Al Maxey recently posted Reflection 413, in which he deals with the doctrine of “available light.” This is a fairly new teaching to me … intriguing for sure. I’ve never really studied it. So that’s what I intend to do in the next few posts.
Al cites Leroy Garrett as agreeing with his views on this. That worries me greatly, because my initial reaction is that I disagree with this idea. And I’m a big fan of both men — so it worries me a lot when I find myself in disagreement with the two of them. In fact, this may be the first time it’s ever happened. And it likely means I’m wrong (and I hate being wrong).
As I type this, I’ve not yet worked through all their arguments. Rather, I thought I might write as I study what they have to say on this subject and see whether I change my mind.
The doctrine of available light addresses the eternal fate of those who’ve never heard the gospel. Although Al discusses this doctrine in his recent post, he relies on an earlier post as supplying the scriptural support.
Al begins by dismissing the notion that those who’ve never heard the gospel are necessarily saved.
That is totally illogical. It would render pointless any missionary effort on our behalf. Indeed, why would Paul spend years of sacrificial service to the Lord in his missionary journeys if these people were all saved by virtue of their ignorance? It makes no sense! Ignorance is NOT the basis of eternal salvation. “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
Al then rejects the notion that all who’ve never heard the gospel are lost.
[We’ve traditionally asserted that the] fact that untold millions lived and died without ever having the opportunity to hear this good news, through absolutely no fault of their own, is “irrelevant.” They didn’t “obey the gospel,” so they are doomed to hell. Period. And, furthermore, it is OUR fault. Why? Because we didn’t take the gospel to them like we were supposed to! Thus, their blood will be on our heads.
This is an extreme, harsh, and very legalistic theological stance …. and it is, unfortunately, held by many of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
This is, of course, the doctrine I’ve been taught all my life. This is why we send missionaries. And it’s too soon to agree or disagree.
Al then offers his own view —
Simply stated, this view holds that all men, who ever have lived or ever will live, are amenable to whatever available light God has given unto them. Those who genuinely respond to that light with fullness of faith will be judged fairly and benevolently by our Father; those who willfully reject that light will be rejected by God. … I was also pleased to discover that the vast majority of readers who emailed me embrace this same conviction.
The foundational principle of this teaching is that our God has revealed Himself to all men, although the methodology may vary dramatically. There were times, for example, when God revealed His will to certain men via dreams and visions. These persons then became responsible for complying with the truths and tenets contained therein. God also spoke through prophets. God also speaks through nature (Acts 14:17). He speaks through the Scriptures. And He speaks most perfectly through the “word become flesh” — Jesus Christ. In each case, God has dispensed light, although some lights shine more brightly than others and are thus more easily discerned.
Now, this is an appealing doctrine. It avoids the horrific thought that those who’ve never heard the gospel are necessarily damned to an eternity of torment and offers the hope that some might find God by other means and so be saved. And it avoids the absurd thought that those who never heard the gospel are saved, so that preaching Jesus to them will actually damn those who otherwise never have heard the gospel — making the gospel very bad news indeed for the majority of those preached to!
But is it biblical?
* After preparing these posts, I sent them to Al Maxey to get his thoughts. He kindly prepared a response that I will post at the end of the series.