this first part was told by another poster on Bede's list.
I recall a story I once heard about a conversation between Bertrand Russell and a Christian missionary which really, for me, brought to light the problem of the salvation of those who've never heard the gospel. It went something like this (forgive me if I get parts of it wrong, I'm just going from memory):
RUSSELL: Those people in [insert un-evangelized area here] whom you witness to, are they going to Hell because they don't believe, even though they've never had a chance to hear the gospel?
MISSIONARY: No, not if they've never heard.
RUSSELL: So, what happens if you tell them and then they reject it?
MISSIONARY: Well, then they will go to Hell I guess.
RUSSELL: So why tell them at all? What you're effectively doing is causing more damage than there was to begin with.
This whole question has always bothered me as a Christian and this dialogue has made it even more apparent. It doesn't seem very loving to condemn people when they haven't had a chance to receive what will save them; but, if they're to be judged on "what light they do have" or something like that so they're not entirely "at-fault" then what happens when a missionary gives them the gospel and they reject it? Did they not have a better chance of being saved beforehand? If anybody can suggest any books/essays/etc. that deal with this question or provide your own responses/suggestions to this I would deeply appreciate it. Thanks for all your help in the past. God bless.
this is my bit:
I don't believe in hell in the convetional sense. I think most people feel that heaven = reward for good, hell = punishment for bad. To me this is the abandonment of the gospel. It is not being faithful to the Gospel, it's what people believe when they don't get it.
The thing is salvation is a process. It includes things like redemption and freedom from sin, born again, it's an over all renovation. This renovation and redemption is the alternative to our human state of lostness that is the result, not of punishment for being bad, but a consequence for being separated from God. We separate ourselves from God, and we do this in many way but ultimately it is as a result of existential anxiety. So in my view Jesus came and made the ultimate statement of solidarity to show God's solidarity with Humanity, so that we would seek God and turn from our lost, anxious, separated state. Those who will cease to exist (note--not burn consciously in torment but cease existence) will do so because they choose separation from God.
What about those who don't find Christ? They have the moral law written on the heart, and if they follow it they are following Christ (see Romans 2:6-14, Acts 17).