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Religion Library: Protestantism

Afterlife and Salvation

Written by: Ted Vial

In recent times, a significant split has emerged  between the more conservative and more liberal wings of many Protestant denominations. Conservatives maintain their belief in an afterlife spent in a literal place, either heaven or hell. More liberal Protestants tend to downplay hell, often because the image of God torturing people for eternity, even if they are sinners, is not easy to square with their idea of a loving God. Nor is it easy to square the idea of a just God with one who casts people into hell because, as the result of fortune for which they are not responsible, they have not lived in a place where the Gospel of Jesus was preached.

Far more Americans say that they believe in heaven in recent surveys, than say they believe in hell, and this view has been adopted by some within Protestantism. There are also now many Protestants who hold that neither heaven nor hell is a literal place. If the core of salvation as described above is to live in the presence of God, heaven is then a metaphor for blessedness or a divine relationship in this life. For some of these people, hell is a metaphor for living in the absence of God in this life.

Study Questions:
1.     Why is the Protestant life seen as a journey to a destination? What are the options?
2.     Do Protestants believe in purgatory? Why or why not?
3.     What do Protestants believe will happen on the final judgment day?
4.     How do Conservative and Liberal branches of Protestantism understand heaven and hell differently?


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