Divine revelation Evangelism Soteriology

William Lane Craig now affirms universal revelation accessibilism

When I wrote Who Can Be Saved?, everything I had read by William Lane Craig regarding his Molinist understanding of the situation of the unevangelized fell within the gospel exclusivist position. (See my “Typology of Positions Concerning the Salvation of the Unevangelized.”) At that time, he posited that “God in his providence so arranged the world that those who never in fact hear the gospel are persons who would not respond to it if they did hear it” (The Only Wise God, pp. 150-51). What I was hearing him say then is that knowledge of the gospel is necessary to salvation, but that we need not be troubled by fears that some people are eternally lost because the church had failed to get the gospel to them. Even if we had taken the gospel to them, they would have been lost.

I cited Craig’s position regarding the salvation of the unevangelized, in the chapter in which I was asking: “Can People Be Saved if They Only Have General Revelation?” (Who Can Be Saved?, pp. 138-64), and I did not, at that time, hear Craig affirming that this would be possible. Hearing the gospel was deemed necessary for saving faith, but God chose to actualize a world in which everyone who would believe if they heard the gospel, does hear it.

Whether Craig has changed his position since my book was published, or whether I had simply failed to come across a different perspective than I had encountered in my reading of his work, I do not know. But, I can say that I am delighted to have read yesterday his answer to the “question of the week,” on July 8, 2018  (“Q&A #586 Middle Knowledge and the Essentialism of Origins.”) What I read there indicates that Craig does not now belong in the category of gospel exclusivism, but he affirms “universal revelation accessibilism.” (By “accessibilism,” I mean the belief that every human being receives divine revelation that is sufficient for salvation, because the faith that is instrumental in justifying sinners is appropriate to the revelation which God has given of himself to an individual.)

As the title of the Q&A indicates, the salvation of the unevangelized is not the issue which was being discussed, but it is the example cited in raising the question of the essentialism of origins. It is not my purpose to get into that particular discussion. Rather, I want to draw attention to Craig’s clear affirmation of the possible salvation of people who receive no more than God’s universal revelation. God’s universal revelation, in other words, is sufficient for salvation, if one responds to it with the faith which is appropriate to such revelation. I see that faith clearly delineated in Romans 1:21. This puts him firmly outside of the gospel exclusivist camp, and I am delighted that he holds this view, since I myself am a convinced accessibilist (a term, incidentally, which I appropriated from Craig (“Politically Incorrect Salvation,” in Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World, p. 84).

In his answer to the question of the week, Craig states: “There may be people who never hear the Gospel and are saved through their response to God’s general revelation in nature and conscience alone, but who would also have accepted the Gospel (had they heard it) and been saved.” He posits that “there may be people who never hear the Gospel but who would have accepted it, had they heard it.” Some theologians have drawn on Molinism to assert a position I call “Molinist accessibilism,” but Craig is not taking that route. For this I congratulate him. Rather than affirming that God saves people through a faith they do not have but would have had if they had received sufficient revelation, Craig asserts that the revelation God gives of himself to everyone, is sufficient to elicit actual saving faith, if it is the only means by which God makes himself known to a person.

So, Craig now proposes “that people who never hear the Gospel and reject general revelation would not have accepted the Gospel even had they heard it” but, as noted above, such people are not inevitably lost because of the inadequacy of their knowledge of God. If all God makes known of himself to some people is his self-revelation through his creative work and the human conscience, salvation is still possible.

The principle I see at work here is that, although the new covenant has been instituted through the death of Christ, God does not require new covenant faith from people who do not receive new covenant revelation. God judges people according to the covenant under which they live existentially (though not historically), and salvation was always possible by faith under every covenant. The faith God requires is determined by the covenant under which one lives, and that is determined by the revelation God has made known to an individual.

Craig might not state his present position in the way I have just done, but what he does clearly affirm is consistent with that framework, and I am delighted to see this.


By Terrance Tiessen

I am Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, Canada.

3 replies on “William Lane Craig now affirms universal revelation accessibilism”

It seems that WLC has, for a while now, (1) been open to the possibility that there can be those who positively respond to God’s general revelation and are thereby saved, but (2) chosen to focus on a different but related question in his own studies. For example, in the recent Q&A you mention, he says:

“There may be people who never hear the Gospel and are saved through their response to God’s general revelation in nature and conscience alone, but who would also have accepted the Gospel (had they heard it) and been saved… my proposal is that people who never hear the Gospel and reject general revelation would not have accepted the Gospel even had they heard it.”

