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Chapter 10 What About Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?

Over the last several years, we have heard the word billion used too many times in the news. We keep hearing of billions of dollars being spent on the war against terror and the hundreds of billions of dollars given in the bailout. When the talk turns to the deficit, we have to use the term trillion, which is almost unfathomable to most of us. Heres the difference: A million seconds in the past was twelve days ago. A billion seconds in the past was 331 years ago. A trillion seconds in the past was 31,688 years ago. A million minutes in the past was almost 2 years ago (1 year, 329 days, 10 hours, 40 min) A billion minutes in the past was just after the death of Christ.

We also use the term billion when we talk about the number of people on this planet who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are approximately six billion people on this planet at any given moment and that number continues to increase by a net gain of about 200,000 each day. Of this incredible mass of people, it is estimated that as many as 1/3 of the total are completely ignorant of the name of Jesus Christ. When we think of this, we must not think of billions, but billions of souls. What is the eternal destiny of these 2 billion souls hundreds of thousands of people who die every day only to be replaced by even more who will also never hear the gospel? Are these people really headed for a place called hell? This simple question,1 with its myriad theological implications, is the source of much disagreement and controversy. To ask the question Are the heathen truly lost? opens the door for other basic and critical questions:2

To ask Is God just to punish those who never hear the gospel? is to challenge the character of God. To ask Is Christ the only way to be saved? is to challenge the sufficiency of Christ.

Christians who actively share their faith will eventually hear the question, What happens to the innocent native in Africa who never hears the gospel? The best way to handle this question in a witnessing encounter is to say, That is a good question and if you are truly interested in that, we can come back to it later. Please remind me after we complete our current conversation. The Christian will rarely be reminded of the question because lost people are rarely sincere in their use of this question. It is typically a smokescreen to drive the conversation in another direction. However, if it is a true issue with someone, there are answers. 2 J. Ronald Blue, Untold Billions: Are They Really Lost? Bibliotheca Sacra 138:552 (October 1981), 342.

To ask Did Christ have to die? is to challenge the necessity of the cross. To ask Is man inherently sinful? is to challenge the depravity of man. To ask Is the church Gods unique witness? is to challenge the role of the church. To ask Is there a future judgment? is to challenge the return of Christ.

As you can see, the seemingly innocent question about the fate of the unevangelized has farreaching implications in multiple branches of theology. A persons viewpoint and, indeed, a churchs understanding of this issue throws a searchlight on their understanding of the nature of sin, the content of the gospel and the task of global missions.3

There are four basic positions one can take to answer the question above: 1. Universalism The love of God is his essential and dominant characteristic to the level that all people of all time in all places will eventaully be with God for all eternity. There are no exceptions. 2. Pluralism The number of people who spend eternity in heaven is much larger than most think. Not only will Christians be there, but also devoted adherents to the other major religions of the world. Heaven will be populated by Christians, good Muslims, faithful Buddhists, devoted Hindus, and many more. 3. Inclusivism Faith in Christ is not necessary to make it to heaven. Instead, a vague but real faith in God is sufficient. Those who place their faith in God but not necessarily in Jesus will be saved by the redemptive work of Christ on the cross without ever specifically knowing that Jesus died on that cross. It appears that the central issue for this position is a mans sincerity. John Sanders, a leading writer for this position, says that God is presently at work in the lives of all people . . . those who are unbelievers now will awaken in the next life to discover who it is that saved them and begin to experience the fullness of life in the Lord Jesus Christ.4 Clark Pinnock writes that a person is saved by faith, even if the content of belief is deficient (and whose is not?).5 This view speculates on a persons sure acceptance of Christ should the gospel ever be shared with that person. A general trust in God would blossom into faith in Christ the instant such a person hears of Jesus. These people may receive a gift without knowing from whom it comes or how much it cost in the same way that children can enjoy gifts they believe come from Santa Claus and yet remain ignorant on who the real gift-giver is. Just as children grow up to know the true gift-giver, so will these faithful adherents around the world.6

Russell Moore, The Man on the Island: Facing the Truth about those who Never Hear the Gospel, The Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement, 2008,, accessed 30 October 2008. 4 John Sanders, No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized, as quoted in Robert N. Wilkin, Is Ignorance Eternal Bliss? Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, 16:1 (Spring 2003), 4. 5 Clark Pinnock, A Wideness in Gods Mercy, in Wilkin, Is Ignorance Eternal Bliss? 6 Sanders, No Other Name, 232.

