As an exclusivist, I believe that specific knowledge of the person and work of Jesus Christ (special revelation) is necessary for salvation (reconciliation between sinners and the Living, Holy, Triune God).  I believe that the nature of faith (through which justification is imputed to the believer) demands special revelation.  To confirm my position as an exclusivist, I stand primarily on Romans 3:21-31 paired with Romans 4:1-25.  In these two sections, Paul first explains justification that comes through faith in Jesus Christ (3:21-31), then, he articulates the technical nuances as to how it it is through faith that justification occurs (4:1-25) by considering Abraham as an example of justification through faith.  Romans 4:16-24 articulates that the justifying faith of Abraham was manifest in response to God’s promise.  This explicitly implies that Abraham’s justifying faith was placed in something that he had knowledge of, namely, God’s promise to him.  If faith is the criteria for justification, and faith is a response to specific knowledge of something, than one can only be saved with a specific knowledge of God’s promise.

Consider the disease of sin.  Sin separates God and man and is the result in an erosion of trust on the behalf of man towards God (see Genesis 3).  Humanity is separated from the life of God because he does not trustGod.  Because God is Three Persons in community, and community is based on trust, humanity is unable to enter the Divine communion that it was intended to partake in.  Faith, then, is the re-establishment of trust on the behalf of humanity towards God.  Abraham was reckoned as righteous because he trusted God.  This trust exercised on behalf of Abraham towards God is the foundational element necessary to the reconciled relationship between two persons (namely, God and man).  Faith and trust establishes the foundation for entering into relationship with the Triune (and communal) God.  In light of this, justification without faith in something known is simply not possible.  How can man trust (and therefore be justified) in something he has no knowledge of?  Justification comes through faith alone (as Paul clearly argues in Romans). The nature of faith demands specific knowledge of something (or someone).  Therefore, one cannot be justified (and therefore saved) without having specific knowledge of God’s promise through Jesus Christ.

So, what does this position imply for the unevangelized?  The exclusivist position articulated above implies two possible destinies for the unevangelized: (1) condemnation, or (2) the miraculous possibility for special revelation outside of the witness of the Church Militant.  I want to treat both of these destinies in detail.  First, condemnation.  I believe that condemnation for the unevangelized would by no means compromise the justice of God.  Romans 1:18-3:20 makes a sound argument for the universal power of sin and therefore, the universal guilt of humanity.  Paul specifically addresses those who do not have access to special revelation in Romans 1:18-32.  In that section of Scripture, Paul argues that the rejection of God revealed  through general revelation is sufficient grounds for condemnation.  He goes on to state that people are judged according to their works (Romans 2:6) and all are guilty of evil works and are therefore condemned.  The argument which states that injustice would be the result of God’s condemnation of the unevangelized implies that God owes humanity a chance out of the predicament of sin.  This cannot be the case for if it were, humanity could no longer be saved by grace through faith (see Romans 4:1-12).

While condemnation would be a just destiny for any human being (evangelized or unevangelized), it is not the only possible destiny for the unevangelized.  The argument that God is love, and desires for all to have the chance to be saved (not because it is fair, but because it is God’s desire) is a valid point and supported in Scripture.

As an exclusivist, I believe that all have the chance to hear the gospel message.  I do not know how (whether post-mortum, via a dream, revelation, etc.) this is true, I simply believe that this is true.  Sometime before God’s final judgement, I believe that each person has the chance to be hear the Gospel message and respond.  While Scriptural support for this argument seems to be slim, I do believe that 1 Peter 3:18-20 implies the possibility for this position;  I also believe that the evidence for faith in something we know is extremely strong.  I also do not believe that we should expect Scripture to detail the technical nuances of all implications for Christian doctrine.

However, is the Biblical support for such a destiny for the unevangelized really that weak?  The unevangelized having the chance at special revelation outside of the Church Militant is not outside of the Scriptural model for special revelation.  In fact, it perfectly fits in the pattern for special revelation exactly.  Revelation through a dream or post-mortum would be nothing short of a miracle.  However, is not all special revelation nothing short of a miracle (whether it’s through the Church or not)?  All special revelation is the result of God miraculously breaking into the created world and declaring his redemptive purposes to humanity.  So, for an exclusivist to propose that the unevangelized have some miraculous way of being exposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ before final judgment is within the biblical model for special revelation.  In this sense, there is Biblical support for such a position.


Matt Ayars

President of Wesley Biblical Seminary

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