Inclusivism: Myths and Realities

With the release of Rob Bell’s book, there has been more conversation on the topic of inclusivism.  There are a number of myths out there about what inclusivism entails, and the aim of this post is to correct some of the misconceptions.

Inclusivists hold that the only way to be saved is through Jesus Christ.  Perhaps more controversially, inclusivists also hold that it is possible to be justified through Christ without explicit or complete knowledge of who he is.

Now on to the myths…

Inclusivism is the same as Universalism: Universalism teaches that all will be saved, and that there is no hell.  Inclusivism teaches that many people will perish and spend eternity in hell.

Inclusivism is the same as Pluralism: Pluralism teaches that all religions are equally good and lead to God.  Inclusivism teaches that salvation is only through Jesus.  Inclusivism teaches that God justifies some heathens despite their religion, not because of it.

Inclusivists hold to Annihalitionism: Annihalationism is the belief that hell is not eternal.  It is unrelated to inclusivism.  Many inclusivists believe that hell is eternal.   Likewise, there are exclusivists who hold to annihalationism.

Inclusivism is Philosophical Rather than Scriptural: It is true that Inclusivism is not explicitly taught in scripture.  The same is true of the doctrine of the Trinity.  Like the Trinity, inclusivism is a view that is arrived at with a plenary reading of scripture.  Inclusivism flows out of a Biblical understanding that God is love and desires to reconcile everyone to himself.    Some verses inclusivists point to (paraphrased): God shows no favoritism, but accepts people everywhere who fear him.  God did not send Jesus to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Jesus is the propitiation not just for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world. When Jesus is lifted up he will draw all men to himself.  The servant who does not know his master’s will is beaten with few blows.   A multitude that no one can count from every tribe and nation will be before the throne.

Inclusivists hold to Post Mortem Grace: Post mortem grace is the teaching we have an opportunity to be saved after we die.  Thus, it is possible to be saved after spending time in purgatory.   Inclusivism and post mortem grace are entirly seperate issues.  Many inclusivists (myself included) believe that all people will be judged at the time of death.

Inclusivism Takes Away the Motivation to Evangelize: Inclusivists do not believe that heathens have an equal chance to be justified.  Heathens are rather to be pitied than blamed for the narrowness of their faith (Wesley).  The more heathens know about Jesus, the better for them, because Jesus is the light of the world.  And many inclusivists have had a heart for evangelism.  Billy Graham, DL Moody, and John Wesley are examples.

Inclusivism Devalues the Cross: Inclusivists believe it is possible to be justified only because Jesus died and shed his blood for all mankind.

Inclusivists are Theological Liberals: The term “liberal” is often used as pejorative rather than a descriptive term.  Many inclusivists are theologically conservative, and are wary of modernism and its influence on Christianity.   Inclusivists affirm a high view of scripture, hold to the deity of Christ, are typically Trinitarian,  believe in the resurrection, believe in miracles, believe in the supernatural, etc. Inclusivists such as C.S. Lewis have been instrumental in the defense of Christianity against liberals.  Other inclusivists such as Wesley and Zwingli, predate the advent of modernism and the associated debate.

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Some more for fun:

Inclusivists love Rob Bell: True.  All inclusivists love Rob Bell, Brian McClaren, Tony Campolo, and Jim Wallis.   And of course Gandhi.

Inclusivists want to set up disco balls in your church sanctuary:  True.  Inclusivists think the Village People will be in heaven.

Inclusivists want to sell books and make lots of money: False.  Inclusivists are Democrats, and hate capitalism.  If they find any money, they give it to NPR.

Inclusivists want to bake children in matzo bread: True. By baking children in Matzo bread, inclusivists ensure that  children go to eternal paradise by dying before the age of accountability.  Yum.

Inclusivists voted for Obama: Don’t make me hit you.

