What about Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I have written on this, one of the most popular questions posed to Christians, in a few different posts and in comments.  Having said that, I have never answered the question in a systematic and thorough manner.  Recently I ran across the best, the most thorough answer to this question I’ve ever seen.  The author is Glenn Miller, the creator of a website called A Christian Thinktank.

You may not agree with each and every thing Glenn says, but I found his answer to this question to take into account a wide range of biblical data and treat that data with great care.  In order to whet your appetite for his entire article, here is his conclusion (he backs all of these statements up with Scripture):

Heaven will be heavily populated, with people from all nations, tribes, and languages–with many from outside historical Israel.

God’s judgment is completely fair and His kindness is communicated (and operative) to all. God reveals Himself to humanity through several non-linguistic forms (nature, anthropology, morality, patterns, emotions), and even linguistic data (in the form of tradition) has been preserved for all the descendants of the original pair of humans.

God deals with people according to the information they have–with specific focus on how they welcome or resist that truth. God’s moral judgment is based on actual deeds and actual motives–a very fair standard for everyone.

With those that respond to God’s revelation in nature and extra-biblical tradition, seeking grace and His activity on their behalf, God initiates a relationship with them, that typically eventuates in additional disclosures of God’s special, special love–His Son.

All of God’s overtures to man, and the acceptance of imperfect people into a living relationship with the morally pure God, is based on the penalty-removing sacrifice of God the Son on the Cross–sometimes unbeknownst to the recipients of that grace (e.g. OT saints).

Throughout the stretch of history, God has given additional detail, precision, instruction in the record of His disclosures and actions in history (i.e. the Bible). This in no way compromises or diminishes the ‘power-to-save’ of the ‘least-precise’ statement of God’s gracious nature and God’s saving actions in history.

The elements of original truth are mixed with historical distortions in all world religions, but there are sects within EACH of these major religious traditions that ‘look very much like’ aspects of OT religion, and there are often adherents of those religions that misunderstand their traditions ‘in the correct direction’!

The small, selected slice of history reported in the Bible indicates considerable action on God’s part in ‘getting the message out’ to individuals–often involving providence and ‘odd chanced’ events. A sufficiently competent God (!) could obviously orchestrate events, dreams, visions, rumors, conscience, mis-understood traditions, in such a way as to reach those who seek Him earnestly.

The response to truth in natural/universal revelation always witnesses to Christ–and never against Him. That is, a person who truly rejects the Biblical Christ (not some cardboard cutout or “engineered re-construction” of Him!), does NOT have a relationship with the Eternal God of heaven. (They may LATER come to accept Him, since many of us resisted His kindness for long periods of time before ‘softening before the warmth of His Love’.)

God’s concern for humanity and His interest in our welfare transcends both our petty attempts to criticize His plan, and our well-meaning attempts to ‘justify’ His plan! A love that sent a volunteering Son to earth, to die miserably and scandalously at the hands of “reluctant wrath” and “justly outraged holiness”, is a love that invites all to “come, drink of the Fountain of life”.

His instructions to Judeo-Christians to present/offer this message to the whole world is to be obeyed on His authority only, regardless of outcomes in any given setting. But we delight in the fact that His love drives us on, and that His Word can give life and freedom to those often un-interested or even openly hostile.

God is so perfectly good and so perfectly fair in ALL His dealings with us. His patience in delaying judgment (2 Pet 3) and His provision for forgiveness through the death of His Son (2 Cor 5), although often cast in His teeth in derision, is ample witness of His heart. His dealings with us incorporate ALL of the issues of our hearts, our background, and our basic attitudes toward truth/life.

“Shall not the God of all the earth do right?!” (Gen 18.25)

  • Sounds very good to me. As you might guess, ther phrase that resonates with me most is

    with specific focus on how they welcome or resist that truth.

    I will have to mark it to read the rest when I have a bit of time.

  • Brad

    I agree. When I hear this question (the “deepest darkest Africa” question, I call it) – I say “there aren’t any”. Then, I pose it to those who say otherwise to tell me why they think there are some who don’t have an opportunity to be saved. As the author you quote basically said, we are responsible for the light revealed to us.

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Brad,
    Make sure you read his entire article when you get a chance. It’s really well done. I will be referring people to it from now on when they ask this question.

  • SoundOn

    So, is baptism not a necessary ordinance for salvation?