What About Those Who Have Never Heard: Three Views on the Destiny of the Unevangelized
Contributors: John Sanders, Ronald Nash and Gabriel Fackre
2 Stars (out of 5)
In my journey to reconcile within myself how inclusive the Gospel is I came across this book (published 1995) which examines three views: inclusivism (John Sanders), restrictivism (Ronald Nash), and divine perseverance (Gabriel Fackre).
I like John Sanders, a lot. Most of what I read by him is so persuasively argued that even those who oppose him in writing sometimes feel compelled to applaud him in the process. Furthermore I have always believed intuitively that as far as those who have never heard (like say, a small village of barbarians living in no-man’s land who have had no contact with outsides in 3000 years), that God’s grace and mercy must extend to them in some way. So going into this book I pretty much assumed that Sanders would buttress a view that I was already inclined to believe. Certainly in some ways he has done that. But in other ways I found myself scratching my head and thinking, “that interpretation is a bit of a stretch, isn’t it?” Yet having said that, I must say that as someone who was raised a restrictivist (i.e. exclusivist), I found Sanders interpretation of Matthew 22:14 (“many are called, but few are chosen”) to be genius and uncompromising.
Gabriel Fackre’s essay, divine perseverance, was fascinating. Until recently I was blissfully unaware of a doctrine of “Postmortem Reconciliation” (which is another way of saying “divine perseverance”), and now in this book we get to read an essay by a scholar who holds to this view and attempts to make a case for it, philosophically, historically and biblically. Yet I came away more convinced than ever that if postmortem reconciliation is true, it certainly is not taught in the bible.
Ronald Nash’s chapter delivered strong mixed feelings. First of all, he broke with the purpose of this book. Rather than setting about presenting a positive case of restrivism, he spends his space attacking the other views. This is disappointing on every level. The format of these “perspective” books are such that after one author presents his view the other authors are allotted a space to criticize it. But not Nash. When it comes to his turn to criticize the other positions he directs the reader back to his article where he devotes all of his energy on the attack. He believes that by taking this approach, destroying the views of his opponents in the mind of the reader, that the reader will be left with no other option than to accept an exclusive reading of scripture. He also takes his position so for granted, citing passages about Jesus being the only way, that he forgets that a conservative inclusivist would agree that Jesus is the only way. Yet on the other hand, I say this reluctantly which is why I have mixed feels, scripturally I believe Nash does have the strongest case.
Still, if someone asked me to reference a good multi-view book on the destiny of those who have never heard, I would not recommend this one.