What about the Unevangelized? Part 5
It is such a long time since I posted here. I thought it might be an idea to finish off the series I began back in 2009.
To summarise where we got to, in the first part we concluded that it is logical to expect that God has made some provision for those who have not heard the offer of eternal life by human means. We followed this by considering different views offered by evangelicals regarding the likelihood of the salvation of some of the unevangelized. The view Universal Premortem Opportunism was explained and identified as the view this blogger would defend.
Universal Premortem Opportunism holds that God has offered the opportunity to all persons to accept or reject the offer of eternal life. In the event of a person never encountering a human evangelist, she would receive sufficient revelation before her death to enable her to believe. In part 3 we looked at a number of possible Scriptural arguments for this position.
In part 4 we addressed the verse Romans 10:14, which is often used to assert that nobody can be saved without encountering an human preacher or evangelist. It was argued to the contrary, that Paul was making a rhetorical point to establish that Israel's condemnation was just.
This post will address the big objection that a lot of evangelicals will have to the theory of Universal Opportunism. This is that it takes away the motivation for evangelism? Surely the need to save sinners from a lost eternity is the chief motive for evangelism. If there is a possibility that God will save sinners independently of our gospel missions, are not our efforts redundant?
We have all heard a missionary speaker come to our churches and give a stark motivational talk. He speaks of the spiritual darkness of the land in which he ministers, he speaks of the ignorance of the natives of that land. He warns of how men and women are dying in that country and others daily and are going to an eternity of darkness and torment.
Such talks have motivated many blessed brothers and sisters to answer the call of Christ to go out into the world and labour for Him. I do not want to in any way diminish the value of having an healthy concern for those who are in spiritual darkness and having a consciousness of the reality of condemnation for those who do not believe. Nevertheless, I do not see anything exactly resembling this kind of motivational talk in the New Testament. We have Ezekiel 3:18-19, but this was a warning about God's temporal judgment on Israel and they were a people who already had the law. Nowhere does Paul, Peter, or John warn their readers about the millions who are perishing daily and motivate them on that basis. Romans 10:14 has been used that way, but as I argued in part 4, this is a misreading of Paul's argument.
I do worry that this style of motivational talk can be unhealthy. It can come across as emotional blackmail and lead to a negative view of missionaries. It could also lead to unhelpful guilt in those who are not on the mission field but who give generously and contribute to the work of Christ in many valuable ways. It may also prevent rational and wise contemplation over what kind of work Christians take up.
I think many will agree with me that too many Christians have an unbalanced view of conversion and evangelism. In a lot of American churches, they talk a lot about 'soul-winning' (without much awareness of the diversity of the way the word 'soul' is used in Scripture), but not very much about making disciples. There is a tendency to think of salvation as simply being saved from eternal condemnation, and not entrance into a whole new sphere of life. God's purpose is not simply to save people from the Lake of Fire, but to gather together a people who will live in a way that is conformed to the pattern of divinized humanity in Christ. Salvation is not just about plucking sinners from the fire, but about shaping and transforming lives and building communities devoted to Christ. I believe God can give eternal life to the unevangelised before it's too late, but He cannot make them into faithful and devoted disciples without our getting involved.
If it is true that only those who have encountered a human missionary have any hope of eternal life, then it might be seen that making disciples is a waste. Why should a missionary spend time discipling his converts and planting churches? Would it not be more sensible to travel to the next village and save them from a lost eternity? The emphasis of missionary work on simply rescuing 'souls' might actually lead to an unbalanced approach to missiology.