4. Exclusivism (also called Restrictivism) People who fail to explicitly put their faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ will be excluded from eternal life. This fourth position has been the historical belief of the evangelical church and will be presented and defended in this chapter. Objections to this belief will be addressed as well.

No one likes to think of billions of people suffering in eternal torment in hell. Such a horrible reality has driven many to forsake their comfortable lives to give all on the mission field for the sake of Christ. If the inclusivist position is true, then several problems are eliminated. Christians can sleep better at night knowing that God will accept those who never hear the gospel. Christians can continue with their lives knowing that missionary work is not absolutely necessary but merely a way to show people how to enjoy the fullness of Christ in this life as well as in the life to come.7 The missionary guilt that many Christians possess can be quietly put away. However, as thinking Christians, we must recognize that just because inclusivism makes life easier or eliminates a puzzling problem does not make it true! Instead, a true belief system must agree with Scripture and must be coherent and logically consistent. 8 Inclusivism fails both tests. The evangelical infatuation with inclusivism emanates from one of two presuppositions. First, some evangelicals adopt inclusivism as a romantic comfort in order to sleep better with little or no urgency in getting the gospel to the unevangelized.9 Others so uphold the love of God that they find it unthinkable that God would do something so unfair and unloving as to send an ignorant man to hell for all eternity. Both positions are fraught with error and reveal an incomplete understanding of doctrine of the atonement and the attributes of God.

Of the top five objections to Christianity, atheists and agnostics will ask, What about the innocent native in Africa who has never heard the gospel? Do you really believe that a loving God would send this innocent person to hell forever just because he didnt believe in a Jesus that he never had the chance to hear about? How do you answer this question? First, a quick answer: The innocent native in Africa has nothing to worry about.10 We do not need to be anxious about the eternal destiny of an innocent person. The innocent person does not need to hear about Jesus and has no need for redemption because God does not punish innocent humans (save his Son). The problem, however, is that there is no such thing as an innocent native in Africa or anywhere else, for that matter. To insist that such a man exists reveals a woeful lack of understanding of the Bibles teaching on the state of man before a holy God.
Sanders, No Other Name, in Wilkin, Is Ignorance Eternal Bliss? 12. Ronald Nash, Is Belief in Jesus Necessary for Salvation? The Answer to Religious Inclusivism, The Christian Research Journal 27:03, 24. 9 Ronald Nash, Is Jesus the Only Savior? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 163, in Moore, The Man on the Island. 10 R.C. Sproul, Reason to Believe (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 49.
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The Bible teaches clearly that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 6:23). The Bible also plainly declares that none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Rom 3:10-12). Furthermore, one cannot say that a man alone on an island or in darkest Africa is really ignorant of the Creator. Paul deals with this very issue in the opening chapters of his letter to the Christians in Rome. Paul declares that God has not hidden himself from anyone but inundates everyone, including the unevangelized, with a constant and unwavering revelation in the created order (Rom 1:18-20) and in the human conscience (Rom 2:14-16).11 However, this clear revelation is universally suppressed (Rom 1:22-23), which leaves all people without excuse (Rom 1:20). Let us read again the clear teaching of Paul: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Rom 1:18-20). For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen (Rom 1:21-25). For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus (Rom 2:14-16). We also know from the Bible that the people of the world love darkness and hate the light (John 3:19-20) and that all people everywhere are dead in their sins (Eph 2:1) and are by nature children of Gods holy wrath (Eph 2:3). These people are hostile to the law of God (Rom 8:7) and disobedient to the will of God (Titus 3:3). In Pauls mind, such a man is not ignorant but is haunted day and night by the Creator who shows himself star-filled expanse, the intricatelyordered sand beach, and his own persistently accusing conscience.12

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Moore, The Man on the Island. Moore, The Man on the Island.

