Warren Argues, Dogs and People with Intellectual Disabilities Will Go to Heaven

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In a recent article in the USA Today Faith and Reason section, pastor and author Rick Warren argues that animals and people with intellectual disabilities will all go to heaven. He reasons, "People miss heaven because of their rebellion against God's offer of love, by rejecting Jesus. But dogs, which have no ability to sin nor moral conscience, do not have an ability to reject Jesus. It is the same principle as a baby, young child or mentally challenged individual. The Bible calls them 'safe,' not 'saved.' In Proverbs we read, 'The Lord preserves the simple,' which includes persons without the ability, capacity or moral conscience to reject Jesus."

Don't get me wrong. I love our dog Marley. But I do not plan to see Marley again when Christ reappears and the heavens and earth are renewed. When he dies, he'll be gone except for our memories and our pictures.

The Bible teaches that humans were created with an everlasting destiny. I'm aware of no scripture that teaches the same thing about animals, sad as that may make us feel about the animals that we love. Richard Mouw's fascinating little book, When the Kings Come Marching In, argues that we can expect to find animals in the new creation. I agree with Mouw because his reasoning is based on the clear teaching of Scripture, but I cannot agree with Warren that the dogs whose company we will enjoy in the new creation will be the same dogs that we enjoyed here on earth.

Even more upsetting and unbiblical, I take issue with Warren's comparison of animals with people with intellectual disabilities (and babies and young children). Biblically, they are not the same at all. All humans are made in the image of God; animals are not. Humans are created for everlasting; animals are not.

Warren reasons, "But dogs, which have no ability to sin nor moral conscience, do not have an ability to reject Jesus. It is the same principle as a baby, young child or mentally challenged individual." His reasoning assumes that we are saved by choosing faith in Jesus. And if someone (or some animal) does not have that capacity, then that creature has a guaranteed ticket to heaven. (This reasoning also would apply to poisonous snakes, mosquitoes, and killer bacteria; therefore, according to Warren we should expect to find these in heaven too.)

"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15). People, including people with even the most severe intellectual disabilities, are sinners, because all of us humans are "in Adam" (1 Corinthians 15:22) and "dead in our transgressions" (Ephesians 2:5). Animals are not sinners. Sinners need a Savior. Animals do not need a Savior. 

It is true that some people with severe intellectual disabilities have little to no capacity to make moral choices. But this does not equate them with animals. As image-bearers of God, and sinners in Adam, they stand before the cross like every other human, dependant on God's sovereign grace for salvation. They, like all humans, are not saved by faith. We are saved BY GRACE THROUGH faith (Ephesians 2:8,9).

Salvation is God's work through the precious blood of Christ shed for humans: "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified."

As I said, I love our dog Marley, and I also love my daughter Nicole who lives with severe intellectual disability. The love I have for the two of them is very different, as God's love for the two of them is very different. They both are worthy of respect, but different kinds of respect. By lumping them together, Warren shows a profound disrespect for Nicole and for all people like her who live with severe intellectual disabilities.

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