The conviction that salvation is available through Christ alone permeates the NT (see, e.g., Ac 4:12; Eph 2:12). This raises the troubling question of the fate of those who never hear the gospel.
What, exactly, is the problem here supposed to be? The universalist alleges that the following statements are logically inconsistent:
1. God is all powerful and all loving.
2. Some people never hear the gospel and are lost.
But why think that 1 and 2 are logically incompatible? There is no explicit contradiction between them. If the universalist is claiming that they are implicitly contradictory, he must be assuming some hidden premises that would bring out this contradiction.
Although universalists have not been forthcoming about their hidden assumptions, the logic of the problem would suggest something akin to these points:
3. If God is all powerful, He can create a world in which everybody hears the gospel and is freely saved.
4. If God is all loving, He prefers a world in which everybody hears the gospel and is freely saved.
But are these premises necessarily true?
Consider 3. It seems incontrovertible that God could create a world in which everybody hears the gospel. But so long as people are free, there is no guarantee that everybody in such a world would be freely saved. In fact, there is no reason to think the balance between saved and lost in such a world would be any better than is that balance in the actual world. Hence 3 is not necessarily true; and the universalist’s argument is false.
But what about 4? Is it necessarily true? Let us suppose for the sake of argument that there are possible worlds that are feasible for God in which everyone hears the gospel and freely accepts it. Does God's being all loving compel Him to prefer one of these worlds over a world in which some persons are lost? Not necessarily, for these worlds might have other, overriding deficiencies that make them less preferable. For example, suppose that the only worlds in which everybody freely believes the gospel and is saved are worlds with only a handful of people in them. Must God prefer one of these sparsely populated worlds over a world in which multitudes believe in the gospel and are saved, even though other persons freely reject His grace and are lost? No. Thus the universalist's second assumption is not necessarily true, so that his argument is doubly invalid.
As a loving God, God wants as many people as possible to be freely saved and as few as possible to be lost. His goal, then, is to achieve an optimal balance between these, to create no more of the lost than are necessary to attain a certain number of the saved. It is possible that in order to create this many people who will be freely saved, God also had to create this many people who will be freely lost.
It might be objected that an all-loving God would not create people whom He knew will be lost but who would have been saved if only they had heard the gospel. But how do we know there are any such persons? It is reasonable to assume many people who never hear the gospel would not have believed the gospel if they had heard it. Suppose, then, that God has so ordered the world that all persons who never hear the gospel are precisely such people. In that case, anybody who never hears the gospel and is lost would have rejected the gospel and been lost even if he had heard it. Thus, it is possible that:
5. God has created a world that has an optimal balance between saved and lost, and those who never hear the gospel and are lost would not have believed in it even if they had heard it.
So long as 5 is even possibly true, it shows that there is no incompatibility between an all-powerful, all-loving God and some people's never hearing the gospel and being lost.
(For another perspective, see “What About Those Who Have Never Heard About Christ ? by Chad Owen Brand)
Extracted from the Apologetics Study Bible.