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#8 Molinism, the Unevangelized, and Cultural Chauvinism

June 11, 2007

I feel that William Lane Craig’s argument that God has arranged for those whom he knows will respond favorably to the gospel to live in parts of the world where they are most likely to be exposed to the gospel smacks of “cultural chauvinism.”  It means that swathes of humanity are written off, presumably because even if they had heard they would not have believed.  I find C. S. Lewis more convincing on that issue.  That Christ’s blood can save people who may not necessarily know that it is by Christ’s blood that they are saved.  Could you correct me if I have understood your position incorrectly?


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Dr. craig’s response


While I think that you may have understood my position more or less correctly, Roger, I don’t think that it has the implications you suggest.  Before I explain why, let me clarify my proposal.

The basic problem with which I’m wrestling is the fate of the unevangelized, those who never hear the Gospel.  I suggest that it’s possible that God, desiring that all men should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2.4), has so providentially ordered the world that anyone who would believe in the Gospel if he heard it is born at a time and place in history where he does in fact hear it.  In that case, no one could stand before God on the Judgement Day and complain that, while he may not have responded to God’s general revelation in nature and conscience and so finds himself condemned, he would have responded to the Gospel if only he had had the chance.

C. S. Lewis was an inclusivist who apparently thought that the problem of the unevangelized is solved by adopting the view that people can be saved on the basis of Christ’s death by an appropriate response to the light that they do have.  You say that you find Lewis “more convincing.”  I think you should have said “more appealing.”  Lewis’ view, which I once held to, is inadequate for two reasons:  (1) No honest reading of Romans 1 can give grounds for optimism that very many of the unevangelized will be saved by their response to general revelation.  Perhaps a few will (and my own view allows for that), but we can’t paint a rosy picture of the fate of the unevangelized after reading this passage.  Lewis’ view is appealing and comforting, no doubt, but difficult to square with biblical teaching.  (2) Lewis’ inclusivism doesn’t really solve the problem.  The problem with inclusivism is not that it goes too far but, in truth, that it does not go far enough.  For it accords salvation only to those who do respond affirmatively to God’s general revelation.  But it says nothing about those who reject God’s general revelation and so are lost, but who would have responded to the Gospel and been saved if only they had heard it.  The problem of the unevangelized is  a counterfactual problem:  what about those who are damned but who would have been saved if only they had been born at a time and place where they heard the Gospel?  Their damnation seems to be bad luck, the result of historical and geographical accident.  Inclusivism like Lewis’ doesn’t even speak to this counterfactual problem and thus fails as a satisfactory solution to the problem.  That’s why I had to go beyond it.

I think it’s clear that on my view no one is “written off”:  every human being is given sufficient grace for salvation, even the unevangelized.  Salvation is universally accessible.  But God is too good to allow folks to be damned because they happened to be born at the wrong time and place in history.  So He places those who would respond to the Gospel if they heard it at times and places in history where they do hear it.  He does no injustice towards the unevangelized who reject the light of general revelation and are lost because He knows that they wouldn’t have responded to the Gospel anyway, even if they had heard it.

So is my view culturally chauvinistic?  Before I address that question, let me comment on the weight of the objection.  The objection challenges neither the possibility of my solution (which is all I need to solve the problem) nor  its truth.  It just finds my solution to be unpalatable.  I’m not sure how serious such an objection is.  After all, if we believe that human persons are individuated by their souls, then my soul could have been placed in a different body so that I should have been a person of a different race or ethnicity born at a different time and place in history.  On such an understanding of human personhood, bodily characteristics are of much less significance than on a materialistic view.  Still, the Bible tells us that in the eschaton there be people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation(Rev. 5.9), so we should ask if my view precludes this.

The answer is:  not at all!  Anyone who thinks that evangelical Christianity is a white man’s religion is just ignorant of the demographic facts of world Christianity.  Did you know that today 2/3 of all evangelicals are living in the Third World, as Christian growth rates are exploding in Asia, Africa, and Latin America?  Did you know that in 1987, the number of evangelicals in Asia surpassed the number of evangelicals in North America, and in 1991 the number of evangelicals in Asia surpassed the number of evangelicals in the entire Western World?  If anything, Christianity today is an Asian religion.  It may well turn out that Caucasian, European Christianity was merely the means by which God reached the majority of mankind with the Gospel.  When you think of the whole of human history from beginning to its end, you see that my view is not at all culturally chauvinistic. 

For more on this very important issue take a look on this site at the articles under “Scholarly Articles:  Christian Particularism” or “Popular Articles: Christianity and Other Faiths

- William Lane Craig