Christianity Today has a piece by Alistair McGrath which he excerpts from his book The Twilight of Atheism. McGrath argues that atheism reached its zenith sometime before WWII and has been in decline ever since. The reason for its appeal is disapproval of the moral temper of Christianity, but Christians have done a much better job of representing Christ to the world in the last sixty years than atheists have in presenting a plausible alternative. McGrath says:
The battle, however, is far from won:
In other words, Western culture finds implausible and repugnant the conviction, widely held among evangelicals, that no matter how much in love with God a person might be, if he or she has not accepted Christ as Lord, God rejects them, and they are eternally damned. McGrath, in fact, believes this doctrine to be the major reason why people who become atheists abandon theism.
I'm not sure he's right about this. I think that most people who reject theism simply don't want there to be a God even remotely like the God of the Bible and wouldn't embrace Him regardless of what the Church taught about salvation.
Even so, McGrath is doubtless correct that there are many who find Christian exclusivism morally incomprehensible if not repellant and reject the Gospel because of it. It is on behalf of these that the Church, in our view, should revisit its thinking on this very important issue. If the doctrine is clearly and unambiguously taught by scripture then so be it, but if scripture admits of other ways of thinking about what it means to be saved and what it means to be lost, then it would be a worthwhile project to reconsider some of the arguments, some of the exegesis, and some of the theology involved in deciding exactly what God's plan of redemption involves.
Scripture may be inerrant, but our understanding of it surely is not.