What is your take on the Missionary Paradox?

I think we’ve all heard of this before: a missionary converts a tribe to Christianity, but then someone asks if they had never heard of it, would they be saved? The missionary says yes, if you never knew, you’d be saved. So why tell them at all?

And it’s a completely valid question. If telling people who don’t know about Christianity about Christianity means they’re able to not be saved now, we shouldn’t tell them, right? In fact, if this is taken to its endpoint, then it seems that the most ethical thing to do is to destroy all knowledge of God - burn every Bible and every book ever written about the subject - and make sure NO ONE knows about it again, therefore guaranteeing that everyone is saved. But that just sounds ridiculous.

What is your take on evangelizing in this regard?

Welcome back. I think the question is informed by the following paradigm: the point of Christianity is to go to heaven.

If that paradigm is wrong (and I would argue that it is), then the problem kind of disappears.


But why does it disappear

Wrong, because the emphasis is not on the destination but the journey. One of the main elements of Christianity is that it is not about what we do, it is about what God does; Christianity is not about Heaven or Hell it is about our life on earth. It is a mind set, or an intent, to align ourselves with God and His ideals. Itis not about whether we succeed or not. Concentrating on the carrot or the stick is diverting away from the principles of living. Christ ensures that there is forgiveness for any mistakes so as long as we stay focussed on God there is no risk of losing. The only problem would come if the faith failed, and then you would not cate because you no longer believe in Heaven or Hell. It becomes an academic problem that will only be resolved when we die, and the belief is that we get a final chance. IOW there can be no harm in accepting or even rejecting Christianity, because it is not about us at all, it is about God.

Christianity is not ultimately about Heaven and Hell or salvation. It is about God Offering us forgiveness for our mistakes (sins), Heaven is just a happy side effect.


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Even reformed theologians and universalists have answers for this. It’s not really a paradox. We preach the Gospel because we are followers of Jesus and He told us to. If someone needs more than this, there is nothing else we can say to them.

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That is the comfortable, first-world country take on the issue.


First of all - welcome back! And don’t let any of the belittling of your question above slow you down. Questions are welcomed here, and yours is a good one.

The question is good because it exposes something that needs exposing: the poverty of any so-called “good news” if it’s only about technicalities of how you can get a ticket for your soul into the good here-after club in some far-away heaven. If that’s all Christianity is about, then your question not only becomes valid, but pressing, even! Abortion would be the most Christian thing in the world to do since you’d be populating heaven with multitudes, the vast majority of which (in some traditionally more Calvinist readings) will be eternally tortured in Hell if you let them live into the age of accountability.

Obviously - we all reject this and rightly so. Which also means people have a good sense (even if they can’t own up to it) - that there’s something very wrong with the “correct doctrinal technicalities get you into the Pearly Gates” approach to the gospel. Your question (when actually faced instead of belittled) should force us to circle back to Jesus again to discover just why it might be “good news” if he was visiting your community. The blind see. The lame walk. People are freed from their burdens. It really was good news - news you would travel to get in on if you weren’t one of the lucky communities. It’s what Jesus points out to John the Baptist through his messengers. We Christians today have merely succeeded in turning the good news into … well … not such good news. At least not for the people who are most in need of some good news. It was bad news for the religious leaders of the day (or so they thought and felt) when he exposed their hypocrisy. But even then - if you’ve been forced to swallow some hard truth about yourself, it may not feel like good news to you, but it eventually will be recognized as such. Just as the painful removal of a splinter from your finger hurts like the dickens while your mother is removing it - but the wise child knows there is relief on the other side of that necessary pain.

If all somebody’s Chrisitanity is, is a technicality game to be played, as if this would somehow fool God, then one has neither Christ, nor even anything remotely biblical. All they’ve got is a cultural caricature based on warped medieval theologies.


Well the reason why I share the gospel with anyone and that incomes random people is because we are told too. It’s simply part of the great commission. I don’t think being saved by Jesus means becoming a Christian. I also don’t think someone randomly showing up and telling you about Jesus means you’ve learned about it and have to make a choice. I think regardless if you went to that nation or not, they would still be judged off of their heart and may or may not be saved. I think a random conservative could do a hell fire preaching to some random person who has never heard the gospel, and they reject that weird tortuous gospel, and can still be saved.

The Bible mentions, severing having heard being judged and so on. Does not seem to be any different from having heard and being judged. I think the point of that verse was to help someone, like a slave of the Romans brought hundreds of miles from their tribe, who then becomes saved and is worried about their family back in their homeland where the gospel is never reached. They were being told, don’t worry, it’s not a death sentence to have never heard the gospel. God is just and will search their hearts. It was a message about peace and hope. Not something for someone to weaponize for or against lost tribes hearing the gospel.

