OBJECTION #2: “If people can come to faith through general revelation, then why are there missionaries (Mt. 28:18-20)?”

Fernando worries that this view will stop Christians from feeling a sense of urgency in reaching the world for Christ. He cites a sociological study that seems to support this conclusion.[1] If people can come to faith through creation and conscience, then why should anyone become a missionary?

First, while this view of Scripture is plausible, it could still be wrong. While many Christians believe that God forgives people who have never heard of Jesus, this could still be incorrect. For this possibility alone, it would make world missions extremely important.

Second, this is repeatedly commanded in Scripture. Imagine if an expert from the bomb squad was telling you to snip the red wire, instead of the blue wire, on an explosive in the basement of a school. As the timer was running down on the bomb, you probably wouldn’t ask him to explain the engineering of the bomb or why this would dismantle it. Instead, you’d snip the wire, save the school, and ask questions later. In the same way, sharing the message of Christ is mentioned on every other page of the New Testament. If we are to take the Bible seriously, we need to see that this subject is close to the heart of God, whether we understand it or not.

Third, while the Bible says that it is possible for someone to come to faith, it does not say that it is probable. This is an important distinction. When missionaries came into Africa at the turn of the 20th century, they did not find large populations of people who believed in the God of the Bible. Instead, they found group after group that followed animism. Now, after 100 years of work, roughly 50% of Africa is Christian. Clearly, human agency plays a role in people coming to faith.

Let’s consider an example. A lighthouse gives off enough light for a ship captain to pilot into shore, but in the turbulence of a storm, men might take extra measures to help him in. The ship captain knew the risks of boating, when he became a pilot. It is his responsibility, if he crashes. In this way, he is “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). But, at the same time, we should work hard to help him from crashing his ship. In the same way, while God is just in giving each person enough knowledge to come to faith, we should still work hard to give them extra knowledge. Imagine if your elderly father needed a ride from the airport, and you said, “You’ve got two legs, don’t you? You can walk!” It’s true that he could make it, but it would be cruel to make him walk home.

Fourth, even if someone might come to faith on their own, this shouldn’t lower missionary urgency. Consider, for example, if your child had an allergic reaction out at a restaurant, and they couldn’t breathe.[2] If you think that your child might be dying, you will speed just as quickly to the hospital, as if you knew that they were dying. You would probably throw them into the car and drive like a maniac to the hospital –whether there was a chance of them surviving or not. The same is true in spreading Jesus’ message.

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[1] It is spurious whether this is true. Many other factors could be involved. Fernando, Ajith. Sharing the Truth in Love: How to Relate to People of Other Faiths. Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House, 2001. 231.

[2] I am indebted to Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli for this excellent illustration. Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1994. 329.