What is “transdispensationalism”? It is a term that, to my knowledge, has only been used by one person, and that person is Tony Evans in a book entitled Totally Saved. That book came out, I think, in the year 2002; it was published by Moody Press. It is a book that endeavors to give a very simple and basic understanding of salvation.
At the end of the book, there is a chapter in which the question comes up about people who have never heard the gospel. And, in that section, Tony Evans writes that people who never hear the gospel, if they will accept whatever light they have, God will acknowledge that as sufficient for their salvation. That, in itself, is a departure from historic Christian gospel. We would say that if someone lives up to the light they have, then the Lord, who is not limited in His capacity to deliver the truth, will bring the full light and that no one could ever be saved apart from Christ.
This is more of the thing that Tony Campollo says, that people are being saved by Jesus who don’t even know there is a Jesus. This is that “wider mercy” view as it’s called. This is also under what has been termed “natural theology”: that natural theology will lead someone to God, and if the person doesn’t have access to the gospel, then God’s not going to hold them responsible for what they don’t know. And that’s essentially the argument of this book, that in the world, there are going to be people who never hear the gospel, and they are not going to reject the light they have. They’re going to accept the light they have, and God will count that as sufficient to save them.
And then comes the interesting comment that he does this by transdispensationalizing them. That is, treating them as if they were living in another dispensation. Obviously, there is no biblical defense for that, and none is attempted in the Bible—none. There isn’t even a verse to defend that. Furthermore, living up to natural human light, apart from the revelation of the true and living God, wouldn’t save anybody in any dispensation. But, it is a very strange thing and, to the degree that He gives salvation to those who have never heard the gospel, it’s a departure from what we believe the scripture teaches.
There was a radio interview that followed that book that’s available. You can get the transcript of that radio interview, in which the host was interviewing Tony Evans and said to him, “You’re saying, if a Hindu looks up and says, ‘I know you’re up there somewhere. I don’t know who you are, but I’d really like to know you,’ God will count that as sufficient as salvation?” And the answer to that was “Yes.”
Excerpt taken from a Questions and Answers session with John MacArthur during General Session #5 at the 2003 Shepherds' Conference, A Ministry of Grace Community Church 818.909.5530. © 2003 All Rights Reserved. Grace Community Church. A CD, MP3, or tape cassette copy of this session can be obtained by going to www.shepherdsconference.org it is tape #SC 1007