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No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized

by John Sanders, Clark H. Pinnock

Buy the book: John Sanders. No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized

Release Date: February, 1992

Edition: Paperback


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Buy the book: John Sanders. No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized

Excellent Survey of Christian Views on the Unevangelized

John Sanders' "No Other Name" is a scholarly, comprehensive survey and critique, written primarily for evangelical Christians, of historically-held Christian positions on the destiny of the unevangelized. By "unevangelized" Sanders means those who never come to know or understand the Gospel message of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ before their death, for whatever reason. He includes those who are simply incapable of understanding, such as young children and the severely mentally disabled; those who have never had the Gospel presented to them, as in all indigenous peoples before missionary contact; and those who may be aware of such "buzz words" as "Jesus" but who never come to an understanding of what the Gospel message charges upon them.

Sanders begins by placing the issue in context: arguing for why it even matters (for example, because of its apologetic importance - people are going to ask and Christians need to have a reply at hand) and describing the controversy it has elicited in modern times among evangelical Christians. He then proceeds to present the two extreme positions on the issue: exclusivism (which he calls restrictivism) and universalism.

Restrictivism is the position that only those who come to know and understand the Gospel during their lifetimes have the opportunity to be saved (whether they actually are, of course, is based on whether they accept the message in faith). Thus by necessity, since they either do not know or do not understand, all the unevangelized are lost to "Hell" (Sanders leaves what that means out-of-scope of the discussion). In a pattern that is repeated with each position, he discusses the Scriptural and theological case for restrictivism, its proponents throughout history (for example, Augustine), and offers a critique, itself based in Scripture and theology.

Universalism, in contrast, is the position that everyone is (at least eventually, perhaps after some "time" beyond death) saved. Thus the destiny of the unevangelized - in fact, everyone's destiny - is at least eventually to be united with God. Universalism is a position that evangelical Christians today would probably almost uniformly find unorthodox and heretical, but Sanders gives it a fair shake (though ultimately rejecting it - and restrictivism for that matter).

After presenting these extremes, Sanders turns to what he lays out as a "wider hope". He discusses universal evangelization - the idea that God miraculously sends a messenger (angelic if not human) to all during their lifetimes, so that all have the opportunity for salvation (whether there's any empirical evidence for this empirically-testable claim is not really discussed - to my knowledge, there is little or none, despite popular evangelical "urban legends" to the contrary). He discusses eschatological evangelization - the idea that God presents the Gospel at the point of death, or after death, to those who are otherwise lost (curiously, the Catholic concept of purgatory is not presented - perhaps because Sanders knows his audience is primarily coming from the Protestant tradition).

Finally, inclusivism is presented. This is the view that God judges all according to their faith response to whatever true revelation they had during their lifetimes. For the unevangelized, this is general revelation - the deep intuition all humans curiously seem to have about a supreme being and a moral law (see the opening chapters of C. S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity", for example). Thus although Christ's atonement remains the basis for anyone's salvation, explicitly knowing and understanding that is not necessary for salvation. Rather, God judges the heart according to the knowledge it had, and an overall faithful response is "credited as righteousness". Nonetheless, responding to general revelation is a precarious path to God - sort of a "plan B". Coming to know and understand the Gospel during one's lifetime is God's preferred approach, not just because of its ability to save, but also because of its ability during our lifetimes to sanctify, give assurance, and come to fuller knowledge.

For conservative Christians who have been raised with restrictivism and have had the lid screwed down tight on the container of all the other views historically held, "No Other Name" will either be enlightening, or a very tough pill to swallow. Never mind that John Wesley and that icon beloved of modern American evangelicalism, C. S. Lewis, were inclusivists (as Sanders documents), I can hear some conservatives saying - its heresy nonetheless. To Sanders' credit, "No Other Name" at least challenges such people to more-charitably regard the diversity of opinion on this issue.

From Amazon.com

A Model of Balance, Fairness, in Pursuit of the Truth

Without using Amazon as a platform to prooftext as some reviewers, let me say that Sanders honestly, carefully, scripturally, wrestles with the question of the fate of non-Christian Persons!!!

What I liked most was the historically careful treatment he provided of other views than his own as well as to show the fallout of different positions (theologically, philosophically, and existentially). Not arrogant, but careful, it deserves a wide readership.

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