Wesley the Inclusivist

It appears that John Wesley was what might be called a “hopeful inclusivist”.  An inclusivist is one who believes that we are saved only through Jesus, however, it is possible to be saved through Jesus without explicit and/or complete knowledge of him.  The following quotes from Wesley give insight to his leanings.  Take special note of Sermon 106, On Faith.

[4-7-11 Post updated to include some additional quotes]

Muslims:

….I have no authority from the Word of God “to judge those that are without.” Nor do I conceive that any man living has a right to sentence all the heathen and Mahometan world to damnation. It is far better to leave them to him that made them, and who is “the Father of the spirits of all flesh;” who is the God of the Heathens as well as the Christians, and who hateth nothing that he hath made. Sermon 125: On Living Without God, point 14.

Heathens and Muslims:

It cannot be doubted, but this plea [lack of  knowledge] will avail for millions of modern Heathens. Inasmuch as to them little is given, of them little will be required. As to the ancient Heathens, millions of them, likewise were savages. No more therefore will be expected of them, than the living up to the light they had. But many of them, especially in the civilized nations, we have great reason to hope, although they lived among Heathens, yet were quite of another spirit; being taught of God, by His inward voice, all the essentials of true religion. Yea, and so was that Mahometan, and Arabian, who, a century or two ago, wrote the Life of Hai Ebn Yokdan. The story seems to be feigned; but it contains all the principles of pure religion and undefiled. Sermon 106, On Faith, I 4.

Heathens, Muslims, Jews:

But with Heathens, Mahometans, and Jews we have at present nothing to do; only we may wish that their lives did not shame many of us that are called Christians. We have not much more to do with the members of the Church of Rome. But we cannot doubt, that many of them, like the excellent Archbishop of Cambray, still retain (notwithstanding many mistakes) that faith that worketh by love. Sermon 106, On Faith, II 3.

Modern Jews:

It is not so easy to pass any judgment concerning the faith of our modern Jews. It is plain, “the veil is still upon their hearts” when Moses and the Prophets are read. The god of this world still hardens their hearts, and still blinds their eyes, “lest at any time the light of the glorious gospel” should break in upon them. So that we may say of this people, as the Holy Ghost said to their forefathers, “The heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed ; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” (Acts 28:27.) Yet it is not our part to pass sentence upon them, but to leave them to their own Master. Sermon 106, On Faith, I 6.

Heathens Who have Never Heard of Christ:

But one considerable difficulty still remains: There are very many heathen nations in the world that have no intercourse, either by trade or any other means, with Christians of any kind. Such are the inhabitants of the numerous islands in the South Sea, and probably in all large branches of the ocean. Now, what shall be done for these poor outcasts of men “How shall they believe,” saith the Apostle, “in Him of whom they have not heard And how shall they hear without a preacher” You may add, “And how shall they preach, unless they be sent” Yea, but is not God able to send them Cannot he raise them up, as it were, out of the stones And can he ever want means of sending them No: Were there no other means, he can “take them by his Spirit,” as he did Ezekiel. (Ezek. 3:12,) or by his angel, as he did Philip, (Acts 8,) and set them down wheresoever it pleaseth him. Yea, he can find out a thousand ways to foolish man unknown. And he surely will: For heaven and earth may pass away; but his word shall not pass away: He will give his Son “the uttermost part of the earth for his possession.” Sermon 63, The General Spread of the Gospel, 24.

Indians (from India), Pakistanis, Pacific Islanders:

We cannot account for his present dealings with the inhabitants of the earth. We know, “the Lord is loving unto every man, and his mercy is over all his works.” But we know not how to reconcile this with the present dispensations of his providence. At this day, is not almost every part of the earth full of darkness and cruel habitations In what a condition, in particular, is the large and populous empire of Indostan! How many hundred thousands of the poor, quiet people, have been destroyed, and their carcases left as the dung of the earth! in what a condition (though they have no English ruffians there) are the numberless islands in the Pacific Ocean! How little is their state above that of wolves and bears! And who careth either for their souls or their bodies But does not the Father of men care for them O mystery of providence! Sermon 69 – The Imperfection Of Human Knowledge. II 4

Those with Distorted Ideas of who Christ is:

