“Have they not heard? Indeed, they have.”

Papua New Guinea, Mountain Native & Mission FounderCan we agree that there are people on earth and have been people on earth who never had a chance to hear the Gospel and grace of Jesus Christ? Can we agree that this is mysterious?

This may seem like a strange question to you but as a born and raised Southern Baptist who converted to Reformed Theology (R.C. Sproul) and is now strangely comforted by Lutheran theology, it is where my mind is.

– Robert


Dear Robert,

I sympathize with the sentiment, but I do believe that you’re locating the mystery in the wrong place. It gives me no comfort to say so, but it is nonetheless true.

Let us attend to the words of St. Paul in Romans 10, as he addresses this very matter:

14 But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? 15 And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!” 16 But they have not all heeded the gospel; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.


18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for


“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to the ends of the world.”

​Verse 18 pretty clearly dashes the hopes of would-be wishful universalists like you and like I. Yes, human reason would say that not everyone has “had a chance”, and that those who haven’t had the chance shouldn’t be judged. But this puts God in man’s debt. God is no longer merciful; instead He is giving people what they “deserve”, i.e., a “chance.” But we don’t deserve anything but wrath and condemnation. That’s where the mystery is.

But even if we wanted to play on that level, Holy Scripture is very clear: “But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed, they have.” The promise of the Messiah, the proto-euangelion, was given to all men in Adam. That the promise was despised at various junctures is not God’s fault, but man’s—I’ll do you one better: it’s my fault and it’s your fault. We were in Adam, sinning in the garden. God didn’t ensure that the Canaanites would be damned; no, they hardened themselves by continuing in the wickedness of Ham. No one is innocent; no one is righteous, no, not one. And so on and so forth.

Yet all the same, God’s ways are mysterious. Many theologians have speculated as to the various possible ways in which the saving Word may have gone forth and been received. As long as one recognizes that this is theologoumena and not to be the ground of our faith (or, in the strictest sense, of our hope), such perambulations are worth pondering.

I hope that this answer is somewhat satisfactory, brother.


Under the +Mercy