Man on island needs a missionary, Southern prof tells collegians

Communications Staff — March 17, 2003

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–If a man spends his entire life alone on a desert island and is saved because he never heard the gospel, then Christians should stop missions and evangelism so the whole world will eventually be saved, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said.

In addressing the question of the so-called “man on the island” at the seminary’s “Give Me An Answer Collegiate Conference,” Russell D. Moore, assistant professor of Christian theology, asserted that Scripture teaches the only way persons are saved is through the proclamation of the gospel. Contrary to much popular teaching, if “the man on the island” failed to hear the gospel, he would go to hell for his sins upon death, Moore said.

“If the apostles had believed pop evangelicalism’s version of what happens to the man on the island, you and I would be in hell right now,” Moore, also the executive director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement, said. “They understood something from the resurrected Jesus Christ that there is more at stake here than we think. The only hope for the man on the island is preaching.”

The third annual conference at the Louisville, Ky., campus drew more than 1,000 college students from across the nation. Fifteen speakers from the Southern faculty explored various aspects of the exclusivity of salvation in Christ by seeking to answer the Feb. 21-22 event’s theme question, “Is Jesus the only way?”

Many within Christendom teach that the “man on the island” will go to heaven when he dies because he never heard of Jesus and did not have an opportunity to believe, Moore said.

This teaching falls within two theological designations: inclusivism and pluralism. Both views hold that all or most expressions of religion lead to God and, ultimately, eternal life.

If those views are correct, Moore said, then Christians should cease missions and evangelism so that, eventually, nobody will know about Christ. This will ultimately result in the salvation of all because they will be redeemed by the excuse of never having heard the name of Christ.

“If pop evangelicalism is right — that the man on the island is going to be okay because he has never had an opportunity to believe — and God is going to say, ‘I’ll give you a pass because you never rejected Christ and you never really had an opportunity anyway,’ then let me suggest to you what you should do as the next generation of evangelical Christians: shut up.

“Stop witnessing, evangelizing and putting out tracts. And plan right now that when you have children you will never sing ‘Jesus Loves Me.’ And let’s band together as a church with the idea that what we need to do is cancel [the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.] Bring all that money back here.

“[We should] gather together and never speak the name of Jesus again, with the hope that in several generations his name will be forgotten from the face of the earth, and then the entire world will be a bunch of men and women on the island who are innocent before God. And the entire world will be saved.”

Moore pointed to numerous passages in Romans, however, that depict Christ and the preaching of his gospel as man’s only hope. The gentiles faced a similar plight to that of the “man on the island,” Moore said, which the apostle Paul addresses in Romans 15:8-12. Paul was urging the church at Rome to send missionaries to the gentiles who had not yet heard of Christ.

Moore said Christians will see the Bible gives a clear answer to the “problem” of those who have never heard the gospel when they consider three questions: Is the man on the island ignorant of God’s existence? Is he innocent? Is he important?

The first three chapters of Romans answer the first question and show that man knows about God through the existence of the created order. Romans 2 shows that all men know about God by their conscience through “the law written upon their hearts.”

Those same passages in Romans also show that the man on the island — like every person who stands outside the grace of Christ even if they have not heard the gospel — is not innocent. Paul’s writing shows that all persons will be held accountable for breaking the law written upon their hearts, he said.

“You may say, ‘How is it fair if the man on the island wakes up in hell tomorrow?’” Moore said. “If you are asking that question, that tells you something about what you believe about yourself and what you believe about God.

“Basically, what you believe is we’re more or less okay and God really owes us every opportunity we can have to make the best of it. That’s not what Paul says in Romans 1. Paul says [we] make an idol out of anything.

“We don’t want [the true] God, we want something else. We want an idol. Scripture says because of that the man is going to be held accountable before God.”

Further, Moore said mankind continually sins. He paused for five seconds during his presentation and said afterward, “In that five second period you and I sinned enough to send us to hell for an eternity. You say, ‘Well, maybe you did, but I‘m sitting here and I‘m not thinking any impure thoughts or coveting anything.’

“But during that pause did you or I love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves? No, you didn’t and neither did I. God says that is what is expected of you as someone who is created in the image of God.”

Moore said Scripture also gives a resounding answer to his third question regarding whether the man on the island matters. The man on the island matters immensely because that man represents all Christians before they trusted Christ as Lord and Savior.

There are millions of “men on the island” in the form of unreached people groups, Moore said. This reality coupled with Scripture’s mandate that sinners are saved solely through the proclamation of the gospel should provide believers with an impetus to surrender some of the comforts of middle-class American life to reach the lost, he said.

“If it is true that the man on the island is going to hell, then you and I need to give up our idolatrous fascination with SUVs and DVDs and the comforts of middle-class American life and say that there is something more pivotal than that, and that is the gospel,” Moore said.

“That means that some of you need to be preparing to be that person on the boat taking the gospel to the man on the island. That means the rest of you need to be preparing to get that person on the boat because [the man on the island] is going to hell. What is the hope for the man on the island? It is you.”

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