Dr. Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, spoke for the first time this week on the death of Osama bin Laden, saying he believes bin Laden is in hell for being one of the "unrepentant wicked."
His comments were delivered Wednesday during a discussion on Christian responses to bin Laden's death at the seminary's Pasadena campus. Mouw called the event an "important time for communal discernment and pastoral theological reflection."
Speaking about the issue of heaven and hell as it relates to the al-Qaida leader’s death, Mouw said he couldn't avoid the "Rob Bell discussion." In March, the Fuller president had written a commentary defending Bell's view on hell, saying he didn't think the Love Wins author to be a universalist.
Following bin Laden's death, someone called Mouw and asked, "So do you think Osama bin Laden went to hell?"
"I want to say yes," said the evangelical leader during the discussion Wednesday. "Article 10 of the Fuller Statement of Faith says, 'the wicked shall in the end be eternally separated from God.'"
"So far as Osama bin Laden is one of the wicked and one of the unrepentant wicked, I believe he is condemned to an eternity apart from God," he stated.
Further exploring the topic, Mouw reflected on a "hypothetical" thought experiment regarding bin Laden's salvation that was painted by Bethel Seminary professor Karl Roberts in an article entitled, "Is Osama bin Laden in Heaven?"
In the May 9 piece, Roberts pondered on whether the terrorist would have entered eternity if on the day prior to his death, bin Laden had found a copy of the New Testament, read it, repented of his sins, and trusted Christ for his salvation.
Mouw admitted it was a "wacky scenario" but arrived at the same conclusion as Roberts: Yes, bin Laden would be in heaven. He then quoted a line from the hymn, "To God Be the Glory," stating, “The vilest offender who truly believes / that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.”
"Do you really believe that?" the Fuller president challenged the audience, "That if Osama bin laden had bound before the cross of Jesus Christ 10 minutes before he died, repented of his sins and acknowledged there is only one name under heaven that could save him, at that very moment he would have received a pardon for all of his sins."
"That’s an amazing thing," said Mouw. "I believe that with all my heart but I got to say that I have problems with it with all my mind and with all my emotion."
Bin Laden was killed May 2 in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by Navy SEALs. In a late night announcement that night, Obama told the American people that justice was done. It has been nearly 10 years since terrorists hijacked planes and killed nearly 3,000 people in the U.S. Bin Laden claimed responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.
During Wednesday's discussion, Mouw offered his personal reflections on bin Laden's death, saying his reaction to Obama's announcement was that it was "good news."
He said he was disturbed by Christian responses from one end of the spectrum saying that people should not rejoice in the news of bin Laden's death and instead speak out against those who are in great jubilation over his death.
"It struck me as kind of weird response, kind of a cranky response," Mouw shared.
Though he wasn't happy with the "super patriotic" response that included people shouting "USA! USA!" Mouw said he didn't think Americans should declare it as a day of mourning ether. He called the response of jubilation "legitimate" and an indication of a "deep desire for justice."
"I think it was appropriate to feel something on that occasion. I was more toward jubilation than toward mourning," he said.
Mouw related the response to bin Laden's death to that of Holocaust survivors after the Second World War and to those who toppled over Saddam Hussein's statue following the demise of his regime.
"I think there is a deep desire for justice that can be so easily be distorted in an illegitimate, perverted sense of vengeance and super patriotism. It is a deep desire for justice. "
"I think we were seeing a sense of satisfaction that 'Yes, President Obama we are with you and this is a good outcome of something we have been long been stressed about and something we've been long fearful of."
Other reflections covered by Mouw in his talk included how Christians pursue just war theory or just peace-making when it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish who the enemies are and how Christian-Muslim or Muslim-U.S. relations can be improved now that a symbol of terror associated with Muslims is gone.
For those in theological education, Mouw asked them to reflect upon the soteriological and eschatological aspects of bin Laden's death.
On the issue of soteriology and capital punishment, Mouw said: "The killing of Osama bin Laden did not atone for his sin. There is only one death that can atone for his sin and that's the death that took place on the cross in Calvary."
"Because we know that, we don't have to thirst for that kind of satisfaction. That satisfaction has already occurred through the cross of Jesus Christ," he stated.
On the issue of eschatology, Mouw affirmed that "things won't be made right until the return of Jesus Christ" and called upon Christians to "live in the anticipation, in hope of his coming and be agents of peacemaking and working toward justice here in a world [that] desperately needs for the savior to come."
Glen Stassen, the Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics, also provided some brief comments on bin Laden's death, suggesting some nonviolent just peacemaking initiatives that U.S. and international governments can do to decrease the recruiting of terrorists worldwide.