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60 Comments

Filed under Inclusivism

60 responses to “Inclusivism: Myths and Realities

  1. slw

    The very last line saved our blogging friendship. ;-)

    Seriously, thanks for the clarifications, they’ve help me understand your viewpoint much better. I appreciate a heart for folk that would like to see people saved who haven’t had a good enough opportunity to hear the gospel. I certainly cannot say there may not be some surprises when we step into eternity, but to bank on it in a doctrinally prescribed way–that I cannot see it from scripture. I really think the best one can do is realize it doesn’t look good for anyone who hasn’t heard and believed, while simultaneously embracing Abraham’s thought that the judge of all the earth, whatever he does, will do right.

    • Hey SLW, Glad you liked the last line. And glad you made it that far too. :)

      I can pretty closely agree with the rest of what you said too. I’m a hopeful inclusivist, and don’t bank on it by any means. I have become frustrated as of late with the way inclusivism is sometimes misrepresented, and that has motivated the defense, otherwise I’d keep my thoughts on the matter more private.

  2. You had me lol-ing with that last section. You should do more comedy.

    I’m on the fence about the issue. One thing keeping me there is Romans 10 where Paul seems to indicate that verbal proclamation of the gospel is necessary for conversion. What say you?

    • Robert

      Hello Brennon,

      You wrote:

      “I’m on the fence about the issue. One thing keeping me there is Romans 10 where Paul seems to indicate that verbal proclamation of the gospel is necessary for conversion. What say you?”

      Brennon you have to seriously consider context of the verses that you mention here.

      Romans 9-11 functions as a subunit in the broader context of the book of Romans. Specifically it deals with the issue: if Christianity is true and the gospel that the apostle Paul is preaching is true and if Jesus really is the Jewish Messiah, then why have most of the Jewish people in the first century rejected Paul’s Gospel? He expresses his anguish about his own people in the early verses of Romans 9. He then talks about how God has acted sovereignly in the history of Israel. So Romans 9 is primarily speaking of the fact that God is sovereign. And that being true, He establishes how people will be saved. And he has established his plan of salvation through Jesus (so the righteousness of God is found in Christ).

      The unbelieving Jews on the other hand though zealous for God and spiritual things, found Jesus to be a stumbling block. They preferred to trust in their own righteousness obtained through keeping the law, rather than obtaining the righteousness of God through faith in Christ. Paul is talking about these things in Romans 9 and when he gets to Romans 10 he is still talking about this issue.

      That means that he is discussing specifically the unbelief of first century Jews and how they have no excuses. He says in Romans 10 that they need to hear the message about Jesus (and they have). He says about them v. 8 “But what does it say? THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART” – that is, the word of faith which we are preaching”. Paul says in v. 16 “However, they did not all heed the glad tidings” indicating that they had heard the message. Then just a couple of verses later in v. 18 he states this explicitly: “But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? INDEED THEY HAVE [my emphasis]”. So Paul is talking speaking of Jewish people in the first century, that is the context for his comments in Romans 10.

      These comments are not about mankind in general, not about pagans, not about those who have never heard, or infants or the mentally disabled. They are specifically talking about first century able minded Jewish people who have heard the gospel message. And for them as Paul makes clear in the rest of both Romans 10 and Romans 11, the only way for them to be saved is through accepting the gospel message and placing their faith in Christ. Once they heard the message they had a choice, to continue to trust in their own keeping of the law to save them. Or to trust in Christ and His work in order to save them.

      But notice Paul’s whole discussion concerns first century Jewish people WHO HAVE HEARD the gospel message. He says they stumbled on Christ, continuing to trust in their own keeping of the law to save them. But He also says especially in Romans 11 that they can still turn away from trusting in their own self –righteousness obtained through works (through keeping the Jewish law) and accept Jesus by faith and be saved.

      So Brennon go back and read Romans 9-11 as a unit and read the verses that you bring up from Romans 10 specifically within the actual context which was the problem of unbelief in the gospel among Paul’s first century contemporaries. He is talking about Jewish people who have heard the gospel and rejected it. As people who have heard the gospel, they do not fit at all the category of those who have never heard the gospel. And taking verses specifically talking about people who have heard the gospel message and applying those principles stated in Romans 9-11 to those who have never heard of Jesus or heard the gospel is not a proper application or extrapolation.

