Q&A: What About Those Who Haven’t Heard the Gospel? Do Christians and Muslims believe the same thing?

A recent “Ask a Pastor” asked the following:

This fall I’ve been sitting in with the senior youth Sunday school class and last week I filled in as teacher. A couple of times the question has come up about people who never get a chance to hear the gospel or about people of religions similar to Christianity and their salvation. The kids don’t like the idea of anyone going to hell, especially someone who has never heard the gospel. One girl even talked about reading Muslim beliefs and thinking that, since they were similar to Christian beliefs, she had hope to see Muslims in heaven. Are there any BJS articles regarding how to approach this? I think that if we don’t give the kids an answer, they will form their own answer, probably using the world’s opinions about tolerance as a basis. I’m digging in the Book of Concord, but realized the topic could be covered anywhere or not at all.

 

Let’s take this question in two parts. When it comes to the first question – “What about those who never heard the gospel?” – there are several answers people have given.

Some have attempted to answer the question by saying that eventually all people will be saved when it comes to the final judgment, regardless of whether they had faith in Christ or not. This is different from the Scriptural teaching of universal grace and objective justification because it also ignores Scripture’s clear teaching on hell and eternal condemnation for those who reject the gospel. The Universalist has no problem answering this question. In fact this isn’t even a question for them. What happens to those who haven’t heard the gospel? According to the Universalist, they’re saved, simple as that. This is where the so-called “righteous pagan” argument often comes up. Clearly the Universalist hasn’t read Romans 1-3…no one is righteous, no not one.

Still others have swung the theological pendulum the other direction and answered the question by saying that God has predestined from all eternity those who will be saved (the elect) and those who will be condemned (the reprobate). This is known as double predestination and was taught by John Calvin and later intensified by his followers, including the infamous five points of Calvinism (TULIP). Within this theological system, there is no need to ask or answer this question either. According to strict Calvinists, it matters not if the person has heard the gospel at all, but rather, whether or not they have been predestined to heaven or hell.

Problem is, none of the aforementioned examples are revealed in, or supported by Scripture. Most of man’s attempts to answer this difficult question apart from the clear Word of God fall into some kind of system of works righteousness. This is how we operate by our default setting, run to the Law. Look to our works, ourselves and somehow God will favor that. The Universalist will argue that people get in, in part, because man is essentially good. The Calvinist will argue that the only way to know if you are one of the elect is by looking at your good works. Either way, the Christian is turned inward on the self, which is always a dangerous spiritual position. And yet people across the religious spectrum argue, “But it’s simply not fair; how could a loving God send all those people to hell just because they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time?” Our sense of fairness is quite different from God’s. We think of fairness in terms of what we deserve. You work; you get paid. Quid pro quo. Don’t work; you don’t get paid. But if we take Scripture’s teaching on sin seriously, no one deserves salvation. If God were fair according to our rules, no one would be in heaven. And yet it’s exactly the opposite. Christianity preaches outrageous forgiveness for undeserving sinners. Christ dies for the ungodly. Jesus reckons his righteousness to our account, not because we deserve it or have earned it or because it’s fair, but simply and exclusively by Christ’s death on the cross on our behalf. Thank God he isn’t fair!

Before giving people an answer to this question, perhaps you should start with the best reply possible: “Why do you ask?” I’ve been asked this question on numerous occasions. And frequently the reason people ask is that many people want to hold out some kind of hope for those who have not heard the gospel. In Romans 1-2 Scripture clearly tells us that man’s natural knowledge of God is enough to condemn. But natural law is not enough to save. The God revealed in the book of nature is powerful and omnipotent and the creator. But man knows no Savior or salvation through natural law – the Law always accuses.The Law shows us our sin. The Gospel shows us our Savior. And for divine rescue and redemption, we must flee to the Gospel, to Christ’s death on the cross in our place and to His revealed Word in the Word made flesh. For faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

Very often the question behind the question – what about those who haven’t heard the gospel? – goes something like this: “Has God provided some other way of salvation for those who have not heard the gospel…what about the righteous pagan, etc.?”  The simplest answer, according to the revealed will of God is, “No, God has provided us no other way except through Christ’s death and resurrection. His death is both inclusive – he died for all – and exclusive – he’s the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to Father except through him. This is why Jesus not only came to be born, die, rise and ascend for us but also left the Church with the authority to forgive sin and to spread the gospel to all nations, even ones in the middle of the jungle. Not to mention there is no such thing as a righteous pagan, not if we take Scripture seriously.”

