What About Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?

March 27, 2015

Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
Dallas Baptist University

**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission.
Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology at Dallas Baptist University, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.

Learn more about Leighton, HERE.
Follow @soteriology101 on Twitter HERE.
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Along with the concern of one losing their salvation, this has to be the most asked question I receive from students of the Bible. If Jesus is the only way for salvation, then what does that mean for those who have never heard about Him? It is one thing to hear and reject the gospel truth, but to be condemned for rejecting a message you never heard just does not seem fair.

There is just one problem with that reasoning. Mankind is not condemned for rejecting the gospel message. They are condemned for sin. Our sin is an offense against an eternally holy God, thus the only just punishment must likewise be eternal, which the scripture describes in horrific terms as a place called hell (Mt. 25:31-46). Justice demands hell for all who sin against God.

The gospel is an appeal to repent and believe in Christ, so as to be rescued from this much-deserved just punishment. God does not owe salvation, or even the means to be saved to anyone. It is wrong minded to approach this question as if any sinner deserves more than divine justice.

Our heavenly Father desires mercy over justice (Mt. 5:38-48, Mt. 12:7). He is a loving and gracious God who does not want any to perish but all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9, Ezk. 18:30-32). God is all-loving and perfect in every way so we can trust that He will always do what is right, even when we do not understand.

While scripture may not give us perfect clarity on this topic, we do have some strong biblical insight that helps guide our thinking:

God’s eternal power, divine nature, and all that may be known about God’s invisible qualities, is plain for everyone to see and understand. This is referred to as God’s “general revelation,” which renders all people “without excuse” for their unbelief (Rom. 1:19-20, Acts 14:17, Heb. 3:4, Ps. 19:1). While this revelation is not sufficient to lead someone to faith in Christ, there is strong biblical evidence to support that it is sufficient to lead to the acknowledgement of God and the potential of further revelation (Lk. 16:10-12).

J.I. Packer taught “that God’s general revelation, even when correctly grasped, yields knowledge of creation, providence, and judgment only, not of grace that restores sinners to fellowship with God” (1973, p. 115). While this is certainly true, nothing in the text suggests that mankind is unable to respond to such revelation by either “exchanging the truth for lies” (Rm. 1:25) or “retaining the knowledge of God” (Rm. 1:28). Such inability to respond to this revelation would nullify the point of the apostle in verse 20 in declaring that all are “without excuse.” (i.e. “I was born unable to respond to God’s revelation.”)

This ability to respond (responsibility) in light of God’s clear revelation does not solve the problem of sin and the need for redemption, however. Even those who acknowledge what they know of God to be true still deserve condemnation for their sin. Sinners who respond in reverent fear and attempt to be faithful to His laws (or their conscience) are still sinners. They still deserve hell and condemnation (Rom. 3:10-11, 23). Even their good deeds would be as worthless as filthy rags given the penalty due for their sin (Is. 64:6).

Throughout the scriptures we see examples of God “finding favor” in believing individuals (Job, Enoch, Noah, Abram, etc), but these men, like all of humanity, still fell short of God’s glory and were unrighteous according to the demands of God’s law. They needed a savior. They needed redemption and reconciliation. Even those who believe the truth of God’s revelation deserve eternal punishment for their sin.

What must be understood is that no one was righteous according to the demands of the law. However, that does NOT mean that all people are unable to believe God’s revealed truth so as to be credited as righteous by God’s grace. Paul taught that no one was righteous in Romans 3, yet he turns around and declares in the very next chapter that, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (4:3).

How can that be? Has Paul contradicted himself? First he declares that no one is righteous and then he tells us that Abraham was righteous? Which is it?

Paul is drawing the distinction between righteousness by works (Rm. 3:10-11) and righteousness by grace through faith (Rm. 3:21-24). The former is unattainable but the latter has always been very much attainable by anyone, which again, is why ALL ARE “WITHOUT EXCUSE” (Rm. 1:20)

Without excuse for what? For their unbelief in God’s revelation.

When it comes to revelation, scholars speak in terms of two distinct kinds: God’s general and special revelation. General revelation is just that, God making Himself known generally through the natural world and moral conscience. Special revelation consists of His Word, the Messiah and His inspired message.

God certainly holds man responsible to all His revelation, yet there are some biblical scholars who teach that mankind is born unable to respond to any revelation of God without first being born again. (see pre-faith regeneration of Calvinism)

Is it right to hold someone responsible to something for which they are unable to respond? If a man had a dog that was born deaf and he punished it harshly for her lack of response to his verbal commands, would anyone consider such actions good or just? Not even for a dog, is this kind of treatment deemed acceptable. Should we conclude that God would act in this manner toward his own image bearers, those He loves? I cannot fathom that our perfect Father would treat people in this manner. And I have yet found anyone who can show me an example from scripture of God holding men responsible for that which they were never are given the ability to respond.*

But, one may object at this point and remind me of my earlier statements regarding man’s sinful condition and the fact that fallen humanity deserves nothing more that what is just, the punishment of hell. However, I am not talking about man being held accountable for his sin. I am specifically addressing sinful man’s response-ability to God’s revelation. Some scholars confound this issue by speaking of man’s responsibility to God’s revelation when really they are referencing man’s culpability for their sin. Let’s unpack this point:

-All humanity is guilty for sin and deserves hell. (We can agree on this point.)
-Sinners are held responsible to God’s revelation. (Here is where some disagree.)

When some scholars speak of man being “responsible to God’s revelation” they really mean that man is “justly punished due to their sinfulness even though they cannot respond to God’s revelation.” This is confounding two separate issues causing much confusion over this topic. We must separate each point in order to understand the truth as revealed in scripture.

While it is certainly true that all fallen man is deserving of hell, it is certainly untrue that fallen man is born unable to respond to God because of that fall. Let’s look in Genesis 3 and see if the first man is able to respond to God after he sinned:

 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

Adam answered God even after he had fallen, thus he must have been able to do so. Let us look at another example:

They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. 24 Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 25 They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:

 26“‘Go to this people and say, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” 27 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ 28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (Acts 28:27-28; emphasis added)

Some people ridicule pastors who allow their invitations to go on too long, yet in this passage we witness Paul earnestly attempting to persuade his fellow countryman for the entire day. Some were persuaded while others refused to believe. What does Paul conclude about the condition of these people?

1.  They had become calloused. The problem is not a lack of revelation. They have one of the greatest biblical teachers in the world pouring out SPECIAL revelation all day long.   So, what is the problem according to Paul? Maybe the Calvinists are right and all men are born total unable to see, hear, understand and turn in light of the revelation?

That is not what Paul concluded. Paul does not teach that these men were born calloused, but they had become such by ignoring God’s truth and replacing it with their man-made self-righteous dogma. Babies are not born with callouses on their hands or their hearts. Scripture warns all of us not to allow our hearts to grow hardened in this manner (Heb. 3:8). They were calloused by their own doing, not God’s rejection or lack of revelation (Rm. 10:21, Mt. 23:37).

2.  Otherwise they might see, hear, understand and turn. What is the ability of someone who has not yet grown calloused? Paul spells it out very clearly in this passage: “they might turn.” These men have no excuse for their unbelief because they have rejected the truth for so long that they have grown calloused to it; otherwise they might turn and be healed.

Notice the contrast with the Gentiles in verse 28, “they will listen.” Why does Paul draw this conclusion? Is it because Gentiles are more moral or less fallen in their sin? Are Gentiles less deserving of hell? Of course not. Gentiles were known to be grossly immoral in this day. We must understand that there is a difference in being culpable for sinful immorality and growing calloused to divine revelation sent to rescue us from our sinful condition. The former doesn’t necessarily imply the latter. This is why we can affirm the concept of “Original Sin” (man is born with a sinful nature and in need of a savior) while denying the doctrinal teaching of Total Inability (man is born unable to see, hear, understand or turn in light of God’s clear revelation).

Why is all this relevant to the question at hand? Because it speaks to the natural man’s abilities to respond to the light of God’s revelation, IN CONTRAST TO their culpability for sin. When one confounds those two doctrines it becomes as difficult as untangling a wad of fishing line to correct.

(Warning: Beware of the “Pelagian Heresy Police” if you dare take on the challenge of untangling this mess. Pelagianism is the “boogie man” of Calvinism. Some Calvinists pull out this label anytime they do not want to deal with the substance of the argument but rather label and dismiss it as heretical. This serves to scare off the undiscerning from being willing to dive below the surface level of the argument. In my opinion, it is a lazy approach to biblical study and strong theological dialogue. )

KEY POINT: Both the Jews and the Gentiles are equally culpable for being sinful (Rom 1-3). Both Jews and Gentiles are NOT equally calloused in their self-righteousness, which is what makes it so difficult for the Israelites to respond to God’s clear revelation.

Why do you suppose Jesus referred to a child as an example of what we must become like to enter His kingdom (Mt. 18:3)? What is the difference in the condition of a child’s heart and the heart of an older man? Are they both equally “hardened” from birth as some impose onto the text? Clearly not. The heart of a child, while fully culpable for sin, has not yet grown calloused and stubborn in his rebellion. A child, like the Gentiles referenced above, “will listen” because they are able to “see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart and turn” (Acts 28:27-28).

Now, that addresses the ability of man to respond to the special revelation, but what about the general revelation? Is there any biblical reason to suggest that man is not “able to respond” for that which God holds him “response-able?” Paul’s declaration of no one having any excuses in light of God’s clear revelation certainly suggests no good excuse exists. Any doctrine that teaches man is born unable, by God’s own decree, to respond to His clear revelation certainly seems to be giving back the very excuse that Paul is attempting to remove. For what better excuse is there for not responding than an innate inability to do so as determined by one’s own creator?

Keep in mind that Calvinists must conclude that God has never desired the salvation of those who do not hear the gospel, which is biblically indefensible (1 Tim. 2:4, Ez. 18:30-31, 2 Pt. 3:9). Non-Calvinists believe God genuinely desires for all to come to repentance, as scripture clearly states, which is why we are not so quick to dismiss the concept of human responsibility (the ability to respond to God’s revelation).

In Romans 1, Paul taught that men’s “thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened…therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires” (vs. 21, 24). They were not born futile, darkened and given over. Paul is revealing the natural result of those who continue to ignore God’s revelation and “trade the truth in for lies.” Not everyone who has ever lived would match the description of the apostle. Some people feared the Lord, worshipped Him in earnest and believed in the revelation they received (Heb. 11).

OBJECTION ANTICIPATED: Professor, are you suggesting that people were able to respond to God’s general revelation in faith? That is the heresy of pelagianism!

That objection is confounding two separate points. Please go back and re-read the article until you understand the distinction between a sinful man’s culpability for sin and a sinful man’s responsibility to God’s revelation.

As explained above, Paul is addressing two types of righteousness being pursued: One is by works and the other is by faith. All have fallen in regard to the former, but not the latter. No one is able to attain righteousness by works, but that does not mean that no one is able to attain righteousness by faith (Rom. 9:30-32).

In Romans 1:1 – 3:20, Paul is attempting to demonstrate that both Jews and Gentiles have fallen short of the demands of God’s law. He IS NOT attempting to teach that man is born unable to respond in faith to the revelation of God. That would give them back the very excuse he took away in verse 20 of chapter 1.

