Question: I was saved as a result of your presentation of the gospel in The Seduction of Christianity. I love you and appreciate you beyond words. But in response to a question in May 2007, you said, "You are limiting God. Did a missionary get the gospel to Enoch, Job, Noah, Abraham...? Through the witness of creation and His laws written in their consciences, God has always been able to bring those with open hearts to Himself...."
My mind went to Romans:10:13-15. Doesn't that passage contradict your assertion? Hasn't God limited Himself to using the preaching of the Gospel as the means to salvation?
Response: I ask again, who preached the gospel to the heroes of the faith listed in Hebrews 11? Do you think that every Old Testament saint understood the gospel to the same extent that it has been revealed to us today through the fullness of the Scriptures? Even the prophets didn't have the full gospel. They understood through animal sacrifices that an innocent substitute had to die for the guilty—but did everyone realize all that was entailed? Peter tells us:
Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. (1 Pt 1:10,11)
Go back and read the full chapter of Romans 10 again. It doesn't say that a preacher is essential. Paul's question is rhetorical: "How shall they hear without a preacher?" Note that after saying, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God," (Rom:10:17) he adds, "Have they not heard? Yes, verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world [nothing about a preacher]."
That declaration echoes what Psalm:19:1-4 says about the witness of all of God's creation: "There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard." Paul hammers the same theme: "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse..." (Rom:1:20).
In other words, people everywhere in all times of history know from the universe about them that God exists as Creator. Romans:2:14-15 makes it clear that every person anywhere in the world and at any time in history also knows in their God-given conscience that they have broken His moral laws and that even if they could live without sin in the future that could never wipe away the guilt of having violated conscience in the past. The Holy Spirit witnesses in every heart that God is love and that He must have a just solution. Seekers cry out to know Him, and cast themselves upon His mercy.
Although He was speaking primarily to Israel through His prophet Jeremiah, the Lord made it clear that He will reveal Himself to anyone who seeks Him with his or her whole heart: "And ye shall seek me [the one true God], and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart" (Jer:29:13).
A common objection one hears from atheists and even from those who say they believe in God but want an excuse for rejecting Christ is, "What about those who have never heard about Christ? Are you saying they are condemned to hell for their ignorance?" No. They are condemned on the basis of what they know, not because of what they don't know.
Those who reject the witness in their hearts of creation and conscience are not going to receive Christ when they hear the gospel, no matter how clearly preached—and for God to impose it upon them, knowing they won't believe, would only add to their condemnation. Remember what Abraham said to the rich man in hell, who was sure that if Lazarus came back from the dead and witnessed to his brothers they would believe: "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" (Lk 16:31).
Never mind "What about the heathen who have never heard?" What about the person asking the question, who probably has heard the gospel multiple times yet continues to reject Christ? The United States especially is filled with millions of such people.
God will get the truth to every person who sincerely seeks Him. This is His promise, and we can count on that. So those who claim to have sought the Lord without finding Him have never truly sought for Him with their whole heart. Either they are lying or God is.
So what about the need for a preacher? God promises to reveal Himself to every honest heart, and He can do it in miraculous ways. He sent an angel to prepare Cornelius and to call Peter to his house. And in that process the Lord showed the following to Peter: "I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness [according to the light he has], is accepted with him" (Acts:10:34,35). I'll let you interpret that for yourself.