Now, when it comes to the hidden will of God, we may be tempted to say, “I don’t know.”  But when it comes to the hidden will of God, the best we can hope for is wishful thinking and the worst is the Law of a wrathful God. Either way, looking into the hidden will of God for an answer to this or any other question will yield only ghosts. Or, as my youth kids like to say, “don’t go there.”  “I don’t know” breads uncertainty in the gospel and for that reason the hidden will of God is no place to look for answers here.

Instead, go to the cross. Flee to Christ. Look not into the hidden msyteries of God but into the mysteries of God revealed on the cross. Look to the glory of the Crucified one arrayed in blood for us men and our salvation. That is the only way to know whether we are saved or not. Look to your Baptism. Look to the Word. Look to the Absolution. Look to the Supper.

We can only say as much as Scripture says, no more, no less. In summary, if we’re in heaven, Christ gets the credit; if we are in hell, it’s our own fault. When it comes to answering this question, don’t run to the Law. But take refuge in the gospel. Lean on Christ’s mercy. And look to Scripture’s clear revelation.

So, what does God reveal to us in Scripture concerning sin, judgment and salvation? Here are a few verses that will help you out:

  • All people are sinners (Romans 3:23).
  • The penalty of sin is death – eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23).
  • Christ died to pay the penalty for the sin of the whole world (John 4:42; 1 John 2:2; etc.).
  • People are saved from eternal judgment when they put their trust (“believe”) in Christ’s death on the cross for their sin (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; Acts 16:30,31; Ephesians 7:8,9; etc.).
  • Not all are saved; those who reject Christ’s payment for sin will eternally endure God’s wrath on sin in hell (John 3:18,36; Revelation 20:15).
  • God has put within people a basic awareness of Himself and of the requirement to do right (Romans 1:19,32; 2:15).
  • God has revealed Himself (as eternal, as all-powerful, as good, etc.) to all by means of the created world (Romans 1:20).
  • Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).
  • “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
  • “There is salvation in no one else…no other name under heaven…by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
  • God desires that all men be saved (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
  • John 1:29 – “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
  • Thus, in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4) the Word became flesh (John 1:14) in order to suffer, die and rise again (Mark 10:32-34) undoing the sin of Adam and bringing salvation to all through his death (Romans 5:12-21).

Furthermore, Jesus has clearly told us to take the Gospel to those who have not heard, and He told us to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15).  God has revealed a great deal to us in Scripture.

In particular, he has revealed for us the command to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth (Luke 24:45-49; Matthew 28:16-20). And he has given us the clear promises of life and salvation in his name that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17), that his Word does not go out and return void but does what he accomplishes (Isaiah 55:10-11) and that he is with us always (Matthew 28:28).

Hopefully this has helped address your question. I also recommend listening to an interview on Issues Etc. by Pastor Joel Baseley on this very topic. You can follow this link here to find it in the archives or listen to the podcast below.

[podcast]http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/issuesetc.org/podcast/897120611H1S1.mp3[/podcast]

 

With regards to the second question – “Are Christian and Muslim beliefs similar and will we see Muslims in heaven? – we must begin by addressing this with a little bit of logic. In fact, the one thing that all the world’s religions actually have in common is their mutual incompatibility.

Islam and Christianity cannot both be true. They both could be false, but they cannot both be true. Here we apply the law of non-contradiction: “A” cannot equal “not-A”. Islam and Christianity both say mutually contradictory things about the nature of God, man, salvation, Jesus, etc. Let’s take just one example: Muslims believe and teach that Jesus was not God, did not die on the cross and did not rise from the dead. The Christian claim is exactly the opposite. Christ not only claimed to be God but vindicated this claim by suffering, dying on the cross and rising again three days later. Jesus is in the best possible position to save you and I from sin, death and the grave since he has alone has done something about it.

The question is, what evidence is there for any religious position to be true? And in this case, Christianity comes in clear response with overwhelming evidence that Christ lived, died and rose again in human history and he did it for you. Check out any number of the articles in the Steadfast in Defense category for some recent articles that teach the defense of the Christian faith, also known as Christian apologetics.

