Gospel & Culture blog
The 20 foot mural depicting Jesus has been an emotive art piece for decades- some find inspiration, some mock it (leaving cookies at his feet as they would for Santa Claus) and some find it controversial (why is His skin so light? And should we depict Jesus in human form at all?)
This week, students covered up the mural to make another point. It's missions conference week, and the mural asks, "What if you had never heard?"
What if I had never heard of Jesus? I would think the purpose in life was to amass as much wealth, toys, power, and pleasure as possible, at the cost of others around me. I would be narcissistic and nihilistic. On the other hand, in the midst of climbing the corporate ladder and trying to get people to like me, I'd
probably fit right in with the rest of society. People might even call me a nice guy...
But I don't think that's exactly what the student leaders of Biola's annual missions conference were asking. By "What if you'd never heard?" they mean "What would happen to your soul if you'd never heard of Jesus?" And by extension- what empathy do you have for those who have never heard? What does their eternity look like? (But they didn't have room to fit all this on the banner in large blocks - let alone to put an opinion poll at the bottom of the banner).
The best evangelical answer that has been suggested to this question came from John Stott, who called himself a hopeful exclusivist. By giving a name to his position, he created a theory which subsequently resounded with many evangelicals. Hopeful exclusivism is in contrast to diehard exclusivism, which says that all people throughout history who have not explicitly made a statement of faith in Jesus are going to suffer in Hell. But neither is hopeful exclusivism inclusivism, which argues that Jesus' death is efficacious for all, even those who only generally knew about God, but never believed in Jesus.
Hopeful exclusivism agrees with Acts 4;12, that there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved. Those who never heard the name of Jesus are in dire danger of judgement - not judgment for NEVER hearing, but judgment for their own sins. But we are hopeful in God- we know His just, loving character, and believe that the fate of those who have never heard is in the hands of the most powerful and just Person in the universe.
© 2015 Kenneth Nehrbass. All Rights Reserved.
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor