In this edition of Exploring Hope, Keith Whitfield talks with Tony Merida, pastor of Imago Dei Church and professor of preaching at Southeastern, about the church: why does it matter for the Christian, especially the seminarian? Why does it matter for salvation?
Southeastern Seminary and 9 Marks Ministries recently partnered together for the fourth annual 9 Marks at Southeastern Conference. This year’s conference theme was the doctrine of conversion. The speakers included Danny Akin, Thabiti Anyabwile, Matt Chandler, Mark Dever, Tony Merida, and David Platt.
We were delighted to host over 1300 conference participants, the majority of them pastors and other church leaders. We’re thankful that God blessed us with our largest ever conference at SEBTS.
You can now watch each of the sermons and panel discussions online at the SEBTS website. Those of us at Between the Times would highly recommend that you watch these powerful messages and insightful conversations.
One of the most popular articles we’ve ever published at Between the Times is “Why We Believe Children Who Die Go To Heaven,” which we have posted on three previous occasions (including yesterday). The article was co-authored by Al Mohler and Danny Akin over a decade ago and has been published in a number of venues under a couple of different names over the years (including on Dr. Mohler’s website). I would not be suprised if more people have read this article than anything else Dr. Akin or even Dr. Mohler has ever written.
Like the aforementioned authors (and Charles Spurgeon over there), I affirm the “salvation of all infants” view, though I confess that it is impossible to make an exegetical case for any view with total accuracy. In fact, the famous Presbyterian theologian B. B. Warfield noted at least five views just among Reformed Christians, not counting all the other options that have been advocated throughout church history! This particular question has vexed Christians since at least the second century, and I suspect it will continue to do so until the end of the age.
While Mohler and Akin provide several reasons why they hold their position, I want to add an additional thought. While I do not think it provides a “slam-dunk” defense of the salvation of all infants, I do believe it provides corroborating evidence for the salvation of at least vast numbers of infants who do not come from believing families, which is different from the position held by many of our Reformed friends.
Revelation 5:9 and 7:9 both provide glimpses into the heavenly court wherein we see a great multitude of believers from every tribe, tongue, and nation in the presence of God. Now Baptists and other evangelicals are used to thinking of these verses as Great Commission passages; after all, how will they hear and believe unless someone preaches the gospel to them (cf. Rom. 10:10-15)? But I think we also see in these passages at least a hint about the salvation of infants.
Remember that there were entire civilizations that had come and gone prior to the time of Christ, and many others that were extinct prior to ever having access to the gospel. Most evangelicals agree that conscious faith in Christ is normally necessary for salvation, with the possible exceptions of infants, very young children, and the developmentally challenged. So if inclusivism is not an option (and I think it isn’t), how is it that there are people from every people group around God’s throne if some people groups never had access to the gospel? I think a possible answer is that there are infants from every people group who have, by God’s grace, been redeemed, and therefore are now believers in the presence of their King. To say it another way, some of those tribes and tongues and nations may be represented by redeemed infants rather than men and women who exercised conscious faith in Christ.
Again, I confess this doesn’t entirely solve the problem of infant salvation. Nor does it necessarily provide the only viable answer for how there are redeemed individuals from all people groups in heaven. But as one who rejects inclusivism as a legitimate biblical option, this seems like the best interpretation to me. And it has a direct bearing on the question of what happens to those who die in infancy.
So for this reason, along with many of the reasons articulated by the Mohler and Akin article, I think I can say with some confidence that at least large numbers of infants go to heaven. And since I see no biblical reason to place limitations on the number of infants who will be saved, I hold to the idea that all infants will be saved, again confessing that there is no way we can be certain about this question. We can, however, be sure of this: God is both just and merciful and always does what is right, no matter what–even when we have a hard time explaining it. This is true in the case of the salvation of infants, no matter who turns out to be right in the end.
(This entry is re-posted and lightly edited from an earlier post first published on November 27, 2009. Image credit.)