ignored if we are to remain fair and objective in our research.
To help you understand what is involved in each of the five views, we have broken them down into simple and understandable modules. No viewpoint stands alone. Every viewpoint has hidden implications that must be considered. For example, let's say a stranger came up to me and said that he hated all dogs. Though he has not said it, he is implying he hates my dog. In this situation, the implications are easily seen, but they are more difficult to distinguish when discussing the complicated subject of the heathen. Therefore, when considering the view of the heathen to which we adhere, all the hidden implications of that view must be taken into account. Since the subject of the heathen is so closely tied to the plan of salvation, it is important to consider carefully the view to which you adhere. Some of these views imply things that are contrary to the Word of God.
For several years Stevan Huntoon and I have spent large amounts of time and energy looking for any information available on the heathen. We bought every book and tape we could find. We wrote to over 100 Christian organizations and leaders asking them for their input and views. From this, we realized there were five main categories or opinions on the destiny of the heathen. Thus, to simplify this confusing topic, we have formulated these five views and created this section, "Destiny of the Heathen (Five Main Views)."
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