The reason this has become such a perplexing question for so many students of the bible, is because some have confounded Paul’s teaching to suggest that man is unable to acknowledge God in light of His general revelation and yet we are to believe He holds mankind “responsible” for their response to that revelation.

It is one thing for parents to discipline their children for lying by grounding them to their room. It is a whole other thing for parents to lock the door from the outside and then hold the children responsible for not coming out when called. Likewise, it is possible for us to affirm man’s complete culpability for sin (i.e. being sent to their room) while still rejecting the notion that God has disabled sinners from responding to his own revelation all the while holding them responsible (i.e. locking the door so as to disable one from responding to an appeal for reconciliation).

So, what is the answer to the question, “What about those who never hear the gospel?”

Everyone has what they need to respond to God.

No one anywhere in this world has any excuse for his or her unbelief. Mankind is responsible to all of God’s revelation because they are able to respond to all of God’s revelation. If they acknowledge the truth of the little revelation that they have received then God is faithful to entrust them with more (Mt. 25:21). If they trade the truth in for lies then they have no excuse (Rm. 1:20).

In short, the general revelation is sufficient to lead any one to know God’s special revelation, thus no one has any excuse for their unbelief.

By the way, I think it takes more work to get to hell than to get to heaven. I do not believe in works salvation, but I do believe in works damnation. It takes work to trade the clear truth of God in for lies. CLICK HERE to read more

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Brian Wagner, a New Testament Professor and regular contributor on this blog, sent me this list of passages for consideration on this subject:

John 1:9 [That] was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

John 12:32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

John 16:8-9 And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me;

Acts 17:24-27 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:

Romans 1:19-21 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed [it] unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified [him] not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Romans 1:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Romans 2:14-16 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and [their] thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

Romans 10:17-18 So then faith [cometh] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.

Colossians 1:5-6 For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; Which is come unto you, as [it is] in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as [it doth] also in you, since the day ye heard [of it], and knew the grace of God in truth:

Colossians 1:23 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and [be] not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, [and] which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.

———————–

*(Note: Please do not reference our inability to keep the law as proof for the false notion that God readily holds men responsible for that which they cannot do. Why? Because its begs the question to presume that because we are unable to fulfill the demands of the law that we also are unable to admit that fact and believe in the one who fulfilled the law on our behalf.)

Packer, J.I. (1973), “Are Non-Christian Faiths Ways of Salvation?,” [Part IV of a series titled, “The Way of Salvation”], Bibliotheca Sacra, April.

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rhutchin

Dr. Flowers writes, “Any doctrine that teaches man is born unable, by God’s own decree, to respond to His clear revelation certainly seems to be giving back the very excuse that Paul is attempting to remove. For what better excuse is there for not responding than an innate inability to do so as determined by one’s own creator?”

Is that all there is to this story?

Does not Paul also say, “…faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”? Is not a person born without faith such that he cannot, and is unable to, take any step to Christ apart from first hearing the gospel? Is Dr. Flowers correct to say that “Mankind is responsible to all of God’s revelation because they are able to respond to all of God’s revelation,” or does this ability to respond to God’s revelation require that one also hear the gospel?

Does not Christ say, “…when the comforter is come, he will reprove the world of sin…” Is any person able to take any step to Christ apart from first being reproved of sin by the Holy Spirit? Dr. Flowers says, “Everyone has what they need to respond to God.” However, does not a person “need” to be reproved of sin and is a person reproved of sin from birth or does the Holy Spirit work through the preaching of the gospel to accomplish this? When Paul speaks of “hearing by the gospel,” should we understand that this “hearing” includes being reproved of sin by the Holy Spirit?

So, in answer to the question, ““What about those who never hear the gospel?”; can they be saved apart from hearing the gospel? The answer is, NO! People are not born with all they “need” to respond to God and to the gospel. People are born without having heard the gospel (although we might make exception to those whose mothers diligently read the gospel to them even as they were in the womb) – thus, none is born with faith, and no one has what they “need” to respond to God until they hear the gospel. However, part of hearing the gospel is the work of the Holy Spirit within the person to convict them of sin. Thus, all are born unable to respond to God through lack of faith and lack of conviction of sin, and none can respond to God apart from first hearing the gospel.

Robert

Hello Leighton,

Very good article and I appreciated the distinctions that you brought up and discussed. Your answer appears to be that if someone responds positively to the light they receive from general revelation, then God will provide special revelation to them.

This makes sense in light of the fact that God desires for all to be saved, so He is not setting people up so they cannot be saved nor is He withholding grace from them. A corollary of the fact that he desires for all to be saved is that if someone does respond favorably to general revelation (and God knows the heart so He would know if this were the case with a particular individual) he would give them further revelation (e.g. for instance sending a missionary to that person’s people group preaching the gospel or even sending them a dream).

As He desires for all to be saved He provided the atonement of Christ for the **whole world**. On the basis of this atonement God is justified in applying it to whomever He wants.

Robert

PS- Leighton I have only one suggestion for you: ignore the comments of any Calvinist trolls that try to engage you on this topic.

Leighton Flowers

Hi Rhutchin,

Thanks for you comments. You seem to be confusing “the ability to respond to God” and “the ability to believe the gospel unto salvation.” No one can believe the gospel unless they hear the gospel. One may respond to the gospel only after hearing the gospel. Likewise, one is able to respond to the general revelation of God when they are confronted by it. Like the Ethiopian in scripture, they need more explanation or revelation than what has been given, but that doesn’t remove their ‘response-ability’ to what they have received and its sufficiency to lead them to receive more by God’s grace. All revelation is of God’s Grace and thus it is all sufficient to accomplish its given purpose. It if fails to produce a positive response, I blame man’s work to ‘trade it in for lies,’ not a lack of sufficiency in the revelation itself. In other words, its man’s fault for their negative responses, not God’s. Man is rejecting God…God is not rejecting them.

    phillip

    “All revelation is of God’s Grace and thus it is all sufficient to accomplish its given purpose.”

    Well said, brother.

    rhutchin

    Pastor Flowers writes, ” You seem to be confusing “the ability to respond to God” and “the ability to believe the gospel unto salvation.”

    A fine Calvinist distinction. One may only respond to the gospel following the hearing of the gospel – thus the inability to respond to the gospel apart form hearing. So, inability should not be an issue. No one is able to come to the gospel apart from the hearing of the gospel.

    So, is man response-able? Yes, according to Paul. In Romans 2, “…you are inexcusable, O man, whosoever you are that judge: for wherein you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you that judge do the same things.” This plus Roman 1:20 tell us that none is ignorant of God and immune from judgment for their sin. However, until one comes face to face with Christ through the hearing of the gospel, they can do nothing about their sin, and even do not know the effects of their sin – none can be saved despite being response-able. until, a person hears the gospel, there is nothing to which they must respond. Without the gospel, the only response a person can make is to plead ignorance, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto you?” So, God does not have to enable people to “hear” the gospel before He can judge them.

    joshua Chikumbindi

    Jeremiah 31:33 But this shall be the covenant that i will make with the house of Israel ;After those days ,saith the Lord ,I will put my law in their inward parts,and write it in their hearts;and will be their God,and they shall be my people.Amen!Read the rest of this scripture.The invitation to Salvation is not complicated ,Christianity is not complicated .To be lost is not complicated and to be born again is not complicated.If we remain simple as the Word is given unto us even the lost won’t find it hard to understand.Paul did not hear the word from a man God called him and he repented.I have met people who changed from their evil ways thru cir umstance and they repented without a man neccesally talking to them.But God has his ways to minister to his own.Is walking from a dark room to a room with light difficult ,Not all.First you are in darkness and then you see the light ,so if you see the light you walk into the light.This is how simple it is .And then someone might ask and say if a man never knew God why then do you call him lost.Because when Jesus came he redeemed all Jeremiah 31:33-34

      rhutchin

      This is a fine response until your last statement, “…when Jesus came he redeemed all Jeremiah 31:33-34.” God does what He wants, but there are clear scriptures that tell us that God does not choose to save “all” so Christ did not redeem “all” if by “all” you mean each and every person. If you follow Ephesians in defining “all” to mean both the Jew and the gentile, then no problem.

        Andrew Barker

        rhutchin: you quote …. “God does what He wants, but there are clear scriptures that tell us that God does not choose to save “all” so Christ did not redeem “all” if by “all” you mean each and every person.”
        There are no scriptures which clearly state anything of the sort. There may be verses which you twist to suit your own theology, but nothing which supports your assumption that God does not choose to save all.

          rhutchin

          I leave it yo you to explain that which Jesus said, “Not every one that says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.”

          Then later, “I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works… And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

          Perhaps, you can explain how one twists these Scriptures to show that all are not saved – God does not save all.

            Andrew Barker

            rhutchin: You’re in typical circular argument mode, yet again. The fact that not all are saved, does not mean that God does not choose all.

              rhutchin

              Regardless, the citations I provided are pretty clear in stating that God has not chosen to save all of humanity, so the Universal salvation position is not tenable. Even you do not try to get these Scriptures to say otherwise.

                Andrew Barker

                rhutchin: You seem to place great faith in your ability to make clear statements, but in practice much of what you say is unclear and you constantly try to make out people are saying things which they obviously are not.

                I can’t remember seeing anybody on this site arguing for universal salvation. Not once! A good proportion argue for universal atonement ie there is provision for all. I also happen to hold the view that God does not delight in the death of the wicked (no requirement to get glory from damning a few, or even many, sinners to hell) and that his will is that all would be saved. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Not because God doesn’t desire it, but because people reject God. It’s as simple as that.

                  rhutchin

                  Why must you deflect and not address the Scriptures I cited?

                  You stated, “There are no scriptures which clearly state anything of the sort.”

                  I offered two citations that did this. Since then, you have been deflecting. Why not just address the Scriptures I cited and explain why you do not think they negate your argument?

                    Andrew Barker

                    If you’re unable to make your case, I don’t see why I should make it for you! I’m not wasting time countering an argument which you cannot either make or support and simply siting scripture does not make your case! :)

                    Bob Hadley

                    rhutchin,

                    You are correct in your assertion, “Regardless, the citations I provided are pretty clear in stating that God has not chosen to save all of humanity.” Andrew is equally correct in his distinction, “for universal atonement ie there is provision for all.” There is a HUGH difference in the two assertions.

                    I understand in your world, God’s will with respect to salvation MUST be done so your conclusion is since ALL are NOT saved then it could NOT be God’s will that ALL be saved nor is atonement POSSIBLE for all men since all men are not saved.

                    You must at least acknowledge the distinction there for not all share the basis for your logic.

                    rhutchin

                    Pastor Hadley writes, “I understand in your world, God’s will with respect to salvation MUST be done so your conclusion is since ALL are NOT saved then it could NOT be God’s will that ALL be saved nor is atonement POSSIBLE for all men since all men are not saved.”

                    We can be more specific. In my world, God is sovereign and exercises absolute control over His creation. Regarding salvation, God has the final say in whether a person goes to hell. If a person rejects God’s offer of salvation, God is still in control and could take extraordinary actions to save a person from a bad decision. God could do as He did to Saul of Tarsus. Thus, God could save all. What we see is that God determined that some people who reject salvation will not be given a second chance; He will not take additional actions to save some people (as with Saul).

            rhutchin

            Pastor Hadley writes, “There is a HUGH difference in the two assertions. ”

            The original point I made was, “…there are clear scriptures that tell us that God does not choose to save “all” …” (but read the full statement). Barker replied, “There are no scriptures which clearly state anything of the sort. ” I then provided two Scriptures that tell us that all will not be saved. Barker has no response to those Scriptures; I think that is because they are pretty clear in stating that some people are going to end up in hell – consequently, God will not save all people. Perhaps, Barker can draw a different conclusion from those verses.

