Hi friends. The question about the fate of the unevangelized is one of what is debated in evangelicalism. I’m curious about the position you hold, and the basic arguments or reasons on why you hold to it. It’s a good topic we can talk about, since some Christians and skeptics will ask us this question.
Hey Omar, this is one of those questions that my mom and I discussed often. When she said to me we have to “accept Jesus” or we will go to hell, I would respond in my, at times, with a challenging attitude: Yeah, well what about the Eskimo who died a day after the resurrection, or a week, or a year? I called it my Eskimo dilemma.
Scripture offers such breadth of answer and responses, especially when one considers old testament saints (cf: transfiguration), as well as even those, such as the thief on the cross and Lazarus (and the rich man). They were all in heaven. I have enclosed a powerpoint pdf which highlights the two primary verses that have helped me wade through the issue posed: Romans 1:20 and 2:14-15. short answers big questions #3 those who have not heard.pdf (1.2 MB)
As @Keldon_Scott noted, Romans 2:14-15 is a great verse for the fact that God, in the end, judges each person according to their heart. In tandum with that verse, I generally go to I Cor 4:3-5 where Paul says that we should not judge - Christ will reveal men’s hearts on the last day:
I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
Another passage that echoes peoples’ emotion of God’s injustice at condemning someone who has never heard is Genesis 18, where Abraham is questioning God for destroying Sodom:
Genesis 18:25 - Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?
Yes, of course the Judge of all the earth will do what is right because He knows the secrets of men’s hearts.
And that is what I feel the Biblical answer is to the question - the Judge of all the earth will do what is right on the day the secret thoughts of peoples’ hearts are revealed.
One day a few years ago, I went to a mall to find people to evangelize to. I walked up to a lady and asked her if she knew Jesus and if she would like to know about Him. her reply was “No, No…thanks!” I obliged, smiled at her and walked away from her. I was disappointed , at the the time, mostly because of rejection. As I walked away, God told me to not be disappointed because I had done His work. So, I asked the Lord how its possible that I did Gods work when I did not make a disciple of that lady. The Lord answered me that day saying that this lady now lost the opportunity to say she had no idea about Jesus and she could not claim that no one told her about Jesus when she stands before the throne of God on judgement day. That God would say, I sent people to tell you but you rejected me.
In my heart I knew that the Lord being the Lord and love being his motivation would not stop pursuing that lady. It may not have been that day but it might be another day that she accepts.
God is a just god, which means He is not biased and will not be unjust to those who truly have not heard. However, He is also sovereign which means that He knows who lives where and which Christian family/church/person is closest to them whom He can send to witness about the redemption in Christ.
I am sure that there cannot be anyone in the entire world who at the time of their death can claim that no one told them about Jesus; except babies. It may not be at the same time but at some point in their lives, they will hear the gospel and when they call upon the name of the Lord, they WILL be saved (Romans 10:13)
Among those that do not call upon the Lord (to get saved), you will find the following people:
- The ones that heard and rejected because of pride and lust for the world
- Ones that heard, found it amazing that God loves them but cannot sustain it because they are unaware of the trap of busyness and all the stress of their business.
- Those that hear but do not understand because they are involved in idol worship.
- Those that were born and died before Christ, were in the place of sleeping, thoroughly wicked and even then rejected Jesus. It is not very clear in the Bible what Jesus did in those three days before He rose but the day He rose, there were several witnesses who stated that tombs opened and souls rose to ascend with Jesus. The Bible does not specify whether they were Jewish souls, all souls even born before Christ or just souls of the prophets and righteous Jews. May be Jesus redeemed anyone who wanted to be saved and had not indulged in wickedness. We don’t know the specifics but we know that other tombs opened the day Jesus rose and souls woke up to ascend with Him.
I would rely on the Gods character of being just and sovereign. He knows the hearts of men better than we know it or even the men in question themselves would know.
when it comes to numbers ,the link below is a good resource:
This is my perspective from the Bible to encourage Christians. As far as giving an apologetics/philosophical/fact-based response, thats what I joined the EAP to learn.
Hi friends, what a fascinating conversation!
I think this article, an interview between Collin Hansen and Christopher Morgan, provides a helpful overview of the various ways this question is answered:
As Morgan summarizes:
Historically, the church has primarily taught church exclusivism, gospel exclusivism, special revelation exclusivism, or pessimistic agnosticism. They have typically regarded optimistic agnosticism as problematic, general revelation inclusivism as an error, and world religions inclusivism, postmortem evangelism, universalism, and pluralism as very serious errors.