This same pair of emphases are present in a Q&A back in 2008:

“Again, not all persons who would believe the Gospel if they heard it are born at a time and place where they do hear it, for it’s possible that some of the unevangelized do respond positively to God’s general revelation in nature and conscience are so are saved through the atoning death of Christ without having a conscious knowledge of Christ. My concern is with the unevangelized who reject God’s general revelation and are damned, but who would have accepted the Gospel if they heard it.” ( )

And again the year before:

“No honest reading of Romans 1 can give grounds for optimism that very many of the unevangelized will be saved by their response to general revelation. Perhaps a few will (and my own view allows for that), but we can’t paint a rosy picture of the fate of the unevangelized after reading this passage… Lewis’ inclusivism… says nothing about those who reject God’s general revelation and so are lost, but who *would have responded* to the Gospel and been saved if only they had heard it. The problem of the unevangelized is a *counterfactual problem*: what about those who are damned but who would have been saved if only they had been born at a time and place where they heard the Gospel?” ( , emphasis original)

His Q&A’s only began in 2007, which is three years after the first publication of your “Who Can Be Saved?”, but a similar sentiment seems to be expressed in his paper “No Other Name”, which was published in 1989:

“Nor does it seem to me that the problem can be simply reduced to the inconsistency of a loving and just God’s condemning persons who are either un- , ill-, or misinformed concerning Christ and who therefore lack the opportunity to receive Him. For one could maintain that God graciously applies to such persons the benefits of Christ’s atoning death without their conscious knowledge thereof on the basis of their response to the light of general revelation and the truth that they do have, even as He did in the case of Old Testament figures like Job who were outside the covenant of Israel… Rather the real problem, it seems to me, involves certain counterfactuals of freedom concerning those who do not receive special revelation and so are lost.” ( )

Hope this helps,
God bless

Thanks, Roland. That is very helpful.

Craig appears to be struggling with something that is not problematic for me, namely, whether people who are saved through a believing response to general revelation could have been lost if they had heard the gospel.

I hypothesize that everyone meets Christ at death, and that their response to him will be consistent with the response they had had, during their lives, to less complete forms of covenant revelation. Furthermore, I am a Calvinist, which Craig is not, so I believe that those who respond savingly to general revelation do so because of God’s efficacious grace. Such people are among God’s elect from before the ages. Consequently, it is inconceivable that they might have been saved through general revelation, but then might lose their salvation later on when God blesses them with fuller revelation.

Within Craig’s concern, it is possible that someone might be saved by divine revelation less complete than that given in Christ, and then reject Christ himself when they meet him at death. I consider that an impossibility. For Craig, apostasy looks to be possible right up to the end, which would be that final meeting with Christ, in person. That would certainly challenge one’s assurance of salvation, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but which I don’t think is being done on biblically warranted grounds.

I suspect that Craig might say that I am not taking seriously enough my own belief in different possible worlds. He hasn’t suggested that in this particular world people saved through universal revelation could be lost through particular revelation. Rather, his proposal is that, whereas God chose a world in which this individual is saved through general revelation, there could be other possible worlds in which this person is lost, even though receiving the gospel. But that is not a significant concern, as far as I’m concerned, because the person who is saved in this world through universal revelation but lost in another world, even though having received the gospel, is not exactly the same person. We need not worry about the question he is pondering. Our concern about the salvation of the unevangelized need only be concerning this particular world, the world which God chose to actualize, in which we live as followers of Jesus who are called to take the gospel to the nations.

I realize that for a determinist a lot of questions aren’t worth considering, since what will be, will be. If God wants you saved, you will be, and if he doesn’t, tough luck. The details of how this comes to pass aren’t too significant. But, Craig’s question is indeed worth pondering, and should not be dismissed. He comes to the same conclusion you do, that those who receive general revelation would invariably believe the gospel if they heard it. But he does so after giving it serious consideration, and for good reason. Those who consider the possibility of salvation through general revelation are faced with a question with regard to missions. Many reject salvation through general revelation fearing that accepting it would discourage missions. If a person may be saved through a very basic faith, may we upset the apple cart by placing him in a position of bearing a heavier burden of belief? I.e. there may be people who would accept some basic truth, but would balk at more specific and difficult points. It is a reasonable question that deserves a well thought out answer. I don’t think Craig is personally worried about this question any more than you are, but he knows others ponder this and question him on it, and he treats questions with respect. He doesn’t just say, “I don’t see any problem here”, and dismiss the question.

Another point is that this question does not concern the possibility of apostasy. Apostasy is rejecting what one formerly believed, not failing to believe more than one already believes. The issue is simply one of bearing a lesser or greater responsibility for belief.

There is also the other side of the coin. Are there those who would not come to faith based on general revelation alone, but who would believe if they heard the gospel? I don’t know Craig’s answer to this for sure, but he might say that these are the people whom God places in circumstances where they hear it.

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