Tuesday, April 19, 2011


A while back, I received the following e-mail from a friend:

Hi Bill and Uni, I read your blog today and as usual, benefitted from it.  I have a question for you:  can a person become a Christian without knowing Jesus' name...or to make it more interesting, without knowing God has a Son?

I do believe that we are responsible for the light that God has revealed to us.  I also heard a former Muslim tell a story about an Iranian man who had a dream about God.  In his dream, God told him to go to this bookstore (in Iran) and there, he would find the 'Gospel of Jesus.'  The next day he went to the bookstore, asked for the Gospel of Jesus and was told there wasn't a book like that in the store.  A Christian overheard the conversation, followed him outside and told him: "I have the Gospel of Jesus for you."  Apparently, God revealed to this man the name of Jesus.

Please, when you have a little time, let me know what you think.

Love you two,

The following (with a few changes and additions) was my reply.


I always appreciate your e-mails – especially when you make comments or ask questions to stir my thinking.

I assume you're referring to my posts: THROWING OUT THE BABY and AMERICAN GRACE .   In these I tried to deal with the two questions that trouble many of us believers, though I realize I barely scratched the surface in dealing with them.

The two questions are closely related.  The first is:  Is Jesus the only way of salvation?  The second is:  What becomes of those who are not saved?  There are, of course, many different ways to phrase these.  Your questions seem to be a form of the first.

The way you phrased it, I'd have to give an emphatic “No!”  One cannot be a "Christian" without knowing Jesus' name or without knowing that God has a Son.  But if we rephrase it and ask, "Can a person be saved without ...," which is what I think you meant, the question gets a bit stickier.  (The words “saved” and “Christian” are not synonymous.  See:  WHAT MUST I DO? and BRAND LOYALTY.)  We all believe there are exceptions.   At least for (as it used to be phrased "infants and idiots") -- those incapable of exercising saving faith, as even the Westminster Confession, that great Calvinist document, says (chapter X, paragraph III).  We also recognize that Old Testament saints exercised faith in God's promise, without a (clear?) knowledge of the future work of Christ, and were justified by that faith (see Romans 4:3; Hebrews 11 and ARE THEY OUT OF LUCK?.  Then we must recognize too that God has revealed Himself to all through nature and conscience (Romans 1:19, 20; 2:14-16).  Does this leave the door open for more?  Some very sincere Christians believe so.  I would like to think so, but I find little if any hard evidence to that effect.

As far as the story of the Muslim who was given a revelation in a dream, I see no reason to doubt its truthfulness.  I have heard similar stories. In fact, it sounds very much like the story of Cornelius recorded in Acts 10.  Here was someone who was "a devout man and one who feared God" (verse 2).  The experience with Cornelius was evidence to Peter that "God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation, the one who fears Him and does right is acceptable to Him" (verses 34, 35).  However, we need to recognize that Cornelius wasn't "saved" until he heard the gospel (verses 36-48).  The same is undoubtedly the case with the Muslim man in the story.  So both did "know Jesus' name" and that "God has a Son."  And we must remember that salvation is always based on the sacrifice of Christ for sin -- His death and resurrection.

We should note also that Muslims do have some knowledge of Who Jesus is.  The Koran tells that He is the Messiah and that He was virgin born (3:40-59; 19:12-38), although it emphatically denies the Trinity and that Jesus is God's Son (4:171, 172; 5:114-120).  I think this denial may be due to a misunderstanding of the biblical teaching, at least partially because of Mohammed’s exposure to the traditional Christianity of his day -- the Mariolatry, and the idea that somehow God "begot" Jesus by sexual union with Mary.

I believe that there are in Islamic nations many Muslims (even practicing ones) who are secret believers in Jesus.  If they understand who He is and recognize that He is God's Son in the Trinitarian sense and that He died for them, they are saved.  We could see the similarity with Messianic Jews and even find an example in Naaman the Syrian in the Old Testament, who was a worshipper of the LORD, even though he still had to take part in pagan rituals (2 Kings 5:17-19).  Who are we to pass judgment on those for whom an open profession would mean death?

Of course, we must remember that Jesus limits the gate to life to a lesser number than those going to destruction.

“Enter in through the narrow gate.  Because the gate is wide and the way is spacious, that leads to destruction and there are many who enter in through it.  How narrow the gate and constricted the way that leads into life and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13, 14).

I realize that I have not begun to deal with the related questions regarding the fate of those who are not saved.  I’ll attempt to do so on a later post.

1 comment:

gary said...

bill,we hope for all to be saved. my question is to those that teach the bible
:why don't they use the book of romans for their theology on the subject of salvation? after all it is extremely clear in its teachings. i mean just,sanct,glorif. is taught in addition to who exactly jesus christ is and the apostle paul claims to be speaking for the Lord Jesus Christ.others want to argue from the scriptures before the gospel became historical facts. i am suspect of these conversations.