What about those who haven’t heard? (Part 3)

This is part of a blog series concerning the question of the eternal fate of those who have not heard the gospel by the time of their death.

So far, 77 people have participated in the first survey and 41 in the second, follow-up survey (which are part of this blog series).

The tabulated results can be seen in the graphs below. Even though these results are not statistically significant due to the low number of respondents, they do seem to show that there is a fairly significant divergence of opinion regarding this issue.

And although the results are not correlated to any particular religious profile or general beliefs, it is probable that the respondents are largely made up of regular visitors to the ABI website – and therefore most would probably self-identify as conservative evangelicals.

Click here to take the first survey…

First Survey

First Survey - 77 responses

Question: What do you believe concerning the eternal destiny of those who have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

(Note: answers that no one chose are not included)

76% (57 responses) I believe the Bible teaches that all who have never explicitly trusted in Christ for their salvation are eternally lost.

14% (10 responses) I believe that God may save those who have not heard the gospel based upon their belief in God and faithfulness to whatever light they have received.

2% (1 response) I believe that God will save the elect apart from their knowledge of the gospel.

5% (4 responses) I believe that this is not for us to judge, that this is a matter for God alone and we cannot know what he will do.

5% (4 responses) Other

Click here to take the second survey…

Second Survey

Second Survey (1) - 32 responses

Second Survey (2)

Second Survey (2) - 41 responses

Question: What do you believe concerning the eternal destiny of Ayanna? (this question is explained in the survey)

16% (5 responses) I believe Ayanna might be saved and spend eternity in the presence of the Lord because she believed in God and was sincere and faithful to what she knew about him.

3% (1 response) I believe Ayanna may have an opportunity to hear the gospel and receive Christ after she dies.

3% (1 response) I am confident that Ayanna will be saved and spend eternity in the presence of the Lord because of her faith in God and her faithfulness to the light she received.

3% (1 response) I believe that God is the judge and we should not presume to speculate about someone like Ayanna.

78% (24 responses) I believe the Bible teaches that if she never heard about Christ and so never personally trusted him for salvation, Ayanna is lost and will spend eternity suffering in the Lake of Fire.

The graph on the right is also based on the second survey results, but includes those submissions for which no answer was given for this question. I think this may be significant, because all but two of the respondents indicated that they had participated in the first survey. (Although, admittedly, this might not be a correct assumption.)

If the 40% did not answer the question because they weren’t prepared to affirm the belief that those who haven’t heard are lost, then this is consistent with a 2008 Pew Study that asked about the possibility of salvation in other religions besides Christianity.

2008 Pew Forum Study

The full report in PDF format (1.4Mb) can be downloaded <here>

In addition to answering the multiple choice questions, a number of respondents left comments, some of which I have quoted below. I have followed each section of comments with some of my own. I will be addressing these issues further in future articles in this series.

Quotes and Comments

David said of his baby that died that he (David) would go to be with him. 2. Every name is recorded in the book of life so its up to our Blessed Lord whose name is taken out. That being so puts us in good Hands.

There are at least a couple of issues here. One involves the question of what happens to babies when they die. My observation is that many who wrestle with the question of the eternal destiny of those who haven’t heard the gospel tend to think the answer to both questions is necessarily the same. However, theologically, this isn’t the case. In the case of babies and small children, they lack the capacity to exercise faith in Christ for salvation. This would seem to suggest that they also lack the capacity to consciously reject God. However, this is not the same situation as with those who haven’t heard, but do possess the ability to reject God.

The second issue concerns the names which are recorded in the Book of Life. The most common view is that one’s name is written into the Book of Life when they become believers. A somewhat less common view, and the one expressed here, is that everyone’s name is initially recorded in the Book of Life, but at some point it may be blotted out if someone does not “overcome” – presumably, if someone falls into particular sins or if they die without ever having become a true believer. This is based on a particular interpretation of Revelation 3:5.

