Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Craig on the unreached

Freewill theists typically believe in universal atonement and universal sufficient/prevenient grace. However, exposure to the Gospel isn't universal in this life. Freewill theists have different strategies for finessing that tension. 

William Lane Craig resorts to the creative conjecture that God uses middle knowledge to instantiate a feasible world in which none of the unreached would believe the Gospel if given the chance. For instance:

I’ve argued further that it’s at least possible that God has so providentially ordered the world that any person who would believe in the Gospel if he heard it will be born at a time and place in history at which he does hear it. Thus, no one is lost because of historical or geographical accident. 

God in His providence has so arranged the world that those who would respond to the Gospel if they heard it, do hear it. The sovereign God has so ordered human history that as the Gospel spreads out from first century Palestine, He places people in its path who would believe it if they heard it. Once the Gospel reaches a people, God providentially places there persons who He knew would respond to it if they heard it. In His love and mercy, God ensures that no one who would believe the Gospel if he heard it is born at a time and place in history where he fails to hear it. Those who do not respond to God's general revelation in nature and conscience and never hear the Gospel would not respond to it if they did hear it. Hence, no one is lost because of historical or geographical accident. Anyone who wants or even would want to be saved will be saved.

In the past, I've noted some basic problems with this, even on Craig's own grounds. But now I'd like to make a different point:

It's hard to see how his explanation accounts for the distribution-pattern in church history. For most of church history, Christians are bunched in the western hemisphere. By Craig's logic, that means Caucasians are, or at least used to be, more receptive to the Gospel than the Japanese, or Indian tribes in North and South America, or Pacific Islanders, &c. So many people-groups weren't evangelized for centuries because they were unreceptive to the Gospel–unlike Caucasians? 

Europeans were evangelized while pre-Columbian indians were left in darkness...until the Conquistadors. And then, for some odd reason, post-Columbian Indian tribes are more receptive to the Gospel than their forebears. 

Arabs were evangelized, but then you had the Muslim conquest, so the reason that Arabs during the Muslim era are generally unreached is because they are unreceptive to the Gospel, unlike their more open-minded ancestors. Really?

Now we see Christianity expanding in sub-Saharan Africa, the Far East, and even the Middle East, because, for some odd reason, this generation is more receptive to the Gospel, unlike their ill-disposed ancestors. How do disparities in the chronological and geographical distribution of the Gospel coincide with the receptivity of different ethnicities, or the same ethnicities at different times? Why is the distribution-pattern color-coded? And why does it alternate? 

Presumably, as a freewill theist, he doesn't believe that some people-groups are inherently more receptive to the Gospel than others. So the correlation can't be pegged to that, can it?

So what's the differential factor? Cultural hostility to the Gospel? But it's not as if Viking culture (to take one example) was more welcoming to Christian missionaries than Confucian culture, is it? The initial challenge is always for Christianity to secure a foothold. 


  1. Craig also believes that one can positively respond to general revelation and be saved (presumably on account of prevenient grace). Though, he thinks that man's depravity is such that very few (if any) people avail themselves of that way of salvation. Here's a video where he makes that statement:

    William Lane Craig How Will God Judge Someone Who Has Never Heard the Gospel?
    or on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reasonablefaithorg/videos/10155629115978229/

  2. I don’t think Craig would be fazed by this. Or at least that’s my guess. I think he would say something to the effect that your personal identity is rooted in your soul. Your soul can be transplanted to another body. So, if Steve Hays were the kind of fellow who would not respond to the gospel were he to be presented with the gospel, then Steve could have found himself in a pre-Columbian Indian body, never having the opportunity to respond to the gospel that he would never freely respond to in any circumstance anyway. Or something like that. So your ethnicity does not inhere in your soul, but as a matter of fact, you are a soul united to a Caucasian body.

    I don’t buy it, but I think that’s where he’d go. So I guess he’s not a traducianist.

    If you don’t mind me asking, Steve, how would you respond to that, assuming that Craig would respond with something similar?

    1. Thats quite the bizarre thought. So there seems to be at least two things, had I been the sort of person to reject the Gospel.

      One is that I could very much so have been created by God as a non-Indian person, perhaps someone back in 18th century Japan.

      The second is that not only would I be the sort of person to reject the Gospel, and hence be born in 18th century Japan, but so also would I be the sort of person who would embrace Buddhism, hence be born in Japan also.

      I say this because it seems to me that it is not enough to locate a person in place X at time Y on account of their rejection of the Gospel, but so also to locate them in X at Y on account of what they would positively embrace also.

      Which takes us to the following explanation for religious phenomena that I have seen bandied about on the web, viz. that if you were born in Iran, you would be a Muslim and if you were born in India, you would be a Hindu, South America, Catholic, etc.

      To which you presumably respond ala Craig "No. It is not because you were born in India, that you are a Hindu. No rather, God knew that you would be the sort of person who would reject the Gospel in favor of Hinduism, so He had you be born in as a brown person out in India. Had you been the sort of person who would have accepted the Gospel, he would have had you be born in Sweden instead and that too back in the 1700s."

      Strange stuff...

      ~ Raj