But does that mean that there will be no Muslims in heaven? Well, that depends on your definition of Muslim. If, by Muslim you mean, those who have followed the teachings of Muhammad and the Qur’an, the answer, according to the Bible is no. But, if we mean Muslims who have converted to Christianity, then yes. Thanks be to God for the grace and salvation already brought to countless Muslims who have been rescued from the terror of judgment and death by Christ’s death and judgment on the cross.

 

About Pastor Sam Schuldheisz

Pastor Schuldheisz serves as Pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Huntington Beach, CA. He graduated in 2004 from Concordia University Irvine. And he is a 2008 graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Pastor Schuldheisz is also blessed in marriage to his wife of 7 years, Natasha. Together they enjoy the blessings of parenthood with their daughter Zoe. And when he’s not writing sermons or changing diapers, he enjoys reading and writing about the works of the Inklings and other belletristic literature, and Christian apologetics. He’s even been known to answer to Pastor Samwise on occasion.

Comments

Q&A: What About Those Who Haven’t Heard the Gospel? Do Christians and Muslims believe the same thing? — 37 Comments

  1. A LCMS pastor once answered the question of “what of those who never heard about Jesus?” with the answer that going back to Adam and Eve, where the promise of a coming Savior was given to them, and if people passed it on through their family history line, like Scripture says to teach it to your children: the trust in the Promise, even if they didn’t know who that Savior was, they are still trusting in the Savior. So they are still saved like people in the OT were. They are still saved by Jesus death and resurrection for them.
    Of course, if they’re practicing another faith that is anti-Christ, and trusting in their own works, they are not trusting in the Promise.
    I thought that was a good way to give answer for the very difficult question. In this sin-filled world with all the other pagan religions pulling them, how many families could do that? Seems to me like not many, but God gives us our faith, and I know we’ll be surprised by some people in heaven. Only the Lord knows.
    Thank you for this article and covering both these subjects.

  2. If those who have not heard are saved, then the logical thing for the 12 Apostles to do would have been to keep it a secret. If everyone is eventually saved, then some are saved without faith in Christ, so why did Christ have to die and all Christians suffer persecution. No, In love for all people, Jesus commanded the Gospel to be preached to “all nations”. That is our task as His church, to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so that others might believe and have the salvation of their souls. Therefore, we still try to do evangelism when and where we can. Those who die in unbelief are damned. This is what God’s word says, and since His Word is Truth, this is the way it is and will be.

  3. I like your outline of what we do know from Scripture. Do you think there is room in it for the curse in Exodus 20:5, where God says he punishes children for the sin (idolatry) of their fathers to the third and fourth generation?

  4. You wrote, “God has not revealed to us what happens with those who have not heard the gospel.”

    Yet you also wrote, “The penalty of sin is death – eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23).”

    Further, you wrote, “…there will be no Muslims in heaven? Well, that depends on your definition of Muslim. If, by Muslim you mean, those who have followed the teachings of Muhammad and the Qur’an, the answer, according to the Bible is no.”

    When we wonder what happens to those who never hear the Gospel, we’re not talking about poor, innocent people, but sinners just like you and me — sinners who deserve death for what they have done. It is a shame if they do not hear the Gospel, but no one is punished for not being told; they are held accountable for the sins they committed.

    @Gary #3
    Unfortunately, Gary, parents tend to teach their children their own contempt for the Gospel and that contempt tends to persist through several generations who despise God’s Word.

  5. when a preacher comes to you and preaches repentence and the Gospel that is the arrival of your eternal election.

    The question of what happens to those who have never heard of Christ would not even come up until that point. If God spares nothing , not even his Son, how could we imagine that he does not care about everyone ever born

    So lets not change the subject. When the Gospel is preached, the one being subjected to that Word of God is you.

    You can trust Jesus. Why would you not?

  6. Muslims ignore the numerous secular, historical accounts describing Jesus’ death and resurrection. They also argue that the Temple Mount (currently the Dome of the Rock) was never a Jewish temple.

    Where in the Koran does it teach that Allah is a loving god? Merciful, yes. Loving, never. The message of Islam to all people is “convert or die.” Muslims regard Jesus as a prophet – and nothing more. If Jesus were a true muslim, he would have advocated violence (Jihad). The Jesus of the Bible gave everyone a choice, i.e. to exercise free will to follow Him.

