I've often argued that the worst shows on TV were never shows like "Married with Children" or "South Park," but shows like "Seventh Heaven" or "Touched by an Angel." Explicit rebellion against what God has said is easy to spot. You can take note of it and avoid it. Instead, it is that which looks good to us, but brings in subtle rebellion against the truth, that is far more dangerous. You have to really be paying attention to catch it. The yearly build up of these subtle departures from truth eventually take their toll on our thinking.
There are explicit ways to deny the necessity of the gospel and there are more subtle ways of doing so. The more subtle is the worst, as it creeps in, not through the explicit denials of the necessity of the gospel, but through other issues that assume ideas that end up denying it's necessity.
This is what I find to be the case when we discuss whether there exist elect people who never exercise faith in response to the audible gospel preached, whether they be people in other lands who have never heard, the mentally disabled, or infants.
There are numerous issues I would take with the idea that people are saved apart from exercising faith in the spoken gospel.
1. The gospel call is an audible call made by those who are sent to preach it. It is not an inward call. There is no such thing in Scripture as in inward call. Such is the stuff of evangelical fiction. A call is just that, an audible invitation/command to take action of something. In the gospel's case, the call is to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord. The word for "call" is always an audible command/invitation to respond to what one is being called. Hence, Paul argues that people need to go preach the gospel, precisely because they will not hear without a preacher, and therefore, cannot believe on Him about whom they have not heard (Rom 10:14). In Romans 8:28-31, Paul argues that salvation comes about through the process of predestination, a calling, justification, and glorification. One does not happen without the other. Hence, one must hear the gospel of Christ (i.e., the call), as a result of being predestined, in order to be justified and glorified (i.e., the same group that is predestined is called and justified and glorified--there aren't different groups here that are saved in different ways as a result of their election).
2. The elect are not elected to be saved, but to hear and believe in order to be saved. The idea that one is elected to salvation without being elected to go through the means by which he might be saved is actually an extreme form of Hyper-Calvinism. Yet, most of the people who make this argument are either Calvinists, Arminians, or Pelagians (i.e., people who deny that Hyper-Calvinism is true). I would deny it as well, as it is not biblical to say that one is elected to salvation, but to obtain salvation through the means of exercising faith in the spoken gospel message. Again, Romans 8:28-31, tells us that those who are predestined are called and then justified. There is no group that is predestined and justified without the call.
3. It turns the gospel into a works righteousness, where people follow Christ, not by trusting in His righteousness and work on the cross that they are consciously relying upon; but instead, are relying upon their good works and faith toward false deities and their religions as a means to salvation. The Bible is clear that those within the other nations, who have never heard of YHWH, who trust in false gods will fall, as their gods cannot save them, and the true God will judge them for trusting in these gods. He may be the One who provides for all mankind, but they instead attribute His good to them to other gods who are not said to merely represent Him, but through which the world is deceived and damned.
4. The Bible says in Acts 17:30 that God was not as harsh upon the nations as He could have been, and so tolerated their false religions, but now He commands all men everywhere to repent (i.e., turn to the truth through the gospel), because He has appointed a day to judge the world through His Son. Hence, people are not simply worshiping God and following Christ through their own religions.
5. The biblical pattern is that God has elected someone and so sends preachers to tell him the gospel message, i.e., to give him the gospel call. We never hear of anyone who is saved regardless of whether they have exercised faith in the spoken gospel. When God purposes to call a people to repentance, such as the city of Nineveh, he sends a preacher. Salvation is through repentance and faith, and repentance and faith come through the message preached.
6. The above is true because fallen man needs to be regenerated in order to believe, and this regeneration and drawing to Christ comes through the preaching of the gospel message, not apart from it. Hence, faith comes through the means of hearing and hearing of the message of God (i.e., the gospel message). Without this preaching, there is no regeneration, and therefore, no faith and repentance exercised toward God. Again, this is not something that happens apart from the preached gospel that binds one to Christ as Lord and Savior.
7. The idea that men don't need to be regenerated through the gospel message may assume the heresy of Pelagianism, where people do not need any sort of transformation in order to believe and be saved. They can use the grace of God, which Pelagius saw as natural revelation, as the means of salvation because it is possible for a man to be drawn to God through that alone. But the Scripture argues that the unregenerate man is hostile toward God, and that those who are not in Christ by faith are in the flesh which "cannot please God" (Rom 8:7-8).
Now, someone in the inclusivist camp, no doubt, will bring up verses like Luke 12:48: But he who had not been told it
and yet did what deserved the scourge, will receive but few lashes. To
whomsoever much has been given, from him much will be required; and to
whom much has been entrusted, of him a larger amount will be demanded. But this verse actually teaches the opposite of what the inclusivist is trying to make of it. The passage acknowledges that those who haven't heard and didn't know what to do, still get punished for their sins. Their punishment, like those who lived in Sodom and Gomorrah, is simply less than those who are given more knowledge. Hence, Sodom and Gomorrah will find it more tolerable on the day of judgment, according to what Christ said, than the Pharisees and scribes who did not believe, because the Pharisess were given the gospel message and the people of Sodom were not. But Sodom was still destroyed, and are said to still be going off to judgment as a wicked city nonetheless. So a lesser punishment does not mean "salvation" for those who have not heard.
So, it seems that one either needs to assume Pelagianism (the person who hasn't heard is innocent or can be saved through his use of natural revelation) or Hyper-Calvinism (the person who has never heard is elect to salvation but not to the means to obtain salvation through faith in the preached gospel of Christ), both of which I consider to be heretical, in order to believe that people are saved apart from the means of faith in the spoken gospel. Both of these work against the idea that exercising faith in the expliicit gospel preached is necessary as the means through which one is saved. What this breaks down to is simply that a faith relationship with Christ is not necesssary or can be had, not through the gospel, but through having a relationship with a false god through a false religion that, ironically, is the exact opposite of Christianity (as all religions are).
What this means is that we need to preach the gospel for the glory of God that works with His election that works through the means He has ordained for salvation of an individual to take place. And we need to pay attention to the "smaller" doctrines we believe in so that we are not overthrown from behind while we're busy guarding the main gates.