[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)

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?


  • Matthew,

    I am sympathetic to your approach here and was wondering whether you perchance have perused my comments on Collin's guest post on Rose's entitled "Another Desert Island Scenario" (initiated on Mar 10)?

    I make a case there for "judgment according to light received"; i.e., man's accountability for responding to God's promise of life after death ever since Gen 3:15, 20...the notion that God has spoken a promise of life through "the seed" since the fall of man and has progressively revealed more content about the nature of this "seed" throughout salvation history.

    How would you see the idea of a continuous (increasingly detailed) promise of life-after-death revealed ever since Adam and Eve? It seems to me that this notion would have some points of contact with your "opportunistic" view and thus provide greater soteriological continuity throughout the ages within a dispensational framework.

    By Blogger agent4him, at Sunday, April 05, 2009 2:37:00 PM  

  • Agent4him, interesting idea and worthy of development.

    I don't think I agree with that approach though.

    I take the view advocated by GES writers like Bob Wilkin, who argue that the condition of eternal life has never changed. It has always been conscious faith in the messiah for eternal life, both before and after His coming. Hence, no new conditions such as the death and resurrection of our Lord and His deity have been added as a result of progressive revelation.

    (I hope Antonio is going to give me some Brownie points for this comment)

    I see no basis in Scripture for allowing the possibility of redemption without conscious faith in Christ.

    I feel it is a much safer inference that special revelation will be given to the unevangelized than to hold that the unevangelized can be justified without it.

    Every Blessing in Christ


    By Blogger Celestial Fundie, at Monday, April 06, 2009 11:44:00 AM  

  • To Know the Lord is eternal life (John 17:1-3)
    “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord, for they all shall know Me, (Jer 31:34a; 1 Sam 2:12;3:7;10:6,9)
    This clearly implies that in the OT they were telling their neighbors and brothers to “Know the Lord.”
    The gospel that Jesus taught has never changed it has always been “the Christ” who gives the gift of eternal life. We simple know now that His name is Jesus.
    I believe the “women at the well” proves this, she never spoke the name of Jesus in the text nor did Jesus tell her He was Jesus. But we know that it was Jesus that was standing before her, so she was believing in the right Jesus because He was “the Christ.” The living water was a forever gift, and once she knew that it was the Christ that was standing before her the giving and receiving had already happened. He had told her she would ask and He would give her the living water. When He said “I am He” meaning “the Christ” He had given her that living water the knowledge of His person (John 20:31) that sprang up into eternal life.
    The same living water is offered at the end of the NT (Rev 22:17). It is the same living water no one has changed it, it is the same gospel Jesus gave to the “women at the well.” But now we must believe that Jesus is “the Christ” to be believing in the right “Christ.” Because He has come into the world but it is the same "Christ" who gives eternal life.
    I believe that anyone who responds to God’s revelation will find Him, for He says “If you seek Me with all your heart you will find Me, and so that they should seek the Lord, in hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:21)
    God is not playing hid'n seek but wants to be found!
    But just as the women at the well everyone “must know the gift of God and who it is who said ‘Give Me a drink.’
    To “know the Lord” carries content which is “the gift of eternal life.”
    The one who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God and will never thirst.

    Alvin :)

    By Blogger alvin, at Tuesday, April 07, 2009 7:51:00 AM  

  • Thanks for the comment, Alvin.

    By Blogger Celestial Fundie, at Tuesday, April 07, 2009 8:29:00 AM  

  • Hi Everyone!
    Once again, happy belated posting!
    I just mosied in here from the future and decided to blog my 2cents worth.
    I just think it's note worthy that we care. God has given us empathy for the lost. Where would I be right now if someone had not share the faith with me?
    An obvious question is: "Well if you really care, what are you going to do about it?". Grip that question hard so that it stilll motivates you after this post is done. But my real reason for bringing it up is that God given empathy. I believe that it signifies the way God feels for HIS creatures. I strongly believe that if Total depravity were true in the sense that the Calvists mean it, God would elect the entire lot of us. He would violate every souls free will so that we would all together end up in paradise. However, I believe He has used His creative ability to give us a measure of autonomy; enough at least to believe or reject, and that, normatively, He will not violate. But although He said so specifically to Israel, I believe that all of humanity, HE would have gathered under His wings, "but you would not".

    Thanks for the thought fertilizer.


    By Blogger Duane WATTS, at Saturday, October 17, 2009 5:09:00 AM  

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