    The “religion of peace” in action:

    http://www.jihadwatch.org

    I do believe Robert Spencer has been a guest on Issues, Etc. many times. His books are easy to read.

  7. Thank-you, thank-you, Pastor S.S. Your article and verses definitely give me a framework to go by in discussing this topic. I was surprised that Issues actually had a segment regarding ”’What about people who have never heard the gospel?” The question isn’t just a young person question; however, in today’s educational environment of tolerance, our youth need to be equipped to approach and respond to non-Christians in a Biblical manner, without compromise.

    I think that, in regarding the other religions issue, youth tend to look at a religion’s works and values. With religions that are pro-life, against gay marriage, etc., our youth judge those religions as good and similar to Christianity. They think that adherents of those religions are good people. We do need to focus on the seriousness of sin. I like, in the Issues segment, the situation of twenty people in a room and God saves one of them. What does that say about God? That He’s merciful.

  8. Whew! Thank you, Rev. Zell and Rev. Crandall! I was beginning to think that I was alone in wondering what’s wrong with this picture: “Therefore, the simplest and clearest answer to the question is: We have no idea what happens to those who haven’t heard the gospel since Scripture doesn’t reveal an answer for us.”

    As pointed out Scripture is pretty clear as to what happens. As one theologian has written:

    The biblical answer to this question is clear: All human beings are born in sin (Ps. 51:5 KJV) and are “by nature the children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3 KJV). For “… just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned [in Adam]” (Rom. 5:12). Addressing explicitly the heathen who have only general revelation, the apostle Paul declared, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse (Rom. 1:20). Likewise, he adds, “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law” (Rom. 2:12).

    Then, summing up his conclusion from the whole section, Paul pronounces, “There is no
    difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22-23). Yes, sinful
    rebels from God remain lost apart from knowing about Christ.”

    I must admit that the idea that the proclamation of Gen 3:15 was secretly passed down through the family and that, therefore, members of that family can be saved like OT folks without confessing Jesus would be quite novel if it were not so absurd. All these salvation gymnastics are based on the erroneous idea that it is somehow unfair or unjuust to damn someone who has never heard the gospel.

    So, we can take the easy way out and end up bowdlerizing the gospel, or we can simply tell it as Scripture does.

  9. Thanks, Pastor Crandall. I think the short podcast is the same pastor and same show as linked in the article, but I was happy to listen again.

  10. Thank you for posting the link. For some reason I failed to copy and paste it, although the wonderful editors and people here may have got it put in for me before it got posted.

  11. First of all, let me observe and beg any pardon for not stating the entire context for answering the question within the article. I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding about what I was trying to get at. In reading through the article again, I noticed that there were some underlying questions that I didn’t clearly state (but rather left assumed and implicit) in answering the person’s question that could help clarify why I said, “We don’t know…” Sometimes the question behind the question is just as important, namely, is there any hope of salvation for those who have not heard the gospel? I was attempting to answer the question from the salvation stand point of things. This question comes up all the time in public discourse with non-Christians. I usually try to ask the students/people: “Why do you ask?” Which is always a good question to ask.

    At any rate, when it comes to both issues, the answer clearly is addressed from Scripture, damnation = man’s fault. Salvation = Christ’s doing. However, when it comes to the issue of bringing up Romans 1-2 and natural revelation we must not end the answer to the question there. Yes, natural revelation clearly shows all men God’s power and omnipotence and they are without excuse for knowing who God is. But natural revelation gives no answer. For that they need the Gospel. My assumption is that Pastors Zell, Crandall and Kirchner would all deny that man can be saved by natural revelation. Is that a safe assumption? I’ll err on the side of the gospel and say it is. Because when it comes to the issue of salvation we also have a clear answer from Scripture: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – John 1:29. And of course the Acts passage, There is salvation found in no other name…except Christ our Lord.

    Perhaps holding those two scriptural realities in tension is the short answer to the question. We know that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. And how will they hear unless they are sent…” Romans 10:17ff. However, many times what people are really asking behind the question about what happens to those who haven’t heard the gospel is: “Is there any way that people are saved apart from hearing the Gospel?” And that is where the “I don’t know…” part of the answer comes in. We do not – and dare not – look into the hidden will of God. We must look at the revealed will to answer both parts of the question.
    Perhaps that should have been more clearly stated. Hopefully this helps address any confusion. And given some time and thought I will try and re-write accordingly.

