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How Shall They Hear? Recovering the Exclusivity of the Gospel (II)

“Does it matter what you believe as long as you are sincere?” I still remember, as a boy, posing that question to my mother. It may well have been my first theological inquiry, and it was prompted by an awareness that our neighbors went to a different church.

That question I first pondered as a child reverberates through churches, homes, and lecture halls today. And, as demonstrated in “No Other Name: Recovering the Exclusivity of the Gospel (I),” many members of evangelical churches answer that question with a resounding “no.”

In an age of doctrinal minimization, one can point to any number of theological challenges facing the church. Yet, neglecting the exclusivity of the gospel comes with uniquely tragic ramifications.

No Need to Evangelize

Without a Great Commission imperative established in the exclusivity of the gospel, the logic of evangelism collapses under its own weight. If one need not believe in Christ for salvation, then one need not urgently tell others to believe in Christ.

Dean Kelly, in his Why Conservative Churches Are Growing, famously chronicled this very dynamic. Kelly juxtaposed the belief system of the mainline Protestant denominations with more conservative, evangelical ones and tracked how a church’s convictions regarding the Word of God and the gospel impact one’s urgency in evangelism. To reject or minimize the former always adversely affects the latter.

Perhaps the tepidness of our witness is not due to out-of-date methodologies or insufficient training. Perhaps the problem—at its core—is convictional; is theological. Do we really believe that persons must believe in Jesus Christ to be saved?

No Need to Send Missionaries

Paul, in Romans 10, sets forth one of the New Testament’s great evangelistic manifestos: “How will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him in whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?”

The Great Commission itself rests on this Romans 10 logic: all must believe in Jesus to be saved, but they cannot believe in whom they have not heard, and will never hear unless gospel servants are sent.

The church that equivocates on the exclusivity of the gospel will not likely send forth a generation of William Careys, Lottie Moons, Adoniram Judsons or Jim Elliots. Young adults not convinced of the urgency of the gospel will not feel the allure and romance of the Great Commission, nor will they have an unremitting passion to eradicate the category “unreached people group.”

No Need to Give Sacrificially

In my own denominational context, the Southern Baptist Convention, collective funding for missions and ministry as channeled through the Cooperative Program has been plateaued or declining for approximately three decades. Similar trends are reflected in general offering plate contributions throughout the evangelical world.

The church member that does not understand and embrace the exclusivity of the gospel will likely not be moved to sacrificial giving. And the church that is not convinced of the exclusivity of the gospel will be more concerned with meeting their own immediate needs than sacrificially forwarding money to reach the nations with the gospel. And the denomination that equivocates on the exclusivity of the gospel, collectively, will not mobilize itself toward Great Commission ends.

Recovering the Exclusivity of the Gospel

Losing the exclusivity of the gospel is a theological crisis, not a methodological or practical one. Its recovery will be theological as well. Regaining the exclusivity of the gospel will only take place in the midst of a broader theological recovery, rooted in the full truthfulness and authority of Scripture.

Those who preach bear a special burden in this regard. We must be intentional about transmitting the full spectrum of sound doctrine in our churches, especially to our lay leaders and Bible Study teachers.

For preachers, a conscious awareness of the exclusivity of the gospel must shape how we preach. Preachers must give themselves to specific, Christ-centered sermons, wherein they iterate and reiterate the exclusivity of the gospel and the necessity of believing in Christ. Preachers, be done with vague, generic “God-talk.” Point your people specifically to Jesus Christ, and compel them to believe in him.


In my home study I have displayed artifacts from the modern missions movement, including William Carey’s shoe form and Samuel Pearce’s Geneva Bible. These mementos are visible reminders of the urgency of the Great Commission and our call, in this generation, to take the gospel to the nations.

But, if the gospel does not exclusively save, William Carey and Samuel Pearce were on fools’ errands. Adoniram Judson and Lottie Moon should be pitied, not revered. And Jim Elliot and Nate Saint died in vain. On the contrary, these great saints believed and ministered in light of what we must recover—an unreserved conviction of the exclusivity of the gospel.

topicsExclusivity of the Gospel

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