Many Christians believe this is the teaching of the Bible. But many of them are also uncomfortable with this doctrine because it sounds so very unfair. Regardless, they believe they would be breaking faith with the scriptures to believe anything else, so as a mainstream doctrine it continues to persist.
But is that what the Bible really teaches? Maybe.
But maybe not.
There are other views that also address the question of what happens to people who die without ever hearing the Gospel, and those views also claim to have Biblical evidence. This study paper will consider only two of the following four views:
Four Different Views
1. Restrictivism, 2. Postmortem Evangelism, 3. Inclusivism, 4. Universalism.
Restrictivism is the view that this life offers the only opportunity for accepting the Gospel and that death slams the door. This is the default teaching of many Christian churches.
Postmortem Evangelism (or “Divine Persistence”) is the view that God intends to confront the unevangelized dead, those who lived and died without ever hearing about Jesus, with the Gospel after death, and allow them to accept or reject it at that time.
Restrictivism and Postmortem Evangelism are the only two views that will be reviewed in this study paper.
Inclusivism is the view that God will grant salvation to the unevangelized dead based on how well they lived their lives according to what truth they knew, even though they never heard the Gospel. This is classic salvation by works, and will not be considered here.
Universalism, the belief that everyone is destined to be saved, no exceptions, will likewise not be considered.
Where is it Written?
This study paper will show that the scriptural case for Restrictivism is unexpectedly weak. It’s weak because while the NT certainly commands and urges the preaching of the Gospel to the world, surprisingly and very curiously it does so without the panic and desperation language typical of much Restrictivism preaching.
(“Time is running out!”
“We have to reach the lost before they die and go to Hell!” etc.)
The case for Restrictivism is also weak because the scriptures that are claimed to teach that death slams the door don’t clearly say that “death slams the door” in so many words.
On the other hand, there are scriptures that are said to support Postmortem Evangelism, verses that strongly hint that God intends to confront the unevangelized dead with the Gospel after death and allow them to accept or reject it at that time. But curiously those scriptures also stop short of clearly saying so in plain unmistakable words.
What the Scriptures definitely and clearly say about death and the afterlife and Judgment is that sooner (or later) everyone is going to be judged and wind up either in Heaven or in Hell. But this does not help us resolve the question we’re looking at here, because this binary outcome is the assertion of both Restrictivism and Postmortem Evangelism.
The difference between the two views (a very significant difference) is whether or not the scriptures leave room for the unevangelized dead to be confronted with, and allowed to accept or reject, the Gospel after death. Below are some scriptures that are often cited to support Restrictivism.