      Robert

    • Brennon, Glad you enjoyed the comedy. :)

      I agree with Robert’s thoughts on Romans 10. Paul is addressing the particular situation of the Jews. They have heard of salvation in Christ and reject him in favor of their rules and laws. That is a different situation than a Gentile who hasn’t heard the good news at all.

      Verse 20 expresses God’s heart for the Gentiles who haven’t heard: “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” And also Paul’s conclusion in Romans 11: “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all.”

      Also, the fact that those who hear and believe will be saved doesn’t mean it necessarily follows that all those who don’t hear are eternally lost.

      BTW, I appreciate you being on the fence, and that’s a good place to be. I am more of a hopeful inclusivist than a dogmatic one. I get a little nervous being overly committed to inclusivism, in case I’m wrong.

  3. I wrote on this recently as I had also read stuff that lacks clarity. I am now thinking about writing a defence of inclusivism. Here is what I had to say a few years ago.

    I think some of the problem may possibly relate to how many see salvation. While there is support for belief that results in changed lives, as opposed to affirming a set of truths, which is good; I propose that we need to change to a centred set from a bounded set when it comes to salvation. Frankly it depends on where you are headed, and less on where you are now. Conservatives heading away from Christ are in a more dangerous positions than liberals heading toward him.

  4. To help me wrap my mind around this a bit more, could you offer an example of how one could become a child of God lacking the scriptural Gospel of Jesus Christ? What light is it, short of that Gospel, that compels one to seek the LORD?

    • Hi A.M., that is admittedly an unknown, so it involves speculation. If such people seek the Lord, it is because they are drawn by God without explicit knowledge. And God holds them accountable for what they become aware of.

      John Fletcher argues for four Gospel dispensations: 1) Gentilism, 2) Judaism, 3)The Gospel of John the Baptist, and 4)The perfect Gospel of Christ.

      Gentilism is described by Fletcher as follows: “Gentilism, I say, is a dispensation of grace and justice, which St. peter preaches and describes in these words: – “In every nation he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness [according to his light] is accepted of him.” These words contain a holy doctrine of grace; which is inseparably connected with this holy doctrine of justice, In every nation he that feareth NOT God and worket NOT righteousness. [according to his light,] is NOT accepted of him.”

      • In trying to reconcile this with the scriptures, I am confronted with the reality that no one, lacking the grace of God seeks after him, that none do any good (Rom 2). I am reminded of Jer 17:9, that the heart of man is truly wicked. Taking the LORD at his word, Jesus tells us He is the only way i.e. no other way (John 14:6). For myself, the speculation cannot trump the bible in it’s clarity regarding the need for Christ. I suppose the stumbling block for some might rest on the notion that man is inherently good or perhaps able to effect a meritorious “goodness”. It seems to me that the depravity of man overshadows such a notion by such a degree that only the Gospel of Jesus Christ could possibly bring a soul out of complete reprobation.
        I understand the points you are making and the differentiation you have with radical inclusivism. I am just unconvinced we can set the bible aside and allow a philosophical appeal, however attractive, to determine doctrine.

    • Robert

      Mallett asked:

      “To help me wrap my mind around this a bit more, could you offer an example of how one could become a child of God lacking the scriptural Gospel of Jesus Christ? What light is it, short of that Gospel, that compels one to seek the LORD?”

      Speaking for myself (though I do know others who think similarly) a good inclusivist view is one based on biblical principles and most importantly upon God’s character. I know what kind of person the Lord is through His Word and his dealings with me and others. I know that everything that He says about Himself in His Word is true and can be completely relied upon and trusted. I also know that whereas I am sometimes merciful and kind hearted and love people and desire to see them saved: He is much more so. As one of my old mentors put it: “God is more interested in seeing His Will be done than you are!”

      So Mallett wants a hypothetical and I will offer an example.

