A part of The Fate of the Unbeliever
This view is largely based out of the idea that those who have not had the opportunity to hear the gospel will be given the opportunity at death. Clark Pinnock is a major name in this argument. He argues, if God really loves the world and wants all to be saved; they’d all have to hear the gospel. Likewise, he states that God does not cease to be gracious to someone just because they are dead.
Biblical support for this view is found in 1 Peter 3:18-20. “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”
Proponents of this view say that Jesus went and preached the gospel to those who were being held until judgment. Using the English word “preached” it is still a stretch to say from this verse that Jesus preached the gospel to the dead of Noah’s time and some were saved. There is no indication at all that this happened. As it is, the word translated “preached” can probably better be translated “heralded” – likely instead of Jesus preaching good news to those awaiting judgment, he heralded his victory over death and sin. In fact, it was bad news for them as they would now be held truly accountable.
Back to the issue of those who have not heard the gospel. It is indeed a sticky subject and this is an attempt to get around the issue. (Some of the other views of hell have the unevangelized in mind as well)
There is no easy answer aside from the fact that they have not accepted Christ as their savior and the Bible pronounces judgment on those who do not. That is the short answer, they are not saved and the Bible offers no third category of would be saved if they had heard.
Instead, Romans offers condemnation to even those who have not heard. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that men are without excuse.”
Nature itself testifies to God and even the person living in a grass hut has the ability to see creation and realize that there is a God. Of course many tribes worship a god, but the difference comes in recognizing the fact that a person is a sinner and needs a savior. If a person is looking for a savior, God will not simply let that person go to hell because they are far away. God will create a situation to bring someone who can explain salvation to that person. A good example is in Acts 8:26-40. An Ethiopian god fearer (but not a Christian) is reading the book of Isaiah. Philip is brought to the man and explains the gospel to him. Surely God is capable of doing this with every person who would believe but has not heard the gospel yet.
A final thought for the idea of the unevangelized has to do with missionaries. (I’m spending so much time on the unevangelized right now because the same arguments can be used against other views of hell also.)
We are commanded to go into the world and preach the gospel according to the Great Commission. However, when are you more likely to believe the gospel? When a missionary comes to tell you, or when you’ve died and are face to face with God? By sending missionaries out, we’d simply be condemning those who rejected the gospel. It would be a lot simpler if we just let the unevangelized wait until they die to find out. In fact, if this were true, many, many people have died and suffered needlessly because the people they are trying to save would in fact get a chance to make a decision after death had they not been told!
Next Section – There is No Hell