            Barker opposes me saying that “God does not choose to save all,” so his position must be “God does choose to save all” – I see that as a statement of universal salvation. However, if some people will go to hell, then it must be true that God will not save all.

            Then, as you note, Barker makes a statement, “A good proportion argue for universal atonement ie there is provision for all.” This is not an issue. Both Calvinists and non-Calvinists agree that anyone and everyone may take advantage of Christ’s atonement. But the Calvinists then asked why a person would not take advantage of Christ’s atonement – the Calvinist conclusion -> TULIP.

              Andrew Barker

              rhutchin: “Barker opposes me saying that “God does not choose to save all,” so his position must be “God does choose to save all” – I see that as a statement of universal salvation. However, if some people will go to hell, then it must be true that God will not save all. ”

              Correct me if I’m wrong, but I haven’t ever said that God chooses to save all. (I certainly never intended to) I believe that God desires that ALL should be saved. There is a distinct difference. God has chosen to save ALL those who are in Christ, that’s where God’s choice lies. But salvation is open to ALL who have faith in Him so while the offer/provision is universal, acceptance is conditional on faith.

              You are the one drawing your own conclusions, as is your right, but that does not mean you are correct in so doing. You also ask the question from a Calvinist perspective why would a person not take advantage of Christ’s atonement? I would suggest to you that you are evading the real question which is why God would not wish to save somebody? How would you feel if that somebody was you?!

              Bob Hadley

              rhutchin

              Here is MY point. You wrote… “…there are clear scriptures that tell us that God does not choose to save “all” …” The underlying idea is that God chooses SOME to be saved and chooses NOT to save others…. THUS God does not “choose to save all.”

              You THEN justify your point by saying… you provide Scriptures that “all will not be saved.” No one argues that statement… however, that statement does NOT support your original claim that “God does not choose to save all.” Your conclusion that some people end up in hell does not support your original premise that “God has chosen NOT to same some.”

              If God’s choice is based on our choice THEN it is not He who has chosen NOT to save some, it is the person who has refused to repent and believe in His heart that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for his sin and has humbly come to God in repentance and faith to be saved. Your underlying philosophical position has you justifying your position but it is not a very good theological argument as I see it.

              That was the point I was making.

                rhutchin

                God is sovereign and exercises complete control over His creation; He is omnipotent. It is true that “…it is the person who has refused to repent and believe in His heart that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for his sin and has humbly come to God in repentance and faith to be saved.” People do choose to reject the gospel and are not saved because of that choice.

                Nonetheless, God is still sovereign and God has the final word. God can intervene in any person’s life to bring them to salvation. In the end, it is God who decides that a person’s rejection of the gospel is the final word and He will not intervene to change that outcome. It is God who ultimately chooses whether to save all.

                We have good examples of God’s intervention in the life of a person to bring them to salvation. Saul of Tarsus comes to salvation after God confronts him on the road to Damascus – otherwise Saul is lost because he rejected the gospel. Of Lydia, we read, “…whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.” Then there is Cornelius to whom God gave a vision that leads to his salvation. In John 6, we read that no one can come to Christ (to salvation) unless God draw the person and that every person whom God gives to Christ will certainly go to Christ and be saved.

                Thus, there is theological support for the position that God is actively involved in bringing people to salvation – and that it is God’s actions that make salvation certain. Ultimately, when a person is not saved, it is because God has chosen not to save the person and this for two reasons, (1) God is sovereign and has the final say on everything that happens, and (2) God is intimately involved in the salvation of each person.

Bill Mac

I’m not sure why inability bothers non-Calvinists but in-opportunity (I know, it’s not a word) does not. The non-Calvinist insists that God wants everyone to be saved (to be fair, they have a decent scriptural case for that) but God clearly does not provide everyone the opportunity to encounter the very thing they need to be saved.

To follow up on something Rhutchin said: Do non-Cals believe that the HS convicts of sin apart from hearing the Gospel?

    Robert

    Bill Mac,

    “I’m not sure why inability bothers non-Calvinists but in-opportunity (I know, it’s not a word) does not. The non-Calvinist insists that God wants everyone to be saved (to be fair, they have a decent scriptural case for that) but God clearly does not provide everyone the opportunity to encounter the very thing they need to be saved.”

    How do you know that Bill Mac?

    Do you know the personal experience of every person in every people group that supposedly has never had a gospel proclamation to their group?

    And what about those who claim that they received a revelation of the gospel through a dream?

    We have more and more such instances especially in “closed” Muslim areas being reported.

    Do you discount them all?

    And if so, upon what basis?

    “To follow up on something Rhutchin said: Do non-Cals believe that the HS convicts of sin apart from hearing the Gospel?”

    I know you are not going to like this answer, but you might want to consider the experiences of OT saints like Job. They did not all hear the gospel concerning Jesus and his dying on the cross for people’s sins: they however experienced conviction of sin. And it seems to me that if those who never literally hear the gospel involving Jesus (cf. 1 Cor. 15) are saved their experience is going to be much more like OT saints who never heard of Jesus than of our own personal experience. In the OT people were saved when they trusted in the revelation that God had given them (and this varied, with some being saved before the Law was given, some being saved after the Law was given). I am no dispensationalist but we have to recognize that different people in different eras in different times in history are receiving different revelation from God (that is why the writer of Hebrews says that for those who **do** hear of Jesus and reject Christ the greatest revelation that God provides, they can expect a greater judgment).

    Robert

      Bill Mac

      Robert: Surely you aren’t suggesting that every person on earth and in history (at least post-Christ) has heard the Gospel?

      To answer your questions, it is not for me to tell God what He can and cannot do. But the Great Commission coupled with Paul’s “how shall they hear without a preacher” gives me confidence to believe that a great many people have lived and died without hearing the Gospel.

      I have no doubt that people could possibly be saved without hearing the Gospel (like the OT saints). I just have no biblical reason to believe it.

        Robert

        Bill Mac,

        “Robert: Surely you aren’t suggesting that every person on earth and in history (at least post-Christ) has heard the Gospel?”

        Nope, never said that anywhere in my post: did I?

        “But the Great Commission coupled with Paul’s “how shall they hear without a preacher” gives me confidence to believe that a great many people have lived and died without hearing the Gospel.”

        A “great many people” is relative. I am guessing that you are thinking of history from the era of the apostles until now, imagining these vast hordes of people groups that have never heard. However if you examine current population statistics you will find that while in the past there were perhaps millions of people, now there are billions of people. So there are a lot more people alive today than there ever were in the past. With the available technologies if we even tell some of these folks about Jesus, the resulting number of those who have heard will far outnumber those in the past who never heard. When you speak of numbers you really have to keep in mind the sample sizes that you are dealing with.

        “I have no doubt that people could possibly be saved without hearing the Gospel (like the OT saints). I just have no biblical reason to believe it.”

        Oh my, this is a keeper! :-)

        This comment is absolutely hilarious and I don’t think you intended it to be at all.

        Let’s examine your two statements here and see the blatant contradiction between the two, a contradiction that apparently you completely missed bill Mac.

        First claim: “I have no doubt that people could possibly be saved without hearing the Gospel” and how do you know that?

        You answer this question yourself with your statement in the parenthesis: “like the OT saints.”

        Now wait a minute according to **you** in your first line here you admit that some people could be saved without hearing the gospel, you even tell us explicitly and directly who they are (i.e. OT saints).

        But then look at the claim that you make in the very next sentence:

        “I just have no biblical reason to believe it.”

        So in the first sentence you admit that some people could be saved without explicitly hearing the gospel concerning Jesus. You even tell us who they were: OT saints.

        Question: where are OT saints discussed?

        Answer = in the OT part of our **Bibles**.

        But then after explicitly and clearly admitting this in the first line, you inexplicably then claim in the very next line that:

        “I just have no biblical reason to believe it.”

        What??

        So those OT saints discussed in the Old Testament part of our Bibles, that you yourself admit were saved without hearing the gospel concerning Jesus:

        give you “no biblical reason to believe it”?????

        This is absolutely hilarious, what you give with your right hand (your first sentence) you then take away with you left hand (your second sentence). This has to be one of the best examples ever, of someone cutting the very tree limb off of which they are sitting on that I have ever seen!

          Bill Mac

          Robert: If you are more interested in scoring debating points and finding humor at my expense than having a discussion, then have fun. I expected better, but I’m glad I could help. I’ll respond anyway. Hopefully you’ll find it just as amusing.

          Relative numbers are irrelevant. If you concede that millions of people have lived and died without hearing the Gospel, my point stands.

          You brought up the salvation of the OT saints, not me. Let me be more precise. I have no doubt that God can save people in the Christian era without them hearing the Gospel, in a manner similar to the way the OT saints were saved. But I have no biblical reason to believe God saves people like that since Christ came. Can He do it? He can do what He likes. Does He do it that way? We have no biblical record that He does. In fact, the biblical record suggests that He does not.

          Of course, you’re not an idiot, so you knew that is what I meant.

            Robert

            Not really interested in “scoring debating points” you’re right about that. That said your comment **was** really funny. No need for you to get so huffy and defensive about it.
            You then gave a helpful clarification and granted that OT saints were saved without hearing explicitly about the gospel concerning Jesus. You then stated we have no “biblical record” that he does so today. The problem is that is just an argument from silence. Another problem is that most of us would grant that babies, children below the age of accountability (note that ls a common belief among Baptists [are you Baptist Bill Mac?])and the mentally disabled may be saved without hearing the gospel concerning Jesus. My point is that there are exceptions which should cause us pause; and also make us careful about making absolute declarations in this area (e.g. all who do not hear the good news about Jesus automatically go to hell; or all who do not hear automatically are saved). Seems to me our answer needs to be more nuanced than that. We know when it comes to able minded persons beyond the age of accountability that if they hear the good news about Jesus’ death, burial and ressurection if they reject it and keep rejecting it they will not be saved; they must trust Jesus to be saved. And the “biblical record” not surprisingly focuses on events and situations where able minded adults do hear about Jesus. E.g. we have no NT accounts of apostles speaking to a youth group for example: or meeting with disabled people at say a day program. Does that mean youth groups Sunday school, and day programs have no relevance or importance? Seems to me we emphasize what we know for sure (e.g. we are commanded to evangelize and make disciples of Jesus). And on less clear issues we take biblical principles and as best we can apply them to that issue. Cf. The Bible says nothing about driving cars; but there are biblical principles that apply to driving cars.

              Bill Mac

              I’m not prepared to make absolute declarations about the fate of those who never hear the Gospel. As I said, God can do what He likes, and frankly I hope it does happen (who wouldn’t?). Perhaps “record” is the wrong word. I don’t think we have any doctrinal reason to think that He does so. Perhaps people are given a choice at the instant of their death, but I don’t have any reason to believe they are. I don’t mind speculating but it is just that.

                Robert

                “I don’t think we have any doctrinal reason to think that He does so.”
                I disagree with this. Here are some reasons to consider (not in order of importance). Passages in Revelation that speak of the redeemed coming from every language and people group. And yet as far as we know Christian missionaries have not shared the gospel in all of these languages and people groups. God explicitly says that He desires the salvation of all people. If that is HIS DESIRE, then you would expect Him to do some things in line with this desire. Closely related to this explicitly expressed desire is His character. Scripture reveals Him to be by nature love, merciful, kind, forgiving. Combine His character with His desire for all to be saved and this suggests that He will make some sort of effort to save all: that all will receive some sort of opportunity. Paul when witnessing to pagans in Acts 17 says that God sovereignly set up all nations for the purpose that they would seek after Him. Combine this with various promises in scripture where He says if you seek me you will find me. Throughout scripture it is repeatedly stated that God holds people more or less responsible depending on how much light/revelation they received. So OT saints are saved when they trust the word they received (e.g. Abraham) or if they have heard the law how they respond to it. In the NT how do they respond to the fuller revelation of Christ. The scripture presents the atonement as provided for the whole world. It also says the atonement of Christ by its nature gives God the right to justify whomever he wants. The age of accountability suggests people are condemned for conscious rejection of Jesus, that people are not automatically
                Condemned merely for being born or just because they are human. The scripture speaks of humans as being created in His image indicating some worth of humans. Jesus gave parables talking about God’s kingdom and they involved universal invitations as God wanted everyone to be there. I could add more but the point is that taken together they have cumulative weight. And I believe that that weight of evidence suggests that God has plans and ways of saving those who through circumstances out of their control never ever hear about Jesus. He is much more aware of this subject than I am and his character is much more loving and kind than mine is so I am confident that He deals with this in a very loving, kind, just way much better than I could do!

phillip

“While it is certainly true that all fallen man is deserving of hell, it is certainly UNTRUE that fallen man is born unable to respond to God because of that fall.”

“This is why we can affirm the concept of ‘Original Sin’ (man is born with a sinful nature and in need of a savior) while denying the doctrinal teaching of Total Inability (man is born unable to see, hear, understand or turn in light of God’s clear revelation).”

Finally, someone who speaks (and understands) English.

“In Romans 1, Paul taught that men’s ‘thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened…therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires’ (vs. 21, 24). They were not born futile, darkened and given over. Paul is revealing the natural result of those who continue to ignore God’s revelation and ‘trade the truth in for lies.’ Not everyone who has ever lived would match the description of the apostle. Some people feared the Lord, worshipped Him in earnest and believed in the revelation they received (Heb. 11).”

Leighton,

And when I pointed out this very thing to some of our Calvinist/Arminian brothers, I was accused of “semi-pelagianism”.

“Mankind is responsible to all of God’s revelation because they are able to respond to all of God’s revelation.”

Amen.

God bless, brother.

    Robert

    Phillip,

    “Finally, someone who speaks (and understands) English.”

    I think we all speak and understand English quite well here! :-) That is not the problem at all. :-)

    “And when I pointed out this very thing to some of our Calvinist/Arminian brothers, I was accused of “semi-pelagianism”.”

    My own theory is that you appear to dislike both Calvinists and Arminians so much in the area of the doctrine of depravity (based upon your numerous comments on this in the past here), that you have in the past tried to conflate the two as if C’s and A’s totally agree on depravity when they do not. And in attempting to distance yourself from their views. You have also downplayed the role of grace in our coming to faith and made comments suggesting that we can come to faith “on our own” without grace (which is standard Pelagian thought).

    I think a problem that you may have is that you fail to take into consideration that there ***is a spectrum of beliefs*** when it comes to the doctrine of depravity.

    On one extreme you have the Calvinistic conception in which people are completely incapable of understanding spiritual things or responding in faith to the workings of the Spirit UNLESS they are regenerated first (this is extreme because it posits regeneration occurring before faith with no biblical justification for this order of events and people can understand some things and do some things without needed to be regenerated first) and they receive irresistible grace.

    On the other extreme are the Pelagians who deny original sin and claim the person can come to Christ on their own, ***without any grace from God***. So the extremes are irresistible grace on the one hand, and no grace needed at all on the other hand. In between is where most other folks fall (e.g. believing that we suffer from depravity, but this depravity does not make us incapable of ever understanding spiritual things, does not mean we have to be regenerated first to respond to God) and believing that we need some grace from God in order to become believers.

    Most people reject the extremes of both the Calvinists and the Pelagians. Most people maintain both some conception of depravity (i.e. how sin has affected us) and also believing that the grace of God is needed for us to be saved (with many seeing this grace as being gospel preaching and the preconversion work of the Spirit). Accusations of being Pelagian come only when you deny original sin AND talk as if the grace of God is not needed at all to come to faith in Christ.

    Now if you speak of our coming to faith in Christ and **include a need for the grace of God** in this coming to faith, then no one will accuse you of being Pelagian/Semi-Pelagian. But if you deny any need for the grace of God in coming to Christ for salvation (as if we don’t need anything and come on our own by our own efforts this contradicts clear Bible passages such as John 6:44) then the accusations may come because that does sound like the Pelagians (who affirm that no grace from God is needed at all for us to come to Christ in faith).

    Robert

    Leighton Flowers

    If semi-Pelagianism fits me then semi-Gnosticism certainly fits the Calvinist. Those were the two extreme groups in the debate of the 4th century and given that the Calvinistic interpretation is non-existent in the early church prior to Augustine (who was a Gnostic prior to conversion, and didn’t know Greek) then why not slap a heretical label on everyone so we can stop having a discussion and resort to bashing the heretics instead? ;-)

    I hate heretic labels…it is such a cop out to an otherwise good discussion over the text of scripture itself.

      rhutchin

      Pastor Flowers writes, “If semi-Pelagianism fits me then semi-Gnosticism certainly fits the Calvinist.”

      I don’t see the issue here. You agree with the Calvinists that a person has no ability to be saved apart from the hearing of the gospel. If the requirement for “hearing” the gospel qualifies as semi-Gnosticism, so be it. I don’t think it does.

      If you are saying that a person could come to salvation just because they are response-able to God – and apart from the “hearing” of the gospel – I think the Pelagian charge could be argued. But I think you are saying that one must still hear the gospel in order to be saved no matter how response-able the person is.

        Bob Hadley

        rhutchin

        You suggest that Calvinists believe that a person has no ability to be saved apart from the hearing of the gospel..I disagree with that characterization of calvinism. What calvinists believe is regeneration at God’s sole choosing is what irresistibly brings a person to new life…. which THEN enables him to respond to the gospel. The gospel has NO POWER to save the unregenerate. So it is not the power of the gospel that saves for the calvinist but rather it is God’s effectual call… which THEN gives the gospel its efficacy. Sadly that simply is not Scriptural.

          rhutchin

          I am sorry for the confusion. I was only addressing a narrow issue – the original condition of a person is that of inability to respond to the gospel. I agree in your broader response. 2 Thessalonians 3:2 tells us that not everyone has faith while Romans 10 tells us that faith comes from “hearing” the word. Romans 5 adds that a person is justified by faith. So, all agree that faith is necessary to salvation.

          At the same time, not everyone who hears the gospel preached or who reads the Bible on their own expresses faith unto salvation. If faith comes by hearing, why don’t all who supposedly hear the gospel preached respond with faith unto salvation? The Calvinist concluded that something else is going on. As you point out, they concluded that man is depraved and cannot comprehend the gospel (per 1 Corinthians, the gospel is foolishness or a stumbling block) unless God first extend grace to the person – in the form of regeneration. It is after being regenerated that the person can truly “hear” the gospel which then is able to excite within the person a faith unto salvation.

          It is not regeneration that irresistibly brings a person to new life but regeneration is the necessary start to that process. Regeneration makes it possible for the person to “hear” the gospel per Romans 10. Those not regenerated can listen to the gospel being preached but will not respond. So, the Calvinist offers one explanation for people not being saved even though they come under the preaching of the gospel. Calvin and others have written books providing the Scriptural basis for this conclusion.

Jim G.

This is a great topic, and I have a couple of thoughts if I may.

I have what I believe are good reasons to hope that some who do not hear the gospel will indeed be saved. I happen to think that those who cannot hear (due to age, time of life, or ability to comprehend) the gospel are safe in the arms of Jesus. So are the faithful of the Old Testament. Others may be too, but I am not as confident on that point.

The two chief reasons I believe this are the character and plan of God, and the work of Jesus. The eternal plan of God, which is a perfect reflection of his character, was to invite human beings into the inner circle of his triune life. That was the plan even before creation, The fall did not change that plan. He still wants human beings at home in his perichoretic presence. I suppose theoretically he “could” condemn those who cannot hear, but why “would” he? Second, I am beginning to wonder why, in our evangelical world, why Adam is still the determinative human being instead of Jesus. Jesus Christ is the Word-made-flesh, the creating and sustaining God in whom all creation dwells who now is a permanent part of his own creation. He wore Adam’s skin (to paraphrase Baxter Kruger) and healed it from the inside. His presence on this earth does not guarantee the salvation of all humanity, but it surely reveals the intentions of the Father from all eternity. How much Jesus’ incarnation has changed the rules of the created order is a question that remains unanswered to our peril.

As someone who makes his living from doing theology, I can only offer that all we do is create explanatory models. We take the biblical and historical data, throw in a couple gallons of our own assumptions, and create models to explain God and his world. The question of the unevangelized lays bare the weaknesses of the current evangelical salvation model. The fact that most struggle with that question reveals the inherent weaknesses in the model. The source of many, if not most, of those weaknesses is the schizophrenic split in the heart of the Father that we have ascribed to him, coupled with a Jesus that only stands surety for one side of that split. As long as we think of God that way, we’ll surely flunk Soteriology 101.

Jim G.

    rhutchin

    Jim G. writes, “[Jesus’] presence on this earth does not guarantee the salvation of all humanity, but it surely reveals the intentions of the Father from all eternity.”

    What do you see as God’s intentions?

    If Jesus’ presence on earth does not guarantee the salvation of all humanity, do you think it guarantees the salvation of some of humanity? If not, how is it that some are saved and some are not – How do some rise above their circumstances to save themselves when others are not able to do so?

      Jim G.

      Hi Rhutchin,

      I stated what I believe God’s intentions are: to bring humanity into his circle of fellowship eternally.

      Why are some saved and some not? Who knows? Trying to answer that question is what got Augustine in trouble and started this whole mess of unconditional election of individuals in the first place. We’ve had 1600 years of fallout from a question he should have left alone.

      Jim G.

        rhutchin

        Jim G. writes, “I stated what I believe God’s intentions are: to bring humanity into his circle of fellowship eternally.”

        We can say more than that. John 3:16 tells us, “God…gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish…” Out of all humanity, God intends that those believing in Christ should not perish. Christ is the means to bring this about. In Romans 4, we read, “[Christ] was delivered for [the believer’s] offences, and was raised again for [the believer’s] justification.” God knew exactly what He would do before He even created the world. Nothing is in doubt; nothing is left to chance.

        As you said earlier, it is the “eternal plan of God.”

          Jim G.

          Of course there is more to say. I’d be writing forever if I wanted to write it all, and I still wouldn’t get finished.

          You can leave out the bracketed portion of your Scripture citation. That is your interpretation, not what the text says. The text says “our.”

          I’ll disagree with you on “Nothing is in doubt; nothing is left to chance.” I am not a determinist. God’s providence is more complicated that the simplistic, reductionistic model that determinists put forth. But I didn’t chime in to argue against determinism.

