Must I ‘know’ the Gospel to believe it?

ImageHow much of our salvation hinges upon proper mental ascension to the Gospel?  Or maybe for our more monergistic readers, how certain is it that election will produce a proper mental ascension to the Gospel?

It’s my hope that most readers of this post would quickly quip that “salvation has nothing to do with our mental ascension, but hinges entirely on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ for us.”  To that quip I would say “Amen”.  Nonetheless the quip avoids the question altogether.  Let me ask a different way: Must one know that Christ has lived, died, and risen for them in order to be redeemed?  Can someone ignorant of the Gospel be saved?  Of course these are tired old questions, and I do not pretend to be unearthing some dramatic line of questioning that has not been played over ad nauseum… but the reason this line of questioning continues to get so much play is that it is really difficult to produce cogent answers.

If mental ascension is effectively a requirement of salvation we run into a number of theological problems.  These problems have produced all sorts of doctrinal acrobatics, like the introduction of an ‘age of accountability’, the point in which a youngster is capable of mentally ascending to the Gospel.  Or what of a person born with severe mental retardation?  Or what of the person who has had tragic trauma to the brain prior to hearing the Gospel?   Moreover, if we are saved by faith, is knowledge of the Gospel a part of faith, or is knowledge of the Gospel independent of faith?  Does faith produce knowledge of the Gospel?  Can someone have faith without knowledge of the Gospel?

Of course on the flip side, if mental ascension is not a component of redemption we run up against a host of very different theological issues.  Issues like universalism, or the idea that evangelism could actually be the cause of damnation to those who previously never knew the Gospel.

Clearly no one will be saved apart from the finished work of Christ applied to them, but what are the means of that application?  Repentance and faith?  Baptism?  The Lord’s Table?  Yes to all… no to all?  Belief only?  If belief only, can you distinguish between belief and mental ascension?  Are they the same?  How do they differ?

These questions are painfully practical, and anyone who has walked this globe for a reasonable amount of time knows that these questions are not merely hypothetical, but actually touch upon countless real life situations.  I can hear the cry of some Christians telling me that you just need to chalk these things up to the sovereignty of God, and trust Him in His judgments.  I can say “Amen” to that when I sit behind my desk alone in my office, but that “Amen” is rings hollow in more pastoral situations.

Personally I know where I stand on all of this, and I know how I would answer all of these questions (though I do not pretend to be as confident as some might believe me to be.)   I am more interested in how you reckon with these questions than I am with telling you how I do.  I’d love to hear some answers.  Just make sure they are suitable answers from a pastor standpoint, not merely from some ethereal wisdom that never touches the ground.

Is salvation tied in some way to mental ascension to the Gospel?  That is the question, I look forward to your answers.


5 thoughts on “Must I ‘know’ the Gospel to believe it?

  1. Not only is it far more simple, but I believe it is far more individual. We have a tendency to try to put people into boxes about where they stand in their faith i.e. if you think this or believe that or accept the other, then I will place this label on you. We do this because our brains our wired to organize things into like groups so that it may process them. God is not confined to this. He says that no one will have an excuse for not being drawn to Him. Therefore, whether it is the person in Africa, the traumatic brain-injury victim, or anyone else who we are unsure about, we know that God is just and He will do right by them. Our call is to go and make disciples of everyone we can.

  2. I think we tend to go to the thief on the cross a little too often to shape our theology. Clearly his situation was unique in the sense that Christ had already lived perfectly on behalf of the world, yet he had neither died, nor risen.

    We could pose the question “Must one believe in the historical resurrection of Christ?” (To that I would say yes), but then someone could come in and ask “What about the thief on the cross?” Obviously we can see the problems that can arise from using the thief in shaping our theology. It is popular to use the thief in baptism arguments, “Must someone be baptized to be saved?”, and of course those who say no will often say “Look at the thief, he wasn’t baptized.” However we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, and as far as the thief was concerned, there was no death yet to be baptized into, and no resurrection yet to be baptized into. I am not arguing one way or another on these things, just raising a yellow caution flag to slow down a bit and think it all through whenever any doctrinal statement is made that draws from the thief on the cross.

    Great comments, I am not trying downplay them at all. I agree with both of you that this whole matter is far more simple than we tend to make it.

  3. I agree with Diane in that we tend to overcomplicate salvation, often instituting requirements or layers for it to be enacted. But I don’t want to under-complicate it either. The second thief on the cross heaped insults on Jesus the same as the first thief. However as the hours went by, a change occurred in the second thief that did not occur in the first. He began to understand the basic requirements for salvation: his sin, his sorrow over them, and the sinlessness of Jesus. He also feared God.

    He didn’t express belief the Gospel in the same terms as we do today (because the resurrection had not occurred yet) but he was sorrowful over his sin in the face of the Sinless One. He repented. (Matthew 27:44, Mark 15:32, Luke 23:38-43).

    In my opinion, the second thief exemplified the following verse from Hebrews 10:31-
    “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” and he acted accordingly. The second thief did not, hence his damnation.

    Thanks for allowing me to share these thoughts from your good and interesting question.

  4. The other man crucified on the cross with Jesus knew nothing except that Jesus did not deserve to be dying on the cross…He knew nothing of Christ’s life only his death and that it was unjust…and Jesus replied “today you will be in paradise with me”. I think we over-complicate sometimes ‘salvation’….Diane

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