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Be honest with the lost, ourselves on gospel’s exclusivity, Dever say

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Being Great Commission Christians means being honest about the perilous condition of those who have not received the gospel, Mark Dever told pastors and church leaders at the 17th annual Southern Baptist Founders Conference July 20 at Samford University, Birmingham, Ala.
Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, pleaded with Southern Baptists to reject current attempts by some evangelicals to muffle the biblical teaching on the exclusivity of the gospel.
“You might not like what the doctor says,” he illustrated. “But I’d bet you’d rather have an honest one than a nice one, because you assume that there is an objective reality there.”
Dever contended missions-minded evangelicals should recognize that what is known about spiritual reality, including the fate of the unevangelized, is derived not from intuition or cultural spin-doctoring, but from God’s revelation in Scripture. Therefore evangelicals cannot embrace the ideas of inclusivists such as theologians Clark Pinnock and John Sanders who assert that those who have never heard the gospel may be saved apart from it. Dever took issue most specifically with Pinnock’s 1992 book, “A Wideness in God’s Mercy,” in which Pinnock denies the historic Christian belief that salvation is impossible apart from explicit faith in Jesus.
“One of the dangerous sleights of hand that becomes common as we talk about the invisible realities of the gospel is we tend to slip into talking about them as if we’re creating them,” he noted. “We should cease from the delusion, whether in ourselves or others, that God needs to be acceptable to us.”
The question of how exactly sinners are saved is also pivotal to this discussion, Dever said. Referencing John 3:16, Dever proclaimed salvation comes on the basis of faith with Christ as its object. While faith is trust and not mere orthodoxy, he explained, biblical faith implies cognitive content. As such, the “content-independent, Christ-independent” intuition upon which inclusivists pin their hopes for the salvation of the unevangelized is not what the Bible means by saving faith.
“We rejoice in coming to know a living, personal God, not merely propositions,” Dever said. “But, according to the Bible, you will not know that personal God in any personal way if he does not reveal himself to you propositionally by his Spirit. That’s why he has given his Word.”
Evangelicals must respond to those who ask whether there might be another way of salvation besides explicit faith in Christ, Dever said. He asserted that general revelation is revealed in Scripture never to be sufficient for salvation. He argued those who never have heard the gospel are without hope apart from the gospel.
“There does not seem to be for normally matured people in the Bible any saving excuse of ignorance,” he said. “Indeed, God’s general revelation of himself as talked about in the beginning chapters of Romans would seem to have eliminated exactly that category.”
Those who object to the necessity of self-conscious faith in Christ as “unfair” must reconsider the seriousness of the sinner’s cosmic rebellion against his Creator, Dever said, citing numerous biblical texts which paint a dire picture of the guilt of every human being.
“We can perhaps understand this a bit better if we stop thinking of sin as discreet transgressions against some list of ‘dos and don’ts’ at school,” he asserted. “And think of our sins in more biblical terms as a rejection of God’s authority, indeed of God himself.
“Friend, do not reason with God to show how he must save you because he’s made you,” Dever counseled. “The only fairness we sinners can demand is hell.”

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  • Russell D. Moore