          Jim G.

            rhutchin

            Jim G. writes, “That is your interpretation, not what the text says. The text says “our.””

            That’s fine. But why do you stop there? Why don’t you offer your understanding as to that to which “our” refers. Context leads me to believe that Paul speaks first, of himself, and then includes those to whom he writes. Together, Paul, and those to whom he writes, are believers. Can you explain who you think the term, “our,” refers?

              Jim G.

              I guess I just can’t write enough to satisfy you. I’m not on trial here. I’ll stop now.

              Jim G.

                rhutchin

                In this instance, try to explain what you understand the term, “our,” to mean in the Romans 4 citation. If you think the verse isn’t clear, consult the commentaries and read what others thought. In the end, form your own conclusion.

        Robert

        Hello Jim G,

        Let me give you a heads up about Rhutchin and this point of why does one believe and not the other. In the past I addressed this issue directly with him and yet he keeps bringing it up over and over. It comes from John Owen’s “who makes you to differ” argument. Owen tried to argue that if say two folks heard the same message under the same circumstances then if one believed and the other did not, then you could argue that there must have been something “better” about the one that believed. He/she must have been more spiritual, more intelligent, something superior about them. And if that was the case then this same person could boast in the fact they believed and the other did not.

        This argument is awful because first, there is no one reason why everybody believes, they believe for different reasons.

        Second and worse, this argument completely ignores the nature of saving faith. According to the apostle Paul in Romans we are saved through faith. But he also adds that the nature of this initial faith is that it EXCLUDES boasting!! [cf. Romans 3:27-28] So if it excludes boasting by its nature then someone who truly believes, has genuine faith is not going to boast. In my own evangelistic experience and my own conversion, faith is the opposite of boasting. When you come to believe you aren’t thinking about how superior you are instead you are humbled by your sin and condition (i.e. the Spirit shows you you are a sinner in rebellion against God that has sinned and deserves wrath and eternal punishment, that you cannot save yourself through any religious works that you do that you have to throw yourself on the mercy of the court).

        I actually call it “begging faith” because when a person goes through the conversion process with genuine faith they beg God to save them, they cast themselves completely upon his mercy and His actions to save them not their own. As this is the nature of real genuine initial faith, Owen’s argument flops as it argues from a hypothetical (one who is genuinely saved who in some way boasts about their superiority) that will never in fact take place according to scripture.

        You wrote:

        “Why are some saved and some not? Who knows? Trying to answer that question is what got Augustine in trouble and started this whole mess of unconditional election of individuals in the first place. We’ve had 1600 years of fallout from a question he should have left alone.”

        And Owen exacerbated this problem and unfortunately Calvinists such as Rhutchin continue to cause unnecessary confusion and needless arguments with this Owenesque argument.

        Scripture is clear initial saving faith excludes boasting and that scripture ought to exclude this argument as well!

          rhutchin

          Robert writes, “…there is no one reason why everybody believes, they believe for different reasons.”

          On the contrary, all people come to believe for the exact same reasons – the conviction of their sin by the Holy Spirit and the hearing of the gospel with its remedy for that sin in Christ. Robert just throws out unwarranted opinions every now and then. Granted, some people will claim to believe based on other factors but of them, Christ said, “Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.”

          Nonetheless, not everyone who comes under the preaching of the gospel is saved (judging by their behavior) and the intriguing question has always been why one person believes and another does not. Robert misunderstands Owen’s argument as he attributes to Owen “… that there must have been something “better” about the one that believed…” Owen attributed nothing to man and everything to God. Best to forget what Robert says about Owen.

            Robert

            The fact is that different people respond and believe in Jesus for different reasons. I have experience with evangelism and I have staff members that I have trained in evangelism and one of the things that we do is to talk to people after they have come to Christ. We ask them about their conversion experience, we ask them about what were their reasons for believing, we want to know so that we are aware of the issues that are present.

            Rhutchin makes this false claim:

            “On the contrary, all people come to believe for the exact same reasons.”

            Roger is a messianic Jew, he will tell you he came to Christ because he realized that Jesus is the Messiah. Mary will tell you that some family members died and so she was asking questions about death and the afterlife, her concerns were addressed by Kathy. Kathy told Mary about Jesus and that he was the one who would raise all people. Mary did not come to Christ because she recognized him as the Messiah as Roger did. John is a very studious person who reads widely and he had some questions about the Christian faith: Tom using apologetics answered these questions and John came to faith as a result of primarily the effective use of apologetics. I could go on and on and produce countless different conversion stories where people came to believe for very different reasons. Because these genuine differences exist, we need to be ready to address different concerns. Roger needed to know scripture showing that Jesus was the messiah; Mary needed to know that Jesus overcame death and raises people from the dead. John needed to hear some apologetics. So there is a place for sharing prophecy (e.g. Roger), sharing about the resurrection (e.g. Mary) and engaging in apologetics (e.g. John) etc. etc.

            “Robert just throws out unwarranted opinions every now and then.”

            While Rhutchin’s view appears to be mere unsubstantiated opinion, my view is based upon many people’s conversions experiences and on actually talking to different people about how they came to faith.

            Notice rhutchin admits that people will say they came to faith for different reasons and notice how he dismisses this claim:

            “Granted, some people will claim to believe based on other factors but of them, Christ said, “Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; . . . “ [rhutchin appeals to Matt 7:21-23].

            Rhutchin is claiming that all who claim that they came to Christ for different reasons are the “”Lord, Lord” people of Matt. 7!

            Rhutchin is totally twisting this passage: the passage is not talking about when people who claim to believe for different reasons are making a false claim. Jesus was not denying that people come to faith for different reasons in this passage: he was denying that everyone who professes to be a Christian is a Christian: big difference.

            “Robert misunderstands Owen’s argument . . . . Best to forget what Robert says about Owen.”

            I have not misinterpreted Owen, that is the standard Owenesque argument: that if people freely choose to believe, then they could be challenged in a situation where one does not believe and the other does, that there is something superior about the one who believes (they are more spiritual, smarter, etc.) and hence that person could then boast in their choice to trust in Christ. This argument has been circulating for hundreds of years and still resurfaces in blogs where Calvinists argue that faith does not involve libertarian free will.

              rhutchin

              Robert writes, “I have not misinterpreted Owen, …”

              I read Owen every now and then and his argument is pretty simple: it’s all about God and not about people. You are saying the opposite. I think you need to provide a citation and a direct quote from Owen to substantiate your claim. For Owen to have attributed one person’s belief to his superiority over those who do not believe is an incredible claim. I am suspicious of it. At the least, you have not read Owen and if you have read somewhat of Owen, you have never read him to say this. So, educate us and show us where Owen said such a thing. Otherwise, it would be best not to rely on you as a witness to anything Owen argued.

              rhutchin

              Robert writes, “Rhutchin makes this false claim: ‘On the contrary, all people come to believe for the exact same reasons.’”

              The Scriptures are clear. Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification. Christ is the propitiation for our sins, even the sins of the world. Anyone who says that they came to Christ for any other reason than to deal with their sin has only deluded themselves and they are no more saved than your common everyday atheist. Jews need a Messiah to deal with their sins. Mary faces death because of her sin. Apologetics does not save; it merely points people to Christ to save them from their sin. What is the first action of the person in belief – it is to acknowledge their sin and repent of that sin and to believe that Christ went to the cross to deliver them from sin.

              You are correct to say that ” there is a place for sharing prophecy (e.g. Roger), sharing about the resurrection (e.g. Mary) and engaging in apologetics (e.g. John) etc. etc.” However, that place is after one comes to Christ and deals with their sin. If one engages prophecy, the resurrection, apologetics, etc. other than as the means to deal with their sin, they yet have no salvation.

    Lydia

    “Second, I am beginning to wonder why, in our evangelical world, why Adam is still the determinative human being instead of Jesus.”

    Yes! Me too. I have my theories, though.

Brad

So… if “never hearng the gospel ”
is a good excuse and a pass to heaven, we should all immediately Stop all evangelism and close all churches and burn every bible.

Robert

I am sorry Brad this is really a ridiculous comment. No one here has suggested that never hearing the gospel is as you put it an automatic “pass to heaven”. Nor has anyone suggested that if some are saved without hearing the gospel that that is as you put it a “good excuse” not to evangelize. I happen to enjoy evangelism and I enjoy being involved in leading others to Christ; besides we are commanded to do so. Your comments also don’t make sense because even if it were true that all who never hear automatically go to heaven that would not change the reality that those of us who love the Lord also love his Word so why would we feel that we need to as you put it “burn every bible.” And why would we need to as you put it “close all churches”?
Actually Brad your comments actually makes some sense if calvinism were true because all of the elect would receive a pass and all automatically go to heaven without having to do a thing. And we really would not need to evangelize as all of the elect are going to be saved no matter what we say or do, I mean God doesn’t need evangelism to regenerate people now does He?
Now Brad we are trying to have a rational and biblical discussion of a significant question. Now I understand that some ask this question to ridicule our faith or as a smokescreen: but some ask it sincerely and for their sake we should discuss this question and leave out the ridicule and mockery.

James

Dr. Flowers,
Thanks so much for your article as I appreciate your careful treatment of this issue. As I understand it, your position is grounded in the supposition that man is capable of responding in faith to general revelation. Subsequent to this response of faith in God on the basis of His general revelation, God supplies special revelation leading to that person’s salvation. Is that correct?

Again as I understand it, you hold this position (that man is capable of responding in faith to general revelation) because it is a logical conclusion. You offer the analogy of the man and his dog followed by: “Should we conclude that God would act in this manner toward his own image bearers, those He loves? I cannot fathom that our perfect Father would treat people in this manner.” You are asserting that man is capable of responding in faith to general revelation because God’s nature (as “perfect Father”) necessitates it. Is that correct?

Given that I have accurately represented your position (and I readily admit I may not have), I have a question. Can you provide a biblical example of a person responding in faith to general revelation? In the article you reference Hebrews 11, but that chapter is replete with references to special revelation. Noah’s faith, for example, is a response to God’s direct warning (or special revelation).

Again, I’m grateful for your treatment of this issue and I look forward to your response.

Thanks!
JC

    Robert

    JC,

    ”As I understand it, your position is grounded in the supposition that man is capable of responding in faith to general revelation.”

    JC what does that mean to say “man is capable of responding in faith to general revelation”?

    I don’t think that even when a person responds positively to general revelation that they are responding in “faith” to it. I reserve the word faith for personal trusting in God and His Word. I look at the awesome creation and I don’t trust in the creation or my knowledge of the creation: I trust in God.

    “Subsequent to this response of faith in God on the basis of His general revelation, God supplies special revelation leading to that person’s salvation. Is that correct?”

    I would say that general revelation may get someone’s attention so that they then start seeking explanations for that revelation (e.g. the world is created by some being or appears to be, so who is this being?): but again it is not a matter of trusting in that general revelation.

    “I have a question. Can you provide a biblical example of a person responding in faith to general revelation?”

    Again I don’t think it is accurate to speak of people “responding in faith to general revelation.” People respond in faith to God and His Word.