These damning statements describe the people of the world who have never heard the gospel. There is no such thing as the noble savage or the anonymous Christian or the holy pagan. These categories only exist in the deluded minds of non-believing anthropologists and sociologists.13 Indeed, to accept the position of inclusivism is to reveal a significant decay in ones understanding of the nature of sin and Gods utter abhorrence of it. To cry out unfair from the pew reveals just how little we take the seriousness of sin and the holiness of God. Our evangelistic methodology has played a part in this downgrade. Too often we hear that the lost face not the wrath of God but separation for Him. Too often we hear that people are not sent to hell on the basis of their violation of Gods holy law but sinners send themselves to hell on the basis of their rejection of Jesus. Both of these are right but only partly so. People do not stand guilty before the Righteous Judge for one isolated decision but because of an entire life lived in rebellion against God.14 To cry out unfair further betrays a dangerously inadequate grasp of grace. To demand that God be fair is to place demands on Gods grace, saying in essence that God owes mankind a means of salvation. God owes nothing to any man but every man owes perfect obedience to his Creator. No man has met this obligation because all men are naturally sinners. Paul expressly declares that 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 (Rom 2:12). All of mankind can be split into these two groups: some who sin apart from the law and the rest who sin under the law. Some do not have the special revelation of Gods law and yet they will still perish. Others do have the special revelation of Gods law and they will be judged by that law (unless their judgment has been absorbed by Christ on the cross). Paul unequivocally states that those who have never come within the pale of special revelation will still perish.15 There is no such thing as the innocent or ignorant native.

People are saved by faith. Faith, however, does not exist without an object. To have faith is to believe something about something. In the area of salvation, it is obvious that it makes a difference what people believe. What is the least that a person must know in order to be saved? There are two ways that God has revealed himself to us. These two sources of knowledge are called general revelation and special revelation.16 Special revelation is descriptive of the unique disclosure that God made to certain people at a certain time and place. God revealed himself to men like Moses, Abraham, and Paul in a special way that he has not done for others. This special revelation has a

Robert L. Reymond, The Very Pernicious and Detestable Doctrine of Inclusivism, Trinity Review, May 2003. See, accessed 24 October 2008. Besides, can you imagine a devout Muslim being happy at the thought that he is an anonymous Christian? Would you be happy to discover that you were an anonymous Muslim? 14 Moore, The Man on the Island. 15 Reymond, The Very Pernicious and Detestable Doctrine of Inclusivism. 16 Nash, Is Belief in Jesus Necessary for Salvation?


special function: to provide humans with a special knowledge knowledge that is unattainable by human insight and reasoning alone about the triune God that makes salvation possible. Because Moses, Paul, and others wrote down what was revealed to them, we are now able to read this special revelation in the Bible. General revelation is descriptive of the general way that God has revealed himself to all mankind everywhere. This general information about God provides humans with knowledge of Gods existence, some of his attributes, and a general moral understanding about behavior and deeds.

As we saw in the previous section, all men everywhere are cognizant of Gods existence. Inclusivists claim the general revelation is sufficient to bring people to salvation. Because special revelation (the Bible and the gospel message therein) is not available to all men, inclusivists are forced to find a role in salvation for general revelation that is available to all and that all can grasp.17 However, inclusivists have no clear, unambiguous biblical support for their view that general revelation is sufficient to save anyone. Instead, this position is merely assumed and asserted and then used to compromise other important biblical teaching, such as Pauls plain declaration in 1 Corinthians: Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:1-5). This creates a very real problem because the most important passage in the Bible about general revelation (Romans 1) tells us clearly that general revelation cannot save! The best that general revelation can do is to leave man without an excuse for his failure to follow perfectly the God who has revealed himself clearly to him in nature and conscience. General revelation has enough truth to establish mens guilt before God and leave all men without excuse before the Holy Judge. However, it is not in itself sufficient to save. What can man learn about the substitutionary atonement of Christ from nature? What can man learn about the resurrection of Jesus from nature? In order to anyone to be saved, they must know specific truth about a specific person Jesus Christ. To say otherwise is to force us to believe that the personal, sovereign, triune, jealous God of the Bible seeks to save the unevangelized through faiths that are pantheistic, polytheistic, animistic, atheistic, and that sometimes even includes idolatry.18 Indeed, to even ask What about the good Muslim or the good Hindu? is to also ask What about the good idolater?

