The Fate of Those Who Never Hear -- By: Millard J. Erickson
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The Fate of Those Who Never Hear
[Millard J. Erickson is Research Professor of Theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.]
[This is article one in the four-part series, “The Destiny of the Unevangelized,” delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, February 8–11, 1994.]
At various times in the history of the church, different areas of doctrine have been disputed. The situations leading to these debates have varied considerably. In a sense Pelagius’ desire that people live a good life led to the debate over human goodness and sinfulness in the late third and early fourth centuries, the debate known as the Augustinian-Pelagian controversy. Disagreement over the selling of indulgences in the 16th century led to the dispute between Martin Luther and the Roman Catholic Church over the nature and basis of salvation. One of the burning issues of the present day is the extent of salvation, occasioned by increasing cultural and religious pluralism in what have formerly been “Christian” nations, and by the discussion of the fate of those who never hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.
From its very beginning, Christianity has been evangelistic, holding its adherents responsible to share with others the good news of Jesus Christ and salvation through faith in Him. This in turn entails certain concepts. One is universal sinfulness, guilt, and condemnation. Another is the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ, involving a certain element of information that must be believed. While there never was exact agreement on the relative percentage of the human race that would be saved, there is consensus that not all who have lived will receive eternal life.
However, in recent years controversy has arisen about these concepts. The uniqueness, exclusiveness, and necessity of Jesus Christ and belief in Him for salvation are being questioned. In
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light of this and other considerations, it is important to investigate carefully the question of who will be saved, and on what basis. The study of this question is especially important at this time for several reasons.
First, it is important to address this subject because confusion has arisen regarding salvation and Christ, even in circles where this has traditionally been given the highest value. The Barna organization’s polling data published in 1992 indicated a rather high degree of correct understanding of the basis of salvation. When asked to describe their belief about life after death, 62 percent of the respondents agreed that “When you die, you will go to heave...
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