    There are clear instances in scripture however that speak of the impact of general revelation. When David writes “the heavens are declaring the glory of God” isn’t he saying that the creation reveals things about God? In Romans 1 Paul speaks of God revealing himself to people through creation and it does not appear to be talking about “special revelation”. While it speaks of those who reject this revelation from God and instead choose to worship the creation rather than the creator, should we conclude that **every** person whom God showed this revelation to, rejected it? Seems to me that most of us would grant that general revelation may be used to lead you towards God but it does not actually save you (hence again it is not something that you trust in).

    Regarding the subject of general revelation a new book has come out that I believe we need to be aware of: it is titled “God’s Wider Presence: Reconsidering General Revelation” by Robert K. Johnston. I have not yet read it but it looks very good. Here is a brief description of it:

    “What are we to make of those occasional yet illuminating experiences of God’s presence that occur outside both church and Scripture? We may encounter God’s revelatory presence as we experience a beautiful sunset, the birth of a child, or a work of art, music, or literature. While theologians have tended to describe such experiences abstractly as mere traces or echoes, those involved often recognize such moments of transcendence as transformative.

    Here senior theologian Robert Johnston explores how Christians should think theologically about God’s wider revelatory presence that is mediated outside the church through creation, conscience, and culture. The book offers a robust, constructive biblical theology of general revelation, rooting its insights in the broader Trinitarian work of the Spirit. Drawing in part from the author’s theological engagement with film and the arts, the book helps Christians understand personal moments of experiencing God’s transcendence and accounts for revelatory experiences of those outside the believing community. It also shows how God’s revelatory presence can impact our interaction with nonbelievers and those of other faiths.”

      James

      Robert,
      Thanks so much for your reply and for the book recommendation. Before I respond directly to your points, perhaps I should clarify. My comments were not presenting my viewpoint; instead, I was asking Dr. Flowers to confirm my understanding of his viewpoint. So what you’ve put in quotes in your comment are not my views, but my summary of Dr. Flowers’ views. After reading his article, I understand Dr. Flowers to hold the position that “man is capable of responding in faith to general revelation.” Having said that, I’ll attempt to define the terms for our side conversation, but ultimately I will defer to Dr. Flowers to clarify the definition of the terms of his article if I miss the mark.

      You asked, “what does that mean to say “man is capable of responding in faith to general revelation”?”

      So I’ll begin with the definition of “faith” that you asked for. I agree that faith is “personal trusting in God and His Word” as you say. However, I think Dr. Flowers is asserting that faith is also “personal trusting in God in response to His creation.”

      The question is really, What did Dr. Flowers mean by faith in his article? Again, he’s the best person to answer that question, but for the sake of our interaction I’ll take a stab at it. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Faith, then, is a settled or assured confidence in something that is not visible. In response to the gospel, it is a settled or assured confidence in Jesus as Savior that includes surrender to Him as Lord. Obviously, I could flesh this definition out, but I think we share enough common understanding of the terms to stop there.

      But the question is not about faith in response to the gospel, but faith in response to general revelation. So, what did Dr. Flowers’ mean by “man is capable of responding in faith to general revelation”? My answer is… In response to what can be known about God from creation, man is capable of having a settled or assured confidence in the existence and supremacy of the one, true, eternally powerful, and divine God who is Creator and Lord of all things that leads to a surrender to Him as Lord.

      Notice, the object of this faith is God and not the revelation itself. Furthermore, Dr. Flowers’ point was not that general revelation “get[s] someone’s attention” as you say. His point, as I understand it, was that some people trust in God on the basis of general revelation. Some people, in response to what is described in Psalm 19, have a settled or assured confidence in the existence and supremacy of the one, true, eternally powerful, and divine God who is Creator and Lord of all things and they surrender to Him as Lord. He is very clear that this faith does not lead to salvation. You also present this point and I agree with both of you. Without explicit faith in Jesus, no one can be saved.

      While we all agree on what is necessary for salvation, Dr. Flowers’ article asserts that people are “capable” of responding with faith in God by looking only at creation. Again, that is not a saving faith, but it is faith nonetheless. Again, my post was an attempt to clarify that what I understand him to say is indeed what he is saying.

      To conclude you wrote, “Again I don’t think it is accurate to speak of people ‘responding in faith to general revelation.’ People respond in faith to God and His Word.” As long as I understand you correctly, I wholeheartedly agree with you. To say it another way, no one responds with faith in God to general revelation. Special revelation is necessary to illicit faith.

      If I understand you correctly, you and I agree. However, I don’t think Dr. Flowers agrees with us. Unless I have misunderstood him, the premise of his article is that some people respond with faith in God to His general revelation and subsequently He gives them special revelation so they can be saved. My post was a request for clarification and for biblical support from him.

      Thanks again and I hope this helps.
      JC

        Robert

        James,

        “My comments were not presenting my viewpoint; instead, I was asking Dr. Flowers to confirm my understanding of his viewpoint.”

        I understand, and it will be helpful for us for Leighton to clarify some things for us.

        “So I’ll begin with the definition of “faith” that you asked for. I agree that faith is “personal trusting in God and His Word” as you say.”

        Then you would also agree that based upon the doctrine of progressive revelation that not all receive the same amount of revelation (so for example OT saints were saved without hearing about Jesus and his death and resurrection, i.e. the gospel concerning Jesus). Put simply people are saved when they respond properly to the revelation (whatever it is) that God gives them.

        “Faith, then, is a settled or assured confidence in something that is not visible. In response to the gospel, it is a settled or assured confidence in Jesus as Savior that includes surrender to Him as Lord.”

        This applies to people who have heard the gospel concerning Jesus (cf. presented by Paul in 1 Cor. 15). But OT saints are not going to have a settled or assured confidence in Jesus as Savior if they never heard about him explicitly.

        “But the question is not about faith in response to the gospel, but faith in response to general revelation.”

        Or could it be expressed as whether or not a person responds positively to the light they have received?

        “Without explicit faith in Jesus, no one can be saved.”

        I don’t believe this statement is true without some important qualifications/or exceptions.

        For example the OT saints may have been saved without explicit faith in Jesus (if they responded properly to the revelation they had received).

        Then there is the case of babies, those who die before the age of accountability and the mentally disabled: if they are going to be saved it would be without explicit knowledge or hearing about Jesus.

        This may also be true of some of those who never hear the gospel: or at least this is the issue being discussed in this thread.

        “Unless I have misunderstood him, the premise of his article is that some people respond with faith in God to His general revelation and subsequently He gives them special revelation so they can be saved.”

        And I would agree with this claim that general revelation may lead a person to seek after God and then they would need some sort of special revelation “so they can be saved.”

        “My post was a request for clarification and for biblical support from him.”

        Regarding biblical support, I brought up Romans 1 and asked you whether you believe that everyone who had things revealed to them by God (as per Romans 1) all reject it. What’s your answer to that question James?

          James

          Robert,
          Thanks so much for your reply. Your comments are very helpful in clarifying the precise areas we’re not quite syncing up.

          First, yes, I hold that revelation is progressive. God did not reveal His plan of redemption through His Son to Abraham so he did not explicitly trust in Jesus for salvation. Instead, Abraham was saved (Romans 4) on the basis of his faith in God in response to His promises. It is my understanding that OT saints (like Abraham) were saved by their faith in the promises of God. Essentially, this is the message of Hebrews 11.

          Second and corresponding to that, I do not think comparing OT saints to people who are alive today and do not hear the gospel is accurate. Simply put, progressive revelation does not equal general revelation. Progressive revelation, by definition, is special revelation.

          Abraham knew fewer specific details about God’s plan of redemption than you and I know because of when he lived in redemptive history. However, Abraham knew more than general revelation. General revelation is what all people everywhere know about God. But Abraham wasn’t limited to the truth about God that is clearly seen in creation because God spoke directly to him. Although it was somewhat limited compared to you and me, Abraham had special revelation.

          So, yes, OT saints were saved without explicit faith in Jesus. And yes, the doctrine of progressive revelation helps us understand why. Progressive revelation, however, does not help us understand the fate of the un-evangelized today for at least two reasons. First, revelation is no longer progressing the way it once did. God has spoken fully and finally through His Son (Heb 1). Second, because progressive revelation is special revelation, it cannot be equated with what people know about God through general revelation.

          Third, you wrote, “Put simply people are saved when they respond properly to the revelation (whatever it is) that God gives them.” I do not agree with you here. For whatever we may say about OT saints, the first coming of Jesus change the game so to speak. The NT gives only one hope of salvation; namely, explicit faith in Jesus Christ.

          Fourth, I appreciate your statement about qualifiers for my statement, “Without explicit faith in Jesus, no one can be saved.” In the spirit of progressive revelation, that statement is true today based on dozens of NT texts. To quote the Baptist Faith and Message, “There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.” This statement doesn’t apply to OT saints precisely because of the doctrine of progressive revelation. The other qualification, as you mention, relates to the fate of infants and the mentally incapacitated. I’m happy to discuss that qualification, but I want to avoid distraction from our larger point. I’ll only say that these individuals have less than general revelation so it’s a slightly different conversation than the one we’re having.

          Fifth, you asked about Romans 1. Specifically you asked, Do I “believe that everyone who had things revealed to them by God (as per Romans 1) all reject it?” Yes, everyone who is armed only with general revelation will reject it. In fact, I think that’s one of Paul’s primary points in Romans 1:18-3:20. He summarizes his argument in Romans 3:9-12. “For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

          Sixth, I will lob the ball back across the net with a corresponding question relate to Romans 1. Where in Scripture do you find evidence of a person “responding properly” to general revelation?

          Thanks again!
          JC

            Robert

            James,

            I believe you misunderstood my intent in bringing up the fact that (and you grant this in your response) OT saints were saved without explicitly hearing about Jesus and his death and resurrection (“So, yes, OT saints were saved without explicit faith in Jesus.”). You made the absolute statement that: ““Without explicit faith in Jesus, no one can be saved.” But this statement is false as there are exceptions in which people are saved without having heard of Jesus (the OT saints, babies, those who die before the age of accountability, the mentally disabled). Once you open this door, it is very difficult to argue that those who never hear about Jesus cannot be saved today.

            You also admitted that revelation is progressive:

            “First, yes, I hold that revelation is progressive.”

            I brought up progressive revelation to establish the fact that God saves people in light of their response to the revelation that they have received. By definition if different people are saved in different eras and different amounts of revelation are available in those eras, then people must be being saved by responding properly to the revelation/light they have received in that era.

            “Second and corresponding to that, I do not think comparing OT saints to people who are alive today and do not hear the gospel is accurate..”

            You are missing why I am making the comparison between OT saints and those who never hear the gospel today: the point is that in fact some people will be saved without hearing about Jesus (so the claim that people can only be saved if they explicitly hear about Jesus is false: the salvation of OT saints disproves that).

            “Third, you wrote, “Put simply people are saved when they respond properly to the revelation (whatever it is) that God gives them.” I do not agree with you here.”

            And yet it seems to be a reasonable inference that if people were saved at different periods with different amounts of revelation, then it is reasonable to infer that they were saved when they responded properly to the revelation they received.

            “The NT gives only one hope of salvation; namely, explicit faith in Jesus Christ.”

            If this statement is true then again the OT saints whom you yourself admit were saved without explicit faith in Jesus could not have been saved.

            “To quote the Baptist Faith and Message, “There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.” This statement doesn’t apply to OT saints precisely because of the doctrine of progressive revelation. The other qualification, as you mention, relates to the fate of infants and the mentally incapacitated.”