Perhaps there may be some well-meaning persons who carry this farther still; who aver, that whatever change is wrought in men, whether in their hearts or lives, yet if they have not clear views of those capital doctrines, the fall of man, justification by faith, and of the atonement made by the death of Christ, and of his righteousness transferred to them, they can have no benefit from his death. I dare in no wise affirm this. Indeed I do not believe it. I believe the merciful God regards the lives and tempers of men more than their ideas. I believe he respects the goodness of the heart rather than the clearness of the head; and that if the heart of a man be filled (by the grace of God, and the power of his Spirit) with the humble, gentle, patient love of God and man, God will not cast him into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels because his ideas are not clear, or because his conceptions are confused. Without holiness, I own, “no man shall see the Lord;” but I dare not add, “or clear ideas.” Sermon 125: On Living Without God, 15.

Roman Catholics:

…the faith of the Roman Catholics, in general, seems to be above that of the ancient Jews. If most of these are volunteers in faith, believing more than God has revealed, it cannot be denied that they believe all which God has revealed, as necessary to salvation. In this we rejoice on their behalf… Sermon 106, On Faith, I 7

 

 

 

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31 Comments

Filed under Inclusivism, John Wesley, Wesleyanism

31 responses to “Wesley the Inclusivist

  1. Interesting. To me it comes down to what the Bible says.

  2. Thanks, Kevin. I posted it here: http://web.me.com/craigadams1/Commonplace_Holiness/Blog/Entries/2011/4/7_Wesley_the_Inclusivist.html

    And, gave you credit!

    And, thanks for being courageous enough to stand up for what the Scriptures really teach.

    “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20 NIV)

    “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law…” (Romans 2:12 NIV)

    “Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.'” (Acts 10:34, 35 NIV)

      • Kyle

        I can’t quote them off the top of my head, but Wesley has even more quotes that lead one to believe he thought it was actually quite likely that some heathens will be saved. At the very least, he was certainly not an exclusivist, which is to say he did not believe all heathens fail to hear the Gospel in this life are damned.

        Many people seem to think Inclusivism was invented by Karl Rahner, but it wasn’t.

      • Hey Kyle, According to what Walls put on your thread, “On Faith” and “The General Spread of the Gospel” are also sermons that address inclusivism. I plan to read those soon, and update the post with the relevant quotes.

        BTW, it’s pretty cool that you co-authored the post with Walls. I really respect his work in “Why I’m not a Calvinist”.

      • Okay, you guys. Where’s Kyle’s site.

      • And, I must admit I’m not really liking what I’m reading about the Inclusivism of Karl Rahner. It’s awfully close to Pluralism.

      • Hi Craig, I don’t think Kyle has a blog, he used to, but it’s not up any more (correct me if I’m wrong Kyle).

        Jerry Walls has the post on Facebook, it’s called Hell’s Bells Part 2. It’s also posted on this blog: Dave Ambrose

      • Kyle

        My latest blog (with my wife) is here: http://trinitariansoapbox.blogspot.com/

        I don’t know too much about Rahner, but I think he would want to resist the idea that other religions somehow have salvific content or effect (pluralism).

        Thanks for linking Walls’ and my piece! It was awesome to co-write that with him. He’s been a mentor to me since I went to seminary, and we intend to write another book on Calvinism together in the future.

      • Kyle, Glad to see that you’re blogging. I’ll add the link to my blogroll.

  3. slw

    Wesley is, frankly, mistaken. As John 6:45 declares, and the example of Cornelius verifies, if a heathen has some inclination of heart toward God, God draws them to Christ–not Mohammed or Buddha or mere altruism. Is not John 3:18 clear? In our own day I find the growing testimony of Muslims in the Middle East being drawn to Christ by dreams a further verification of the same truth.

    • I agree SLW (and so would the inclusivist), that God always draws towards Christ. Inclusivism is not pluralism.

      • slw

        In what fashion can such a belief be inclusivism and not just Christianity?

      • Inclusivists believe that all are saved through Christ and only Christ, but that God may save some (through Christ) that do not have a complete or accurate knowledge of him.

        Just about everyone is an inclusivist on some level (infants, mentally handicapped, OT saints).