One of the fundamental tensions that I think is unearthed in this discussion is our attitude towards the human condition. Do we believe that we fundamentally are good people who deserve salvation? It is tempting to believe that God owes us a way to heaven, that we did have a claim that required Christ to suffer and die for our sins, and that God is obligated to work it all out for us in the end.
In what is a rather devastating and humbling blow to my self-regard, I do not find this to be the Biblical storyline of human morality. Rather, it seems that salvation is entirely a gift of grace, unmerited in any way, as God lovingly pursues his sworn enemies.
For me, a candid assessment of human sin turns the question from, “Why aren’t all saved?” to “How is it that anyone - even one person - is forgiven of their sin?” We are grateful that there is even one way to heaven. And, knowing that Christ laid his life down to offer us the good news, how can we not give our lives to tell our neighbors - and those far away - of the hope of the gospel?
This is my theologoumenon.
I like the idea of an expectant God a God who created us, who loves us and expects that the entirety of his created image bearing beings will accept his invitation to eternal life. As a parent, I can relate to this. I expect my child to respond to my good gifts. How much more God’s. In my mind, everyone starts out with their names in the book of life and it is only when one refuses the offer of eternal life that their name is blotted from the book. I base this on numerous Bible verses that state or elude to a book of names that can be stricken from but not added to. This book was from the being of creation and has all the names of his creation. Or course this is more opinion that theology but hear me out. This is my I like the idea of an expectant God a God who created us, who loves us and expects that the entirety of his created image bearing beings will accept his invitation to eternal life. As a parent, I can relate to this. I expect my child to respond to my good gifts. How much more God’s. In my mind, everyone starts out with their names in the book of life and it is only when one refuses the offer of eternal life that their name is blotted from the book. I base this on numerous Bible verses that state or elude to a book of names that can be stricken from but not added to. This book was from the being of creation and has all the names of his creation. Or course this is more opinion that theology but hear me out.
Verses that declare or elude to a book.
Ex 32:32-33; Josh 10:13,1King 11:41 Da 7:10, 12:1; Ps 69:28; Ro 9:3; Php 4:3; Re 3:5
Against these verses we have all the verses that speak of “blotting out” names and nations and sins with God as the agent. Ge 6:7,7:4,7:23; Ex 17:14,32:32-33; Dt 9:14,29:19; 2Ki 21:13; Is 25:8,43:25,44:22; Je 18:23; Ps 9:6, 51:3, 51:11; Ne 3:37,13:14.
To this Non-identity theodicy dovetails with my view of an expectant God because its expressed purpose is to extend the gift of eternal life to all the beings that every existed or ever will and it is this that offsets God’s allowance of evil and suffering that resulted from the fall of man. My understanding.
How was the invitation extended before the cross? Natural theology? Prophets of God? Lost books (There are at least a dozen books cited in Scripture that are not part of our Bible please note I am not arguing for an incomplete holy Bible just that the Bible itself identifies books that we do not have today)? I know we have Abraham and I am sure that we agree that he had a sense of the divine. There is Noah, Enoch and certainly all the prophets, David and so on. These are men who are after the heart of God.
The world had people before it had the Bible. God was God then and God is God now and God will be God forever. The pagans of the world historical were naturally incline to the supernatural. The hardest condition to satisfy for me are abortions and early childhood death how would they be invited to life eternal.
Sometimes when I share this people think that I am suggesting some brand of universalism, ie. all roads lead to heaven but they fail to understand that just because God extends an invite does not mean that all will accept. For me it answers the question did God really make some people expressly to fuel the fires of hell, I think not, he made us all with the expectation that we would come Home. What better way to do this that to write down each name as they are dispatched with the first great gift in hand, life and an opportunity for the greatest gift, life eternal, brother to the Son of God. How good is that!! When it’s time to come home you check the roll. The no shows get crossed off. Think the prodigal son. (I do know that there is more there theologically that the prodigal) likewise the wedding feast Matt 22 again a deep theological pool of thought there also. I know that this has to be squared with the sovereignty of a just and righteous God who can and will do what is just and right.
I’m currently reading this book by Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson:
The categories mentioned by the article that Carson cited are similar with those in the book. I think based on the categories mentioned, here are those that I found reasonable as a Christian:
“2. Gospel exclusivism: No, they must hear the gospel and trust Christ to be saved.”
“3. Special revelation exclusivism: No, they must hear the gospel and trust Christ to be saved, unless God chooses to send them special revelation in an extraordinary way-by a dream, vision, miracle, or angelic message.”
“4. Agnosticism: We cannot know.”
(J.I. Packer, John Stott)
“5. General revelation inclusivism: Yes, they can respond to God in saving faith through seeing him in general revelation.”
