Sunday, June 8, 2014

What About Those Who've Never Heard of Jesus?

A fellow theological student and sister in Christ made a humorous comment as we were all walking into church that our different paths had brought us to the sanctuary.  I had gone one way, and she had gone another.  We had just departed company in a common area, and lo and behold, our paths met again!  It was a funny quip, and I'm sure she was just making humor.  But, the point behind the joke is that often times, the religious pluralist will argue that many roads lead to God, and Jesus is but one of them.  Similarly, a Christian Universalist will say that the Triune God is the only God, but that all people will be saved.  Hence, all roads actually do lead to Christ, in a sense.  A Christian inclusivist on the other hand, will say that some (or, many), but not all will be saved, and that one needn't consciously hear and believe the gospel in this life to be saved.  An exclusivist will say that one MUST hear the gospel and make a conscious decision in order to be saved, and that this decision MUST happen in this life.  

And there are variations on a spectrum between exclusvism and inclusivism.  Much wrapped up in the discussion is whether there is a difference between an inherited sinful nature received in Adam, and inherited guilt by virtue of one's relationship with Adam.  To this, the all-important question is, For those who've never heard, on what grounds does God hold them guilty?  And, what impact does one's view on this doctrine have on missions?  Quite a bit!  For, if we believe people are innocent until they've heard of Christ, then why in the world would we preach the gospel to them?  Further, why would Jesus command us to preach the gospel to the whole world? That would make no sense.  Just leave innocent people be, I'd say.

Of course, people are not innocent before God.  Everyone had sinned against Him (leaving aside infants, some children, and the mentally challenged). To this end, I've had to be comfortable with the fact that the Bible doesn't answer all of our questions about when guilt is imputed to someone, and what indeed does happen to those who haven't heard about Jesus.  We can draw inferences based upon our theological convictions.  But--here's an especially pertinent saying from the Lord Jesus Himself to the Apostle Paul in Acts 26:15-18 which gives us a LOT of information on "those who've never heard."  See for yourself what their state of being actually is: 

15 And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have [k]seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; 17 rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’
Jesus says people who've not heard the gospel are 

1) blind 
2) in darkness
3) under the power of Satan
4) unforgiven of sin 
5) without an inheritance in Christ 
6) not sanctified 
7) without faith

So, how good does it look for those who've never heard of Jesus?  Not good.  Let us then preach the gospel to all. 




Kurt Jaros said...

Hi Chris,

Why do you think infants and mentally disabled are to be excluded from those who inherit Adam's guilt?

And on another point, if infants and mentally disabled people don't need to hear the Gospel (or make any proclamation) to be saved, then doesn't that make most exclusivists, inclusivists (just very weak ones)?

Christopher Mark Van Allsburg said...

Hi Kurt,

I didn't say infants and the mentally disabled are to be excluded from Adam's guilt. I said "leaving that aside" for the moment.

Infants don't need to "hear" the gospel, because they are unable to do so. They have no cognitive faculties available for such a task. Neither do most mentally disabled people.

My conviction regarding children in covenant with God by virtue of one or more of their parents being a believer is that they are saved. Parents who know the Lord should not doubt the salvation of their children, were they to lose that child.

I'm not prepared to say with imprimatur what happens to children outside of this covenantal relationship. My *guess* is that they too are saved. How this makes children in the covenant any different, is worthy of theological discussion, as is at what point a person outside of the covenant incurs guilt.

When I say there is a spectrum between exclusivism and inclusivism, I mean that narrow "must hear the gospel with conscious hearing" exclusivism is on the one end, while another kind of exclusivism would include inclusivism simply b/c it rejects religious pluralism.

Christopher Mark Van Allsburg said...

Thanks for commenting, by the way! That's rather rare on this blog. Ha.

Christopher Mark Van Allsburg said...

I see that my parenthetical remark was not clear enough. What I meant to say was,

"Let's leave aside for the moment the question of infants, some children, and the mentally disabled and how or whether they can indeed incur guilt."

Kurt Jaros said...

Hey Chris, thanks for your response.

I know you wanted to leave the exceptional category of people aside, but I think it's lethal to the the case for exclusivism. Exclusivism makes a universal statement and if there is some particular that proves to be the exception, the universal fails. It seems to me that if someone wants to affirm that infants or mentally ill are/can be saved, that they must be a very, very weak inclusivist, but an inclusvists nevertheless. What are your thoughts on this?

If I may press you on the matter of infants, since plenty of elect parents have children that are not elect, it seems insufficient to believe that just because the parents are elect that the children would be. On Calvinism, if God's election is not because of any human thing, then God's election shouldn't be based upon the parents' being part of the covenant community. So it seems to me that if Calvinism is true, we should have the same mindset of your thinking on children outside of the covenantal relationship: a guess.


Christopher Mark Van Allsburg said...

Hey Kurt,

Thanks for the response, bro. Saw that you called the other night. I was actually in a real, bona fide meeting. Ha. Let's talk soon.

Ok, so I agree with you that on the grounds of deeming infants, etc. (Let's call this class of people, "non-cognitive potential agents" - that way we could make up a neologism. Cool!). But seriously, NCPA's does make one an uber-weak inclusivist. I have no problem with that. Otherwise, one may be called an excluvist with respect to non-NCPA's, or CPA's. I hope accountants don't get too involved here.

Concerning the election of children, good Calvinists who have a solid grasp of the nature and concept of covenant, do not denote their children as elect ipso facto, but they regard them elect by virtue of the covenant, knowing that the covenant has two sides: promise and obligation. There is the promise of life and blessedness for those who meet the obligations of the covenant: repentance and faith unto life eternal. And there is another sense in which the covenant has two sides - or at least the promise has two sides: the other side of the promise of life is the threat of death for nonrepentance and unfaithfulness.

For a more thorough discussion of this, see the book "Trust and Obey" and the book review.

It was the difference between the Kuiperians, and a different sect within Reformed chuches, the name of which I cannot remember. But the thinking went like this: one group deemed children of the covenant as elect and therefore regenerate; the other group deemed children of the covenant as elect, but did not presume regeneration.

I take this latter view. So, I view my children as "covenantally elect" rather than "decretally elect." The reason for this is that we don't have access to the divine decree (something I am pretty sure I still believe in, though the more I read on the various views on foreknowledge and responsibility, the more pragmatic I get). As not having access to the divine decree, I, along with other covenantally minded Reformed parents and theologians, I must take the access granted to me in the covenant document of Scripture. Convinced that my children are indeed benefactors of the covenant God makes with my wife and I as believers, I treat them as who and what they are, and that is belonging to Jesus Christ. I tell me children that they belong to Him, and that He loves them, and that they have eternal life in His name. I trust the promises of God made to me and my wife and my children that our sins are forgiven in Jesus' name. I also instruct my children what their obligations are: to trust and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. What a great song!

Christopher Mark Van Allsburg said...

In brief, it's the difference between a covenantal lens, and an electionist lens.

I hope that makes sense. Again, I'd commend the book by Ian Hewitson on this, or any of the works by Norman Shepherd, or even just a basic work by Presbyterians on children on the covenant.