As I stated in last week’s post, I think the singularly-most significant question facing the emerging generation of Christians is world religions and the “salvation” of those who have never heard the gospel. Terry Tiessen’s study, Who Can Be Saved?, is the book we are using to conduct this conversation. Chp 3 is about “accessibilism.” Let me define it, for I suspect that it is the instinctual view of the emerging generation and it might surprise many to learn how many have believed this.
I think the glaring question is this: Is it consistent with the grace of the God of the Bible to think one must hear the gospel in order to respond? Or, is it more consisent to think God’s grace would somehow reach each person? Here’s a big one: How does one’s view here impact one’s understanding both of evangelism and missions? Is there a softening going on among evangelicals or is there a more consistent understanding of God’s redemptive work in the world?
Accessibilism believes that God’s redemptive work includes some who do not know and who have not heard about Jesus Christ, but that the religions of the world are not designed by God as “instruments” of redemption.
Now, Tiessen will argue this viewpoint, and he’ll do so as a Calvinist (which viewpoint is not common for Calvinists), and so he sorts out a summary of who has believed this view in the history of the Church: Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and probably Irenaeus. He shows that the conservative side of Catholicism embraces this view. Luther seemed to lean this way (Calvin didn’); Zwingli did. Then he shows accessibilist strains in the Second Helvetic Confession, in the Westminster Confession (1647), and in the Church of Scotland’s Declaratory Act (1879).
This view is found in Richard Baxter, and Gerald McDermott thinks there are inklings of such in Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley affirms it, as did Lesslie Newbigin and Norman Anderson. So does Alister McGrath.
The view is more prominent among Arminians — synergists who think Christ died for all and that, through prevenient grace, all have been forgiven of original sin and are somehow spoken to by God during this life.
Conclusions: There is no consensus among Evangelicals and this lack of consensus does not lead against evangelism and missionary work.