(Terrance Tiessen, Clark Pinnock)
I’m still thinking about each view. What I am sure though is that scriptures tells us that we are saved only through Christ. That God is loving, and that the judge of the earth will do right.
Carson’s comment puts us back to reality, since God does not owe us anything, and that He would be righteous even if He does not save anyone. Our sin is so grievous, that God saving one would be considered supererogatory, how much more if He decided to save many?
Still, I’m thinking what view would be best. I find these two views attractive, and I don’t find the Molinist explanation with special revelation exclusivism as mutually exclusive. The others have good points too, but these two seems to be attractive to me the most:
Gospel exclusivism seems to make sure that we take seriously the call to share the gospel to everyone, since it’s the means God uses to save people. The Molinist approach to explain those who have not heard in this view seems convincing, since it exalts God’s love.
Special revelation exclusivism seems to exalt God in showing His self-subsistence. This is also known as soft exclusivism. Alister McGrath was quoted in a different lesson in a video, “God’s saving work must never be restricted to human preaching, as if the Holy Spirit was silent or inactive in God’s world, or as if the actualization of God’s word totally depended on human agents.”
I do hope this stimulates further discussion. The question on the title is more general, in case anyone wants to discuss a specific view maybe we can discuss it in a different topic.
Thank you for this thoughtful post and sharing some research on different ways to approach this.
Here’s another way I have approached this topic:
By God’s grace, I want to see people know Christ and know Christ forever.
Where did I get that desire from? It did not come from my own goodness. Rather, I gained a concern for the welfare of others because I am made in God’s image and because Christ has saved me from myself. It is because of the good news that I am interested in seeing good for others.
Also, how much do I want to see people know Christ as Savior?
First, not nearly as much as God does! If anyone has demonstrated a commitment to salvation, it is God! This was his plan before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4). It is through the horrifying humiliation of the Cross that our salvation is won by God himself. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
This reminds me that I cannot be nicer than or holier than God. Whatever the Bible teaches on salvation, and on hell, is authored by a God of love who is far more gracious than I am. So, before I rush to say, the Bible seems a bit harsh, I should humble myself to see the wisdom of God. If the Bible only confirms what I think is right, that is a cautionary situation.
Next, some verses that seem to speak plainly to this challenge lead to radical sacrifice and service. For instance, it is the example of Christ who gave of himself so fully that he suffered and died for us, that it is be the standard for our lives (Philippians 2:5).
Similarly, what motivated Paul’s missionary journeys? The cost was quite high:
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12).
What motivated such sacrifice? Why not let people respond to God through the beauty of the stars? Here is the logic of salvation that the Apostle Paul explains in Romans 10:9-17:
9 If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
The reasoning of this passage seems clear. Apart from hearing the word of Christ, from someone who preaches the gospel, who has been sent to share this message, there is no salvation. After all, Paul has explained in Romans 2 that everyone is condemned. Some are condemned by their conscience (the Gentiles), others are condemned by the law (the Jews); but no one is righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10-18). “For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law” (Romans 2:12).
As I put these thoughts together, I think that the Bible teaches that we can only be saved if we hear and respond to the gospel. There is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved (Acts 4). The hardest part of this teaching is not that it is exclusive, but that it challenges me to become radically sacrificial and loving in my efforts to see the gospel go to all the world.
So there are two reasons to embrace this view: first, because it is soundly taught in the Bible, but second, because teaching it leads followers of Jesus to act like Jesus. It ignites in us a passion to support global missions in the cruciform way that Jesus demonstrated by coming as a missionary from heaven to earth.
@omnarchy Thank you for listing those categories from your reading - that is very helpful. I had not been exposed to those before.
I would tend to agree with J. I. Packer and John Stott - and if I don’t miss my guess C. S. Lewis falls into this category as well.
However, I somehow doubt - though I may be wrong - that any of those Bible teachers would be happy with the title ‘agnosticism’. They are not agnostic - they believe thoroughly that we can know God in an intimate way. Rather, they simply believe we ought to leave the final judgment to God, which does indeed give God much honor and expresses humility on our part.
On the flip side, I see Carson’s points - they are very powerful and very Scriptural.
Personally, I have always found the statement of on Calvinist (which I am not) extremely helpful - “Preach like an Arminian, but believe like a Calvinist”. Some Calvinist do not evangelize because they feel God has ordained it - but simply because we believe God ordains the future in a certain way does not let us off obeying His commands.
In the same way, simply because a person believes that final judgment is in God’s hands and there is not complete clarity on this question, does not mean that they will not love their Master through obedience, evangelism and humility.
Very intriguing discussion.