Over at New Leaven, T.C. Robinson asks the long-debated question “Will the Unreached Still be Saved?” Robinson offers a plausible answer from theologian Millard Erickson: in the same way that the Old Testament believers were saved on the basis of but incomplete knowledge regarding the cross, so those who did not hear the gospel but yet understood something of its form will likely be saved. I have not gotten the chance to read through the replies thoroughly, but I did note that some have pointed to Romans 1-2 to answer in the negative.
My own response to this has somewhat of an odd background. My undergraduate professors held to dispensationlism. They believed that God administrated his affairs with different groups in different periods of time. But for them, the basis of salvation in each dispensation was the person and work of Jesus Christ. One professor held to a more progressive dispensationalism, like that of Blaising and Bock. I haven’t thought much about this since I graduated from there, so I probably still hold to something similar, at least subconsciously.
I begin with that preface so that everyone knows where I am coming from. It has been so long, however, that I am not sure of the exact articulations of any of my professors or of Blaising and Bock; what follows onward is my own reading of dispensational theory. Back to the original question, I see Revelation 20 as relevant to the discussion:
11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15 NKJV)
From a dispensational view, this scene takes places after the millennial reign, a distinct event in the dispensational timeline. Before this, the church was already raptured and redeemed; the saints ruled and reigned with Christ during the 1,000 years. Here, those resurrected are those outside of the dispensation of the church era and other than of the Old Testament saints who are believed to have already been in heaven. If this way to understand the text from this dispensational perspective is true, that would allow for those who had never heard the gospel to somehow be in the Book of Life. What would place them into the Book of Life would be their deeds, which presumably are indicative somehow of some kind of faith in God, underlain by the salvific work of Christ.
While there are problems with this interpretation—for example, it must be first established that this form of dispensationalism is true—it seems to be a plausible way to read the text. In this manner, it would accord with Erickson’s statement, while providing a more concrete biblical basis.