Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
Robert Gundry has written an excellent, brief piece about the reality of hell, the hopelessness of the unevangelized, and the necessity of evangelism: “The Hopelessness of the Unevangelized”
Grounded in the Word of God, we affirm this truth in Article 10, “Response and Eternal Destiny,” of our Statement of Faith: “We believe that God commands everyone everywhere to believe the gospel by turning to Him in repentance and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that God will raise the dead bodily and judge the world, assigning the unbeliever to condemnation and eternal conscious punishment and the believer to eternal blessedness and joy with the Lord in the new heaven and the new earth, to the praise of His glorious grace. Amen.”
In our day when these truths are being questioned by some and denied by others, Gundry’s article carries a strong, fresh, word from the Word!
I will highlight some of the pertinent statements along the way so you can get a quick and clear summary of what he writes. In some of the excerpts below, the paragraphs are not consecutive in his writing, though I have pulled them from the same section and included them together.
Here is Gundry's introductory statement
Lately there has come out of cold storage a question that has been hibernating among conservative evangelicals for some time. That question has to do with the status of people who live and die without ever hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Will God consign them to everlasting punishment? If so, where is his sense of fair play-they never had a chance-let alone his love for them? If not, through what means and at what time does he give them opportunity to be saved?
He follows this with “Reasons for Challenges to the Traditional View.”
We can easily identify reasons for its acuteness: (l) the relative fewness of the saved under the traditional view that apart from evangelization in their lifetimes people have no hope; (2) the guilt of Christians in failing to evangelize them; and (3) the eternality of punishment in the hereafter. These considerations have always troubled pious minds. In recent times historical factors have heightened sensitivity to the question.
Gundry rules out universalism and annihilationism. From here he considers inclusivism, and works through numerous texts of Scripture used to support the position (Gentiles such as Melchizedek, Balaam and Job; Matthew 25:31-46; John 1:9; Acts 10:1-2, 34-35; Acts 18:9-10; Romans 1:19-20; Romans 2:14-16; Romans 10:18; 1 Peter 3:18-20; 1 Peter 4:6). He writes of the inclusivist position:
The attempts to justify God’s ways in salvation cannot stop with the ignorant heathen. The facile solutions here criticized rest on a philosophical view of the problem that is too simplistic and restricted—and on a theological view of our ability to justify God’s ways that is too inflated (cf. Rom 11:33–36).
We can hardly improve on Paul’s statement that the fate of the lost demonstrates the wrath and power of God just as the salvation of believers demonstrates his mercy (Rom 9:22–23). At this point it becomes evident whether our thinking centers on God—from whom and through whom and for whom are all things (Rom 11:36)—or whether anthropology has encroached on theology.
Gundry comes back to the Scripture and its clear teaching: “Staying within Scripture: The Necessity of Evangelism.”
The Scriptures stand alone as our source of information concerning the status of the unevangelized. As we have seen, the notions of salvation through general revelation and of an opportunity after death find no solid footing in Scripture. More than that, Scripture indicates the hopelessness of people apart from hearing and believing the gospel now.
Biblical particularism and evangelistic necessity, which may have been good enough for olden times, could give way to post-biblical revelation of a theodicy supposedly more just and gracious and conveniently easier to swallow.
But the new truths of salvation by general revelation and of post-mortem conversion would doubtless yield to the even “better” truth of universal salvation.
Staying within Scripture, however, we discover behind the Great Commission a reason to evangelize the heathen more compelling than the desirability of bringing them into the joy of salvation a little earlier than otherwise they would enter it. The reason is that apart from our preaching to them the word of Christ, they have no hope. So let us urgently and compassionately rescue the perishing.
Gundry’s conclusion, “An Extended Note on Eternal Punishment”:
The NT doesn’t put forward eternal punishment of the wicked as a doctrine to be defended because it casts suspicion on God’s justice and love. To the contrary, the NT puts forward eternal punishment as right, even obviously right. It wouldn’t be right of God not to punish the wicked, so that the doctrine supports rather than subverts his justice and love. It shows that he keeps faith with the righteous, that he loves them enough to vindicate them, that he rules according to moral and religious standards that really count, that moral and religious behavior has consequences, that wickedness gets punished as well as righteousness rewarded, and that the eternality of punishment as well as of reward invests the moral and religious behavior of human beings with ultimate significance. We’re not playing games. In short, the doctrine of eternal punishment defends God’s justice and love and supplies an answer to the problem of moral and religious evil rather than contributing to the problem.