Friday, March 26, 2010

No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized (reviewed by Blair Dee Hodges)


Title: No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized
Author: John Sanders
Publisher: Wipf & Stock Publishers
Genre: Theology
Year: 2001 (reprint)
Pages: 334
ISBN10: 1579108342
ISBN13: 9781579108342
Binding: Paperback
Price: $34.00

Reviewed by Blair Dee Hodges - Association for Mormon Letters

I was on my mission when the issue really hit home: there were,
believe it or not, great people who loved God (and some who didn't
even believe) who weren't Mormon. Certainly I had been raised to
believe that there were good people all over the world, great people
of other faiths, but I had also learned that the fulness of the gospel
was found in my own religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints. That teaching becomes more acute when faced with honest,
God-loving, God-fearing people outside my Church. What about those
C.S. Lewis called "virtuous unbelievers"?[1]

The more I studied the issue the more comfortable I became with Mormon
views of the afterlife and the assurance that none will be left
without the opportunity to honestly evaluate Christ's invitation to
come unto Him and make a decision. I believe the solutions revealed to
Joseph Smith (including post-mortal missionary work and proxy
ordinances for the dead) are consistent, fair, even graceful. They are
also surprisingly unique, considering the history of Christian thought
on the subject--a subject I didn't know had occupied other Christians
for centuries going back as far as the written record shows. LDS views
are unique in important respects, but they grow out of concerns common
to many other Christians. John Sanders explores the history of
Christian perspectives on this subject in "No Other Name: An
Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized."[2]

Sanders's book is a systematic overview of how different Christian
thinkers have handled the problem of salvation only through Christ.
Jesus Christ said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one
comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6, NAS). How can the
billions of people who have never heard of Christ, before and after
his mortal life, come to the Father? This appears to call into
question the justice and mercy of God. Considering the billions of
people who have not learned about Jesus Christ through no real fault
of their own, in addition to the countless persons who lived on the
earth before Jesus Christ was born, it seems not many people will
receive salvation. Sanders says Christians today face "plural shock"
when they encounter other religions, leading some to abandon
completely the "finality and particularity" of salvation through
Christ, much like I encountered on my mission (3).

Sanders is something of a non-traditional Evangelical Christian, an
"Open Theist."[2] His book is grounded in assuming the ultimate
authority of the Bible, using subsequent Christian tradition as a
guide (3). On page 25 Sanders describes "two essential truths" which
cause the tension for Bible-believers. First: God has a "universal
salvific will." ("God...desires all men to be saved and to come to the
knowledge of the truth," 1 Timothy 4:12.) Second: "the particularity
and finality of salvation only in Jesus" ("And there is salvation in
no one else, for there is no other name under which we
must be saved," Acts 4:12). Each position has support in other verses
throughout the New Testament. Sanders notes that "Holding both sets of
texts together without neglecting either set requires a careful
theological balance...We must hold to both sets of texts and seek to
arrive at a theological formulation that does justice to both"

Sanders is a systematic thinker with the ability to express complex
topics accessibly and fairly. He clarifies the main point over which
Christians disagree by "distinguishing between the ontological and
epistemological necessity of Jesus Christ for the salvation of
individuals" (30). His book takes for granted the *ontological*
necessity-- that is, that Christ had to, and in fact did, atone for
the sins of the world. Those who do not believe this point are not
addressed in this study (nor are Calvinists who believe in the
"limited atonement" of Christ; that Christ only died for an elect
group rather than for all humankind, 30, 50). The question of
*epistemological* necessity is where the positions in the book differ;
"the question of whether [and when] a person must know about Jesus in
order to benefit from the salvation he provided" (30).

The book is divided into three parts. In part one Sanders formulates
the issue and situates it in the history of Christian thought. In part
two he describes "the two extremes," Restrictivism (all unevangelized
are damned) and Universalism (all unevangelized are ultimately saved).
In part three Sanders offers a third view he calls "Wider Hope," which
is where the Latter-day Saint position would fit in. Surprisingly,
given the depth of research in the book and its attempt at being
comprehensive, Latter-day Saints are not mentioned at all.[3]

Each chapter is well organized. Sanders begins with the key biblical
texts while taking care not to simply proof-text. Next he covers
"theological considerations," the assumptions made by those holding
that position. Then he gives an overview of leading defenders of the
position. Finally, he evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the
position. A bibliography of important texts concludes each chapter.
The book concludes with an Appendix on "Infant Salvation and

The salvation of the unevangelized weaves in and out of a striking
number of theological considerations; christology, the nature of
faith, justice, grace, the problem of evil, revelation, hell,
judgment, and the love of God. Sanders is a model for inter-faith
discussion; he treats differing perspectives with deference, trying to
outline them in a way acceptable to those who hold them. He believes
that the debate boils down to differing "control beliefs," which
"guide and control the way we investigate and interpret
evidence...Control beliefs can be extremely powerful in influencing
what we 'see' in a text or the way we interpret our experiences" (31).
Sanders knows that everyone has control beliefs, "it would be
impossible to live meaningfully without them. They give us stability
as we encounter new ideas and experiences. But sometimes we need to
examine and modify--even reject--certain of our control beliefs" (32).
He outlines his own control beliefs and calls for readers to be
self-aware of their own. Only then can they reasonably analyze the
different positions and hope to find the best answer to the problem of
the unevangelized.

Despite overlooking the LDS position, Sanders has put together a
remarkable book. Philosophy, theology, and history interweave to
examine a question at the heart of the mission of Jesus Christ: "For
God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that
whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting
life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world;
but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3: 16-17).

FOOTNOTES [1] I investigate C.S. Lewis, the "virtuous unbeliever," and
LDS thought in a forthcoming issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon

[2] The book was originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
Co. (1992). I am reviewing the paperback edition from Wipf & Stock
Publishers (2001). Sanders is currently professor of religion at
Hendrix College. See his wiki for more info,

[3] A more in-depth analysis of the positions Sanders outlines is
Brent Alvord and David L. Paulsen, "Joseph Smith and the Problem of
the Unevangelized," FARMS Review 17:1 (2005), 171-204.

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