What Happens to Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?

Matt Smethurst | September 7, 2016


The man on the island. Perhaps you’ve encountered him in a friend’s argument against Christianity. Maybe you’ve even voiced the objection yourself.

How could a good and loving God condemn to hell someone who’s never heard of him?

When it comes to this emotionally vexing issue, there are two dominant positions among professing Christians: inclusivism and exclusivism. While both views maintain that Jesus is the only way to God, only one insists on the necessity of conscious faith in him.

Allure of Inclusivism

Inclusivism is the belief that salvation is only through Jesus Christ, but that there may be persons who are saved without knowing it. They are redeemed by the person and work of a Christ they do not consciously embrace. Simply put, Jesus may save some who never hear of him.

Inclusivists often cite Romans 2:1–16, a passage taken to imply that salvation is possible apart from God’s special revelation. The content of general revelation—both the created order without (Rom. 1:19–20) and the moral law within (Rom. 2:14–15)—provides sufficient knowledge for salvation. As Millard Erickson explains, “The rise of more inclusive views of salvation, even among evangelicals, is based on a belief in the efficacy of general revelation for a salvific relationship to God” (Christian


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