Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gospel proclamation and the question of fairness

Here is where the question of fairness appropriately comes to the fore. Is it fair that God punishes the guilty in hell? Yes, of course. Is it fair that millions will never hear the gospel? No, it is not.

— Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, "Answers to Notable Questions," in Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, eds., Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 242

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Rom. 9: 14-16)

And they [Paul and Timothy] went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. (Acts 16:6-7)

In the question over whether those who have not heard the Gospel are condemned to hell, inclusivism states that those who respond positively to whatever light they have will be saved by Christ even though they may not have heard the Gospel. Particularists (or Exclusivists) state the biblical teaching that only by having faith in Christ can a person be saved.

The book edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson addresses the issue of inclusivism. One of the objections to particularism is the charge of unfairness, for how can God condemn a person to hell if they have not even heard the Gospel? It is correctly pointed out in this book that people are condemned not because they reject the Gospel, but because they are sinners (Morgan & Peterson, 241). Morgan and Peterson correctly state that God is fair in sending the guilty to hell. However, they continue by asking another question: Is it fair that millions will never hear the Gospel? Their answer to this question is no. I will contend here however that the proper biblical answer is yes.

It has been established that salvation is an act of God's grace and God's mercy (e.g. Eph. 2:8-9). It is a pure gift of God, and God does not owe anyone salvation, for if God owes anyone anything, that is credited to him as wages not as a gift (Rom. 4:4). Now if no one deserves salvation, and God is perfectly just if he left the whole world to rot into perdition, then the entire apparatus of salvation is one fully of grace and mercy, and no one deserves any of it.

Since such is the case, the proclamation of the Gospel (as part of the apparatus of salvation) is one given by God freely to sinners who do not deserve it. If such is the case, how can it be said that God is not fair if millions do not hear the Gospel?

All mankind is under the broken Covenant of Works. The condition for the Covenant of Works is absolute perfect obedience. The works principle is reflected in verses such as Rom. 2:6-10 and Gal. 3:11b-12. Having broken this Covenant, God is under no obligation to grant mankind another way to earn eternal life. That God chose to do so through Jesus Christ is His free will in grace and mercy to do so.

The proclamation of the Gospel therefore has nothing to do with God's fairness. In fact, as we see in the account of one of Paul's missionary journey, the Holy Spirit is the One who ultimately decides who gets to hear the preaching of the Gospel. That the Gospel took root in Europe in the first few centuries of the Church is the choice and the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has decided in counsel with the Godhead that Europe would embrace the Gospel in the first few centuries of the Church. There is no unfairness with God, for God has mercy on whomever He will have mercy and He has compassion on whomever He has compassion (Rom. 9: 14-16). God for example has decided that my distant ancestors in China don't get to hear the Gospel and that is perfectly fair to Him. The question is not: Why were my ancestors not giving the privilege of hearing the Gospel? The question is: The Gospel has come to you now, so will you repent and believe the Gospel while it is still today (Heb. 4: 6-7)?

God is sovereign. There is no injustice and no unfairness with God. The Spirit blows wherever He pleases. God is not answerable even to His people and His Church. We have no right to question why God has given certain areas and certain peoples more Gospel light while He shuts some off in darkness for a longer period of time.

It is fair that millions may never hear the Gospel. The impetus of evangelism is not fairness, but gratitude and obedience. We share the Gospel not because it is not fair that others did not hear the Gospel. We share the Gospel because we are grateful to God for saving us who are no different from them. We share the Gospel out of love, not out of perceived injustice and unfairness. We share the Gospel because God calls us to do so as a witness for Him.

On God's side, the removal of Gospel witness may even be an act of judicial punishment upon a wicked society (Hosea 4: 4-6). To one who rejects God, God may even cause a dearth of Gospel witness in the land. When a society rejects God, God may decide to confirm it further in its path to destruction by removing even the means to be saved.

Morgan and Peterson think that there is "a problem of fairness that concerns the extent of God's mercy" (Morgan and Peterson, 242). Scripture however knows of no such problem. As long as Evangelicals think in such anthropocentric terms, the tendency towards inclusivism will sadly remain.

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