[We are] not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

What about the Unevangelized Part 4

by Matthew

One objection which may sometimes be raised against universal premortem opportunism is Romans 10:14:

14 ¶ How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

This verse is often cited as proof that no body can be saved unless they encounter an human preacher. This verse is a favourite in missionary talks, where it is used to pressure people into either giving towards mission or to get young people to become missionaries.

Many years ago I read “What about those who have not heard?” a ‘three views’ book edited by Gabriel Fackre. Sadly, none of the three contributors defended the view expressed in these posts, instead arguing for Restrictivism, Inclusivism and Postmortem Evangelisation. One significant absence in the debate was this Romans 10:14. Even Ronald Nash, who argued for Restrictivism omitted to mention this verse. I suspect this was because the authors all understood that this verse in no way proves Restrictivism.

Even if Paul was making this statement with the same intent as missionary speakers, it would not necessarily refute universal opportunism. Paul is not actually stating that preaching is the only way to receive the offer of eternal life. Were we to take it that way, nobody could be saved through reading a tract. Yet this is not the purpose of this statement.
All too often the famous verses are quoted while ignoring their context. A common example is James 2:19. So often one hears Christians saying things like:
“Its no good just believing and not walking the walk; even the demons believe.”

Yet as Zane Hodges has powerfully argued, James is quoting an hypothetical objector. A rhetorical device is in use here.

The context of Romans 9-11 is not the plight of the unevangelized. It is the rejection of the gospel by the nation of Israel. Paul is not giving a missionary talk, he is addressing Israel’s need for faith in Christ. In verse 14, Paul raises an hypothetical objection. What if they have not heard? How are they going to be saved if they have not heard a preacher? Yet he answers this in the following verses:

16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? Is. 53.1

17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

18 ¶ But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily,
Their sound went into all the earth,
and their words unto the ends of the world. Ps. 19.4

19 But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith,
I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people,
and by a foolish nation I will anger you. Deut. 32.21

20 But Isaiah is very bold, and saith,
I was found of them that sought me not;
I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. Is. 65.1

21 But to Israel he saith,
All day long I have stretched forth my hands
unto a disobedient and gainsaying people

The gospel has been preached! The majority of Jews have rejected the message by which they must be saved. Yet despite this, God’s purposes still stand. Therefore, it is quite illegitimate to take this verse as some kind of proof that people can only be saved through contact with an human missionary. The possibility remains that God, in His compassion and mercy will provide light to those in darkness through dreams and visions.


Sunday, April 05, 2009

What about the Unevangelized? Part 3

by Matthew

In the first post we established by argument that God’s love means that the likelihood is that He has made some way for the unevangelized to escape everlasting punishment. In the second post, we looked at the different views on the subject amongst Christians. This blogger takes the view that the best solution is Universal Premortem Opportunism; that is that God probably supplies special revelation to those who have not met any human witness. This may depend upon how they have responded to the light of natural revelation.

In this post we will consider some arguments for Universal Premortem Opportunism from the Scriptures. I will confess that they are inconclusive. The Bible nowhere explicitly teaches Universal Premortem Opportunism. We can only infer it. However, this reveals a crucial difference in methodology between Restrictivists and Opportunitists:

Restrictivists settle the question by what the Bible does not say (i.e. no hope offered to unevangelized).
Opportunitists settle the question by what the Bible does say (i.e. God’s mercy, lovingkindness and the universal extent of the atonement).

For Opportunists, the character of God is a more decisive factor than the absence of any specific statements in the Scripture.

Genesis 6:13-21

13 And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

14 Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.

15 And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits.

16 A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it.

17 And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.

18 But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons' wives with thee.

19 And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.

20 Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind; two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.

21 And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them.

In this passage God reveals Himself by special revelation to Noah and warns Him of the wrath to come.

God communicated to the patriarchs directly. They had no preachers or Scriptures so far as we know. This does not prove that God reveals Himself by special revelation to the unevangelised, but it does show that God does not always work through the preaching of Scripture.

Genesis 20

3 But God came to Abim'elech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife.

4 But Abim'elech had not come near her: and he said, LORD, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?

5 Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.

6 And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.

7 Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live: and if thou restore her not, know thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine.

God cares enough about Abimelech to warn him in a dream that he is in danger of death. Does God care enough about the heathen to grant them a dream that they might avoid the second death?

Daniel 2

47 The king answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret.

The Lord reveals Himself by dream to the king of Babylon.

Jonah 4

10 Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:

11 and should not I spare Nin'eveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?

A beautifully simple statement of the Lord's compassion towards the heathen. Had Jonah continued to resist the call to Ninevah, would not God's compassion towards its inhabitants have remained?

Luke 12

20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?

God speaks to a man before His death. Granted this was not an offer of mercy and this man may have already been regenerated (though clearly a carnal and worldly man), but it does establish a precedent for God speaking to people before they die.

Acts 10

1 There was a certain man in Caesare'a called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,

2 a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.

3 He saw in a vision evidently, about the ninth hour of the day, an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius.

4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.

5 And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:

6 he lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.

7 And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually;

8 and when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa.

9 ¶ On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:

10 and he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,

11 and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:

12 wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.

13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.

14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.

15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

16 This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.

17 ¶ Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate,

18 and called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there.

19 While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee.

20 Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.

21 Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come?

22 And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by a holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.

23 Then called he them in, and lodged them.
¶ And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him.

24 And the morrow after they entered into Caesare'a. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends.

25 And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.

26 But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.

27 And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together.

28 And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

29 Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?

30 ¶ And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,

31 and said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.

32 Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee.

33 Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.

34 ¶ Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: Deut. 10.17

35 but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.

This passage reveals God's acceptance of those who have responded to the light of natural revelation. Cornelius was such a person and he was lead to Peter to find salvation. If Cornelius had been located at a much further distance from Peter and the other apostles, he would still have been such a man that God would accept.

No doubt there are many among Islam and other false faiths who know there is a God and know that He must be feared, yet are ignorant of Him. Will God not grant to them the light of eternal life in Christ?