William Lane Craig and the Fate of the Unevangelized

On the most recent episode of his Reasonable Faith podcast, William Lane Craig, the world’s foremost apologist, responded to a four-year old blog about his position on a doctrine known as Universal Revelation Accessibilism. Simply put, to affirm Universal Revelation Accessibilism is to posit that unevangelized people can be saved despite never hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. That position is contrasted by the doctrine of Gospel Exclusivism, which is the belief that only the evangelized can be saved. To be clear, no one who affirms either of these contrasting doctrines would argue that anyone can be saved without the atoning work of Jesus on the cross. The atonement had to take place in order for anyone to be saved. The debate between these two positions is about whether or not people can be saved if they haven’t heard of Jesus and his necessary atonement. This is Craig’s statement on the matter:

 “There may be people who never hear the Gospel and are saved through their response to God’s general revelation in nature and conscience alone, but who would also have accepted the Gospel (had they heard it) and been saved.”

His position is further expounded upon in a video published by Reasonable Faith

Clearly Craig believes that people, even ancient philosophers from outside of the nation of Israel such as Plato and Aristotle, can or could have been saved without being evangelized; but what does the Bible have to say about the issue of the unevangelized?

Unsurprisingly, very little. The Bible was written to the people of God about the activities God and His people. The Old Testament points to towards Christ. The New Testament points back to Him. Christians, then, shouldn’t the Bible to contain a deep exposition on the fate of people who have not and will never even hear of it’s primary subject, Jesus Christ. In the pages of the New Testament, we learn that Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and endowed with gifts which are to be used for the edification of and in service to fellow believers. In the pages of the New Testament, we learn the Christians are instruments of God who are destined to perform good works which God has planned for them to do since the very foundation of the world. So why do Christians even consider the the possible salvation of the unevangelized?

The unevangelized do not plant churches. The unevangelized do not exercise spiritual gifts. The unevangelized do not disciple fellow believers into spiritual maturity. The unevangelized to not get baptized. The unevangelized do not baptize others. The unevangelized do not evangelize the lost.

Are we to expect that such people can be “saved” Christians? What witness to Christ do such people provide? Even the thief on the cross, who was not long for this world after his conversation experience, managed to provide a lasting witness to faith in Christ. Honestly, what missionary has ever found an unevangelized person who, having responded to general revelation and come to saving faith, was carrying out the great commission when the missionaries arrived in his village with bibles and the gospel story?

Theorizing, outside of specific biblical instruction on the matter, on how the evangelized could be saved is an apologetic ditch. Apologists are forced to respond to such concerns because of the culture of American evangelicalism. Lost people in this country, faced with aisle-walking invitation after aisle-walking invitation, try to trip Christians up by turning the focus away from the lost people who are being evangelized to theoretical lost people who aren’t. The question becomes one of fairness. What about all these people who never hear? Are they just going to go to Hell? God said, ‘I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion to whom I will show compassion.”

So much for fairness.

Christians should not trade in speculation but the revealed word of God. God saves everyone He wants to save. We get to participate by taking part in the great commission. Craig himself has served as a Campus Crusade missionary. He’s evangelized hundreds, if not thousands of people in his time. When he’s evangelizing the lost, making a case for Christ’s resurrection, and proving the existence of God, he’s at his best. When he’s arguing in his podcast that Old Testament saints like Job (who was privy to special revelation from God) and Abraham (who literally had God over for dinner) were saved through general revelation, he’s in the apologetic ditch.

Dr. Craig, get out of the ditch.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.  

Seth Dunn

Masters of Divinity in Christian Apologetics, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Member of the Evangelical Theological Society Certified Public Accountant