    And secondly, I would like to know where specifically the gospel has been bowdlerized. Perhaps you missed the rather lucid examples given: God desires that all men be saved (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
    John 1:29 – “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
    Thus, in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4) the Word became flesh (John 1:14) in order to suffer, die and rise again (Mark 10:32-34) undoing the sin of Adam and bringing salvation to all through his death (Romans 5:12-21).

    Clearly, what I was saying could have been better written, but the gospel could not have been clearer.

  12. Hopefully you’ll take a look at my comments above (or below depending on how this comes up on your browser) and also the re wording I did in an attempt to clarify the misunderstandings. Thanks for your comments and for reading

  13. Pastor Sam Schuldheisz :
    My assumption is that Pastors Zell, Crandall and Kirchner would all deny that man can be saved by natural revelation. Is that a safe assumption?

    Yes, it is.

    We know that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. And how will they hear unless they are sent…” Romans 10:17ff. However, many times what people are really asking behind the question about what happens to those who haven’t heard the gospel is: “Is there any way that people are saved apart from hearing the Gospel?” And that is where the “I don’t know…” part of the answer comes in.

    But we do know. Unless Muslims come to believe in the one and only Savior, they cannot be saved. The OT people trusted in the promise, like Abraham did; the NT people trusted in the same promise, like we do today. There is no other way that people are saved apart from believing the Gospel. We do not – and dare not – deny the clear Word of God.

  14. Pastor Crandall, I believe at this point, we are talking past one another. I have no disagreement with what you have just stated in your most recent comment. And I think if you re-read the article again, you will find that there is no disparity between our words. I find none anyhow.

    Last night I re-wrote a couple paragraphs of the Q and A to better reflect what I had failed to clearly express the first go around and I think those added paragraphs (copied for you below) will more clearly reflect what I meant to say.

    If there is anything written there that does not accord with the clear Word of God, your input is valued.

    Before giving people an answer to this question, perhaps you should start with the best reply possible: “Why do you ask?” I’ve been asked this question on numerous occasions. And frequently the reason people ask is that many people want to hold out some kind of hope for those who have not heard the gospel. In Romans 1-2 Scripture clearly tells us that man’s natural knowledge of God is enough to condemn. But natural law is not enough to save. The God revealed in the book of nature is powerful and omnipotent and the creator. But man knows no Savior or salvation through natural law – the Law always accuses. The Law shows us our sin. The Gospel shows us our Savior. And for divine rescue and redemption, we must flee to the Gospel, to Christ’s death on the cross in our place and to His revealed Word in the Word made flesh. For faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

    Very often the question behind the question – what about those who haven’t heard the gospel? – goes something like this: “Has God provided some other way of salvation for those who have not heard the gospel…what about the righteous pagan, etc.?” The simplest answer, according to the revealed will of God is, “No, God has provided us no other way except through Christ’s death and resurrection. His death is both inclusive – he died for all – and exclusive – he’s the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to Father except through him. This is why Jesus not only came to be born, die, rise and ascend for us but also left the Church with the authority to forgive sin and to spread the gospel to all nations, even ones in the middle of the jungle. Not to mention there is no such thing as a righteous pagan, not if we take Scripture seriously.” Now, according to the hidden will of God, all we can say is, “I don’t know. We dare not look into the hidden will of God for an answer to this or any other question.”

  15. Thank you to all. I have learned from this discussion. We are challenged with this question. At least I have been. I know I need to learn more on how to just say “We don’t know. God does not tell us that”.

    Can I ask a question? What of the verse where Jesus tells us that there are some not from this fold? He will bring them also”. John 10:16. What does that mean? Or do we not know how to answer that?
    Thank you

  16. @Kari #17

    Some like to think this is the Bible verse that speaks of extraterrestrials, but Jesus is speaking to the Jews about Gentiles becoming part of the one flock.

