One Lord, One Faith, One Post, Many Opinions
Wow. I had no idea that a discussion about the possibility of salvation for someone who's responded positively to general revelation but not yet received special revelation would create such a stir! Here are some brief observations, not about the question, but about our collective responses:
1. I don't think the question is hypothetical and therefore irrelevant. Indeed, there are no doubt people on this planet who've said yes to the creator God, and yet haven't known about Jesus. God goes to great lengths in the book of Hebrews to explain that, even in the Old Testament times, there were those who worshiped Christ without knowing it (see Hebrews 7), certainly without knowing His name. If there indeed is, "no other name in heaven whereby we might be saved" (Acts 2), then either one must know THE NAME Jesus, with a capital "J", or people who respond to the revelation of deity granted them are, in accordance with their faith, granted the gift of righteousness, just as Abraham was granted righteousness, not by the old covenant of keeping the law, but by the new of grace (see Romans 4). This is a real issue.
2. The notion that people use this as a smokescreen is, while certainly true in some cases, itself a smokescreen. We appeal to CS Lewis "Moral Argument" for the existence of God on the one hand, and then on the other, when our moral sensibilities are assaulted because we can't subscribe to a god who would cause billions to burn in hell for eternity because of some missionaries disobedience to their calls, we told to shut up and not question god. We can't have it both ways friends. If we're going to claim, as we rightly should according to Romans 2, that the law of God is written in the hearts of every person, and thus we have a sense of right and wrong, we shouldn't suddenly become quickly dismissive of our notions of morality because they don't fit with what might possibly our wrong theology. Might God be trying to tell us something by the fact that so many people are offended at the thought of God holding others accountable for a message they've never heard. After all, parents who punish their children for not guessing the parents will and doing it before they ask aren't exactly held up as models are they?
3. Is there really a fear going on here that, if we suggest that people might be saved who've never heard of Christ, all mission work and preaching would cease? That seems silly to me, kind of like saying, "if people can get by on McDonald's, better not to tell them about the far more nourishing and sustaining food available..." Love demands that we declare Christ, and serve in His name...doing justice, loving mercy, loving our neighbors, and more.
4. Opinions seem to range from a wooden and mechantistic 'protectionist' mentality, to an open ended sense of "mystery" and since we can't know, we shouldn't bother talking about it. The ends of the spectrum seem, to me, unduly flavored by modernity and post-modernity respectively. "protectionism" means my grid has been created, and I've got the answers already so the rest of my days will be about defending. The "mystery" people will see answers as so unattainable that time would be better spent listening to the latest indy band. Neither viewpoint helps us become salt and light in the world. I'm pleaing here for us to become people who hold our convictions, and live by our convictions, but who hold them with an open hand, always open to the possibility that, just perhaps, we don't yet understand everything. I know I don't.
Thanks for the discussion so far... perhaps these observations can keep it going. I'm in Los Angeles teacching this week - pray for me.