I previously introduced this new book (IVP Academic) edited by my colleague at California Baptist University, Dr. Christopher Morgan, and Robert Peterson (Professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary and a teaching elder in the PCA). Dr. Morgan was kind enough to allow an interview about the book:
1. When did you first become interested in the topic of the fate of the unevangelized?
It is the outgrowth of my previous studies on hell. When I was working on my Ph.D., I noticed that a good portion of the rationale for evangelicals to minimize hell was linked to their understandings of God and sin. God was being defined primarily in terms of love, without a serious relationship to His holiness, justice, etc. This approach to God leads to a softening of a view of sin, which leads to a lighter view of hell. This same approach to God and sin also leads to many other errors in contemporary evangelical thought. One of those is inclusivism. When Robert Peterson and I completed Hell Under Fire (Zondervan, 2004), we longed to see something careful and substantial that critiqued inclusivism. We could not find it, so we decided to publish one.
2. Is there anything wrong with the stereotype of an “innocent native” who has never heard of Jesus?
Everything is wrong with the stereotype. Scripture paints a different portrait. The mistaken assumption is that such folks are innocent. This would assume that our condemnation is based on a rejection of the gospel. Scripture teaches that our condemnation is based on the fact that we are sinners, not because at some point in time we rejected the gospel. We are condemned in Adam’s sin. Paul asserts in Romans 5:18: “the result of one man’s trespass was condemnation for all men.” Other Scriptures do the same. Furthermore, God’s wrath is revealed against everyone who suppresses his truth revealed through creation, as Paul declares in Romans 1:18-25. God communicates clearly who he is in and through creation, but all—Jews and Gentiles alike—refuse him, are under sin, and therefore justly deserve his divine displeasure (Rom 3:9-23). Strictly speaking, the Bible denies that there are persons who have never heard of God. As Romans argues, and as the sermons in the book of Acts confirm, everyone knows of God’s existence, power, goodness, and patience (Rom 2:4; Acts 14:15-17; 17:30). In that sense, all know God. But they rebel against him; they refuse him and his claims on their lives. This rebellion is universal and is the basis of our guilt. Our condemnation is not based on hearing the gospel and refusing it, but on knowing God and refusing him. So, biblically speaking, when we ask, “What about people who have never heard of God, especially the Christian God?,” we are framing a faulty question.
3. Are there different levels of judgment for those that have different levels of exposure (or opportunity for exposure) to the truth of Christ?
In his chapter “Exclusivism: Unjust or Just?”, William Edgar helpfully concludes:
“All of us, then, are lost before a righteous God, stand guilty before him, and deserve his anger. It is fair for God to be angry with the world because we have transgressed his covenant and committed cosmic treason. Certainly we should not be judged based on something we never knew. But we do know, and according to Romans, we know a great deal. Now, it may be that some hear the gospel itself and refuse it. It seems their condemnation is greater. Perhaps also there is greater condemnation for those who live in countries with a long Christian history, and with access to the Bible, than for those in relatively unevangelized places.…But it is clear that to whom much has been given, much will be required (Lk 12:47-48). Human beings are judged in God’s sight for the response they make to whatever light they have—and no human being is without light.”
4. In short, what do exclusivism and inclusivism agree upon?
Inclusivists and exclusivists agree on many things. For example, we both oppose pluralism, the idea that there are many paths of salvation. Though they deny that faith must be explicitly in Jesus and they deny that the gospel must be communicated, they do affirm that Jesus alone is the Savior.
5. What is the heart of their disagreement?
The disagreement lies in many areas: the justice and love of God, the nature of saving faith (what is its content?), the role of general revelation, the value of world religions, the purpose of missions, etc. Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism introduces the issues, sets forth the major positions, evaluates the major arguments, and presents a positive case for the historic position.