Before we rush to accept the teachings of inclusivists such as John Sanders and Clark Pinnock, we must seek to understand the mind of Christ. Jesus Christ explicitly stated in the gospels that he is the only proper object of faith. Jesus is much more than the simple tool used by God to
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Nash, Is Belief in Jesus Necessary for Salvation? Nash, Is Belief in Jesus Necessary for Salvation?

make salvation by any means a distinct possibility for all people. Instead, Jesus declares that explicit faith in him is the only means of salvation. In Johns gospel, the apostle writes to tell unbelievers what they must do to be saved (John 20:31). If there were another way to be saved apart from explicit faith in Jesus, John would have told us so. Instead, John completely rejects that possibility. Jesus declares the following: As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:13-14). Just as no one was saved from a poisonous snake bit unless they looked directly on a specific object, so no one is saved from Serpent of Eden unless they place their conscience faith in another specific object the death of Christ on the cross. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Notice where Jesus places the necessity of belief in him. I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also (John 14:6-7). It is difficult to imagine a clearer statement than this. Jesus equates knowing him with coming to him and both with knowing the Father. Coming to the Father through Jesus is more than Jesus death merely providing the avenue through other means. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved John 10:9. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5:24). This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:40). I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd (John 10:14-16). Jesus declares that he knows those who are his and those who are his know him. There is a personal and intimate knowledge here. Jesus goes on to say that there are other sheep that are not of his fold. Here he is speaking of Gentiles who are not part of the fold of Israel. He will bring them in as they will listen to my voice.

Of those who gave all to follow Jesus during his time on earth, some were given special revelation from God about Christs mission and purpose. They recorded those revelations and we can read them. Consider their words: To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13). Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him (John 3:36).

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:18). Notice here that the individual who does not believe in Jesus does not become condemned but is already condemned. The fact that he continues to be condemned is because he fails to put his faith in Christ. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household (Acts 16:31).

Our sentimentality towards the unevangelized will drive us to strange beliefs. Such beliefs are seen to be contradictory to the plain revelation of Scripture. Which of the two will be your ultimate authority in this discussion?

No man but Christ himself has impacted the world more than the Apostle Paul. He penned half of the New Testament and took the gospel to most of the known world of his time. The Lord Jesus appeared to Paul personally and the future apostle spent years in solitude before beginning his mission. Most likely, those years were spent in communion with Christ, from whom Paul received his commissioning. PaulsCommission The Lord appeared visibly and spoke audibly to Paul as he made his way to Damascus to arrest Christians. During the conversation, Paul received the following command: Rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles--to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Acts 26:16-18). Note in the words of Christ what Jesus thinks of the unevangelized: 1. The unevangelized are spiritually blind. 2. The unevangelized are in spiritual darkness. 3. The unevangelized are under the power of Satan. 4. The unevangelized are without forgiveness. 5. The unevangelized have no place with those who are saved by faith in [Jesus]. In other words, the ministry of Paul will save these Gentiles from hell if they respond to their only hope the gospel of Christ. These Gentiles would not be saved by responding to the level of the light they already had but only through faith in me, according to Jesus.19


Kenneth Fleming, No Other Way, No Other Name, The Emmaus Journal, 4:2 (Winter 1995), 138.

Romans10:812 What did Paul learn? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, 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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame. 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 (Rom 10:8-12). Paul declares that the word of God is near to his readers and that the way to appropriate the truth in this word is to confess that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead. Note that these two conditions are in place to secure salvation. Paul rules out salvation by any other means. It is with ones heart that one believes (believes what?) and with ones mouth that one makes an accurate confession (confession of what?). Indeed, the Lord will bestow his grace on all all who call on him. Again, notice that Paul leaves out any chance of having riches bestowed by faith in something other than the explicit name of Jesus. Romans10:1317 Later, Paul takes up the argument of hearing the call of and response to the voice of Christ in Romans 10. At the beginning of the chapter, Paul declares that the Jewish people have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (Rom 10:2). This knowledge they refused was the revealed knowledge of Christ. Knowledge of Christ is essential, according to Paul. Lets look at the entire passage: For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 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? 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! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us? So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world (Rom 10:1317). We must work through this small passage slowly. First, we note the direct statement that all people who call on the name of Jesus will be saved. This is a glorious promise but we must also note the importance of actually calling on the name of Jesus. Some will say that this statement is true but it does not rule out that idea that some can be saved without calling on the name of Jesus. It is possible that we could interpret Pauls words that way but the remainder of the passage does not allow for it. We also must note the unbreakable connection that Paul makes in this series of questions between calling on and believing in and hearing about and preaching to and being sent. This is of special importance to those who never hear the name of Jesus. 9

