The Catch-22 of Reaching Unreached Peoples

Our Sunday School curriculum led us into a discussion about hell last weekend. Never before have I seen this group of students so filled with questions.

Heaven was discussed the weekend before, but that came across as fairly ho-hum. That might be the same reason why Dante's Inferno struck such a chord in the Middle Ages. People felt like they had a good grasp on heaven: worship God...forever. I can hear someone saying, "Okay, well that isn't the excitement I was hoping for, but it's better than the alternative." But hell, the alternative, was the place of fiery darkness that was shrouded in mystery.

Imaginations were filled with ghastly details that have carried over to the present day. I think a case could actually be made that the descriptions of hell that were included in Dante's work has shaped people's views on the subject more than the Bible has.

One question that came up was the age-old brain-twister about the eternal destiny of people who have never heard of Jesus. As could be expected, there were two groups.

Some said that people who have never heard of Jesus will only be held accountable for what they actually knew of God: the general revelation available to all people apart from the special revelation given in Jesus and the Bible (of course they didn't say it just like that, but that's what they meant).

Others insisted that the Bible says that Jesus is the only way to God and there is no other name by which people can be saved. People must know about Jesus and confess him as Lord.

Sorry to disappoint some of you, but I don't wish to settle this debate in this post. For that I recommend five books that I have found helpful for stimulating some thoughts about the matter:
1) No Other Name, edited by John Sanders
2) Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, edited by Stanley Gundry
3) A Wideness in God's Mercy, written by Clark Pinnock
4) Who Will Be Saved?, written by William Willimon
5) Let the Nations Be Glad!, written by John Piper

In this post I just want to point out the catch-22 of the situation, as it relates to our own lives.

If we say that people can be saved apart from naming the name of Jesus, then I would do the unreached peoples a disservice by showing up, presenting the gospel, and forcing them to either receive or reject Jesus. They were being faithful to what they knew of God, which, according to this perspective, was enough to secure everlasting life with God. But now, after encountering me (a stranger from a strange land talking about a God they've never heard of) that's not enough anymore. If they receive Jesus then their eternal destiny is the same as it already was. If they reject Jesus, however, then I've became the indirect cause of their damnation. (I say "indirect cause" because the direct cause would be their own rejection of Jesus. But they would not have had the opportunity to reject him if I hadn't presented them with the option in the first place.)

On the other hand, if I say that people cannot be saved apart from naming the name of Jesus, then I am a heartless person because of how I live my own life. I am content to sit on my couch and piddle around on the internet while millions of people throughout the world die with no chance of entering God's presence because I am too lazy and selfish and comfortable to get to them. If someone really does believe this to be the case, they should at least be consistent enough with this belief to leave everything behind and trek to every village of unreached people they can find to spread the good news of Jesus. There are people who really do that.

That's the catch-22. If people can be saved apart from naming and knowing Jesus as Lord, then why go? If they can't, then why aren't we all going out to the remotest parts of the world telling all people everywhere about Jesus?

Regardless what we say, our lives show what we truly believe about the matter.

What do you think? Am I wrong?

Related Posts:
Fired Up About Hell
What Would You Do?

1 comment:

  1. If knowledge (and subsequent faith) is necessary for salvation, then how much is necessary? Simply the name of Jesus the Christ? Or do we need to believe basic doctrines? Do we need to confess a fully developed Christology? Do we need to believe in the Virgin birth? Bodily resurrection? The Ascension? Substitutionary Atonement? A literalistic understanding of the book of Revelation? How much is necessary?

    If we accept Sola Fide, then I don't see how we can accept the salvation of the unreached. Of course, if we accept Sola Fide, we have to follow with, "Faith in what?" and "How much?"

    If some westerner walks into a village in the Kalahari Desert and yells (in English), "Jesus is Lord," does that mean every hearer who doesn't convert has rejected salvation?

    And what about heresy? If heresy equals damnation, it would seem like I would want to know and consider as little as possible about my own faith so that I have a solid faith in a few simple truths. I wouldn't want to open a Bible or hear a sermon because that might lead me, unknowingly, to a heretical understanding.


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