The title of this post is a little bit misleading, but I don’t know of a better way of summing up the following quote. It is taken from a recent article by Mark Driscoll on the subject of evangelism. I appreciate much of what Driscoll says (and does in ministry), and given my particular research topic being that of religious pluralism, I could not help but be left bewildered a bit with the concluding paragraph. Here is what Driscoll writes:
Lastly, the fact that Jesus remains to this day an active evangelist is of great encouragement to me personally. It means that children who are aborted in the womb, those mentally incapable of understanding the gospel, and those people who have lived in times and places that missionaries did not visit are not necessarily beyond the hope of salvation. Indeed, Jesus could visit and save anyone anywhere because He remains The Evangelist.
In these few sentences, a whole can of theological worms come out. The salvation of the infant and mentally handicapped, the mission of God in relation to the church, the message of salvation, and the means by which one is saved all come into play. If I read Driscoll correctly, he is saying that the hope he has in the salvation of the unevangelized (by Christians, that is) as well as the unborn, infants, and mentally incapable is because Jesus is the great Evangelist. But what does he mean by that?
One theological option, though held by very few today, is a thing called post-mortem evangelism (PME) where Jesus will encounter those who did not have the chance to respond to the gospel and ask them whether they want to go to heaven. In other words, if the church failed to do their job, then Jesus would make up for it between this life and the life to come with His own evangelistic work. The proof text used to support this position is 1 Pet. 3:19.
Another theological option is inclusivism, though it comes in various forms. It can be as loose and extreme as the Roman Catholic Karl Rahner’s “anonymous Christian” and conservative as the Reformed Terrance Tiessen’s “accessibilism” (though he would not equate it with traditional inclusivism. Most common in evangelical inclusivism is that of Clark Pinnock and John Sanders who argue that it is not Jesus who is the evangelist but the Holy Spirit whose mission far exceeds the bounds of Christian witness. By definition, inclusivists argue that Jesus is ontological necessary (His person and work of atonement) but not epistemologically necessary (people come to God without hearing or knowing of Jesus Christ). Basically, the Holy Spirit applies general revelation (information known to all people at all times via creation and conscience) and applies it salvifically with the aid of prevenient grace. That is perhaps an oversimplification, but my point is merely to give a broad overview of this position and its inflections.
Leaving out soteriological pluralism and universalism, the only other option is then that of exclusivism (sometimes called restrictivism or particularism). Now again, this position is not as cut and dry either. For instance, there are those who believe that only those who hear the gospel (through any number of means) and respond in faith and repentance are saved. However, there is a softer version of exclusivism that says the hearing the gospel is not necessary, but special revelation is necessary; therefore, God can (and they argue does) reveal Himself savingly to people through dreams or visions immediately (that is, without mediation). Even still there are those who believe that those who respond positively to general revelation will ultimately be “given more light” and be saved by special revelation. Lastly, there are those who affirm the necessity of knowing Christ but hold out with a theological agnosticism with the hopes that the unevangelized will be saved due to the kindness and mercy of God. The special cases of infants and mentally handicapped are generally included in God’s saving plan on the distinction of (1) natural vs. moral ability and (2) original sin vs. original guilt, distinguishing these cases from that of the unevangelized.
Having laid out the various positions, what is so confusing to me is that Driscoll’s response could be taken potentially all three ways: (1) post-mortem evangelism because Jesus will “evangelize” them Himself, presumably after they die; (2) a variation of inclusivism; or (3) a form of soft exclusivism where Jesus reveals Himself to people in dreams or visions savingly. I am inclined that, given Driscoll’s charismatic beliefs (or mysticism) and theological influences, he would likely be in the third category. But this still begs for more questions.
For instance, where it is being reported that people (Muslims in closed countries especially) are having dreams and visions of Jesus, most if not all missionaries affirm that those visions did not result in their conversion or salvation but rather served the purpose of leading them away from their religion and seeking answers through the gospel. But assuming that Driscoll is saying that Jesus evangelizes through special revelation outside the gospel, how reliable would that dream or vision be? From that vision, what will that person’s Christian life look like? Will Jesus continue to reveal Himself mystically on a regular basis, discipling that person whom He evangelized? Inasmuch as Driscoll hopes that the unevangelized will be evangelized by Jesus, I hope that the unevangelized will also be discipled by Jesus because there will be no one around to do that work. If that does not happen, then is that view of salvation not as dangerous as the person who prayers a prayer and “asks Jesus into their heart” and do not follow Christ? Is there a legitimate difference?
The reason I bring this up is because this issue is hugely important. There are missiological, ecclesiological, pneumatological, soteriological, and Christological issues of major consequence that need to be addressed. In all of that, we do need to confess both (1) the sufficiency of Scripture and (2) our finite knowledge and fallibility. Nevertheless, we do not have the luxury to speak ambiguously on matters of first importance, especially when related to Jesus, the gospel, and the mission. Regarding Driscoll’s argument for Jesus as an Evangelist of the unevangelized, the Refomational principle of sola Scriptura requires biblical warrant and justification for both adhering and advocating a position that, ironically, creates a divide between Christ and His Great Commission.