In What About Those Who Have Never Heard?, three theologians offer different perspectives on the fate of the unevangelized. Ronald Nash offers the restrictivist position, which holds that knowledge of Christ’s resurrection before death is necessary for salvation. Gabriel Fackre defends divine perseverance, in which knowledge of Christ’s resurrection is necessary for salvation, but that this salvation may occur after death. John Sanders offers the inclusivist view, whereby those who are ignorant of Christ may be saved based on their response to general revelation. All three authors contend that Christ’s death and resurrection was necessary for the salvation of any, and thus they represent relatively conservative viewpoints.
One of the advantages of the format is that it gives the reader a chance to analyze several divergent views on the issue. The essays are relatively brief, and the responses even briefer, which is both an advantage and a disadvantage. It is an advantage because it allows the reader to easily remember the arguments and counter-arguments. However, it is an obvious disadvantage because issues that should be treated in depth are passed over or simply summarized. Additionally, the author of each position is not given a chance to defend their view against the criticism offered by the other contributors, which seriously detracts from the usefulness of the book.
Personally, I found Sanders’ position to be the most convincing. It is perhaps the most logical of all the viewpoints (as it can easily explain the reason why Old Testament believers, handicapped persons, and infants can receive the benefits of Salvation via Christ’s work), and is able to at least mesh with most of the Biblical data. However, there are several verses which inclusivism does not seem to plausibly explain, and so these verses must be addressed or the position abandoned. Fackre’s view garners little actual support from the Bible, but nor is it contradicted by many texts. Thus, my view on divine perseverance is that it is possible, but not made extremely probable with Biblical references. However, I must admit that it seems unlikely that the Bible would mention divine perseverance frequently even if it were true, as Christ wanted us to focus on the here and now. The mentioning of divine perseverance would be mostly superfluous in such a context.
Nash’s view does garner significant Biblical support, although his presentation was marred by the consistent declaration that Sanders’ inclusivism supported faith by works and demoted the role of Christ’s work on the cross. However, as Sanders’ points out, his view does not entail that Christ’s work on the cross is inessential for Salvation, only that conscious awareness of Christ’s death and resurrection are not essential for an individual to receive the benefits that the resurrection makes possible. As long as inclusivists can faithfully interpret the few passages which actually seem to contradict the position, it seems an eminently reasonable stance even for the most conservative Christians.
For those who are interested in a brief introduction to several different views concerning the destiny of the unevangelized, then What About Those Who Have Never Heard? should prove satisfactory.