I do believe that Scripture clearly teaches that all infants, and those not having the ability to “trust” (mentally dificient [sic]) here on earth, will be saved and are only saved as all are, through the shed blood of Christ. No unbelievers in heaven.

I would question whether the matter is clearly settled in Scripture, although I do think there are solid biblical reasons to hold this position in general.

Beyond this, another group is mentioned, apart from infants, who “will be saved” – those who lack the mental capacity to exercise faith. Again, although often combined with those who haven’t heard, they are arguably in a different category (as will be discussed).

This quote also introduces another concept that needs to be evaluated. The respondent seems to be suggesting that although someone may lack the capacity to believe in this life, they will no longer have this deficiency after they die. Of course, virtually everyone would agree with this, but there are two additional issues raised by the comment.

The first is the question of what is sometimes referred to as “post-mortem evangelism” – that the gospel will be presented to someone after death. But included in this is the second question of whether or not anyone will actually have the opportunity to respond to the gospel in faith after they die such that they can be saved.

If so, then yet a third question arises: Will this post-mortem opportunity be extended only to those who lacked the capacity to believe in this life? Or will this opportunity to be saved also be presented to those who had never heard the gospel in this life? And if this is true, would it also possibly include those who had heard the gospel in this life, but consciously rejected it – or at least chose to “put it off” to another time when they would “be ready.” In other words, is there a “second chance?”

I will be dealing with these issues as part of this series.

My answer only applies to this and future dispensations though. In past dispensations the required content of man’s trust in God was different from dispensation to dispensation, but the basis has always been Christ´s effective crosswork [sic], the means has always been faith, the object of such faith has always been God. Merely the content of the required faith has changed over the dispensations in light of progressive revelation. I.e. although David, for instance, has never explicitly trusted in Christ — the way he has been revealed to us in light of progressive revelation — he, nevertheless, is eternally saved. The same goes for Abraham etc. Otherwise the biblical principle for today and all dispensations is: the light received on account of general revelation by an individual will favor the giving of more light in terms of special revelation, but mere assent to general revelation does not suffice to save. Only the thus far revealed content of required faith and that very faith exercised is saving faith according to Scripture.

Along the same line, another respondent wrote:

Almost went for number 2. But if they have responded to what little light they may have, God requires himself to “send more light”. We have numerous and ample examples of this through Wycliffe, New Tribes, etc.

Again, there are two primary issues raised in the first comment, one of which is echoed in the second. Another respondent put it this way:

Theoretically, if she had not suppressed the truth of the one true God and not clung to idolatry but if she had rejected it and consistently [sic] longed and prayed to meet the on true God, she — according to my understanding of the Word of God — would have received the opportunity to hear the gospel and trust Christ. The person who receives the light of natural revelation, will receive more light. If that is received in turn, they will receive even more light, i.e., eventually the Gospel of the substitutionary death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

The first issue relates to the salvation of those who lived prior to the incarnation and the cross. As with the question of small children, the situation with them is often seen as equivalent to that of those who haven’t heard. But is this true from a biblical perspective?

On the other hand, the second respondent above isn’t exactly equating the two, but rather, in providing an explanation, he (or she) actually introduces another view that is also fairly commonly held among conservatives. In this view, which is also expressed in the third comment, the information necessary for salvation cannot be known from simply observing the creation (which I would suggest is the biblical view). However, if someone does respond positively to whatever “light” they have received, again for example, the witness to God in the creation, then through some means (perhaps through receiving a Bible or through a missionary, a radio program, a book, etc.) God will send additional “light” (information) that is sufficient to form a basis for saving faith (of which the object is Christ in this dispensation). In fact, it is suggested that God is obligated (apparently by his nature or what he has promised – which isn’t stated) to “send more light.”

Also, implicit in this view, is the assumption or conclusion that someone who has not heard the gospel might or can actually respond positively to the truth about God that can be known from the creation. This ability to respond positively to general revelation apart from special revelation needs to be considered in light of Scripture.

