Should We Evangelize Extraterrestrials?
Recently, when I was doing a project for a class in higher education, I came across an article written by Vincent Kiernan in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Can Science and Theology Find Common Ground?” The article presented a number of issues that were discussed at a conference hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The conference included the normal discussions about the existence of God and the place of religion in university life, but there was one topic that stood out to me, namely, the question of how religious humans would interact with extraterrestrials on the matter of religion.
Let me quote a few paragraphs of the article to give you an idea of the issue:
Speakers at the conference also dealt at length with the issue of extraterrestrial life and its religious implications. The discovery of European explorers of human inhabitants in North America triggered intense theological debate in the 17th century over the question of whether American Indians had souls, said Owen Gingerich, a professor of astronomy and history of science at Harvard. Similarly, he predicted, the discovery of intelligent beings beyond Earth would cause debate over whether they had souls.
John F. Haught, director of Georgetown University’s Georgetown Center for the Study of Science and Religion and a professor of theology at the university, said monotheistic faiths, such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, maintained that God is the single God of the entire cosmos. Consequently, monotheism would specify that the God of Earth also would be the creator of extraterrestrials, no matter how far away or how different they were, he said. “Nothing you could ever encounter could ever be called completely alien.”
That reasoning, he said, would lead monotheists to seek to enter into religious dialogue with extraterrestrials, or perhaps even to seek to convert them to Earth-based faiths. And extraterrestrials might well have developed religious faith of their own, he argued–they, like humans, would face uncertainties and difficulties in life that would stir religious inquiry. . . . However, whether for proselytizing or for building mutual understanding, a discussion of religion with extraterrestrials might prove to be a daunting task, he continued. Human faiths draw heavily on metaphors from human experience–water and blood, light and dark, paternity and maternity, he explained. Extraterrestrials might not share those experiences, and so terrestrial religious metaphors would be foreign to them. “That might cause some barriers to communication,” he said.
After recovering from the initial shock that such a matter was a point of discussion among scientists and theologians, it occurred to me that the Bible actually addresses this matter. In fact it addresses both issues in question. First, are there extraterrestrial beings? The biblical answer is “yes.” Now we should not necessarily think of little green men flying around in spaceships here, but the Bible is quite clear that there are beings who exist beyond our realm. The Bible calls these beings angels and demons. We are not alone in the universe according to biblical teaching. Second, should we engage extraterrestrials in religious conversation in an attempt to convert them to Christianity? The biblical answer to this question is “no.” Let me explain.
In Hebrews 2, we find a discussion of the necessity of Christ’s incarnation. The author of Hebrews explains the need for the incarnation, that is, God the Son becoming a human being. In verse 14, the author says of Jesus, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of death–that is, the devil.” In verses 16-17, our author says, “For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” The idea in these verses is that it was necessary for Jesus Christ to become “fully human in every way” so that he could provide atonement for those in the human race who were sinners. The text explicitly says that “it is not angels he helps but the descendants of Abraham” (v. 16). The implication is that for Jesus’ atonement to have effect on humans, he had to become human. Christ did not do this for angels, even fallen angels. He did not become “fully angelic in every way;” he became “fully human in every way.” Notice that verse 17 says that “he had to be made like them.” In other words, there was no other way. He had to become human to save them. The same would hold true for angels or any other extraterrestrials that might be out there. Jesus would have to become like them to save them.
So, should we try to evangelize extraterrestrials then with the Christian message? The answer has to be “no” because Christ did not become an extraterrestrial and die for their sins. The Christian gospel applies only to the human sin condition. The message of the cross gives hope exclusively to members of Adam’s race. There would be absolutely no point in preaching Christ to beings who can have no interest in Christ’s atonement.
As a concluding thought to this discussion, it is important to point out just how privileged we are as human beings to have found favor and mercy with God. The second person of the Triune God took on human flesh so that we might be saved from our sins. This act is something that He has done for no one else. We are truly blessed!