    I guess the classic unanswered question is, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”

    We don’t really like the “answer”: “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”

    (Romans 9)

  17. I disagree. We can only answer the question put forth by looking to what we know. Purporting to look to what we do not know for the answer and conclude that, therefore, we don’t know, is not only circular. It minimizes the hidden, holy God by concluding that, therein, the possibility exists that one might find mercy for sinners who have not heard of God revealed in flesh- Jesus Christ.

    Lutherans understand and confess what Luther stated regarding the masks (larva) of God, which he explained in The Bondage of the Will. Those masks of the hidden God (deus absconditus) and the revealed God (deus revelatus) are a paradox, and he acknowledges the tension between them. But that is why the cross is paramount, for it is only because of the cross that we can live. To deny the hidden God (deus absconditus) of wrath is to “disfranchise God and water God down” thereby minimizing the revealed God (deus revelatus).

    Gerhard Forde states that Luther left the “specter of the absolute God alone [due to] his knowledge that we as sinners live under the wrath of God. Our efforts-even the best of them-afford no escape. Theology, no matter how cleverly devised, cannot deliver us from the wrath of God. It may twist and turn to remodel God, try every artifice to fashion less frightening masks, but in the end such masks only turn on us. We are sinners confronted by masks we cannot see through. We cannot see God.” [Theology Is for Proclamation, p. 29]

    Hence only the cross, the Gospel proclamation, saves. The revealed God, revealed in Christ, must be preached. “God preached is the only defense against God not preached.”

    A paradox? Yes. Does one attempt to solve it? Never. The tension between the hidden God and the revealed God must remain unresolved. To focus on the hidden, sovereign God leaves us in the Law. If we remain in the Law, as Forde says (a statement that simply was jaw-dropping the first time I read it), “We are delivered willy-nilly into the hands of ‘the judge’ or perhaps Satan, the accuser, the attorney for the prosecution.’ For apart from the proclamation [God preached] the masked God and Satan are virtually indistinguishable.” “‘One dare not peer’, as Luther warns, ‘into the hidden majesty of God.'” [Id., p. 20]

    I assume the author means “hearing” in the broad sense, including reading, etc. So, the question then becomes, “Is there any way that people are saved apart from the Gospel of Christ?”

    The clear answer is “No.” This waffling reminds me of the lib guy in the “Walkout” debate on another thread, which was reiterated some years ago in a “The Lutheran” column, An ‘ELCA husband-wife team was asked whether there are other ways for salvation. They responded with the popular line that they think God has not finished speaking, that he may have other ways for salvation, and that who are we to limit God.

    I showed the column to my final year confirmation class. A young catechumen’s response: “We aren’t limiting God. God has limited Himself. ‘No one comes to the Father except through Me.'” A high-five was in order!

    Now, a different question is whether God can give the Gospel revelation in other than traditional ways. Perhaps. But the clear Scriptural answer to whether those who have not heard the Gospel will be saved is “No.” There is no “On the one hand no, but on the other hand (looking to a hidden God of wrath) we don’t know.” Because in the latter answer you are looking to the law for salvation, and what we do know is clear: The law gets you dead, eternally. There is salvation in no other- Jesus only.

  18. @Ted Crandall #20

    Here’s the “other hand,” Rev. Crandall:

    “Now, according to the hidden will of God, all we can say is, ‘I don’t know. We dare not look into the hidden will of God for an answer to this or any other question.’”

    “I don’t know” is a false answer, yet some folks are now thinking that it is one answer. E.g., “I know I need to learn more on how to just say ‘We don’t know. God does not tell us that.'”

    God DOES tell us that. “We don’t know” is a false answer, and it bowdlerizes the Gospel, leaving open the possibility, however slight, that Jesus is A way, not THE way, that we don’t know. We DO know. Jesus is THE way, the ONLY way. That’s truth. There is no room in Christianity for a “We don’t know” answer to the propounded question, whether it be according to the hidden will of God or any other means.

  19. Pastors Kirchner and Crandall, et al

    I am sorry too for giving any impression that there was some other way other than Christ. That was never my intent nor is it my answer. I fear that in my haste to post a quick response I neglected to think through all of the ramifications. Looking to the hidden will of God is no better in the end. And I thank Pastor Kirchner for posting some great quotes from Luther and Forde on that regard. I’ve updated the last part of that paragraph one last time hoping I’ve got it right. Thank you for the corrections, brothers, which have helped to make this a better post in the end. Iron sharpens iron after all.

