The unreached

(James) #1

Hi all,

I know there are some links to this topic on Connect but none are really helping me out.

I’m struggling to understand how those will be judged who:

  1. Won’t hear the gospel and also don’t respond to general revelation (as discussed in Romans 1 and 2).

Those who don’t respond to general revelation may have responded to special revelation, but never got the opportunity to do so simply because they didn’t hear the Gospel.

We know the depravity of the human heart, so responding to our moral compasses (general revelation) is rather challenging, we as Christians can’t even do that without Christ renewing us, so it’s not actually ‘fair’ in that sense to compare general revelation as equal to special revelation.

I have heard some offer that God has ordered the world so that those who wouldn’t respond are those in awkward geographical positions, but again is this really a satisfying answer? We see missionaries going to those types of areas and then people do respond to the Gospel, so them not being able to respond seems like a non-issue.

This is really bothering me, please can someone help me out.

Thank you in advance.

(Stephen Wuest) #2

Some personal opinions…

I think that Protestant Evangelicals are too focussed on “getting your sins forgiven.” Some identify entering the people of God (“conversion”) with God forgiving all the sins that you may ever commit. (This is not biblical – we must repent of our sins, for God to forgive them. We can’t repent of them, before we commit them.) Paul’s letter to the Galatians is all about the benefits we have in Christ, beyond having our daily sins forgiven.

There is this centuries old trend in some groups to translate the Greek sozo/swzomai as “grace.” But it really is a broad concept of the kind providence of God to save and preserve, that goes far beyond forgiving sins daily (as Jesus mentions, in his “Lord’s Prayer”). This kind providence of God is not limited by an evangelist publicly declaring the good news.

In the Psalms, we see the assertion “Where can I run and escape your Spirit?” No matter where we are, the Spirit of God is present. We should not try to artificially limit God’s power to speak to anyone, at any place, in any culture.

Paul states that God has revealed basic right and wrong, to all human beings. We may call this the conscience, or moral consciousness. We may choose to respect this knowledge, or not.

Jesus gives us a universal promise: “Seek, and you shall find.” There are no other preconditions. This is amazing. I take it that the person who sincerely seeks, will be met with God’s kind providence.

We have Solomon’s prayer in the Old Testament, asking God that if anyone in the nations on earth prays toward Jerusalem, and the temple that Solomon has built, that God would hear their prayer. This is not a Jewish thing.

Unfortunately, some Christian groups hold to a definition of human sinfulness that goes far beyond what Paul teaches in Romans 1. Paul teaches sinfulness, AND free will. Calvin teaches sinfulness AND the lack of free will (to choose to repent). I choose to accept Paul’s view of reality. Even a fallen human being can recognize when God reveals the difference between right and wrong (this is part of the definition of “reveal”).

I would rather leave HOW we make the choice to turn from our sins, and accept forgiveness from God, to God. I don’t think that the theologians have any right to lecture God, on how his kind providence must work.

I would rather leave open the question, of what happens to someone who has never heard about the life of Jesus, but sincerely prays to God “God forgive me!” Given that the Bible says that God wishes for all to be saved/preserved, I take it that God’s kind providence will meet this person. We have the same case in the “saints” from the Old Testament, who knew nothing about the future coming of Jesus, yet benefitted from his future death to forgive their sins. All the classic references to God forgiving sins, come from the Old Testament, before Jesus was ever born.


(SeanO) #3

@Higgs I think the blunt answer is that God has not told us exactly how He is going to judge every category of unreached person. Ultimately I think we have to answer a more fundamental question, “Can I trust that God will do what is right and fair?” And I think that we can say ‘yes’ to that question because we have experienced the love of Christ.

Also, while it is another topic, not all Christians agree with the doctrine of total depravity. If people are not totally depraved, then they might respond to general revelation in varying degrees. Also, there are varying degrees of reward and punishment when Christ judges, so that could come into play.

A brief summary of my position is that:

  • God has ordained history so that people might reach out and find him (Acts 17:26-27)
  • On the day of judgment, God will judge each person according to the knowledge they have and the thoughts of their own hearts (Romans 2:14-16)
  • We can trust that the judge of all the earth will do what is right (Genesis 18:25) because He has proven His love for us in Jesus (Romans 5:8)

My Question: salvation
(James) #5

Thank you for the reply Stephen, especially for this point. “Jesus gives us a universal promise: “Seek, and you shall find.” There are no other preconditions. This is amazing. I take it that the person who sincerely seeks, will be met with God’s kind providence.”


(James) #6


I agree, I guess my real concern is whether God will do what is right , and the answer is of course yes - I am just trying to understand it with reference to Scripture. So, Genesis 18:25 is useful here. My real concern is just fairness, the question of whether each human has had an equal opportunity to find God in order to be with Him at the end of this age.

