Atheists Saved? The Pope & Billy Graham Say “Yes!”

Not long ago Pope Francis shocked many by saying that atheists can be saved.

However, in doing so, he was catching up with . . . Billy Graham!

Yes, in 1997 on Robert Schuller’s “Hour of Power” telecast, the famous evangelist said people of all religions and of none can be saved, even if they’ve never heard of Jesus or deny his divinity.

Watch and listen to his words for yourself.

Has Billy Graham lost his faith, as some critics charge? Or have he and the pope finally come around to acknowledging the Greatness of the divine and its unwillingness to be limited by denominations, theology, and even by denials of the very existence of what human beings have called “God”?

What is your reaction to Graham’s words – and to Francis I echoing him?

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

8 thoughts on “Atheists Saved? The Pope & Billy Graham Say “Yes!””

  1. Karl Rahner proposed the same thing long before either of them. Makes sense to me…..

    Anonymous Christian
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Anonymous Christian is the controversial notion introduced by the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner (1904–1984) that declares that people who have never heard the Christian Gospel might be saved through Christ. Non-Christians could have “in [their] basic orientation and fundamental decision,” Rahner wrote, “accepted the salvific grace of God, through Christ, although [they] may never have heard of the Christian revelation.”[1]


    1. Thanks, Peggy, for the reminder. Strange how such insights never make it to the pulpit. My evangelical students in Costa Rica were totally unaware of the Graham position. Most Catholics never heard of the anonymous Christian concept. Maybe Pope Francis will encourage homilists to broaden understandings of God as referenced in Schuller’s response to Billy Graham.


  2. Mike I know I view the Scriptures through my own filters and lenses, but I think Scripture is very clear on this point. e.g.

    – “As in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive.”

    – “In the case of those who are perishing” (present tense – speaking about their current orientation) – “the god of this world has blinded their minds to keep them from seeing..” but one day they will “know fully even as they are fully known” (2 Cor 4:3,4 + 1 Cor 13:12)

    – “the one who confesses with their tongue that Jesus is Lord and believes that God raised Him from the dead, they will be saved” – well, praise God that “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Rom 10:9 + Phil 2:11)

    Here’s a question back to those whose theology of salvation is entirely based on the view that people have this earthly life only to decide what they believe / where they will spend eternity… Why did Jesus go preach to the spirits of people who in their earthly lives did not believe but disobeyed in 1 Peter 3:19,20? Was it to announce their condemnation to them personally or to invite them into the new way to the Father that He had just opened through His death on a cross?

    Alternatively, can anyone cite one scripture that clearly rules out any post-morten opportunity to believe? [ Nb. I won’t accept Heb 9:27 because that just says there will be a review or an accounting for our lives – not that those who fail will have no opportunity to repent and believe. And I also won’t accept Luke 16 re Lazarus and Abraham because a) being a parable it is a tenuous source for doctrine and b) arguably it simply foretells the forsaking of the nation of Israel (symbolised by the man in royal and priestly garments) and the favouring of the Gentiles (symbolised by Lazarus as a “dog” in spiritual poverty licked by “other dogs” ) in the impending age of the Church, when God’s eye and ear will seem to be open to the Church and blind and deaf to the corporate plight of the Jews (the parable is a terrible warning but still only a temporal – not eternal – warning, and a warning that is addressed not to any specific indiviuals, but rather to a national entity and to those insistant on being reliant on that national entity e.g. for their identity. )


    1. John I REALLY appreciate your thoughtful reasoning about these texts. Are you saying though that they “prove” that atheists cannot be “saved?” And is it that you understand “salvation” as going to heaven in an afterlife? Personally, I’ve arrived at a point where that approach to scripture and the purpose of life have become highly questionable — for me. I’d really like to know your thinking about those larger questions.


  3. As an activist of 40-odd years standing, I do not accept the censorship of my views. Today ou completely deleted my second post of 6/7/13 on the Rios Montt blog. I have the distinction of being censored:
    1) by the apartheid regime in South Africa who refused admission to the country of books published by me. That stopped, of course, as soon as Nelson Mandela took office.
    2) American Midwestern homophobic printers (almost one a year for almost 20 years)., When one of them refused to print a scholarly book on the gay relationships of America’s great national poet, Walt Whitman, we indicated upcoming lawsuit and they immediately backed down.
    3) Two evangelical customs officials on the Seattle-Vancouver border crossing refused admission to a whole slew of books, including some published by me, and including one by Oscar Wilde. That was appealed by the feminist bookstore to the Canadian Supreme Court and, after several years of very expensive litigation they won their case.
    4) Mike Rivage-Seul censoring a moderate comment by me on the Rios Montt blog. Adopting the culture of the Empire, he completely deleted it, without sending an email or anything to me.. I think the problem here is that Professor Seul has been administering criticism to his students over a 30 year period, and bristles at any criticism of his views from the other direction.

    And if you are going to comment on this post and refuse to allow my original comments to appear
    then just don’t do it. This comment itself may be censored. Once you get into the habit of censoring, it becomes easier. Censorship is the work of those who adhere to the principles of the Empire, and I regret to see your adopting those principles in this case.


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