Regarding the unevangelized, Paul asks, How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? This calling presupposes a certain faith in the one called, which rules out the argument that one might call on God savingly without faith in Jesus Christ.20 Paul digs deeper and asks, How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? This verse indicates that faith presupposes hearing Christ in the message of the Gospel. This rules out the argument that a person might have saving faith without really knowing or meeting Christ in the gospel.21 Finally, Paul asks, How are they to hear without someone preaching? Piper further states that this rules out the argument that one might somehow meet Christ or hear Christ without a messenger to tell the gospel.22 To make matters perfectly clear, Paul states that faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom 10:17). This indicates that Paul is speaking of special revelation a message spoken by a messenger that must be heard by a hearer. Those who do not hear the message cannot have faith and therefore will not be saved. This passage excludes the idea that salvation can be obtained apart from the external hearing of the gospel.23 In this passage, we see some extensions to the Golden Chain of salvation presented in Romans 8:30 (those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified). These links are revealed in reverse order and it is helpful to work through the passage backwards: Unless someone is sent, the message cannot be preached. Unless someone preaches, people cannot hear. Unless someone hears, people cannot believe in Christ. Unless someone believes in Christ, they will not call out for salvation.

It does not seem to be the case that one merely needs to live up to the light that they possess. One must call on the name of the Lord to be saved (Rom 10:13). To call on Christ, they must hear or read of Christ. A very clear implication of these rhetorical questions is that if missionaries are not sent to preach the Gospel to those who have not heard in order that they might hear and believe and call, these unevangelized (condemned already) will remain unsaved and cannot be saved by any other means.24 Some may argue that verse 18 teaches us that all have heard the words of God. Schreiner says that we must be careful not to press Pauls words inordinately here.25 To do so would make Paul contradict himself and cut short our missionary efforts, even though Paul himself is making plans
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John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 155. Piper, The Supremacy of God in Missions, 155. 22 Piper, The Supremacy of God in Missions, 155. 23 Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, The Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 568. 24 Reymond, The Very Pernicious and Detestable Doctrine of Inclusivism. 25 Schreiner, Romans, 572.


to go to Spain (Rom 15:24). Paul refers to Psalm 19, which speaks of both general revelation (vv. 1-6) and special revelation (vv. 7-14). He specifically quotes Psalm 19:4, within the section on general revelation. The progress of the gospel will extend over all the earth just as Gods general revelation. Gods special revelation is no longer restricted to Israel but will now go out to the Gentiles. God has set in motion a missionary movement that will eventually reach as far as Gods glory through natural revelation.26 Gods general revelation therefore functions as a type and an anticipation of the special revelation of the Gospel. Finally, let us consider the context of Pauls statements above: Romans 9-11.27 Paul has stated that he feels great anguish over his fellow Jews rejection of Jesus as Messiah. He even wishes himself to be cursed instead of them (9:2-3). He is also concerned that Israels rejection seems to call into question the very character and faithfulness of God (9:4-6). This only makes sense if Paul regarded the Jews who reject Christ to be outside of Gods covenantal people. This would be no problem at all if Paul thought that there was salvation for the Jews (or anyone else, for that matter) outside of Christ. Paul would also not be concerned with Israels future salvation (11:1) if her present rejection of Christ was not salvific in nature. Furthermore, faith in Christ is explicitly stated as necessary in 11:20 and 11:23.

