William Lane Craig’s Accessibilism: An Introduction (1)

William Lane Craig’s Accessibilism

In addition to his neo-Apollinarianism and his Molinism, William Lane Craig has no shortage of controversial theology. Call me a newbie, but I didn’t know about his Accessibilism until rather recently. He articulates it in his article titled, Politically Incorrect Salvation. Now, the title is a little misleading for some. Before I read it, I would’ve expected it to be a defense of Penal Substitutionary Atonement or something along those lines. It, however, was not. Craig writes:

We can maintain that God does not judge those who have not clearly heard of Christ on the same basis as those who have. Rather we can, on the basis of Rom. 1-2, maintain that God judges persons who have not heard the gospel on the basis of God’s general revelation in nature and conscience. Were they to respond to the much lower demands placed on them by general revelation, God would give them eternal life (Rom. 2.7). Salvation is thus universally accessible. Unfortunately the testimony of Scripture is that people do not in general live up to even these meager demands and are therefore lost.

What is Craig saying here? We need to try and understand these words in their proper context. This article is about the more liberal notion of universalism. Picture someone who calls themselves a Christian, yet has come to appreciate members of other world religions so much, like Craig’s own example of John Hick, that they begin compromising on doctrinal essentials. Hick eventually denied the deity of the Son and wrote it off as a myth. Craig doesn’t want a full-fledged universalism, according to his article, but he sees no reason why Christians can’t grant to accessibility of God’s grace for those who are ignorant of the gospel.

Thus, those ignorant of the gospel will be judged by God based on their response to general revelation. He does grant, however, that Scripture seems to indicate that people do not “in general live up to even these meager demands and are therefore lost.”

Before we are accused by Craig’s followers of taking his words out of context in a critique of the above quoted statements. Let’s try to understand a bit more of Craig’s thought:

No one is unjustly condemned, however, since God has provided sufficient grace to all persons for salvation. Perhaps some do access salvation by means of general revelation, but if we take Scripture seriously we must admit that these are relatively few. In such a case, at most a narrow version of inclusivism would be true. Thus, given accessibilism, I do not see that Christian particularism is undermined simply  by God’s condemnation of persons who are not clearly informed about Christ.

Dr. Craig, again, admits that those who may have access to salvation through general revelation (i.e. by the works of the Law) must be relatively few in number. So, let’s give a brief outline of Craig’s view on this topic:

  • God’s judgement…
    • …Falls on those with knowledge of the gospel, but with no response to it
    • …Falls on those without knowledge of the gospel, but have no sufficient response to general revelation
  • God’s grace…
    • …Falls on those with knowledge and a positive response to the gospel
    • …Falls on those without knowledge of the gospel, but have a sufficient response to general revelation
  • Sufficient response to general revelation…
    • …Is rare and unlikely, but possible
    • Those who can respond sufficiently to general revelation are few in number

In the article, Craig is basically defending a view of Christian particularism wherein it is held that God saves only through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. This position, of course, is controversial among liberals. The strange thing about Craig’s view, however, is that he articulates not one but two ways of salvation. I fear this is some type of middle way (via media) theology where the motivation is to bring two opposing positions into harmony (i.e. the liberal universal view of salvation and the strict conservative view of Christian particularism).

Some of Craig’s followers and indeed Craig himself may respond to the above paragraph with something like, “This article does not articulate two different ways of salvation. It’s one way of salvation administered via two different means (the gospel & general revelation), but this salvation, through either faith in the gospel or response to general revelation, is only made possible through Christ’s blood and righteousness.”

From a philosophical-only standpoint, this coheres, but Christians don’t do theology from a philosophical-only standpoint, nor should they. Craig does try to invoke Scripture to support his thoughts, but he only goes so far as to cite Romans 1-2, and specifically, Romans 2:7.

In the following article, I will examine Craig’s use of Scripture and respond to his apparent position in light of the broader context of Romans 2. I will also look at the Adam/New-Adam motif which is made abundantly clear in Paul’s writings while observing an implication of federal theology on Craig’s position.