What About Those Who Have Never Heard?

Common QuestionsWhen handling commonly raised questions and objections it is important for Christian apologists to have “thirty-second answers” memorized and ready at the helm. These should aid Christians who desire brevity in time without compromising content. Many situations call for a quick, succinct response where information must be conveyed and yet time is of the essence. This is often the case in debates and witnessing opportunities. A thirty-second answer may be used as a first response in hope that a longer, more detailed answer can then be unpacked as time, inquiry, insight, and the Holy Spirit dictate.

With this in mind, the question of the unevangelized is sometimes posed this way: “If Jesus is the only way of salvation, and a person must hear the gospel and trust in Christ in order to be saved, what about those who have never had a chance to hear the message? Isn’t it unfair that God condemn those who never even had a chance to accept Jesus?”[1] My quick reply to the destiny of the unevangelized usually goes something like this:

God knows who will and who will not accept the gospel, and He providentially ensures that those who will accept the gospel have a chance to hear it before they die. Those who do not hear the gospel and are condemned are those who wouldn’t have accepted the gospel, even if they had heard it.[2]

This succinct answer is appealing to me because I believe it may be employed by Christians across a broad theological spectrum, including both Calvinists and Arminians. Granted, how this response is cashed out will be quite different for Calvinists and Arminians, but nonetheless this barebones reply at least provides the apologist with a quick retort which can then be unpacked theologically as needed.

For the Calvinist, God knows who will and who will not accept the gospel because He knows who His elect are, and He providentially guarantees that they hear the gospel and sovereignly regenerates them once they do (Acts 16:14). As Paul states, “These whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). On this view, because unregenerate man is a slave to sin (John 8:34), by nature a child of wrath who suppresses the truth in unrighteousness and does not seek God (Eph. 2:3; Rom. 1:18, 3:11), there is no one who would willingly accept the gospel and be saved apart from the monergistic salvific work of God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-9).

On the other hand, an Arminian may employ this answer as well by an appeal to God’s middle knowledge. On this view, it is argued that because God possesses knowledge of counterfactuals in all possible worlds (1 Sam. 23:11-12), He knows what individuals would or would not freely do in any given situation when presented with the gospel (Matt. 11:20-24), i.e., He knows who would and who would not receive the gospel. God is willing that none should perish (2 Pet. 3:9) and has actualized this world with an optimal balance of saved and lost, providentially ensuring that those who would accept the gospel have a chance to hear it before they die, “having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God” (Acts 17:26-27).

Given these views, for both the Calvinist and the Arminian, those who do not hear the gospel and are condemned are those who would not have accepted the gospel even if they had heard it. These lost individuals are those whom God knows would reject the saving message and would freely choose to remain in willful rebellion against Him. Thus, on both scenarios, there are no individuals unjustly condemned due to “accidental” features of history, e.g., where or when an individual happened to be born. Though God would be completely just in leaving man to his own devices in his fallen and depraved state, out of His love, grace, and mercy God has chosen to actualize this world in which many are saved and come into the incommensurable good of knowledge of Him.

Looking for More on this Topic?

See J. Warner Wallace’s video The Problem of Unfair Damnation

Posted by Aaron Brake

[1] In the broad generalized camps of “exclusivism” (sometimes referred to as “particularism” or “restrictivism”) and “inclusivism,” I fall into the exclusivist camp. The question and answer posed here assumes exclusivism is true, a defense of which will have to wait until later.

[2] This is essentially the answer provided by William Lane Craig in Hard Questions, Real Answers (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), chapter 8.

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  1. zilch says:

    Yes, I’ve heard this idea from W.L. Craig too. I call it “Divine Gerrymandering”, because that’s what it amounts to: God saw to it that all those souls predamned to reject Him were placed just beyond the last village the missionaries reached, just beyond reach of a Christian radio station, This results in whole nations and peoples missing out on the message, because they would have rejected it anyway. Seems kinda racist to me, but I guess God can do as He pleases.

    • Aaron says:


      A few problems with your response:

      First, your response here lacks real substance. Labeling the position “divine gerrymandering” is neither an argument nor a refutation.

      Second, those “predamned” are in that state due to their own free will, not due to their placement in world history. Any attempt to place blame at the feet of God misses the point.

      Third, whole nations and peoples are not necessarily lost. While God’s main method of spreading the gospel is human missionaries, I do not believe this is the only method. God is able to get the message to those who will accept it by whatever means (even supernatural), and this is seen in both the Old and New Testament.

      Fourth, your reference to racism perhaps indicates your own unhealthy preoccupation. There is only one race, and that is the HUMAN race. Each of us is a son or daughter of Adam and Eve.

      Finally, yes, God is sovereign. You HAVE heard the gospel Zilch, so I would encourage you to reflect on this message and your need for Christ.

      • zilch says:

        Aaron- sure, divine gerrymandering is just a name, not an argument. But just look at a world map, preferably through the course of history after the 1st century AD, and see where Christians are. Isn’t it a funny coincidence that there are so few Christians in, say, all of medieval Asia?

        But if you don’t need to hear the Gospel through human missionaries, then what’s the point of evangelizing? Or reading the Bible at all?

        Whether humans are all one “race” depends, of course, on how you define “race”. I would say rather that humans are all one species: we can interbreed freely. That races in the sense of distinguishable groups exist is pretty obvious, is it not? There are some differences that can be important in medicine, and some are obviously adaptations to different environments.

        But equally obviously, there are no differences in intelligence or human value worth considering, if at all. I’m not a racist. But I wonder why God seems to have valued some races more than others, in terms of how many of them were and are Christians.

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