I should have explained my previous point more clearly, it was rather vague, let me try to clarify: “We know the depravity of the human heart, so responding to our moral compasses (general revelation) is rather challenging, we as Christians can’t even do that without Christ renewing us, so it’s not actually ‘fair’ in that sense to compare general revelation as equal to special revelation.”

  • I wasn’t suggesting any Calvinist doctrine here, though I can now see how it may have been seen as a ‘total depravity’ suggestion. I personally feel like Calvinism is an untenable position to hold, but as you said that is a whole different topic :slight_smile: What I was suggesting here, was that for people to respond to their moral conscience is difficult, as I find myself stumbling everyday but I have the forgiveness of Christ, so if God had to judge people on the thoughts of their own hearts without the forgiveness of Christ, I don’t see how the outcome would be very positive. If that makes more sense?

Blessings and thank you for always helping out ^^

(SeanO) #7

@Higgs Thank you for the clarification regarding depravity and the concept of fairness. Perhaps what I am trying to get at with that underlying issue about trusting God to do what is right is this concept:

God can judge everyone fairly even if not every one has an equal chance to respond to special revelation in this life

In support of this proposition I would offer a few arguments:

  • it is clear in Scripture that those who have more revelation are judged to a higher standard
  • simply because we cannot think of a way that God’s judgment could be fair does not mean there is not one
  • God knows the secret thoughts of peoples’ hearts and can therefore render judgment far more accurately than we can only knowing their external situation

Matthew 12:41-42 -The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.

Luke 12:41-48 - Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45 But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

From these verses I think we learn something fascinating - God knows we do not all have equal access to truth and He takes that into account in His judgment.

What do you think of those thoughts? :slight_smile:

(Andrew Bulin) #8

Even to these He may show different degrees of what is “given”, but I do not feel that this correlates to whether or not everyone has equal opportunity to be saved. The Lukan message is directed more to those who are privileged as His servants already.

In the larger scope of who will have access to salvation, I think the Bible is clear that God is making allowances for people to know Him (2 Peter 3:9). The greatest struggle I have in my heart with these types of questions is whether or not I believe God to be great enough and in His efficacy to reveal Himself to others, and whether or not my immediate witness to this fact bears any weight on His ability to come through. Paul clearly defines that ignorance is not an excuse:

Romans 1:20 NASB
[20] For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

I have to ask myself if I trust that God is able to save, and how am I included in this plan. I guess my difficulty lies in that sometimes the question makes it sound like people have an excuse to not miss out on salvation. I do not believe the Bible supports this.

I hope my answer does not come of as too direct, but I’m hoping it comes across as open and interested in more dialogue. :blush:

(SeanO) #9

@andrew.bulin I agree regarding the context of the parable, but I do think that we see both degrees of judgment and reward in Scripture, which is a more fundamental underlying principle that is applicable beyond the scope of a given text.

So, here is a question, do you think that someone can respond to general revelation in a way that would lead ultimately to salvation?

(Andrew Bulin) #10

I think general revelation can be a strong motivator and has become a part of the testimony of people like Fancis Collins. It would be hard to say that God cannot use general revelation at all.

But because of our corrupt nature, nature being corrupt itself, and the general sinfulness of this broken world, we can only see dimly the evidence of God and still require His special revelation of Himself.

1 Corinthians 13:12 NASB
[12] For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

We have the stories of the Israelites who had a chance to witness God in His glory firsthand, and still rebelled. Humankind rebels against God, and we need His help to even come close to Him:

John 6:44 NASB
[44] No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

My point would be that as much as we have faith in our own conversion, we should also be able to have faith in that God can and will bring complete knowledge of Himself to those who would believe (Acts 8:26-40).

(SeanO) #11

@andrew.bulin If I am understanding you correctly, you are saying that anyone who truly seeks God will be offered a chance to accept the Gospel before they die? So, if a member of an unreached tribe begins to sincerely pray to the Creator, God will somehow get the message of Jesus to them either through a dream, vision or a missionary. A sincere response to general revelation always leads to special revelation. Is that statement an accurate reflection of your view?

(Andrew Bulin) #12

@SeanO, thanks for the follow up.

A sincere response to general revelation always leads to special revelation. Is that statement an accurate reflection of your view?

I’d like to clarify further by saying the two work together hand-in-hand. Faith and a sincere response spurred by general revelation is still made possible by special revelation, ultimately giving God the credit and glory. Even with Jesus Christ in their midst, He claimed that Peter had the truth revealed to him by God:

Matthew 16:15-17 NASB
[15] He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” [16] Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” [17] And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

I do think that someone who is either surrounded by Christians churches or only unbelievers requires God revealing Himself in some way. To those that are/will be responsive to Him, He will make a way for them to know Him more, and has if we believe the testimonies.