      Suppose there is a man in a part of the world prior to the NT era and far from Israel and the Jewish people. Call him Xavi. Xavi is born in a small group of people who have never had any missionaries come share the gospel with them. But Xavi lives in the world that God created. Xavi looks out at the world and looks at his own body and concludes there is some person behind all of this: the creator. From his knowledge of this creation Xavi also concludes that whoever made the world is a spirit, not physical and not limited by physicality as he is. Xavi also looks at the world and its diversity of life forms and concludes this creator is both powerful and creative. Though the rest of the people Xavi lives with are polytheistic worshipping the creation rather than the creator. Xavi tells them they are wrong, that there is only one God. Xavi also has a conscience and knows that he sometimes does the wrong thing to others. He tries as best he can to do the right thing with others and tries to ask for forgiveness and forgive others and be reconciled with them. Because he is sensitive and responds to his conscience He also believes that in his actions he may have done wrong towards the one Creator. So He seeks the creator and asks for forgiveness and asks the creator to guide him in his life. Xavi is continuously living this way and seeking the one Creator that He knows in his heart must exist and must have created the world. He also concludes that the Creator had a choice and made the world and so the world is made for the Creator and Xavi believes that He must as best that He can live by the rules of the Creator. Unfortunately for Xavi, another group of people by night raids his village and he is killed in his sleep.

      The strict exclusivist would dogmatically declare that Xavi is obviously going to hell as he never accepted Christ as His Savior. An inclusivist would say, not so fast. He never had the opportunity to accept Christ as Savior. God deals with people according to the light they received and how they responded to that light. God desires the salvation of all people (which includes Xavi). God provided through Christ and atonement which is sufficient for all people and could save all people. God saves all people through mercy, through applying the atonement to individuals and thus covering their sins.

      Now I said earlier that God is much more merciful and loving and gracious and kind than I am. I have no problem desiring to see Xavi saved and saying that he responded properly to the light he received. How much more does God want to see Xavi saved? If Xavi is saved he is saved **through Christ** (as the atonement of Christ is applied to him by God out of mercy and God’s desire to save all people through Christ). And the others from Xavi’s group that rejected the light they had, they are not going to Heaven. Now it must be kept in mind that if a person like Xavi is saved it is God who knows the heart who knows how he responded to the light given him. It is God who saves him through the atonement of Christ. If Xavi is saved God’s saving of him violates no biblical principles. Now this is just one hypothetical but it is this kind of thing that the inclusivist believes may be true in some cases of those who never hear about Jesus.

      One other thing that bothers me in this whole discussion. I have seen some people who seem to take glee in the idea that people end up in hell. They callously assign whole people groups to hell very flippantly as if it means nothing to them at all. They seem to be much more harsh and unloving than God is (contrast their attitude with for example the apostle Paul’s attitude expressed in the early verses of Romans 9). They do not reflect God’s heart at all, at least not the heart of God expressed and revealed in scripture, the heart that desires the salvation of all and gave Jesus for all (whether they end up believing or not). I share this because again, if I can conceive of such a scenario and I am a limited human person with limited mercy and love and kindness. How much more so does Gods’ character figure in all of this?

      Robert

      • Excellent example Robert. Thanks.

      • The exclusivist would suggest that the scriptural evidence indicates your hypothetical does not exist in reality. Even the seekers of the unknown god at Mars Hill rejected the God of Paul when He was presented to them.

      • slw

        I agree emphatically with AMM, the scriptures make your example impossible and therefore irrelevant. The only way to “fix” your example would be to posit some kind of conviction or drawing or revelation of the Holy Spirit that in turn caused Xavi to realize that his culture, tribe and religion were wrong. If such were the case, would not the Spirit witness of Christ, and would not John 6:45 then come into play? Now if the inclusivist viewpoint is that the picture of Christ thus given doesn’t have to be perfectly received, well then, perhaps you have an example that passes muster. Really though, what is the likelihood of such a scenario?

  5. Good post even if we don’t agree in this issue. Your humor was priceless. Have you read the book, FAITH COMES BY HEARING edited by Robert Peterson where he (along with others) build a case for the exclusive position? Also have you read John Piper’s book, JESUS: THE ONLY WAY TO GOD where he too argues for the exclusive position?