        So – let’s take a Muslim for example:

        Exclusivist: Islam is wrong, the Muslim is damned.
        Inclusivist: Islam is wrong, however, God may save some Muslims based on their response to the limited and distorted light that they receive.
        Pluralist: Islam is true, it is as equally true as Christianity. Muslims will be saved.

  4. slw

    Inclusivist: Islam is wrong, however, God may save some Muslims based on their response to the limited and distorted light that they receive.

    Impossible! John 3:18 and Romans 1:18-20 present everyone and anyone (at least all who could know from nature; i.e. mentally sufficient, reasonably mature) as under condemnation. The only solution given in the Bible for that condemnation is by Christ through faith in him. This inclusivist construct is wishful thinking, pure and simple.

    • Again, the inclusivist agrees that “The only solution given in the Bible for that condemnation is by Christ through faith in him”.

      The inclusivist believes that it may be possible to have faith in Christ without perfect knowledge of him.

      • slw

        That is a mighty thin thread to hang on. Even if we can envision a heathen having some sense of God and his desire to redeem and reconcile with mankind, or even their need of a Savior (how different would such a one be from an OT saint?), Jesus uncategorically stated that such persons would come to Christ (John 6:45). Furthermore, Paul questions how anyone could have [sufficient] faith apart from hearing the gospel (Romans 10:14). Whereas I am more than happily willing to say that IF such a person existed that God would make sure that person heard the gospel, I am not willing at all to say that any person can be saved apart from the hearing the gospel.

        A bad presentation (e.g. Roman Catholicism, Modalism, etc) won’t keep someone from breaking through to saving faith, but no presentation is guaranteed to keep them from it.

      • I don’t think we’re too far apart SLW. We both agree that Christ is the only way. We disagree (perhaps) about if and how God works in the hearts of those who haven’t heard.

        I’m also not certain about inclusivism myself. We can leave it in God’s hands, and most importantly share the good news that Jesus is the way.

    • Kyle

      slw,

      Inclusivists agree that all stand guilty of sinning against the light they have, including the unevangelized. What they argue is that it is possible for God to reach them and enable a positive response implicit saving faith in God (trust in God and willingness to follow His will) – in a way not unlike someone like Abraham, for example.

      The problem with suggesting that everyone who seeks God will hear the gospel in this life is that it requires us to believe that of the billions who have lived and died without the Gospel, *not one* would have responded positively to the Gospel were they to hear it. That seems very implausible.

      True, faith in *Jesus* comes by hearing (Romans 10). But it seems possible for those with an imperfect understanding of God to exercise implicit faith in God by His grace, similar to the way early OT figures did.

      • Kyle

        What’s most important is that we affirm that God is perfectly loving to all, giving all persons the grace they need to be saved.

      • slw

        I don’t think the plausibility of a proposition can be a determining factor in reaching a conclusion concerning it, if there is reasonably clear scripture on the subject which makes the implausible point. Regardless, what is more plausible scripturally: that God so loves the lost that he is willing to save them with less than the Gospel (even with rank paganism); or that God so loves the lost that he causes all who would respond to hear the Gospel?

        One of the fascinating lessons gleaned from OT saints is that God did send his word to them and that is what initiated their faith narrative. God spoke to Noah (who gave meaning to “few there be that find it”), Abram, Moses, Samuel and their response of faith led to a narrative of action and relationship. Even for the Assyrians in Jonah’s day, God sent the word that graciously averted judgment. God, it seems, knows exactly how to get his word to those who would respond to it. He doesn’t send a lesser word, settle for a more garbled word, or make effective a word produced in the cacophony of human voices. He sends his word.

        Rather than posit a way to salvation that (it seems to me) flies in the face of scripture, we should trust God to save those he foreknew and get on with the task of evangelism through which he’ll do so.

      • Kyle

        slw,

        I personally do not think the Bible teaches Exclusivism (the view that all persons after Christ, after the age of accountability, go to hell unless they hear about Christ in this life). And so I do not agree that Inclusivism “flies in the face of Scripture,” as you put it. By my lights, the NT simply does not directly or explicitly address the issue of the fate of the unevangelized. That issue was too speculative to concern the early NT church, which was more concerned with the immediate vicissitudes of the mission.

