While on vacation this week, My wife and I are visiting friends in another state. We were blessed to be able to worship with them and meet their pastor. Despite our denominational differences, the pastor and I hit it off as we were like-minded in our passion for the gospel. A couple of comments during the Bible study, however, (we were in Romans 3) caused a moment of concern. It had nothing to do with eternal security, the gift of tongues, or ecclesiology (though we likely differ on all of those). It wasn’t that he said something that bothered my Baptist sensibilities. In fact, I have heard the same thing said in Baptist churches. The belief he expressed has become widespread among evangelicals even though it has no real biblical support. It is an attractive belief -- real "feel good" theology. The pastor introduced the idea with the phrase “the Bible teaches that . . . .” At the end of the Bible study, when the floor was open for questions, a young woman (also a visitor) asked eagerly where she could find that in the Bible. She was not challenging the pastor as I would have been doing had I asked the question. Rather, she had never heard this idea before but really liked it and wanted the “proof text” to confirm it. The pastor could not come up with a verse on the spot (I whispered to my wife, “that’s because it’s not in there”) but he assured her that this was the Bible’s teaching.
This belief to which I am referring is the belief that all people in the world will have an equal chance to accept Christ. That is, because God is loving and fair, God will give everyone a chance to become a Christian. I understand the desire to have such a belief. For one, it helps resolve the tension in the question “What happens to those who have never heard.?” I helps us solve the dilemma of the fairness of God given the present situation in the world. There are several problems with this reasoning, however. Below are a few of those problems as I see it in the early morning before anyone else in the house is awake an functioning:
1. This is not the Bible’s teaching. There is no suggestion in the Bible that salvation is available to any without the preaching, hearing and responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact the book of Romans expresses this in chapter 10:
13 For "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved." 14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!" 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our report?" 17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Romans 10:13-17 (NKJV) cf. 1 Cor 1:21. There is no other biblical way. People must hear and believe the gospel to be saved.
Some try to explain away this lack of biblical support by saying that the Bible is silent about the fate of the unevangelized and claim that God is free to do whatever he wants. We don’t have to know HOW he will give everyone an equal chance, we don’t even have biblical precedence, we only have to know that God is loving and fair and fairness demands that everyone have a chance to believe. The problem here is two-fold. a. We are on dangerous ground when we say that go beyond what God has revealed in his word. We have enough statements about salvation and evangelism to rule out such a scenario. b. God already addresses the question of those who have not heard the gospel. God has already given revelation through creation, and even this light has been rejected. No one can say at the judgment “We never heard the message.” They are without excuse (Rom 1:18-20). Others approach the problem a different way by saying that is someone truly seeks God, God in his faithfulness will send a messenger. This scenario is also ruled out in Romans since “no one seeks God”(Rom 3:11).
2. In effect, this view undermines mission and evangelism. No longer burdened by the fate of those who do not hear the gospel, we lose our urgency for evangelism and missions. We may feel some guilt for lack of involvement in missions and evangelism, but the guilt is now only from not obeying a command of Scripture. Add that to the list of things I need to work on in my own personal spiritual development. Since God is fair, my lack of involvement puts no one’s ultimate destiny at stake. The urgency for missions and evangelism is lost.
3. Finally, such a view does not take our own depravity seriously. I say this because the idea of God’s fairness really reflects our own doubts about the seriousness of sin. The reality is that I deserve death and hell as does every person in the world. I am no better than the person who has never heard the gospel Without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for my sins, I too would be condemned. When people die of a disease, it is not the lack of a cure that kills them, it is the disease itself. When God condemns sinners, whether or not they hear the gospel, they are condemned for their sin and nothing else. We have the cure, we must take it to them. Without the gospel, we too would be condemned.
I could take up much more space discussing this subject and really have not done it justice here. I bring it up because it is becoming such a popular view among otherwise bible-believing Christians. In any case, that’s all I can do while on vacation. My family is getting up and soon will be ready to get going on fun vacation stuff. There is much more to say on this subject. Feel free to add your comments.