    I will say this about you Kevin. I appreciate that you are not militant in your position. You are along the lines of John Stott who is still loved by Calvinists despite his holding to an agnostic view about the issue. Many want to argue for their position not by appealing to Scripture but to feelings. I found this true of Clark Pinnock. While he did try to build a case for his position from Scripture here and there, Pinnock was famous for appealing to feelings and emotions to move people to his position either on the open view of God or the inclusive position.

    • Hi Roy, thanks for the kind words. I haven’t read either of those books, I haven’t read Bell’s book either, actually, and am not sure I want to spend the money on it. :) I hope inclusivism is true, but do have my doubts.

  6. Robert

    In my experience some people (usually calvinists but there are some non-Calvinists as well) hold what I consider to be a false conception of depravity. They are very quick to quote certain bible passages to show how wicked and evil the nonbeliever is. They seem to be gleeful concerning the unbeliever’s condition, rather than pitying the unbeliever and truly desiring to see them saved. Jesus wept over Jerusalem while these folks are quite happy that they are elect and not like these others (which also reminds me of the Pharisee and the publican at prayer story that Jesus told).

    The bible says that when the fall occurred every subsequent human being is born spiritually dead/separated from God. The bible also says that given some time on this earth all people will sin. And not only will they sin they will end up living a lifestyle of sin (which Paul characterized by saying they are acting as if they are following a slave master named “Sin”). This is an awful condition for a human person to be in and if it continues will result in them being not only separated from God in this life but also being separated from God for eternity. This condition in which the nonbeliever finds themselves (which the apostle Paul says is a hopeless condition in Ephesians 2) we do not have to make worse by arguing that they are as evil as they could be or that they are so evil that they are incapable of ever doing any good.

    And yet some people will cite certain texts to try to paint this excessive picture (the passages are always the same Jer. 17:9, Romans 2, 1 Cor. 2:14, Rom. 8:5 etc.). I say these things because I am hearing this same attitude from Mallett. I hope I am wrong about him, but he sure sounds like this kind of person and he cites the same proof texts to make the same point.

    Mallett wrote:

    “In trying to reconcile this with the scriptures, I am confronted with the reality that no one, lacking the grace of God seeks after him, that none do any good (Rom 2). I am reminded of Jer 17:9, that the heart of man is truly wicked. Taking the LORD at his word, Jesus tells us He is the only way i.e. no other way (John 14:6).”
    These are precisely the proof texts of those who want to paint the unbeliever in as bleak ways as possible.
    And that little bit about “Taking the LORD at his word” is a bit self-righteous sounding. As if the rest of us, especially inclusivist do not take the LORD at his word! This is a false dichotomy, I take the bible as serious as anyone and teach and preach all the time. I also don’t make comments like this suggesting that exclusivists do not take the Lord at his word while I do.

    “ For myself, the speculation cannot trump the bible in it’s clarity regarding the need for Christ.”

    This is another false representation of the inclusivist position. I base my view on scriptural principles and the heart of God (i.e. the character God has, the love God has, His own expressed desire for the salvation of all people, etc. Etc. The heart of the Father in the prodigal son story and other things God has said revealing his heart for people). It should be noted that Mallett says nothing about the heart of God for the lost in his comments. It is just taking a few what he considers to be proof texts for exclusivism and being coldly logical about them. Jesus said the heart of God was like someone who left the 99 sheep and went after the one that was lost. The bible is full of examples of this expressing the heart of God. And yet exclusivists such as Mallett never ever discuss these passages, there is no reference to the heart of God in their presentations. It is just cold logic, Jesus is the only way, they don’t believe in Jesus so they go to hell. Short and simple and quite logical. But cold and completely leaving out the heart of God in the whole thing.

    “I suppose the stumbling block for some might rest on the notion that man is inherently good or perhaps able to effect a meritorious “goodness”.

