But this Vox's question is a good one: What happens to those who have never heard the Gospel? It's a question I hear many times, and have seen answered many times, yet no ultimate resolution seems possible until, well, we die and find out. That's a somewhat unsatisfactory answer for many, so I'll outline my thoughts on the matter, recognizing that until I meet Him face to face my beliefs in this area may be in error (I Cor. 13:11-12).
First, it is obvious that many people over the course of history have never heard the Gospel, heard of the Bible, or heard the name Jesus Christ. The reasons for this are legion, and really, quite irrelevant. In God's sovereign plan, some people just do not hear about the NT Gospel that we evangelicals revere as God's word (though do not worship in place of God.)
Second, salvation for those who have heard is through accepting God's grace through faith in His promise of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus (John 8:21-24 & II Thess.1:3-10 - in context, this passage talks about those who've heard the testimony of Paul et al, a.k.a. the Gospel).
So this leaves those who haven't heard. (Only took me, what, four paragraphs of hedging to getting around to answering the question, eh? I may have a future in politics.) Truthfully, I don't know how, or even if, the "unevangelised" are saved by God. But I do know this:
- God is perfectly just, and will judge perfectly (Gen. 18:25)
- God is merciful, and has provided evidence of Himself beyond the Bible (Rom. 1:20)
- Many OT saints were saved before Jesus' death even occurred, ergo it must be possible that through some means God can save those who died before hearing the Gospel message (Matt. 8:11, Heb. 9:15)
- We also know that those who came before the incarnation were able to have faith sufficient for obedience and "a better resurrection" (Heb. 11, especially verse 35)
- So, those who haven't heard have enough evidence on which to form their worldview according to God's desire, and those who haven't heard have the opportunity for grasping salvation despite not having heard of Christ, ala the OT faithful.
So what do I take away from this? I take some large amount of comfort that God has a way to deal with those who haven't heard of Him in a fair and just way. I do not have to worry that God cannot save those who I've failed to reach, nor do I have to worry that God is planning to condemn them capriciously because circumstance has left them without a copy of the NIV. My only concern is to do my best to ensure the number of those who haven't heard the Gospel is as low as possible, and then let our perfect, just and merciful God take care of the rest.
There are numerous other views, of course, and I expect many disagreements. Email me with questions or comments. I'll use any feedback I receive in a follow-up post in the near future.
Have a good weekend, and God bless!