Does the Balance Between Saved and Lost Depend on Our Obedience to Christ’s Great Commission?

William Lane Craig

As a follow-up to my middle knowledge solution to the problem of Christian exclusivism, I ask whether the problem does not recur in another form under that solution: is it not the case that the balance between saved and lost depends upon the degree to which we Christians obey our Lord’s Great Commission to bring the gospel to every nation? If so, then is not that conclusion as morally objectionable as the claim that people’s eternal destiny hinges upon the historical accidents of the time and place of their birth? I argue that such a conclusion does not follow because, given divine middle knowledge and providence, it may not lie within our power to bring about a better balance between saved and lost.

“Does the Balance between Saved and Lost Depend on Our Obedience to Christ’s Great Commission?” 

Philosophia Christi

 6 (2004): 79-86.

In the interface of evangelical Christianity and other religions, the principal stumbling block for many is Christianity’s claim that salvation is available exclusively through Jesus Christ. But what exactly is the problem here supposed to be? The central difficulty posed by the doctrine of Christian exclusivism, it seems to me, is counterfactual in nature: even granted that God has, through general or special revelation, accorded sufficient grace to all persons for their salvation, should they desire to accept it, still some persons who in fact freely reject God’s general revelation might complain that they would have responded affirmatively to His initiatives if only they had been accorded the benefit of His special revelation in the Gospel. If God is omnibenevolent, He must surely, it seems, supply all persons with grace, not merely sufficient, but efficacious for their salvation. But then Christian exclusivism is incompatible with the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God.

In previously published work

1

, I have argued that to this challenge the Molinist may respond that it is possible that there is no world feasible for God in which all persons freely respond to His gracious initiatives and so are saved. Given the truth of certain counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, it is possible that God did not have it within His power to realize a world in which all persons freely respond affirmatively to His offer of salvation. But in His omnibenevolence, He has actualized a world containing an optimal balance between saved and unsaved. God in His providence has so arranged the world that as the Christian gospel went out from first century Palestine, all who would respond freely to it if they heard it did hear it, and all who do not hear it are persons who would not have accepted it if they had heard it. In this way, Christian exclusivism may be seen to be compatible with the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God.

In a very engaging response to this proposed middle knowledge solution

2

, William Hasker imagines a veteran missionary, Paul, and a prospective missionary, Peter, who are engaged in some reflective thinking. Paul asks himself the two questions:

(A) Are there persons to whom I failed to preach who are going to be lost and who would have been saved had I gone to them with the gospel?

(B) Are there persons who have been saved as a result of my preaching, who would not have been saved had they never heard the gospel?

Being apprised of my proposed middle knowledge solution, Paul will conclude, says Hasker, that the answer to (A) is in all probability, “No.” For given:

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