Bad Philosophy Has No Place In Good Theology – Part 1: The Unevangelized, God’s Love, and Free Will

Hello all. Today, I thought we’d take a look at how bad philosophy can interfere with good theology.

I will probably make a something of a series of this, because I have no end of material to draw off of.

Today, I’m going to look at a particular view on God’s love, free will, and how it relates to the especially thorny issue of the unevangelized. Regarding the first two points, it is not an uncommon position that people have some degree of a free choice in choosing to follow Jesus or not, and that some people are not saved because they choose against God. This position is almost always accompanied by the claim that God loves everybody. God desires that everyone be saved, but real love means letting them choose. Although God easily could make everyone love and follow Him, He instead chooses to let people have a choice, because He loves them.

Without commenting on how biblical this view is, I will say that it is a tenable philosophical position. It makes good sense.

Here is there the problem arises. Many who hold this view also believe that those who die without ever hearing of Jesus are condemned. This doctrine, exclusivism, is pretty common among Arminians and Calvinists alike. However, might anyone see why this is a huge issue if you believe that the reason not everyone is saved is because God loves everyone and therefore gives them a choice? The problem is, those who never hear the gospel don’t have a choice. They never have the chance to accept or reject God. If love means giving someone a choice, how can we say God loves them, or desires that they be saved? It’s not as though God couldn’t ensure that everyone hears the gospel. In Acts 8, He made Phillip teleport so that he would tell a group of people about Jesus. He could make sure that everyone has the choice, but He doesn’t (at least no ostensibly).

Of course, this isn’t an insurmountable challenge to Christianity. In fact, there are a million doctrines that handle the problem of the unevangelized. For Calvinists, there is no intellectual dissonance here, because God chooses ahead of time who will be saved, so those who never hear the gospel are among those who God does not choose to save. They are in no way disadvantaged in comparison to the masses who do hear the gospel yet do not accept it because God doesn’t intervene and open their hearts to it. If you believe in inclusivism (that those who never hear the gospel, and therefore never reject it, have the possibility of still being saved), this is also a non-issue. Even some more complicated ideas can make the above belief I critique here tenable. For example, if God knows who will choose Him, and therefore doesn’t bother to evangelize those who never will, that solves the problem, because they effectively made their choice.

What we know about God from the Bible can certainly be reconciled with the fact that many are, at least ostensibly, never evangelized. What is important, however, is that we think about what we believe, so that our beliefs don’t collapse on themselves.


(Originally published 05/20/2011: Immaterial changes have been made).


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