Monday, October 18, 2010

What About People Who Have Never Heard?

My friend on my job asked another good question today: What happens to people who have never heard the gospel?

It's an uncomfortable question on many levels. On the surface, it calls into question the justice of God. On another level, it calls into question the commitment of Christians to fulfill the Great Commission and to love their neighbors.

Some churchgoing people have adopted universalism in response to such questions. They believe that eventually all people will be saved. Others have adopted inclusivism, the belief that a sinner does not necessarily need to believe in Jesus Christ in order to be saved as long as he or she has never heard of Jesus Christ.

I can't accept either view. Jesus warned about the dangers of hell far too often for his followers to dismiss those warnings for universalism. Christ and his apostles emphasized the need for faith in Christ far too often to dismiss it for inclusivism.

As for God being unjust in requiring faith in Christ, I sympathize with those who find it difficult to accept. However, it remains the way by which we are brought into a right relationship with God. "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:1-2).

The hard truth is: sinners are saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). No one deserves salvation. I wish I did, but I don't. It's to God's glory that anyone is saved at all.

The more disturbing aspect of my friend's question centers on what it says about me. Do I really care about people who don't know about Christ and are heading to an eternity without hope? Do I really care about fulfilling the Great Commission ("Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you"--Matthew 28:19-20)? What am I doing to help people to know Jesus Christ? Am I sharing my faith? Am I praying for those who have never heard the gospel? Am I supporting Christians who are trying to reach unreached people around the world?

In this video, atheistic entertainer Penn Gillette challenges Christians who believe that unbelievers are in danger of hell to love them enough to share their faith with them. It's one of the most convicting videos ever made by an atheist. He "gets it" better than I do sometimes.


Thomas Paulson said...

That was a very powerful video. Wow.

reborn1995 said...


Great post. i feel the rub people are bringing up. But i think underlying the rub is the idea that people who haven't heard somehow aren't at fault or are innocent or are only lost because of sheer bad luck. That's just not the way the Bible paints the picture. Paul seems convinced that all men are blameworthy--that's the way i take Rom 1:18ff anyway.

Terry--don't you also think there's something else going on here? What troubles me is the idea that i won't believe in God until i've made Him square with the moral sentiments i already have. If i go about it that way, is God really ever *my* God? If He doesn't have the authority to tell me what is right or wrong, then in what sense is He an authority over me at all?


Terry said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog, Thomas. I had not seen your blog before, but I took a quick look at it before responding. It looks very interesting. I'm going to start following it now.

And I agree with you about the video. It really hit me hard. Thanks again.

Terry said...

Guy, I agree completely with how you see the biblical teaching about our sinfulness. We don't like to think of ourselves and others as sinful, but the Bible is clear that we are.

On your second point, I think I understand what you're saying and I think you're right. It's very important that we conform to God's way of thinking instead of trying to get him to conform to our way of thinking. Sometimes it's a stuggle to understand how he sees things, but it's important to try.