When Paul was in Athens, he made a strong statement of Gods sovereignty that has great bearing on this situation. Paul wrote: [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us (Acts 17:26-27). God has a plan in creation and the continuation of that creation. Each person is assigned a time to be born and a place on earth to live his ascribed days. God knows where we will be born and where and how we will be raised. Wherever we live in any culture or nation God is within reach of all men. No one is impossibly removed from Gods saving grace. If any person wants to know God, God is at work in that persons life and will reveal himself sufficiently to save that person. This may occur in supernatural dreams or visions in the Arab world, which is how Paul and many in the Old Testament were saved.28 It may appear in miraculous appointments as God sends Christians for alleged coincidental meetings.29 If

Piper, The Supremacy of God in Missions, 157. Scott Hafemann, What are the main challenges being raised against the exclusivity of the gospel as presented by Paul? in Responses to Inclusivism, The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 2:2(Summer 1998), 55-58. 28 However, please note that these biblical figures (including Abimelech, Melchizedek, Rahab, and Job) came to know the Lord in the same way that the chosen people of God know him. God did not and does not reveal himself through Baalism or some other ancient polytheistic faith. He is never revealed as one who may be defined differently than the one true God. See House, Biblical Theology and the Inclusivist Challenge, 3. 29 Ravi Zacharias, Objection #5: Its Offensive to Claim Jesus is the Only Way to God, in Strobel, The Case for Faith, 161.



these events occur (dreams, visions, etc.), then God will so arrange human affairs so as to ensure that such a person hears the gospel. We see a similar scenario in the New Testament. TheNobleCenturion Luke writes of a man named Cornelius in the tenth chapter of Acts. Inclusivists point excitedly to this Roman soldiers faith as proof of salvation apart from explicit faith in Christ. John Sanders writes that Cornelius is an example of an unevangelized person being saved.30 Is this true? As the chapter opens, we read: At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God (Acts 10:1-2). A God-fearer is one who worshipped YHWH but had not become a Jew through circumcision. God-fearers were Gentiles who expressed interest in Judaism and attended synagogue but had to sit in the back as observers.31 Cornelius came to know YHWH through the same special revelation the Jews had. This man was a student of the Old Testament scriptures and God moved through those Scriptures in Cornelius heart. To be sure, Cornelius was not restricted to mere general revelation. He is no model of the unevangelized person!32 Later, an angel appeared to Cornelius and instructed him to send for Peter. The reader must notice that the angel did not share the gospel with the centurion. That task was left to Peter. When Peter arrived, he preached the gospel to the soldier. In Acts 10:34-43, Peter preached an evangelistic sermon and told Cornelius that Jesus was put to death by hanging him on a tree but God raised him on the third day (Acts 10:39-40). We must pay special attention to the words that soon follow: To [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word (Acts 10:43-44). Notice that the centurion was not saved until he heard the gospel of Christ from a human messenger of Christ!

The truth behind the doctrine of predestination makes it clear that one must know Jesus in order to be saved. Jesus declares that the Father has chosen some to believe and given those people to Christ. Consider the following verses: Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:1-2).

Sanders, No Other Name, 265. James Montgomery Boice, Acts: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), 174. 32 A.B. Caneday, Evangelical Inclusivism and the Exclusivity of the Gospel: A Review of John Sanders No Other Name, The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 1:4 (Winter 1997), 33.



All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. . . . everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life (John 6:37, 40).

Note the inclusive nature of this exclusive group. Jesus gives eternal life to all those given to him by the Father. That eternal life is knowledge of God AND the Son. Furthermore, Jesus declares that all those who are given by the Father to the Son will come to him and look on him and believe in him and have eternal life. All those given come to Christ, not so some abstract idea of God. It is rare that one will find a Calvinistic inclusivist. I would imagine there is such an inconsistent fellow out there somewhere; I simply have never heard of one. The inclusivist is invariably a non-Calvinist although not all non-Calvinists are inclusivists. However, should the non-Calvinist be upset with the Lord regarding the destiny of the unevangelized? To be consistent, the nonCalvinist may be upset over exclusivist thinking but his distress should not be directed at the Lord. After all, in non-Calvinist thinking, God has already done all that He will or can do regarding the salvation of the lost. God has sent his Son, crushed him on the cross, and made salvation possible. Now, because of Gods great respect for the free will of his creatures, God stands back and watches people freely choose or reject him. The non-Calvinist cannot even rail against God in not sending more missionaries how can God be responsible for that free-will decision to go or stay? The onus is squarely on man in both areas salvation and missionary involvement. God is completely off the hook in the non-Calvinistic system.

