What About Those Who Have Never Heard? Three Views on the Destiny of the Unevangelized. Ed. by John Sanders. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995. 168 pp. Paper, $10.99.
The rise of Pluralism in Western society has challenged Evangelicals to respond again to the question of the unevangelized. If the only way that someone can go to heaven is by trusting in Christ, then what about those who have never heard of Him?
This book deals with three views on the subject: Inclusivism, Postmortem Conversion, and Restrictivism. The book is divided into three sections dealing with the three views. John Sanders, who also edited the entire volume, argues for Inclusivism in section one. Gabriel Fackre makes the case for Postmortem Conversion in section two. Ronald Nash contends for Restrictivism in section three. The format of the book is that each proponent presents his view and the others critique his view.
Inclusivism is the view that people are saved on the basis of believing the revelation that they have, whether it is special or general revelation. Sanders contends that Christ’s death for sin is the ground of all salvation, but people do not need to know about Christ to be saved. Inclusivism is defended by the “faith principle,” which means that one must only trust what God reveals. People are saved by faith and not doctrine. Faith includes “some truth” about God, but, this truth can come from general revelation. Inclusivists believe that salvation is only through Christ, which is one of the major differences between them and Pluralists. However, since most of the world’s unevangelized peoples are involved in other religions, inclusivists believe that God saves through false religions. Sincere followers are saved by the faith that they have in God.
This explains why they must posit a “faith principle.” Sanders has not seriously considered how the worldviews of a pantheist, polytheist, animist, or nontheist predispose people to reject the most basic information of a personal, sovereign, moral, Creator God. As Ronald Nash comments, “In the moment when a pantheist, polytheist, or animist begins to think seriously about the possible existence of one sovereign, personal Creator God, he or she has already taken a first step away from that religion.” This is further complicated by the fact that all the other world religions teach some form of works salvation. How can anyone be saved by faith when they believe that they must work their way to God? Without special revelation the most natural idea that comes to man is that he must appease the Deity through good works or sacrifices.
Postmortem Conversion is the view that all the unevangelized people will get an opportunity to hear the Gospel after death. Fackre interprets 1 Pet 3:19-20 and 1 Pet 4:6 as references to the dead being evangelized. However he does not do any serious exegesis of the passages themselves. He never mentions the other more likely options being that (1) Christ preached through Noah to the wicked who are now in hell or that (2) Christ announced triumph over the fallen angels. In the context, both of these views are more likely and correlate better with the rest of the Bible, where one’s opportunity to be saved ends at death (John 5:24, 28, 29; 8:21, 24, and Heb 9:27). In all of these passages there is a close relationship between death and judgment.
Restrictivism is the view that no one can come to God except through Jesus Christ. Not only is Christ the only ground of all salvation, but everyone must have explicit knowledge of Him in order to be saved. The only weakness in Nash’s chapter was that he didn’t really present the restrictivist position. Instead, he refuted the other two views. Although this reviewer agrees with his critiques of the other two positions, it would have been beneficial to see a positive presentation of the biblical evidence for the restrictivist position.
The chapters by John Sanders and Ronald Nash were particularly helpful in understanding the issues involved in this ongoing debate. What About Those Who Have Never Heard? is well worth reading.
R. Michael Duffy