According to Emanuel Swedenborg, or the New Church, can a good person go to heaven if he or she rejects Jesus? If all religions are inherently good, it would mean the a good person who believes only in Allah but refuse to believe or mock the idea that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, will still go to heaven? How does the whole thing work?
From a Swedenborgian perspective, this is a trick question.
Technically, according to Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), anyone who rejects Jesus ("the Lord," as Swedenborg refers to him) cannot go to heaven.
However, Swedenborg's definition of "rejecting the Lord" is quite different from the usual Christian definitions.
By the usual Christian definitions of "rejecting Jesus," yes, according to Swedenborg someone who has rejected and even mocked Jesus can go to heaven.
That's why it's a trick question (but a good one!): because it all depends on your definition of "rejecting Jesus."
Let me explain.
1. Swedenborg rejected the Trinity of Persons.
First, it is necessary to understand that Swedenborg utterly rejected the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in God--which is the foundational doctrine of most of the rest of Christianity.
He said, instead, that there is one God, and that Jesus Christ is that God. So although Swedenborg does state that there is a Trinity in God, he says that that Trinity is in a single Person of God, and that Jesus Christ is that one Person. For more on this, see my article, "Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?"
Therefore, in Swedenborg's view, anyone who believes in God is, in fact, believing in the Lord, or Jesus Christ, because there is no other God to believe in. Here is how he puts it in Divine Providence #330:5:
Someone could point out that they [non-Christians] do not know the Lord, and that apart from the Lord there is no salvation. But no one is saved because of knowing about the Lord. We are saved because we live by his commandments. Further, the Lord is known to everyone who believes in God because the Lord is the God of heaven and earth, as he tells us in Matthew 28:18 and elsewhere. (link added)
So from Swedenborg's perspective, Muslims who believe in Allah are believing in Jesus Christ even if they do not call Allah "Jesus Christ" because Jesus Christ is the one God of heaven and earth. This means that for a Muslim, rejecting Jesus--or "the Lord" in Swedenborg's terminology--would mean rejecting Allah. And Muslims who reject Allah cannot go to heaven (according to Islam and Swedenborg) because they are rejecting God as they know God.
Muslims, Swedenborg says, can go to heaven if they believe in God (Allah, as they call God) and live a good life according to the teachings of their religion. To repeat a quote from the same section of Divine Providence given in the answer linked in the question:
It is an insane heresy to believe that only those born in the church are saved. People born outside the church are just as human as people born within it. They come from the same heavenly source. They are equally living and immortal souls. They have religions as well, religions that enable them to believe that God exists and that they should lead good lives; and all of them who do believe in God and lead good lives become spiritual on their own level and are saved. (Divine Providence #330.5)
2. Swedenborg rejected the Satisfaction and Penal Substitution theories of Atonement.
Second, it is necessary to understand that Swedenborg's view of Atonement and salvation departs fundamentally from Catholic and Protestant views.
It has only been for the last thousand years of Christianity, since Anselm, that some Christians (primarily Roman Catholics) have believed that Christ somehow stood in as a substitute for us in satisfying God's need for honor and justice.
And it has only been for the last five hundred years of Christianity, since the Protestant Reformation, that any significant number of Christians (mostly Protestants) have believed that Jesus paid the penalty for our sin on the cross--something that the Bible never actually says.
Swedenborg rejected both of those theories of atonement as false and non-biblical. His view was much closer to the Christus Victor view of salvation that was the primary theory of atonement for the first thousand years of Christianity. (Unfortunately, the Wikipedia articles on Penal Substitution and Christus Victor are not very good. The Penal Substitution article is particularly weak on the history of that doctrine.)
In Swedenborg's view, Jesus Christ made salvation available to all people everywhere by conquering the power of evil, the Devil, and hell and bringing them under his personal control. Without this, all people would have been spiritually destroyed by the mounting power of evil, which had reached its peak at the time of the Incarnation.
Because of Jesus' battles against and complete victory over evil and hell, God (AKA Jesus Christ) was able to restore the balance between good and evil, so that every human being everywhere on earth now has the freedom to choose God and goodness over hell and evil. And all who do so, according to Swedenborg, are saved.
This would not have been possible without the spiritual work Jesus Christ accomplished by his life, death, and resurrection. The Crucifixion was not salvation. Rather, it was only the final battle, by which Christ achieved final victory over the Devil, or hell.
Because of this view of salvation and atonement, from the perspective of Swedenborgian theology there is no need for non-Christians to believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins. The fact that Jesus did die for our sins is sufficient to secure our salvation, without the need for human belief in it. Rather, it is necessary for humans to believe in God and live according to God's commandments--which, as the next item points out, is one and the same thing in Swedenborg's view.
I realize this may raise many more questions. I am simplifying Swedenborg's doctrine on these subjects in the interest of time. For Swedenborg's own full presentation of these doctrines, please see the first volume of True Christianity.
3. Swedenborg defined "faith" as "the beliefs you live by."
Third, it is necessary to understand that Swedenborg defines "faith," or "belief," quite differently than many traditional Christian definitions of faith.
In Swedenborg's view, faith is inseparable from charity, meaning action.
Another way to put it is that for Swedenborg, "faith" is not a mere intellectual belief or assurance that something is true. Rather, faith is the belief that we live by. In this, he is very much in line with the Apostle James's views on faith:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14–17)
From Swedenborg's perspective, having faith in Jesus necessarily includes living by what Jesus teaches, because what we really believe is what we live by.
By the same token, rejecting Jesus means not living by what Jesus teaches. And although believing explicitly in Jesus is one of the things Jesus, and the New Testament generally, teaches, this, from a Swedenborgian perspective, is primarily for the purpose of inducing Christian believers to live according to Jesus' teachings.
The most important teaching of Jesus, and therefore of Christianity, is expressed in Matthew 22:35-40:
One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
Based on this teaching of Jesus, Swedenborg says that those who believe in God and love God, and who love their neighbor as themselves, are saved and go to heaven no matter what their religion. These people, Swedenborg says, truly believe in the Lord (Jesus Christ) because they are living according to the central and most important teaching of Jesus Christ.
4. Rejecting Christianity does not necessarily mean rejecting Jesus.
Fourth, it's necessary to understand that according to Swedenborg, many non-Christians, including Muslims and Jews, reject Christianity and Jesus for two basic reasons:
- They see Christians living evil lives, which gives Christ a bad name.
- They view Christianity as polytheistic because of the (false, in Swedenborg's view) doctrine of three persons in God.
Swedenborg believed that it was necessary for Christianity to be completely renovated, and to reject the fundamental falsity (as he saw it) of a Trinity of Persons in God before it would become acceptable to many believers in firmly monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Islam.
And Swedenborg believed that it was necessary for Christians to live by their religion instead of merely giving it lip service while living evil and self-centered lives, and thus giving Christianity a bad name.
So Swedenborg considered the rejection of Jesus among Muslims and Jews to be excusable because Christianity itself had become corrupt, and had presented to people of other religions a false picture of Jesus.
He looked forward to the day when a renewed and restored Christianity would present a true and belief-worthy picture of Jesus Christ as the one God of heaven and earth, who loves and saves all people, of every religion, who believe in God and live lives of love and service to their fellow human beings according to the teachings of their own religion.
This form of Christianity, he believed, would in time draw all nations to the beauty and power of the Christian faith, and to the belief that Jesus Christ is indeed the God and Savior of all.
For more on this, see my article "Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?" linked above, and also: