Is There A Reformed Way To Get The Benefits Of The Atonement To “Those Who Have Never Heard?” -- By: R. Todd Mangum

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 47:1 (Mar 2004)
Article: Is There A Reformed Way To Get The Benefits Of The Atonement To “Those Who Have Never Heard?”
Author: R. Todd Mangum

Is There A Reformed Way To Get The Benefits Of The Atonement To “Those Who Have Never Heard?”

R. Todd Mangum

[R. Todd Mangum is assistant professor of theology at Biblical Theological Seminary, 200 North Main Street, Hatfield, PA 19440.]

Evangelicals are familiar with the common taxonomy of positions regarding the eternal destiny of those people who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and the saving benefits he gained for humankind through his death and resurrection: (1) exclusivism (restrictivism); (2) inclusivism; and (3) pluralism.1 I know of no evangelical pluralists,2 so my attention in this article will focus on the dialogue presently taking place between evangelical exclusivists and evangelical inclusivists.

We may discern certain patterns of factors that seem to influence where on the spectrum of “wider-hope inclusivism” to “restrictivist exclusivism” an evangelical thinker is likely to fall. One such contributing factor is the overall Calvinist vs. Arminian orientation of one’s soteriology. Simply put, the more classically Reformed (particular redemptionist) is one’s soteriology, the more exclusivist is one likely to be regarding the destiny of the unevangelized.3

There are some ready explanations for this overall pattern. An Arminian soteriology sees the design of the atonement as universal, meaning that there is a sense in which God would be stingy to deny the cross’s payment being actually applied to an unbeliever’s individual “account,” given that he has payment in hand for the unbeliever’s sins anyway.4 An Arminian soteriology also sees the preliminary work of the Spirit that draws a person to God (“prevenient grace”) as being (virtually) universal in scope as well. The result is that human beings (at least since Christ’s completion of a universal atonement) are already in a very favorable position with God, with the likelihood being that they will be eternally accepted by God unless they reject the abundant mercy he has displayed and continues to display towards them.5

A classically Reformed soteriology has a very different emphasis. It regards human beings, in general, as depraved—meaning that humans are, in their natural state, odious to God and incapable of removing that odiousness or even of responding to the divinely constructed means of removing it, unless God does something extraordinary ...

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