            So the BFM statement admits to at least three exceptions: OT saints, infants, and the mentally incapacitated. The question then would follow: does it admit of a fourth exception, namely the subject of this thread?

            “He summarizes his argument in Romans 3:9-12.”

            You need to be careful in claiming that Paul was claiming that no one seeks after God, because later in Romans 9-11 he speaks of the Jews being zealous for God and Paul also says in Acts 17 that God sovereignly set things up so that all of the nations would seek after him. Is Paul contradicting himself in Acts 17 and Romans 3?

            “Where in Scripture do you find evidence of a person “responding properly” to general revelation?”

            I don’t think scripture directly speaks of an individual responding properly to general revelation because the emphasis is upon individual’s responses to special revelation. But just because it is not directly referred to it does not logically follow that it never occurred. The salvation of those who are mentally disabled is not mentioned directly in scripture and yet most would grant that based upon biblical principles it is likely they are saved. And that is what this discussion involves: are there biblical principles that lead to the conclusion that those who never hear the gospel may be saved? I provided some earlier in this thread.

              James

              Robert,
              Thanks again for the interaction. I think our conversation has run its course because we understand the baseline distinctions differently.

              First, you do not acknowledge distinctions between the categories of people in our discussion. For you, it seems to me, all groups with less than special revelation about Jesus are the same with respect to salvation. While obviously they are similar, I do not think they are the same.

              OT saints are similar to people who are alive today but have only general revelation in that they do not know the name of Jesus. But they are different in at least two critical ways. First, OT saints had special revelation, but the un-reached do not. Second, OT saints lived in a different period with respect to progressive revelation. So they are similar, but they are not the same. Therefore, it is not a “reasonable inference” to expect that God will “save” them similarly because to do so ignores these key distinctions. More importantly for me, it is not biblical to expect that God will “save” them similarly because He never says or even alludes to it.

              In addition, you apply the same logic to those who are mentally incapacitated. Again, while these individuals are similar to OT saints and to the un-reached in that they have limited knowledge, they are different in critical ways. Because of mental limitations, this group has no “access” to general or special revelation. Even when it is present, they cannot comprehend it. So while they have “limited” revelation, they are not the same as OT saints (who had special revelation) or the un-reached (who have general revelation. Therefore, it is not a “reasonable inference” to expect that God will “save” these groups similarly because to do so ignores these key distinctions. More importantly for me, it is not biblical to expect that God will “save” them similarly.

              Second, you do not acknowledge the distinctions between progressive revelation and general revelation. They are similar in that they are limited, but they are vastly different. Romans 3:21 tells us that the OT saints had information about God’s plan to save, but it was limited. Those people with only general revelation do NOT have information about God’s plan to save. Therefore, it is not a “reasonable inference” to expect that God will “save” them similarly because to do so ignores these key distinctions. More importantly for me, it is not biblical to expect that God will “save” them similarly because He never says or even alludes to it.

              Our conversation is at an impasse until one of us is willing to acknowledge these distinctions the way the other does and appreciate their impact on the discussion. I’m not willing to do that and I suspect you are either. For me, your logic is a bit like saying dogs and lions are both four-legged animals that have fur and sharp teeth. Because dogs and lions are so similar, it’s a “reasonable inference” to put them in the same categories. Dogs make good house pets; therefore, lions must also make good house pets. You are establishing similarity is in some areas (with respect to limited revelation) and then applying sameness to other areas (salvation) that are completely different. It’s neither logical nor biblical to do so.

              More to the point of my initial comment, you admit that your position cannot be substantiated biblically. You wrote, “I don’t think scripture directly speaks of an individual responding properly to general revelation because the emphasis is upon individual’s responses to special revelation.” Exactly.

              My comments have sought one basic piece of information. If the point of the article was that people are capable of responding with faith in God to general revelation, then please provide some biblical substantiation.

              As a brother in Christ, I’d offer one final word of caution for you. Beware of universalism. I’m not saying or even implying that you hold that position. However, the line of reasoning that says this open door automatically means the next door is also open has only one logical conclusion. Namely, all the doors are open.

              Thanks again.
              JC

                Robert

                James,

                “I think our conversation has run its course because we understand the baseline distinctions differently.”

                You could be right here as you appear to be twisting things a bit so that the points I am making are ignored and being reinterpreted by you in a way that is completely different from the actual point that I am making.

                “OT saints are similar to people who are alive today but have only general revelation in that they do not know the name of Jesus.”

                My point about OT saints is that they were saved without hearing the name of Jesus: you had originally and falsely claimed that no one is saved unless they explicitly hear about Jesus. This claim is false and you have not acknowledged that your claim is false.

                “In addition, you apply the same logic to those who are mentally incapacitated. Again, while these individuals are similar to OT saints and to the un-reached in that they have limited knowledge, they are different in critical ways.”

                You also missed my point about the mentally disabled: the point was simply that they are yet another group that if they are saved (and most of us believe they will be, and you seem to believe this as well) they are saved without explicitly hearing about Jesus. So we have at least two groups that will be saved without hearing about Jesus and yet they will be saved. Additionally we can add infants and those who die before the age of accountability. My **single** point regarding these groups is that we know for a fact that some very different people will be saved apart from explicitly hearing the gospel concerning Jesus.

                “For me, your logic is a bit like saying dogs and lions are both four-legged animals that have fur and sharp teeth. Because dogs and lions are so similar, it’s a “reasonable inference” to put them in the same categories. Dogs make good house pets; therefore, lions must also make good house pets. You are establishing similarity is in some areas (with respect to limited revelation) and then applying sameness to other areas (salvation) that are completely different.”

                If I brought up dogs and lions, in addition to say elephants in order to show the single point that different animals in addition to Elephants have four legs. My reasoning would be perfectly justified as my **only** point between comparing the two with elephants was to show that different animals (not just elephants) have four legs. Likewise my point in bringing up OT saints and babies and the mentally disabled is to make ONE SINGLE point: namely that not all people are saved through hearing explicitly about the gospel concerning Jesus. That’s it, that is my point. My point is justified and yet you refuse to accept it. You are correct if you cannot even acknowledge single points like this, then we really cannot discuss things further.

                “More to the point of my initial comment, you admit that your position cannot be substantiated biblically. You wrote, “I don’t think scripture directly speaks of an individual responding properly to general revelation because the emphasis is upon individual’s responses to special revelation.” Exactly.”

                You asked a question about whether or not the Bible presents cases of people responding properly to general revelation: and I answered not as far as I know. That admission is not at all like saying:

                “you admit that your position cannot be substantiated biblically.”

                This is true because my position is not based upon citing instances of people responding properly to general revelation. That may be someone else’s way of demonstrating my case but it is not mine. Your claim here completely over steps the evidence: it is not a valid inference at all. I can admit that I know of no explicit cases of people in the bible responding properly to general revelation AND AT THE SAME TIME believe that my position can be substantiated biblically. How so? I will write another post on it.

                  Robert

                  In an earlier post on this thread I shared principles that are all found in the Bible that when taken together suggest that some people may be saved without hearing the gospel concerning Jesus. I will not repeat them here, but want to emphasize just a few to show there is a Biblical case for what I am suggesting.

                  The first principle is that God says that He wants to save all people. This principle combined with another principle, God’s character, suggests that he will make an effort to save all people, that they all will receive some sort of opportunity to be saved. We also have some scriptures that those who take the other position, for some reason, never seem to discuss.

                  One is Acts 17:26-27 where Paul says EXPLICITLY that God sovereignly sets up all nations so that people would seek after Him. Now while it does not go into details, you gotta believe that this effort by God will succeed with at least some people. And since it says it involves all nations then we can expect there to be some saved persons from all nations. In addition to this Acts 17:26-27 passage we also have some explicit verses in Revelation (5:9, 7:9-10) in which in describing the redeemed (i.e. those who are saved) it says they will be from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue (i.e. every people group).

                  Now I have had some Calvinists gleefully tell me in the past that as far as we know, Christian missionaries have not reached every people group that has ever existed (so that the claim is made that many of these people groups in history never ever heard the gospel). Well if that is true, and it may well be true, then something does not add up here. How can God tell us in His Word that there will be saved people from every people group in those Revelation verses: and at the same time many/or some of these people groups never heard the gospel, then doesn’t that mean that at least some of them must have been saved without hearing the gospel? I do not see how we can escape this conclusion. And this conclusion is based upon scripture.

                  I think the only way calvinists can escape this conclusion with the verses in Revelation and Acts 17 is the same way they try to escape the bible verses that present that God desires for all to be saved (i.e. they have to play semantic word games where “all” is redefined or given a different meaning than its intended meaning). So they would have to argue that “from every nation, tribe, people, tongue” really does not mean “from every nation, tribe, people, tongue”, but means only the elect throughout the world or other such nonsense.

                  Is there a biblical basis for my position? I think so when you combine all of the principles (which are taken from the Bible) and combine them. Their cumulative weight makes a strong case.

                    Robert

                    James wrote:

                    “As a brother in Christ, I’d offer one final word of caution for you. Beware of universalism. I’m not saying or even implying that you hold that position. However, the line of reasoning that says this open door automatically means the next door is also open has only one logical conclusion. Namely, all the doors are open.”

                    These comments merit their own response hence I am writing a separate post in response to them.

                    First of all I do not need this warning and it is inappropriate to present this warning to me.

                    Here is why.

                    First, universalism is the false doctrine that at the end, everyone will have been saved. It is false because there are **multiple and explicit** scriptures that present two eternal destinies (heaven and hell).[I will not list these verses here assuming you and others are very familiar with them already].

                    Second, taking the position that some people may be saved without ever having heard of Jesus does not as James claims “the line of reasoning that says this open door automatically means the next door is also open has only one logical conclusion. Namely, all the doors are open” end up in universalism. To take one well known example, Ravi Zacharias who is a great apologist for the Christian faith who speaks regularly at university campuses and is highly respected (and ought to be) believes that some will be saved without hearing about Jesus AND in the existence of a real eternal punishment that we call hell. Zacharias is very smart and logical and nowhere in any of his writings or speeches as he ever claimed universalism is true. Likewise I hold to the traditional view on eternal punishment as well.

                    Third your claims here James are just completely off base in light of the NT teachings on the reality of eternal punishment/hell.

                    So why are you warning me (an advocate of the reality of eternal punishment) James that I need to be worried about embracing universalism?

                    Unless all those NT passages clearly presenting the reality of eternal punishment are shown to be false: I feel no temptation towards embracing universalism whatsoever.

                    That leads me to ask other observers (e.g. Andrew, Bob Hadley) who are following this thread: why do you think that people like rhutchin and now James are falsely claiming that we non-Calvinists hold to universalism?

                    What are your theories on this?

                    rhutchin

                    “(i.e. [Calvinists] have to play semantic word games where “all” is redefined or given a different meaning than its intended meaning).”

                    This is another of Robert’s false claims. Calvinists point to Ephesians 3 where Paul writes, “..by revelation God made known to me the mystery…That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel,” and thereby conclude that Paul’s use of the word, “all,” is defined to mean “both Jews and Gentiles” as in 1 Timothy, “[God] will have [both Jews and gentiles] to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

                    When Robert and others claim another meaning, they never point to any Scriptures to support that meaning. They essentially argue that “all” means what they want it to mean and then call this the “intended” meaning.

                    rhutchin

                    Robert asks, “That leads me to ask other observers (e.g. Andrew, Bob Hadley) who are following this thread: why do you think that people like rhutchin and now James are falsely claiming that we non-Calvinists hold to universalism?”

