Archives For Destiny of Unevangelized

“The Hopelessness of the Unevangelized”

Greg Strand – October 22, 2015 2 Comments

Robert Gundry has written an excellent, brief piece about the reality of hell, the hopelessness of the unevangelized, and the necessity of evangelism: “The Hopelessness of the Unevangelized

Grounded in the Word of God, we affirm this truth  in Article 10, “Response and Eternal Destiny,” of our Statement of Faith: “We believe that God commands everyone everywhere to believe the gospel by turning to Him in repentance and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that God will raise the dead bodily and judge the world, assigning the unbeliever to condemnation and eternal conscious punishment and the believer to eternal blessedness and joy with the Lord in the new heaven and the new earth, to the praise of His glorious grace. Amen.”

In our day when these truths are being questioned by some and denied by others, Gundry’s article carries a strong, fresh, word from the Word!

I will highlight some of the pertinent statements along the way so you can get a quick and clear summary of what he writes. In some of the excerpts below, the paragraphs are not consecutive in his writing, though I have pulled them from the same section and included them together.

Here is Gundry’s introductory statement

Lately there has come out of cold storage a question that has been hibernating among conservative evangelicals for some time. That question has to do with the status of people who live and die without ever hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Will God consign them to everlasting punishment? If so, where is his sense of fair play-they never had a chance-let alone his love for them? If not, through what means and at what time does he give them opportunity to be saved?

He follows this with “Reasons for Challenges to the Traditional View.”

We can easily identify reasons for its acuteness: (l) the relative fewness of the saved under the traditional view that apart from evangelization in their lifetimes people have no hope; (2) the guilt of Christians in failing to evangelize them; and (3) the eternality of punishment in the hereafter. These considerations have always troubled pious minds. In recent times historical factors have heightened sensitivity to the question.

Gundry rules out universalism and annihilationism.  From here he considers inclusivism, and works through numerous texts of Scripture used to support the position (Gentiles such as Melchizedek, Balaam and Job; Matthew 25:31-46; John 1:9; Acts 10:1-2, 34-35; Acts 18:9-10; Romans 1:19-20; Romans 2:14-16; Romans 10:18; 1 Peter 3:18-20; 1 Peter 4:6). He writes of the inclusivist position:

The attempts to justify God’s ways in salvation cannot stop with the ignorant heathen. The facile solutions here criticized rest on a philosophical view of the problem that is too simplistic and restricted—and on a theological view of our ability to justify God’s ways that is too inflated (cf. Rom 11:33–36).

We can hardly improve on Paul’s statement that the fate of the lost demonstrates the wrath and power of God just as the salvation of believers demonstrates his mercy (Rom 9:22–23). At this point it becomes evident whether our thinking centers on God—from whom and through whom and for whom are all things (Rom 11:36)—or whether anthropology has encroached on theology.

Gundry comes back to the Scripture and its clear teaching: “Staying within Scripture: The Necessity of Evangelism.”

The Scriptures stand alone as our source of information concerning the status of the unevangelized. As we have seen, the notions of salvation through general revelation and of an opportunity after death find no solid footing in Scripture. More than that, Scripture indicates the hopelessness of people apart from hearing and believing the gospel now.

Biblical particularism and evangelistic necessity, which may have been good enough for olden times, could give way to post-biblical revelation of a theodicy supposedly more just and gracious and conveniently easier to swallow.

But the new truths of salvation by general revelation and of post-mortem conversion would doubtless yield to the even “better” truth of universal salvation.

Staying within Scripture, however, we discover behind the Great Commission a reason to evangelize the heathen more compelling than the desirability of bringing them into the joy of salvation a little earlier than otherwise they would enter it. The reason is that apart from our preaching to them the word of Christ, they have no hope. So let us urgently and compassionately rescue the perishing.