Jesus tied entrance into the kingdom of God with belief in him as Lord and Christ (John 6:40). The Jewish leaders were enraged at Christs denial that only sincerity in ones current religion mattered. It still angers people today. The work of Christian missionaries would be much easier and probably more effective if believers were not convinced of the necessity and particularity of the name of Christ. The apostles, however, refused to call for generic sincerity or even faith in a generic Christ.33 Instead, they preached the necessity of faith in this Jesus whom you crucified (Acts 2:36). Inclusivists make the strange case that the unevangelized who remain unevangelized are capable of being saved through the sincerity of their current belief system. However, they also point out that the unevangelized who become evangelized now run the risk of eternal damnation for refusing to accept the new light of Jesus Christ. If this were the case, would it not be wiser and more effective to leave the unevangelized alone? Surely it makes no sense for Paul and Peter and others in the Scriptures to routinely preach the necessity of repentance if mankinds default position was heaven-ward. Did Paul put the Athenian philosophers at risk in his conversation with them on Mars Hill? Paul did not think so. On the other hand, if all people are born in their sins and are eternally lost apart from explicit faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, then the missionary endeavor is real and valid and necessary for the propagation of the gospel and the furtherance of Gods kingdom. Even from a self-centered perspective, would anyone be less likely to choose the separation, losses, and

Moore, The Man on the Island.


hardships of the mission field if they believed that people could be saved apart from the preaching of the gospel? Would you not be more willing to stay in the comfort of your own home if they could be saved on their own? Furthermore, would you dare leave your home if your gospel presentation would lead many to hell in their refusal to believe your words?

This is why theology matters - immensely. Theology also drives your evangelism and apologetics. Let it be known clearly that mankind does not exist in some sort of neutral zone until he hears the name of Jesus Christ. Let it further be known that salvation does not occur apart from the heart-changing work of regeneration by the Holy Spirit of God in the lives of Gods chosen people.

Inclusivists will argue that Old Testament saints did not have explicit knowledge of Jesus Christ as a necessary condition for their salvation. If it was not necessary for them, then it stands to reason that it is not necessary today. The assumption supporting this statement is that Old Testament believers are in precisely the same spiritual situation as present-day non-Christians.34 There are significant differences, however. Old Testament believers came into a covenantal relationship with God through special revelation. Unlike the unevangelized today who have only general revelation, the Old Testament believers had both general and special revelation. Within that special revelation, Old Testament saints looked forward to a coming mediator or Messiah who would die. From the time of the beginning, God revealed to his people that one would come to exact judgment on the lying serpent of the Garden (Gen 3:15). Immediately after this, God killed some animals and made protection for his people. Adam surely passed this special revelation on this his decedents for the next 930 years of his life. The elements of the good news were already in place, which allowed John the Baptist to say, Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Also, Jesus declared that if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me (John 5:46). The writer of Hebrews even said that Moses . . . considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward (Heb 11:24-26). Abraham surely had such faith because Jesus told the Pharisees that Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad (John 8:56). Indeed, even Jesus used the Old Testament to present the case for his messianic role (John 5:39). Those who make this false assumption also seriously misunderstand the nature of the progression of revelation. In the Old Testament, Jesus is regarded as a mystery, that which is unknown yet


Nash, Is Belief in Jesus Necessary for Salvation? 29.


later revealed clearly. In the Old Testament, people were saved by believing in the coming Messiah. Since the New Testament, people are saved by believing that Jesus is the Messiah.

Most Christians believe that individuals, who die in infancy, as well as the mentally incompetent, go to heaven when they die. Again, inclusivists charge that if infants are able to be saved apart from explicit faith in Jesus, then the door is opened for others to be saved apart from explicit faith in Jesus. Again, there are vast differences between the infant and the unevangelized. The unevangelized are mature enough to be held accountable for their sin and their resistance to the light of general revelation. This is a cognitive decision born out of their sinful nature. The infant, though born sinful, has not manifested that nature in rebellious acts.35