The problem is your question stated wrong, “never heard the Gospel”, it should read “never except [sic] the Gospel.” Everyone “WILL” hear the gospel, either from those that preach, angels, or Jesus Himself, everyone living or dead will hear the Gospel. The question then becomes what happens when you reject it, and the answer is that you will be eternally separated from God. Hell (Gahenna) [sic] is forever.

Rev 14:6-7  – “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim…”

I Peter 3:18-22 – “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago…”

As with the two previous comments, this one is representative of yet another view concerning the solution to the issue in question. This probably isn’t the majority view, but neither is it uncommon. In this view, whether in this life or after death, everyone, without exception, will be presented with the gospel and therefore have an opportunity to consciously accept or reject Christ. As with some other views, one of the bases for this view is the argument that it wouldn’t be fair if someone were eternally lost if they have never had an opportunity to hear the gospel. And since we know that not everyone hears the gospel before they die, then it follows that there must be such an opportunity after they die and before they are judged. Among the passages used to support this view (again, “post-mortem evangelism”) are those noted by this respondent.

Given that this is a genuine attempt to deal with this question in a biblical way it at least needs to be considered as a potentially plausible solution and evaluated in light of the context of these and other relevant biblical passages.

There is a very fine line between the first and the second option there. However, if you seek Him with all your heart, you WILL find Him. The promise is not that if you seek Him with all your heart, you will be able to believe whatever light you have received. God is powerful enough to bring the gospel of “faith in His Name” to any soul of man who genuinely seeks Him.

Most would probably not agree that there is only a fine line between the first and second answer in the first survey. However, the important distinction between the two answers does tend to blur in the view reflected in this comment. This view is similar to the previous one, except that those who hold this view would tend to go one step further by proposing that God will get the truth of the gospel to anyone who seeks him, even if in some supernatural, revelatory way – which would include dreams, visions and even visitations by angels or the Lord himself. For example, for many years now, there have been an increasing number of people who have been promoting as true the reports that Jesus is actually personally appearing to Muslims in closed and limited-access countries for the purpose of giving them the gospel.

If Jesus appears to Ayanna in her final moments to give her the message and she accepts then she will either return to Earth to share with others or go on to Heaven. I believe there is a point of passing between Earth and Heaven or Hell.

This represents yet a further concept that stops short of “post-mortem evangelism” – but rather postulates that there is some sort of intermediate or transitory state between life and death, during which time someone can hear the gospel. Although it might initially seem that this would be a very narrowly-held view, this is may not actually be the case, given the wide-spread reports of and fairly firm belief in near-death experiences. There are even books which describe in detail what are claimed to be such experiences.

Many of us are very tempted to at least tentatively accept that this anecdotal evidence may be credible. Therefore, it is important to examine these reports in light of the Word of God to see if they might actually be true.

In the next article, we will be looking specifically at Romans 10 to begin to lay a foundation for the answer to the main question. Then we will look at other relevant passages as they relate to this and the other issues mentioned in the comments – because overall, they tend to represent the broad spectrum of views (except for the full universalism view that simply states that all will be saved without exception).

  1. Really good stuff, David.
    It is alarming in our Baptists churches that the gospel has been so deluded and weakened, and preachers and teachers share much of the blame. (Modern humanistic media shares in it, as well.)
    I firmly believe if our people could be reguarly taught the doctrines of redemption we would see a renewal of gospel work and witnessing, and stronger saints.
    I’m happy you’re addressing this vital matter and I trust it will have a wide audience.
    Let’s get back to the basics!!

  2. Although I would love to see Ayanna saved, if salvation is not decided in this life, then we could live our own life today, for ourselves, and take our second chance after death when we meet the Lord. Who would perish? There is an age of accountability for everyone, when you area old and informed enough to know the right way. Obviously babies connot be held accountable. The same is likely true for people who are mentally incapacitated. My mind is nothing compared to The Almighty God’s mind. I know He is just in all His ways.

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