One of the most pressing theological issues in recent years is whether salvation is possible outside Christianity. Daniel Strange, a theologian in Bristol, England, offers here a comprehensive survey of the issues in this debate in evangelicalism and gives a thoroughgoing response to the inclusivist view of Clark Pinnock.
Pinnock believes that salvation is universally accessible, even for people who have never heard of Jesus Christ. This is possible, he says, because of God’s prevenient grace (p. 105) and also His providential presence (p. 99). The unevangelized can be saved by what Pinnock calls the “faith principle.” By faith a person receives prevenient grace in an honest search for God. Strange responds to this by pointing out that the “faith principle,” which supposedly accepts God’s common grace, cannot give propositional knowledge for true biblical faith “because it does not contain information about the source of salvation, that is, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ” (p. 262). And Pinnock’s view fails to note that common grace is not the same as saving grace.
In his pneumatological approach to this issue Pinnock maintains that grace has always been present for the unevangelized “through the omnipresence of the Spirit in creation” (p. 211). Strange offers an excellent response to this demarcation between the Holy Spirit and Christ when he rightly asks, “But if grace has always been present in and through creation, then what is there left for Christ to do on the cross?” (ibid.). In order to maintain both “universality” (the accessibility of salvation to everyone through the Holy Spirit) and “particularity” (salvation through belief in Christ) Pinnock does not view the Spirit as subordinate in function to Christ, “but as being universally and salvifically present even when Christ is not known” (p. 226). This, Strange responds, wrongly severs the person and work of the Holy Spirit from the person and work of Christ, and it leaves one asking where the Son is in salvation and why Christ is needed for salvation (p. 231).
Strange discusses how the ministry of the Spirit is linked to the ministry of Christ, and he shows how Pinnock’s view of universal accessibility has wrongly blurred the distinction between the Spirit’s work in creation and His work in salvation. Strange also shows how Pinnock’s inclusivist view wrongly separates the Spirit’s work from the ministry of the written Word of God.
Inclusivists like to appeal to Old Testament pre-Cross believers as examples of people who were saved apart from a knowledge of Christ. Strange answers this by noting that such individuals (e.g., Noah and Melchizedek) were recipients of special revelation and therefore were not the same as the unevangelized today who have no contact with the gospel (pp. 176–89, 197).
Another point the author makes is that while Pinnock stresses the love and grace of God, he neglects the biblical teaching on human sin and God’s wrath and judgment. Because of their sin people spurn the light of both general and special revelation.
As a Reformed theologian, Strange turns to limited atonement as the answer to Pinnock’s assertion that since God loves the world and wants everyone to be saved, He is obligated to make salvation available to everyone. However, one need not resort to limited atonement as the only response to Pinnock’s point. Evangelicals who believe in unlimited atonement correctly point out that the Cross made salvation potentially possible for everyone, but that only those who hear the gospel of Christ and turn to Him in faith find the atonement efficacious for them.
As a covenant theologian Strange says that Old Testament believers “confessed Christ” (pp. 163, 197). However, though Old Testament saints saw foreshadowings of Christ in types, messianic themes, and prophecies, their “confession” of Christ was not as explicit as it is for believers this side of the Cross.
Strange’s well-documented and thoroughly researched book stands as one of the best discussions of the question of whether the unevangelized can be saved apart from knowing Christ. Also this book presents a strong defense of the need for evangelism and missions, since “there is no other name under heaven . . . by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) and since the question remains, “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?” (Rom. 10:14).