Some point to the religious instincts of the lost as proof that they are seeking God in their own way according to the light that they have. In Tibet, men place shrines in prayer wheels high in the mountains. In Peru, excavators have found Inca sacrificial sites high up on the Andes Mountains. In Mexico, the Aztecs built pyramids and worshipped atop them. It is thought that God, who is love, will surely take this ignorant sincerity into account. After all, these sincere pagans were worshipping the same god, were they not? The lost person is not neutral. Idolatry is not a neutral spiritual exercise. When the unevangelized worship something other than the true God of the Bible, it is not evidence of their search for a way to YHWH. Idolatry is not to be viewed as religious piety yet to be perfected in Christ. Instead of being seen as evidence for ignorant groping for God, they should be seen as evidence of their rebellion against God. Again, there is no such thing as a good Muslim or a good Buddhist anymore than there is a good idolater or a good Satan-worshipper. The best way to see this is to look at the worship of something other than God through the eyes of God. God denounces such worship repeatedly and harshly in the Old Testament. Paul says that such men exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (Rom 1:23) and exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25). Moses wrote that worship of such idols is actually the worship of demons (Deut 32:17). God also commanded: These are the statutes and rules that you shall be careful to do in the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their
Nash, Is Belief in Jesus Necessary for Salvation? 31. See also Jeff Spry, A Biblical Look at the Death of Infants, 8 August 2007, (PDF) and ?bgaayjyxfmb (MP3). See also Deuteronomy 1:34-40. Also, Revelation 20:11-13 says that the dead are judged according to their deeds.


pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place (Deut 12:1-3). Was God glorified in the Aztec sacrifice of humans instead of the prescribed sacrifice of bulls and lambs? Was God worshipped in the temples of Greece with their cultic prostitution? Was God worshipped in the Temples of Bacchus or Dionysus with their drunken debauchery? The idolatrous pagans remain far from innocence. They have received a clear revelation from God through nature and conscience. They remain without excuse.

The conclusion is obvious: the billions of unevangelized are lost. Desperately so. There is not the slightest hint in the Bible of any way that people are saved apart from explicit faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible declares that this explicit faith comes by hearing or reading about Christ and His work on the cross. This may sound grossly unfair and even mean-spirited by some. To think that way is to reveal just how much our theology has been affected by our emotions and liberalism and pragmatic religiosity. It is not the case at all that God is unfair or unjust. Paul imagined such reactions and repeated the words of God to Moses, saying I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion (Rom 9:15). Paul then immediately provides his interpretation, saying, So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy (Rom 9:16). No amount of human will or work will make a difference. God ignores it. The only thing that God considers is the heart that he himself has changed and the life he has mercied. God treats no one unfairly and no one can demand Gods grace and mercy. Grace demanded is grace destroyed. If people can be saved apart from the death and resurrection of Christ, then Christ died in vain. If someone has a serious problem with this, their only recourse is to leave their comfortable life and spend the rest of it proclaiming the gospel of Christ. You have no right to complain if you are not willing to be part of Gods solution to this situation. The Bible is clear that the people of the nations are lost and dying and going to hell without the saving message of Jesus Christ. People are born as sinners and prove their sinful nature in action the rest of their lives. If you and I really believe that the people of Statesville, America, and the world must trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ to be saved from the wrath of God, what are we doing to take that message to them? Christs statement still rings true: The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (Matthew 9:37-38). Let us endeavor together to take the gospel to the corners of the earth for there is salvation in no other name than the name of Jesus.


Chapter 10 What About Those Who Never Hear the Gospel? ....................................................... 1 Just How Much is a Billion? ........................................................................................................... 1 The Fate of the Unevangelized ....................................................................................................... 2 The Case for Exclusivism ............................................................................................................... 3 Where is this Ignorant and Innocent Native? .............................................................................. 3 How Much Does the Native Have to Know?.............................Error! Bookmark not defined. Was Jesus Wrong? ...................................................................................................................... 6 Were the Disciples Wrong? ........................................................................................................ 7 Was Paul Wrong? ....................................................................................................................... 8 Pauls Commission ................................................................................................................. 8 Romans 10:8-12 ...................................................................................................................... 9 Romans 10:13-17 .................................................................................................................... 9 The Sovereignty of God in Mens Lives................................................................................... 11 The Noble Centurion............................................................................................................. 12 Gods Gifts to the Son............................................................................................................... 12 The Implications for Missions .................................................................................................. 13 Theology Matters .......................................................................................................................... 14 Answering the Objections to Exclusivism .................................................................................... 14 What about Old Testament Believers? ..................................................................................... 14 What about Infants? .................................................................................................................. 15 What about the Sincere Faith of the Unevangelized? ............................................................... 15 A Final Thought ............................................................................................................................ 16