I’m not someone that thinks these lost tribes, like in the Amazon, needs to be kept away. I think those people living in the Stone Age, should be reached out to. Given the choices to stay there or leave. Modernize or stay back in “time”. I feel treating them as an experiment is crazy. If there was a world far beyond ours with technology I would rather them reach out instead of saying let’s just leave them in the dark.

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Do any Christian theologians actually think people who have never heard of Jesus or dead babies are automatically in heaven? Most would assume God would judge them appropriately either way and He would know how they would respond. Is every person who lived before Jesus heaven-bound (they couldn’t hear about him as the incarnation hadn’t happened yet)? Only universalists actually believe this and they preach the gospel because Jesus told us to and it’s the right thing to do.


I would hope that most theologians wouldn’t agonize much over these sorts of questions. But to the extent that they do, I’m sure their answers could be found all over the map about it depending on what sorts of schools and seminaries they attended. So … yeah … I’m sure it wouldn’t be considered just “automatic” by all of them. But even if the question is answered differently, It’s still managing to miss out on a lot of stuff very central to Christ’s redemptive visitation to us - by making the question be focused on a “one-off” salvation event instead of ongoing salvation that starts already, and never stops.


Could not agree more. Of course it is about something much more important than that. I’ve never understood why that is always touted as such an urgent rationale for faith when it actually inflames some of our worst human failings. I only wish more would speak out as clearly as you have.about the unworthiness of that sort of motivation.


The line of “sure it may land people in Hell, but I still do it anyway cuz I have to” sounds kinda bad to me


God decides the eternal fate of those who have not heard the good news about Jesus and salvation through him. We can leave it to God.

My own guestimate is that God saves some but not all. There are good reasons to tell the gospel to those who have not heard it, the command to make disciples is not the only reason. When people hear the good news about salvation through Jesus Christ and turn towards God, salvation may reach persons that would not otherwise be saved. Telling the gospel saves many people, not only their eternal fate but also their current life on earth. Becoming a disciple of Jesus brings freedom of bondages that are destructive to the person and people around him/her.

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Hello Ben! :wave:t2:
I’m not actually going to answer your question, since I believe it’s already has been answered, but this has resurfaced in my mind a lot of issues in regards to missions.
So for example when I was a child I’ve heard a story about a tribe who had been converted to Christianity, and as a result all the men essentially thrown out all their “surplus” wives! This has obviously caused a lot of harm.
And there’s lots of other issues:

  • are missions a form of imperialism?
  • are they racist?
  • are villagers essentially bribed into conversion?
  • given that, from what I’ve heard, missions are expensive, is this the right way of allocating resources?
  • are missionaries actually wanted where they go? And if not, should they?

Interesting! And what would be the uncomfortable, third-world country take on the issue?


Because we are called to live in relationship with God and embody his rule in this world. People abandoned to ignorance miss that.

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Yes. Christian theologians (at least some) do think this. Not every theologian has bought into strict predestination.

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Is it? Is it comfortable? Is it “first world”? In what ways specifically?

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My rough take is not everyone has life easy or the freedoms we do. Many people live in war torn communities, children live in war zones and some people are abused and trafficked their whole life and live a live of pain. Christianity is about more than just placating well-to-do guilt. It can provide love and hope (e.g. heaven) for victims and those who suffer loss. Heaven might be the only realistic hope for some people, including us 1st worlders, not a happy side-effect…

Christianity is certainly concerned with sin and forgiveness but somewhere along the way, I’m guessing with original sin and penal substitution, some Christians seem to have neglected other things and made it mostly about that. When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, forgive us our trespasses was only one part. The resurrection was important because it vindicated Jesus and showed how God conquered death.

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” That doesn’t sound like a happy side effect.


When Christians separate this life from the next they loose their Christianity.

Although Christ taught about the Kingdom of Heaven His teaching was rooted in how we behave on earth.


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Yes, I’m all too aware of that. I’m sure we all are, considering what’s happening right now in the world.

Well, there was a few months ago a thread about Heaven, and few members have expressed concerns about possible boredom. I didn’t have time to participate at the time, but I did think to myself at the time “I wonder what would people currently living in a warzone without running water, food and access to any medical attention say about that? Would they to worry that they might get bored of Heaven?” I don’t think so.

I ask myself if that even matters if someone suffered unspeakable pain their entire life. It’s “easy” to live a “sin-free” life when one doesn’t have to struggle and has plenty of options. Of course many fail even then.