Drawing from Daniel Strange’s work, he puts these people in four different categories;
1.) Children who died in infancy and those mentally unable to respond to the gospel.
2.) Those who lived prior to the time of Christ and thus before the formulation known as “the gospel.”
3.) Those who have been presented with a less-than-adequate version of the gospel.
4.) Those who have not received a presentation of the gospel, such as because they lived in a geographically remote area.
Köstenberger does not deal with the first question, he argues that it “is not directly addressed in Scripture.” He continues, “regarding individuals in the other three categories, we may draw…conclusions from our study of the gospel in the Old Testament, the Gospels, the book of Acts, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament.”
1) The gospel is God’s saving message to a world living in darkness and a humanity lost in its sin. The gospel is not a human message, nor was its conception a function of human initiative, but its origin and its impetus derive solely from God.
(2) Acceptance of the gospel is not optional for salvation but rather required, owing to pervasive human sinfulness.
3) The gospel is not vaguely theological, as if it were amenable to various ways of salvation depending on a person’s belief in a particular kind of god, or depending on the degree to which people were able to hear the gospel presented in a clear way; it is decidedly and concretely Christological, that is, centered on the salvation provided through the vicarious cross-death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
(4) The messianic motif pervading all of Scripture and centering in the Lord Jesus Christ coupled with the risen Jesus’ “Great Commission” for his followers to go and disciple the nations inextricably link an understanding of the gospel as the exclusive message of salvation in Jesus Christ with the Church’s mandate to engage in missionary outreach.
5) In light of the clear biblical passages examined above, and in light of the strong and pervasive trajectory of references to the gospel throughout Scripture, there seems no proper biblical foundation on which to argue for the salvation of anyone on a basis other than explicit faith in Jesus Christ.
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