    On another note…Pastor Kirchner, sounds like you have some stellar catechumens. I’ve found the same thing when presenting articles or positions from various positions. Our youth really lead the way in showing us how to “dare to be Lutheran” and what a joy that is.

    Here’s the updated paragraph:

    Now, when it comes to the hidden will of God, we may be tempted to say, “I don’t know.” But when it comes to the hidden will of God, the best we can hope for is wishful thinking and the worst is the Law of a wrathful God. Either way, looking into the hidden will of God for an answer to this or any other question will yield only ghosts. Or, as my youth kids like to say, “don’t go there.” “I don’t know” breads uncertainty in the gospel and for that reason the hidden will of God is no place to look for answers here.

    Now, Pastor Kirchner has called this waffling. All I can say is thanks for the corrections and teaching – together we have helped others as well as ourselves in the mutual consolation of the brethren. This has yielded good discussion and in the end a proper answer. Thanks.

  20. Let me just highlight a few of my favorite parts of this response.

    1) A paradox? Yes. Does one attempt to solve it? Never. The tension between the hidden God and the revealed God must remain unresolved. To focus on the hidden, sovereign God leaves us in the Law. If we remain in the Law, as Forde says (a statement that simply was jaw-dropping the first time I read it), “We are delivered willy-nilly into the hands of ‘the judge’ or perhaps Satan, the accuser, the attorney for the prosecution.’ For apart from the proclamation [God preached] the masked God and Satan are virtually indistinguishable.” “‘One dare not peer’, as Luther warns, ‘into the hidden majesty of God.’” [Id., p. 20]

    Quite right. Just because we don’t like the answer Scripture reveals doesn’t mean its not true. In that case, people who want to search for an end run around the cross really have a problem with Jesus and his word.

    Paradox is – in many ways – one of the hallmarks of Lutheranism and I’m glad you pointed this out. We can’t attempt to resolve the paradox, even if it appears emotionally satisfying (for a short time) to do so. Let the paradox stand. Saint and sinner. Church under the cross and the Church glorified in heaven. Revealed will and hidden will.

    Also, 2) Now, a different question is whether God can give the Gospel revelation in other than traditional ways. Perhaps. But the clear Scriptural answer to whether those who have not heard the Gospel will be saved is “No.” There is no “On the one hand no, but on the other hand (looking to a hidden God of wrath) we don’t know.” Because in the latter answer you are looking to the law for salvation, and what we do know is clear: The law gets you dead, eternally. There is salvation in no other- Jesus only.

    It is an interesting question to ponder. But perhaps that’s all we can do is ponder it – and ponder if even without a clear answer from Scripture. The best case is to not speculate about it. Many have tried. One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, does provide an answer, problem is that’s not a Biblical one either.

    In any case, thanks for the comments.

  21. Thank you. I never ever wanted to say that there is any other way than Jesus either. There absolutely is not. I guess the issue for me is “can it be revealed to others in another way?” I guess best left unanswered, yet with God all things are possible! But I’m not wanting to use that to say the cross is not necessary. It most certainly is.

  22. It bothers me when I see the “funeral” service called a “Celebration of Life”. I’m glad that at most Lutheran churches it is still called a funeral. And it points to Christ and what He did and not the person and what she/he did.

  23. @Lumpenkönig #30

    “In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults,”

    While that is a disturbing statistic, let’s not overlook the view from the other side:

    More than 4 out of 5 Americans do have a religious affiliatiation.

    [signed]
    The Eternal Optimist

  24. IMHO, I think that the proper response to the question about those who have never had the chance to hear is to follow the lead of C.S. Lewis. We pray that God has somehow made it possible for them to hear of and accept Jesus sometime between their death and Judgement Day (remembering that God is outside of time). Jesus “Descended into hell” and did “preach to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19) However it is not given for us to know with any certainty.

  25. What of this passage? Seems that not addressing this leaves the initial topic incomplete.
    14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

  26. @Paul of Alexandria #32
    [Like CSLewis:] We pray that God has somehow made it possible for them to hear of and accept Jesus sometime between their death and Judgement Day (remembering that God is outside of time).

    Remembering also that C S Lewis believed in Purgatory, which is not, I think, a Lutheran conception of the life hereafter.

    “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that, the Judgment.”

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