        Moreover, I think if one interpretation of the Bible leads to a proposition that is very implausible by extra-biblical evidence, we ought to double-check our interpretation. The church eventually did this with the Galileo incident, for instance, taking a second look at passages that were once taken as evidence for an earth-centered universe. Of the two propositions you offer, I find the former far more plausible given the extreme implausibility that absolutely nobody who hasn’t heard the Gospel in this life wouldn’t have responded to it had they heard it. The empirical evidence from cultures who finally get the Gospel is strongly against this view.

        I actually agree with you that God can speak to people in pagan cultures. What Inclusivists are saying is that God can still do this today, even if he speaks to them incompletely. And remember from a NT point of view, God also spoke to OT characters incompletely as well, and yet this was sufficient to enable a salvific response. God meets people where they are at, and slowly prepares people for even greater revelation over time. Just look how long it took to prepare OT saints for the coming of Jesus. And yet they were responding to Him savingly all along. Yes Jesus has now come, but many persons are in functionally the same place when it comes to their knowledge as OT characters were back in OT times. God knows this, and will begin with people where they are. At least, that is what Inclusivists hold.

      • Kyle

        And there are many ways God can communicate a word, which is evidenced by the Bible itself. Sometimes God speaks directly, such as in dreams. Other times, he gives signs. Other times, he actually puts His seal and spin on a piece of human creativity, like the Wisdom literature that made its way into the Bible and was given a Yahwehistic spin.

  5. slw

    the NT simply does not directly or explicitly address the issue of the fate of the unevangelized
    How do you interpret John 3:18, or Ephesians 2:1-12, for instance?

    I think if one interpretation of the Bible leads to a proposition that is very implausible by extra-biblical evidence…
    I don’t disagree with your point, but I don’t think it is properly addressed to this subject matter. I can take out a telescope, watch the movements of planets, do the math, and come to an objective conclusion about heliocentrism. The fate of the lost is lost in the heart of God. There is no extra-biblical evidence, per se. We can make no conclusion about it other than what God tells us. I think he does tell us by his word explicitly; and by death, disease and decay implicitly that the fate of humans naturally is condemnation.

    My argument is not that God cannot do as he wants with or say what he wants to the heathen. I know he would rather that they be saved than lost, but I have to temper that thought with what he has revealed and said of himself and what he will do. I suppose I could hold on to a hopeful feeling for the lost, God is superabundantly gracious, but nothing in the word would lead me to count on it. So if I hold to such a hope I’d have to do so privately, nothing in the word (and imo extra-biblically either) would allow me to promulgate such a doctrine.

    • Kyle

      “The fate of the lost is lost in the heart of God. There is no extra-biblical evidence, per se. We can make no conclusion about it other than what God tells us.”

      I suppose I disagree on this issue. Most Christians have held that there are unreached people’s who would have responded to the Gospel had they heard it. In fact, that’s typically the Exclusivists’ motivation for evangelism. And I think we can see that empirically, all cultures who have received the Gospel have at least some who respond differently. We’d expect to see a wild difference in the spirit of a culture in whom *no one* would respond positively to the Gospel, I think.

      I don’t think anything in the word tells us that the fate of the unevangelized is necessarily damnation, either. I don’t think the Bible addresses the question. Therefore, all views are speculative here. And I think it is perfectly plausible that God could save someone on the basis of Abrahamic faith, even today. What I know with absolutely certainty is that God would give everyone a full chance to be saved – that is clear from the Bible, given the revelation of God’s everlasting and universal love therein.

      • Kyle

        Plus I think the idea that God would bind himself from being as gracious as possible in the Bible doesn’t make much sense. I think it goes the other way around: God’s promises and revelation are based in His grace.

      • Kyle

        Oh whoops, as for John 3:18, or Ephesians 2:1-12, I don’t think they are addressing the issue of the unevangelized. The first simply states that we are judged if we reject Jesus, and saved if we accept Him. The second talks about the natural state of mankind and how Jesus saves us by faith. An Inclusivist says “Amen.” But nothing here rules out an unevangelized person exercising faith in God (and being saved by Jesus) in the same way an early OT saint did. Both of these verses are dealing with people who have heard.

      • slw

        I suppose our discussion has a least clarified how far apart our views of these things actually are. I am sure we will have to agree to disagree, although I have enjoyed talking with you and hearing your views.