Proverbs 8:17 NASB
[17] "I love those who love me; And those who diligently seek me will find me.

(James) #13

@andrew.bulin, Hey man. Just for clarification did you mean: “…sometimes the question makes it sound like people have an excuse to miss out on salvation [instead of to no miss out].”

(James) #14

@andrew.bulin The story about Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch is very interesting, it’s one of my favorite stories in the Bible, firstly because it mentions Isaiah 53 (awesome chapter) and secondly because I am from South Africa so seeing a fellow African is cool :smiley:

What stands out for me here is that the Eunuch went to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way back home he was seated in his chariot reading Isaiah. He didn’t know who this passage was about, so it’s almost as if he hadn’t yet discovered the truth (seen the full picture).

Rightly in 8:29, the Spirit says to Philip go speak to him, in a sense Phillip must go and preach the gospel.

  • God brings knowledge about Himself, but now the next question we need to ask ourselves is whether we as believers heed the call of the Spirit often enough to be that person to go tell the seeker who Isaiah 53 is speaking about (sticking with the context of the story).

Any thoughts?

(SeanO) #15

@andrew.bulin Interesting perspective. I also believe that the same general line of thought can flow from the idea that ‘those who seek find and to those who knock, the door will be opened’. If we seek God, we shall find Him. With the story of Cornelius, we see that God reached out to him through an apostle, though he had already been exposed to Judaism.

However, I am not sure if it can be sustained that God always gives full revelation of Himself to anyone who responds to general revelation before they die. For example, Acts 30 suggests there were ‘times of ignorance’:

Acts 17:30 - In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

And in Romans 2 it seems clear that there are those who ‘sin apart from the law’ - that is, without special revelation - and those who hear the law - that is, have special Revelation.

Romans 2:12-16 - All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

So I suppose, back to @Higgs question, is there a difference in the way God will judge those who have never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel and those who do?

Personally, I think so. God will judge us based upon the secret thoughts and intents of the heart.

But I do resonate strongly with your point that those who seek shall find and I think there is some mystery in this question.

(Andrew Bulin) #16

Hey @Higgs. I meant it as stated. :^)
To clarify, I believe in my heart that sometimes I could lean towards a consideration that those who are ignorant of the Gospel have some sort of “pass” so they do not miss out on salvation. But I believe that the Bible does not support this. Somehow God must reveal Himself to all people, one way or another.

I agree with the Ethiopian Eunuch, where it shows he has had some exposure. He had not fully understood the truth, and God directly intervened to ensure that he would understand more fully. It truly is an amazing story, and reminds me how He will seek out the one lost sheep. :slight_smile:

@SeanO, I think we agree, and where I’m intending to be cautious is how the formula of being justified by faith is used, and the expected outcomes:

Genesis 15:6 NASB
[6] Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Abraham directly believed the Lord, not any other God or idol. Somehow those who have not been witnessed to by Christians have to know of who God is. My insistence on God revealing Himself in a special way could be through another Christian, His word, or sometimes from Himself. When we mention “the Law,” this too is a reference to God’s message to us. Categorically, prophetic preaching of the word, obtaining the word, God speaking directly His word, and the larger testimony of the Spirit of God’s truth to all the world fits into God’s special revelation. I also believe that special revelation happens through experience as we engage in a relationship with God and actively seek Him.

I think where I’m also cautious is considering that God will rightly judge all by their hearts. I’m in absolute agreement with this. However, that means that many will stand condemned if they are not yielded fully to the one true God and His plan for salvation. How would they know Him in their hearts to have faith in Him if He had not revealed Himself in some way?

(SeanO) #17

@andrew.bulin I think Abraham is a great example - He trusted in God and yet He did not know about Jesus. He knew God, but He did not have the fullness of revelation that we have today in Christ. He had special revelation of God, but not of Christ.

Do you think it is possible for people today, like Abraham, to know God - for God to reveal Himself to them and for them to place faith in Him - without them having access to special revelation? Can God’s Spirit convict people and draw them even prior to them receiving the Gospel?

What do you think of C. S. Lewis’ character Emeth in ‘The Last Battle’? He died while seeking God but before having received appropriate teaching about God.

(Andrew Bulin) #18

@SeanO, I agree that Abraham is a good example of God counting someone’s righteousness. However, Abraham was unique as the father of nations, and his righteousness cannot be credited to him alone. I firmly believe that God revealed Himself to Abraham and had a relationship with Abraham. Abraham was not just inherently good or righteous in action alone, but had faith in God. It is the faith that is counted as righteousness, and faith in God should yield to the Spiritual fruit of righteous action. Humankind cannot be depended to save itself without guidance and revelation from God.

