What about the Unevangelized Part 4
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.