The Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) met for its annual meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on November 14-16, 2012. ETS bills itself as “a professional, academic society of Biblical scholars, teachers, pastors, students, and others involved in evangelical scholarship” (www.etsjets.org). Its membership is currently 4,000 people worldwide. I do not know the breakdown of denominations but it includes a variety of evangelicals, from Lutherans to Presbyterians to Wesleyans to Bible church to interdenominational colleges and seminaries. Their peer-reviewed journal, JETS, is one of the premier conservative, biblical-theological journals in the world.
I have been a member of ETS since 2003, attended some of the meetings, and presented papers at five regional or annual meetings. The annual ETS meeting is a three-day marathon of paper presentations in the areas of biblical studies, biblical archaeology, systematic theology, ethics, and philosophy. In addition to the academic stimulation, it was refreshing to meet some of the people whose writings sit on my shelf in the form of commentaries, biblical studies, and systematic theologies. Like the annual meeting of the SBC, the annual meeting of the ETS is a chance to see old friends, make new friends, and overspend my book budget.
The previous article asks: “How does God deal with people who die without hearing the gospel?” They can be placed into two groups, the uncondemned and the unreached. The uncondemned are comprised of infants, young children, and the mentally incompetent. Appealing to 10 biblical texts and the Baptist Faith and Message, the article explains that they inherit a sinful nature but are not condemned by God. Instead, God welcomes them into His arms.
This article considers the eternal destiny of the other group, the unreached. This group is comprised of people who reach an age or stage of moral accountability but die without hearing the message of the gospel.
This is the first article in a two-part series. Part one considers the eternal destiny of the uncondemned, comprised of infants, young children, and the mentally incompetent. Part two will consider the unreached, people who are morally accountable to God but die without hearing the message of the Gospel. These were published in the Oct. 18 and Nov. 1, 2012 issues of The Christian Index.
Southern Baptists differ on many political, social, and theological issues. But we’re united in affirming that faith in the Risen Christ is the only way to be forgiven of sin and reconciled to God. Thankfully, we are united on the Gospel. But this question is sometimes raised: “How does God deal with people who die without hearing the Gospel?” This question is not referring to people who hear and understand the Gospel but refuse to repent of their sin and place their faith in Christ. Rather, this concerns people who die without ever hearing the message of the Gospel. What is their eternal destiny? Those people can be placed into one of two groups, the uncondemned and the unreached.
Adam Harwood, PhD
Assistant Professor of Christian Studies
I am thankful for you and find myself in agreement with most of your comments in your June 6 article entitled, “Southern Baptists and Salvation: It’s Time to Talk.” The impact of your service to the Lord and leadership in theological and cultural conversations is immeasurable. Your words carry significant weight both inside and outside of our convention. It is precisely because of the influence which God has granted you that I offer a preliminary reply to your comments regarding the newly-released document, “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” Although I am grateful that you chose to engage in the public discussion of this important issue, I offer for your consideration my observation that certain comments in your post prompt a variety of concerns among fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who have signed, or might sign, the statement in question. May I share with you three specific concerns? Full disclosure: I signed the statement.
The first area of concern regards your comment that some statements appear to affirm semi-Pelagianism. You write,
“Some portions of the statement actually go beyond Arminianism and appear to affirm semi-Pelagian understandings of sin, human nature, and the human will — understandings that virtually all Southern Baptists have denied.”
The charge of semi-Pelagian is a serious indictment. In fairness to you, your statement falls short of a charge. Your position seems to be that some portions “appear” to affirm the view. Even so, words fail me in describing the far-reaching implications if such a charge were actually sustained. If this charge were true, then the implications would be as follows: A heterodox doctrinal statement has been affirmed by sitting seminary presidents, former SBC presidents, and hundreds of other Southern Baptist pastors, professors, and denominational leaders. I don’t mean to claim that churches in our convention should learn to simply count votes to settle doctrinal differences. But surely those votes should be weighed.
Thank you for considering “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” Your comments in your June 4 post  have alerted Christians outside of the Southern Baptist Convention to this important discussion on soteriology that is emerging within the SBC.
I have read, and hold a deep appreciation for, two of your books surrounding this topic, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and Against Calvinism. They are careful, thorough works. Thank you for your contribution to this field of study.
Your post attempts to link the Statement in question with both Arminianism and Semi-Pelagianism. In this reply, I will address the significant challenge facing your post, which is your faulty assumption concerning the group of Baptist signatories.
Before proceeding, I request a clarification. If you are linking this Statement with Semi-Pelagianism (a heterodox view) and if the Statement reflects the views of the majority of Southern Baptists (which is the claim of the signers), then several questions emerge: Are you claiming that the document does not reflect the majority of Southern Baptists? If so, what is your evidence for such a claim? Are you claiming that the signers of this Statement (hundreds of Baptist pastors, professors, and denominational leaders) have attached their names to a heretical document? If so, then please be clear in your remarks because that would be an astounding claim. Perhaps you have in mind another possibility. Please clarify.