Gundry’s conclusion, “An Extended Note on Eternal Punishment”:

The NT doesn’t put forward eternal punishment of the wicked as a doctrine to be defended because it casts suspicion on God’s justice and love. To the contrary, the NT puts forward eternal punishment as right, even obviously right. It wouldn’t be right of God not to punish the wicked, so that the doctrine supports rather than subverts his justice and love. It shows that he keeps faith with the righteous, that he loves them enough to vindicate them, that he rules according to moral and religious standards that really count, that moral and religious behavior has consequences, that wickedness gets punished as well as righteousness rewarded, and that the eternality of punishment as well as of reward invests the moral and religious behavior of human beings with ultimate significance. We’re not playing games. In short, the doctrine of eternal punishment defends God’s justice and love and supplies an answer to the problem of moral and religious evil rather than contributing to the problem.

Regarding salvation, what do you believe about the death of infants and those who have never heard the gospel?

 It is clear in our EFCA Statement of Faith “that God commands everyone everywhere to believe the gospel by turning to Him in repentance and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ” (Article 10, Response and Eternal Destiny). Jesus Christ and his claims are exclusive, and apart from hearing and receiving the gospel one will be judged and condemned to “eternal conscious punishment” (Article 10, Response and Eternal Destiny).

These exclusive claims of Christ and the necessity of hearing and responding to the gospel often raise the question as noted above. It is important to note that this question really consists of two, and each must be addressed separately and appropriately nuanced biblically if we are to gain biblical, theological and pastoral clarity to these important questions.

Here is what we have stated in response to these questions in Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, 242-244 (highlight not in the original, but for the purpose of the question):

 First, what is the destiny of those who die in infancy or who may be mentally incompetent and unable to respond to the message of the gospel in conscious faith? Some difference of opinion exists among us on this issue. Almost all would contend that God can accept such people into his eternal presence, though the grounds on which this is possible differ. Some believe that even though all are sinful by nature in Adam, those who die in infancy or who may be mentally incompetent are incapable of conscious and deliberate sin, and, therefore, their sinful nature has not been personally ratified. Consequently, Adam’s guilt is not attributed to them. (All, however, would agree that both infants and the mentally incompetent are still subject to a corruption of nature flowing from the fall and that Christ’s saving work of restoration is still necessary.) Others believe that though all humans at any stage of development or level of mental capability are guilty by virtue of their union with Adam, God can apply the saving work of Christ to them without conscious and deliberate faith through the regenerating work of the Spirit. How many God may choose to save in this way, we cannot know, but we do have confidence that God is gracious, especially to those who are the weakest and most vulnerable.

 Second, we ask, what then is the destiny of those who have not heard of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ, that is, the unevangelized—can they be saved? Since the coming of God’s final work in Jesus Christ, Scripture speaks clearly of the need to hear and to believe the gospel (cf. Rom. 10:13-15; Acts 4:12; John 14:6; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 26:16-18). And among those capable of understanding the gospel, we affirm that we have no clear biblical warrant for believing that, since the coming of Christ, God has saved anyone apart from conscious faith in Jesus. Paul’s statement referring to the Christian Ephesians’ previous state as pagans without a faith in Jesus is straightforward and comprehensive: “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Further, we find nothing in Scripture that suggests that the nations may find God somehow present in a redemptive way within their own religious practices, theological outlooks, or cultural structures.

 And again, while God could reveal Christ to some apart from the normal means of the ministry of the Word (e.g., through dreams or visions), we have no biblical warrant for believing that he will reveal himself in that way to anyone. The Bible speaks instead of the mandate given to Christ’s followers to preach the gospel to all nations (cf., esp., Rom. 10:14-15), and we are woefully remiss if we fail to engage in that great task when so much is at stake.

 The “benevolent impulse” in Christian believers that desires and seeks eternal life for as many as possible is good and right. Abraham pleaded with God for the salvation of the city of Sodom (Gen. 18:23-24), and Jesus’ disciples were rebuked for being more zealous to punish evildoers than their Lord (Luke 9:54-55). As we humbly consider this question of the unevangelized we are confident that God’s ways are always just and right, and in the end they will be seen to be so. As Abraham reflected, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). At the same time, we must remain faithful to the clear and insistent message of the Bible—Jesus Christ is the Savior of the whole world, and the whole world needs to hear about his saving work. Because all have sinned and are deserving of God’s condemnation, we believe that we can be saved only by the atoning work of Christ, and we believe that we can be sure that people can be saved by that work only if they are told about it.