                    We do this because non-Calvinists use the Universalist arguments to support their philosophies. One example is 2 Peter 3:9, “[God is] not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” The Universalist argues that “all” means each and every person so God will ensure that none perish. The non-Universalist argues that “all” refers only to those to whom Peter is writing, i.e., God’s elect and point to context to support this conclusion.

                    Andrew Barker

                    Robert: Your comment regarding universalism is pertinent. It is part of the Calvinist’s debate weaponry which also includes the ‘arrows’ of Semi-Pelagianism (or Pelagiansim on a bad day) and the ‘sling’ of Open Theism. These weapons of offense can be followed up with the coup de grâce of ‘heresy’. In effect, it is little more than a crude attempt to stifle discussion and/or win a point of debate.

                    I did challenge rhutchin to provide one example of a contributor to this site who has espoused universalism. As yet he has failed to come up with the goods. Not surprising, because I can’t remember anybody who has argued for that and certainly if they did, they would be strongly opposed.

                    What we have seen is a statement of the obvious, in that not all will be saved. There is general agreement on that at least :) Generally most non-Calvinist’s would say that if people are not saved, it is because they reject God, not that God rejects them! This also goes for those who have never heard the gospel. Everyone is judged on the basis of what they know of God and fortunately, that’s down to God, not us.

                    rhutchin has now given a prime example of why he is doing this …..
                    “We do this because non-Calvinists use the Universalist arguments to support their philosophies. One example is 2 Peter 3:9, “[God is] not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

                    I don’t think 2 Peter 3:9 supports universal salvation at all. It confirms God’s desire that all SHOULD be saved. Peter is being entirely consistent. Salvation offered to ALL on the basis of repentance. rhutchin has shot his arrow and missed the gold spot. One might venture some advice … “go and ‘syn’ no more”!

                  rhutchin

                  Andrew Barker writes, “I don’t think 2 Peter 3:9 supports universal salvation at all.”

                  The use of the negative is key to this verse. It is a statement of truth – “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” The Universalist defines “any/all” to mean each and every individual. If that definition is correct, then the verse necessarily means that God will not allow any person to perish as God is “not willing.” There are non-Calvinists who follow the Universalist logic and promote this position. No other Scriptures overcome the significance and impact of the negative, “not willing.”

                  The Calvinist says that “any/all” points back to “us” earlier in the verse and should be read as “any of us,” with the meaning that God is not willing that any of His elect perish – explaining why He had not judged the world; all His elect had not been saved.

                  Is there a third position? If there is, present it. Otherwise, it’s either the Universalist understanding or the Calvinist understanding. If you don’t buy the Universalist understanding, I guess that means you yield to the Calvinist on this which your statement says. So, is that true? Or do you have a third position?

                    Andrew Barker

                    rhutchin: I’m at a loss to understand exactly why you keep banging on about this ‘universalism’. Nobody on this site is arguing for that position, so I can only assume that it suits your purposes to keep mentioning it. Like many Calvinists, you appear to find it difficult to grasp the concept that God’s will is not always done and that this somehow demeans His Sovereignty. It doesn’t. It is God’s express will, desire and purposes that nobody should perish but he has chosen to make salvation conditional on faith. God is faithful even if we are not, but he cannot deny Himself so if people choose to reject God’s offer, then God’s will cannot be accomplished in their lives.

                    As a Calvinist you say that God’s patience is because not all the ‘elect’ have been saved. But you fail to note that the verse actually uses the word perish and repentance. Surely it’s not possible for the ‘elect’ to not come to repentance and be saved??! So why bother writing it?

                    The truth is, your convoluted reasoning is constantly imploding in on itself.

                  rhutchin

                  Andrew Barker writes, “It is God’s express will, desire and purposes that nobody should perish but he has chosen to make salvation conditional on faith.”

                  If your first statement is true, “It is God’s express will, desire and purposes that nobody should perish, ” then He will save all. To do otherwise is to deny that “It is God’s express will, desire and purposes that nobody should perish.” The idea that there are then conditions on a person’s reaction to salvation is fine, however those conditions cannot negate the main theme – If it is true that God’s express will, desire and purpose is that nobody should perish, then nobody will perish regardless of any conditions imposed.

                  Faith is a gift. People are not born with faith. Faith comes by “hearing.” (Romans 10) Faith is a gift to the person from God (Ephesians 2). If God does not what any person to perish and conditions a person’s salvation on a gift he gives to the person, then God will certainly give that gift to every person to gain His will – that they not perish.

                  The problem for you is that you need to overcome the significance of Peter’s use of the negative to avoid the universal sense of your understanding of that verse (which you understand by seeking to condition salvation on faith). However, you condition it on something God does – but 2 Peter 3 ensures that God does His part to prevent any from perishing. You are promoting universalism even though you deny that conclusion (or just don’t understand what you are doing).

                    Andrew Barker

                    rhutchin: “If it is true that God’s express will, desire and purpose is that nobody should perish, then nobody will perish regardless of any conditions imposed.”

                    This presupposes the view that God’s will is always done. Jesus doesn’t appear to think this was the case because he taught his disciples to pray “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. If God’s will was always being done, it was, indeed it still would be, a particularly pointless request to make.

                    As for faith being a gift and quoting Eph 2:8 in support of this, I have to say this is a schoolboy error, frequently made by Calvinists. Sadly, it demonstrates just how blinded they are to the truth. Many of them are now unable to think for themselves and correctly use Bible passages because they view everything in Calvinistic terms. The grammatical structure of the verses show that ‘salvation through faith’ is the gift. In addition making faith the gift in verse 8, makes a nonsense of verse 9. Effectively Paul would be saying that faith is not a work! Well, there was nobody alive then who was under the impression that faith ever was a work. There may be Calvinists who now try to view faith as a work, but it is in response to the fact that they have cottoned on to the direct contradiction between the Biblical account and their theology. Unfortunately they square this circle by trying to change what the Bible says instead of modifying their theology.

                    But the situation is not simply a correct reading of the verses in question. You cannot point to any corroborating verses to show salvific faith as a gift. There are none. The only place salvific faith is seen as a gift is in Reformed theological textbooks. It’s not a Biblical concept at all. It demonstrates the complete inadequacy of the Calvinist system to explain basic Bible truths. Universalism? Who needs it? Although you seem to be unable to answer questions without referring to it!

Andy

JIM G: “Why are some saved and some not? Who knows? Trying to answer that question is what got Augustine in trouble and started this whole mess of unconditional election of individuals in the first place. We’ve had 1600 years of fallout from a question he should have left alone.”

I will disagree on one point here, Jim. I don’t think the solution is simply to leave difficult questions alone. If that is the answer then you are saying that Dr. Flower’s entire article here should not have been written, perhaps that he was even being sinful by addressing the issue when he should have left it alone? I don’t think so. God gave us brains, he wants us to use them. It is good and right that Dr. Flowers should address it, and it was good and right that Augustine should address it in his day. Whether we agree with either is not the point. It is good and right that we have these discussions…provided we do the with respect to our fellow brothers and sister in Christ, and that we do not hold our ideas about what scripture means over and above what it actually says. (of course both sides will sometimes say that the opposing side does just that…but both sides need to realize that disagreement about the meaning of scripture does not automatically mean one is suddenly extra-biblical.

    Jim G.

    I did not say we should leave it alone. I am saying why people believe or not is ultimately a mystery, at least to us. We cannot see everything and know everything. Augustine’s oversimplified dualistic categories (It is either the way God wants it or he is at our mercy) are the problem. I don’t think it is a simple either-or, but we are still working off of his template. He took all the mystery out of it with his doctrines of unconditional election and perseverance of the saints. To Augustine and his children, people believe or not ***freely*** because that is the way God wants it. Sorry – too simplistic and too non-Trinitarian for me.

    We need a new model. The one we have does not explain enough and has too many exceptions.

    Jim G.

      Jim P

      Einstein once said, “Keep things as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Over simplifying makes it easy to avoid the effort needed to understand correctly, while over complicating keeps the majority in confusion.

      Jim P

      Les

      Thank you Jim G. for bringing mystery into the discussion. Ultimately I disagree with your views (I’ve held to Reformed theology for almost 30 years), but I do appreciate that in many things there is some level of mystery. In fact, most Reformed folks I’ve known over these last 30 years readily admit some mystery in how election, regeneration, conversion etc work. Each of my professors were clear on that matter…mystery.

      Sadly, some these days have accused Reformed folks of hiding behind mystery (which is odd in itself since we are also said to have everything systematically worked out) on such things as man’s will and God’s election. We who are of the compatible view surely see mystery there. And many other places such as prayer.

      Anyway, thank you for being open about mystery. From WCF Ch. 3: “8. The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.”

      Blessings brother.

rhutchin

Andrew Barker writes, “The grammatical structure of the verses show that ‘salvation through faith’ is the gift. In addition making faith the gift in verse 8, makes a nonsense of verse 9.”

In Ephesians 2:5, Paul writes, “Even when we were dead in sins, God quickened us together with Christ.” Paul then explains what he means by writing, “by grace ye are saved.” We conclude from this that salvation is by God’s grace and thereby a gift from God. Paul wants no confusion on this point, so he makes this statement early in his argument.

Paul then continues his train of thought and writes, “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” He has now added. “…through faith…” to that which he had earlier written. To avoid misunderstanding, Paul now adds, “…and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” We are to understand now only that “salvation dia faith” is a gift but also its individual parts are a gift: salvation as a whole (as Paul earlier stated) and now the faith through which God’s elect will appropriate this salvation.

We also know that this faith “comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” In other words, God’s elect must be exposed to the word of God which then conveys faith to the individual. However, God chooses whom to grant this faith as we understand that all who are exposed to God’s word do not evidence faith; only some do – those to whom God has given that faith, His gift.

The contrast is between faith as a work and faith as a gift. Here Paul is clear, no one merits faith; faith is a gift that God gives to those He wants. In Job, we are told, “God is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desires, even that he does. For God performs the thing that is appointed for me:” God decides what He will do and no one can change His mind. It is God who saves people by grace (a gift) and God brings His elect to salvation by granting them faith (also a gift).

You are getting hung up on faith not being a “work” when your focus should be on faith as a “gift.” If you intend to argue against the Calvinist on this point, you must argue that faith is not a gift from God to an individual. As no one is born with that faith of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 2, a person must be receive such faith form another source – so then faith comes by hearing the word of God – and only God’s elect “hear” that word and thereby receive the gift of faith unto salvation.

    Andrew Barker

    rhutchin: ” We are to understand now only that “salvation dia faith” is a gift but also its individual parts are a gift: salvation as a whole (as Paul earlier stated) and now the faith through which God’s elect will appropriate this salvation.”

    As I think I’ve said before, you are free to hold whatever views you like. What you are not free to do, is to start chopping and changing God’s word just to suit your particular theology. So frankly, no you may not see the individual parts of salvation as integral gifts in their own right, because that’s not what God’s word says.

    Your next point is quite revealing. “The contrast is between faith as a work and faith as a gift.” It shows that you have very little understanding of how faith is viewed in the scriptures. Faith as a work, is a contradiction in terms and is simply a nonsensical statement. Faith (salvific) as a gift doesn’t exist. Any contrast between the two is meaningless.

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