        I do not believe there will be anyone in hell who would have been in heaven if they only had heard. I’ve always found that supposition tacky and unworthy of God and his word. At the same time, I believe there will likely be no one in heaven who has not heard. Faith comes hearing. I believe God knows who are his and he will do what he must to reach them. I think this is particularly articulated in the Gospel of John (e.g. chapters 3,6, 8 & 10). OT saints were reached by God’s word confronting them as well, so the pattern is consistent and ancient.

        Although I can see your approach to John 3:18, I do not at all agree with your characterization of it: the context is the world and it is specifically stated that the remedy for the state of being “already judged” is belief. That doesn’t leave much room for hope for the unbelieving as I see it.

        As for Ephesians 2, how can a natural state of death, under wrath hold any hope for those who die in it. The only remedy is Christ, and for those who end up in that condition in the ages to come, it is said God prepared good works for them to walk in beforehand. If God has the foresight to prepare those works, it is possible that he would not have had the foresight to know who were his and what word they needed in order to believe in Christ?

        It seems to me, the heart of the inclusivist, or for that matter the universalist argument is at best an argument from silence and at worst, wishful thinking at odds with what is said in the word.

      • Kyle

        “Faith comes hearing. I believe God knows who are his and he will do what he must to reach them. I think this is particularly articulated in the Gospel of John (e.g. chapters 3,6, 8 & 10). OT saints were reached by God’s word confronting them as well, so the pattern is consistent and ancient.”

        On my view, God will speak to people in pagan lands in a similar way He spoke to Abraham, Melchizedek, Job, Enoch, and the like. You are assuming they must hear about *Jesus in this life* to be saved, even if they have never heard of Him. I don’t think these passages are about that topic. My view is not that the “unbelieving” will be in heaven, but that the unevangelized may exercise faith (belief) in God in a similar way as OT saints.

        “As for Ephesians 2, how can a natural state of death, under wrath hold any hope for those who die in it. The only remedy is Christ, and for those who end up in that condition in the ages to come, it is said God prepared good works for them to walk in beforehand. If God has the foresight to prepare those works, it is possible that he would not have had the foresight to know who were his and what word they needed in order to believe in Christ?”

        Well, how were OT saints saved from their natural condition without hearing of Christ? Simple: God graciously began to speak to them where they were at, they responded with faith to that limited revelation, and the blood of Jesus was applied to them.

        Certainly God could do that today with modern pagans outside of the revelation of Jesus, and I don’t think anything in these passages rule that out. Yes Jesus has come, but He came halfway across the world from Jesus, and I think God takes into account that “to whom less is given less is required.” Nothing states that just because Jesus has now come that God now cannot save people outside of that revelation based on lesser revelation. Job was saved without access to the Hebrew revelation, though it had been given. And sure, God could have done a kind of Providential Exclusivism in which everyone who would hear the Gospel of Jesus does hear it. But in my view that evidence is very strong that He has not done this.

        Personally, I think Exclusivism is equally an “argument from silence” as Inclusivism in the sense that I don’t think it is really taught in the Bible. At most it is taken as an inference from certain passages, but I think it is an invalid inference, and that Inclusivism makes more sense. Fun talking!

  6. As a Nazarene, as the author of this post is as well, Kevin said what I, as a Wesleyan-Arminian believe, “I’m also not certain about inclusivism myself. We can leave it in God’s hands, and most importantly share the good news that Jesus is the way.” We definitely want to stay away from pluralism as Jesus is the way to salvation. However, when we get to heaven, I think we will be surprised who is there and also who isn’t there.

  7. Kyle

    As for John 3:18, while the world was mentioned a couple verses before, I doubt Jesus is saying someone is condemned for not believing in Jesus because they have not heard of Him. He is talking about those in the world who have heard of Him and rejected Him, and are thereby condemned.

    But the larger point is that Inclusivists agree that all are condemned in the sense that all are clearly guilty of sinning and unbelief on some level. The question is whether or not such persons can, by the call of God’s grace, repent and exercise faith in God unto salvation. This is something of a separate question.

    And I quite agree that God brings more revelation to those who respond to lesser revelation. But I don’t think he does this in completeness for everyone before they die. Plently of people die “on the way,” so to speak, I think.

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