Getting to the term “special revelation,” I believe all awareness of God and faith in Him is led by special revelation. There are different types of special revelation, where God intervenes in the human realm to make Himself known:

  • history
  • divine messages
  • the incarnation

The Bible/Law/God’s word written down is merely one aspect of special revelation preserved in inspired writings. When I make mention of God’s special revelation, I mean that connection that any human has when he or she becomes aware of a potential higher power, that there is right and wrong, that there are things people ought or ought not to do. I believe this is the witness of the Holy Spirit, leaving us without an excuse.

The Last Battle is an excellent reference! I forgot all about that scene in the end. Unfortunately that part of the story made me sad and a little uncomfortable. It would be like me saying that someone “righteously” swearing/living/acting unto Buddha, Allah, Ra, El, etc. could be actually be acting righteous to YWH God. This is skirting a universalist mindset where perhaps many are part of the “church” and we don’t even know it. I cannot support this view and would be interested if you have found any evidence of this in scripture.

Faith in God (the one true God) is counted as righteousness. It’s not acts that justify someone as salvation is not works based. I think if someone was mistaken of who God is, He is able and sufficient to have someone come to know who He truly is, rather than a lie or false idol.

(SeanO) #19

@andrew.bulin Thank you for clarifying your definition of special revelation. Given that definition, I would say that yes, we must respond to some form of special revelation to be saved because salvation involves knowing God in some fashion or form - it is a response to God.

Where I suppose we disagree is that I am not sure whether God always sends greater special revelation to those who respond to the general witness of the Spirit before they die. I certainly think God would respond to such faith, but I am not 100% sure what form that would take. I don’t think the Bible says. If a person in a tribe in the middle of a dark spot on the map decided to worship the true Creator and to honor Him as they may, would God send a missionary or guide them in another way? I simply don’t know. Perhaps it would even be different in each situation.

A general summary of what I believe would be as follows:

  • we are all responsible to respond to the revelation which we have been given
  • we should go forth and make disciples of all nations - baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
  • we should trust that God will respond to those who reach out to Him, for He is not far from any one of us
  • we should leave final judgment of the unreached to God and trust that He will do what is just and fair because He has proven His love in Christ

A verse that I think is very applicable to this topic is Deut 29:29, because while God’s revelation does not always satisfy all of our curiosities, it does provide sufficient knowledge to honor and know Him.

Deut 29:29 - The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

The Last Battle - When Emeth Meets Aslan

Here is the excerpt from ‘The Last Battle’. I would point out that Lewis is not advocating universalism - but rather that what is important about God is His character / nature and that if we are truly seeking righteousness we will inevitably move towards Him. A universalist would say that all religions contain some truth about God and therefore none are uniquely true, but Lewis would assert wholeheartedly that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The idea is not that worshiping tash, in this case, was okay, but that Emeth in his heart was actually reaching out for the one true God.

I agree that Lewis’ point here is risky in that it could be so easily misinterpreted. He is making a very, very nuanced point that people could easily misunderstand.

‘Lord, is it then true… that thou and Tash are one?’ The Lion growled so that the earth shook and said, ‘It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites.

For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child?’ I said, ‘Lord, thou knowest how much I understand.’

But I said also, ‘Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.’ ‘Beloved,’ said the Glorious One, ‘unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.’

Not Going Beyond What is Written

I think the greatest danger I see on this topic is going beyond what Scripture says. I honestly don’t think Scripture tells us exactly how God will deal with every unreached person and therefore we must be careful about making claims in this regard.

(Andrew Bulin) #20

I certainly think God would respond to such faith, but I am not 100% sure what form that would take. I don’t think the Bible says. If a person in a tribe in the middle of a dark spot on the map decided to worship the true Creator and to honor Him as they may, would God send a missionary or guide them in another way? I simply don’t know. Perhaps it would even be different in each situation.

I think we are in agreement here as well. We cannot understand all of God’s mysteries, so far as what has been revealed and is consistent with the Bible.

Thanks for taking the time to clarify the Lewis’ slant on this topic. I also agree we must be very careful in our apologetic so as not to make allowances for things that are simply not biblical. Trusting that God will rightly judge is an assurance, but my heart is beginning to ache more greatly for the harvest of which the workers are so few. I think Paul would agree and trust God to rightly judge. But he must have also felt the desperation of people’s situation when he said:

Romans 10:14-15 NASB
[14] How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? [15] How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO bring GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”

As Christians, I think we can reconcile the deparation for the harvest even though we know God will rightly judge by accepting the task of being a part of God’s mission:

Matthew 28:19-20 NASB
[19] Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

(SeanO) #21

@andrew.bulin Amen! Yes, I love the song ‘You said’. The desire of our hearts is for the nations and distant shores to know His love and grace!