Can Those who Have not Heard the Gospel be Saved?
by Hadley Robinson
There is an ongoing debate on this question amongst some Christians, including those outside of orthodoxy, but rarely are the roots of the controversy discussed.
Those who believe salvation is possible without hearing the Gospel (inclusivism or universalism) share worldviews that are not Christian. Defending Christian orthodoxy requires us to affirm that salvation without hearing the Gospel is impossible (exclusivism).
But those of us who are orthodox Christians (exclusivists) might ask what is the driving worldview behind the inclusivist view?
It might make this easier to understand if we consider that the Gospel preached by Paul is offensive – period: Christ crucified for sinners. 1Cor. 1-3 (among much other Scripture) makes
this case strongly. The basic offense of the Gospel will never sit well with inclusivists – it is so “unreasonable.” The “basic principles of this world” (of which we are to carefully guard
against being taken captive – see Col 2:8) can include a strong dose of
(God wants me to be happy),
(men & women are equal in every way), and Semi-Pelagianism/Arminianism (if I ought, I can). Inclusivists largely ascribe to the first and the third elements. I am
discovering that these three drive a significant amount of doctrine which, often enough, is beyond discussion, steeped as we are in a sort of intellectual torpor that often avoids the
There are countless numbers of those who mix the Christian faith with all kinds of things, including the “isms” above. Sometimes, they are Humanists/Semi-Pelagians/Egalitarians first and
Christians (if at all) second. But we should expect this. The Reformation enshrined various “basic principles of this world” and it’s been a battle ever since. For example, over a thousand
years of Orthodox teaching concerning the permanency of marriage was thrown out because men wanted to put away a wife for one reason or another and marry someone else. My OT professor at
seminary (Walter Kaiser) has now fully embraced the egalitarian views concerning women’s roles in church – they can do anything a man can do – anything. That is, there is no difference
whatsoever in the potential roles of women and men. (I have always been puzzled why the NFL and the NHL do not have women’s divisions? But then who would watch teams play that are
, for example, undercuts great swaths of Scripture, Genesis 2 in particular. 1Cor. 11:7; 14:34, and other New Testament
passages are summarily dismissed as cultural anachronisms. This might be easy to do on the surface.
The commands given by the Spirit for the Church in 1Cor., however, are not based on
some practice of Greek culture at the time but on the Creation. So, the Creation account in Genesis must become some mere poetic or vague picture of unknown events. Scripture, then, becomes
a house of cards that leaves the realm of reality and enters the shadowy world of intellectual abstraction – the faith of the majority of modern Protestant denominations. It becomes a
slippery slope – and most denominations have plunged down it in to heresy, including the denial that Christ physically rose from the dead. If Genesis and the book of Job are poetic devices
then why not the Resurrection?
We should not be surprised at what is going on in the churches because American culture vigorously embraces the three “isms” discussed here.
Is it possible to turn back in any of these areas, even in the Church? It is not likely. Public dialogue and practice in our nation has descended to levels unknown except by the most savage,
decadent, and immoral societies.
What aspect of homosexual “marriage” is anything but detestable? What stage of a partial birth abortion (or any abortion, for that matter) is not
utterly cruel and barbarous? Nations that sink to this level are capable of anything. If true Christians ever needed to be guarded concerning the signs of the times, it is now. Anything can
happen. But, like other similar times in history, they should expect to be slandered, expelled, shunned, and attacked – starting first in the churches. I have debated on occasion the reasons
from Scripture why suffrage should only be extended to men and those, in particular, who own real property. I have been amused at the incredulity expressed and I am thankful that I am only
written off as a crank or kook.
But those who discuss sexual intimacy between men receive approving nods and warm congratulations for their brave and progressive views. I can only
imagine that it was the same with the people when Aaron made the golden calf (Exodus 32).
The discussion about exclusivism and inclusivism will continue to rage. Women and men will continue to defy the Creation order and God’s purposes for them. Marriage between a man and a
woman for a lifetime will continue to be diluted and obscured. The State will continue to extend its overreach into human affairs. The notion that God wants me happy and prosperous will not
disappear until the world ends. Mass-marketing of a watered down Gospel will be endlessly popular. Success in the Church will be judged by numbers instead of the holiness of the people. The
feminization of congregations will roll forward like a locomotive. Americans will continue to put their young to death while in the womb.
Novelist Saul Bellow commented,
People don't realize how much they are in the grip of ideas. We live among ideas much more than we live in nature.
He also noted that differing with prevailing views isn’t easy, “One toe out of line and you get clobbered.”
Moses understood this well while leading the Israelites – and was narrowly
stoned. It is similar today among Protestant evangelicals if one holds to some of the ancient and orthodox beliefs of the Church. Men will continue to make excuses for sin and justify evil
behavior. It is easy to do but wrong.