    Yes perhaps there are a few people who believe that man is inherently good so they are Inclusivists. But I don’t believe that, nor do the pastors and other church leaders that I know that are Inclusivists and staunchly conservative Christians. Man apart from God is a sinner who lives a lifestyle of sin. That is not a person who is “inherently good or) engaging in “meritorious goodness”. Now there is a loaded term. It is false conceptions of Christianity that have claimed that a person’s good actions merit salvation. The Inclusivists that I know do not believe that even a person like Xavi if they are saved merited salvation through their “goodness”. No, as with us, if a person like Xavi is saved it is based on the mercy of God and through Christ and what He did that saves us. The truth is that sin has corrupted everything and all sin and all are spiritually dead/separate from God at birth. The false notion is that the nonbeliever is incapable of ever under any circumstances doing any good, the bible does not say that nor does our daily experience (unless of course you redefine good actions as evil, e.g. so you redefine the heroic actions of fireman as not being good because the firefighter was an unbeliever). And just because we admit that the nonbeliever occasionally does good, does not mean we are claiming that they are saved through their good works.

    “It seems to me that the depravity of man overshadows such a notion by such a degree that only the Gospel of Jesus Christ could possibly bring a soul out of complete reprobation.”

    Note he speaks of “the depravity of man overshadows such a notion by such a degree”.

    Whose conception of depravity?

    What the bible presents or the excessive and false conception of those like Mallett?

    “I understand the points you are making and the differentiation you have with radical inclusivism. I am just unconvinced we can set the bible aside and allow a philosophical appeal, however attractive, to determine doctrine.”

    This is yet again a false representation of the inclusivist position.

    Wesley certainly did not set the bible aside when he came to his inclusivist position, neither does Roger Olson and neither do I.

    Like the earlier comment about “taking the LORD at his word” here again we have a false implication. Mallett falsely presents it as two possibilities: either you hold his exclusivist view and take the bible seriously, OR you put the bible aside and hold your view based upon a “philosophical appeal”. This is the fallacy of false dilemma. One can hold to the bible, not put it aside and simultaneously hold to inclusivism. That appears to be a third option that Mallett simply cannot stomach as even concede as possible (though again history shows that some prominent Arminians including Wesley held this view).

    I would like to see what biblical principles are being put aside by the inclusivist according to Mallett.

    Robert

  7. Robert

    Mallet wrote:

    “The exclusivist would suggest that the scriptural evidence indicates your hypothetical does not exist in reality. Even the seekers of the unknown god at Mars Hill rejected the God of Paul when He was presented to them.”

    First of all, I want it noted that Mallett did not interact with any of my points at all. He instead simply engages in a cavalier dismissal of what I said.

    I don’t mind if someone disagrees with me or believes me to be mistaken, but if they ask the question and you provide an answer and the simply and flippantly ignore what you share, well . . .

    I have a couple of problems with what Mallet states here. First, his words remind me of what Jesus said in Matt. 11:16-19 about children who willed not to be content no matter what. There are some folks whose minds are made up that no matter what is presented to them, nothing is acceptable. On a particular subject they are skeptics and no answer will please them. Mallet asked for an example, I gave one that does not violate any biblical principles. But it isn’t good enough for Mallet. And he did not interact with any of my points at all.

    Honest skepticism asks questions and then deals with the answers given: dishonest skepticism does not deal with answers that are given.

    Second, the passage in Acts 17 does not speak of “seekers of the unknown god at Mars Hill”. The Athenians in fact were very religious and so in order to “cover their bases” so that they wouldn’t be missing any existing gods added a temple for the unknown god to cover their bases. This was not any form of seeking: so Mallet misrepresents the context and the mentality of the Athenians. He also says they “rejected the God of Paul” so again, we are not talking about people who never heard the gospel message but specifically people who did hear it and did reject it. Inclusivism is not dealing with those who hear the gospel but consciously reject it. If you look at the text it also says that though some rejected Paul’s message, some were open and wanted to hear more: “but others said, “we shall hear you again concerning this.” (v. 32).

    Third the passage that Mallett brings up, Acts 17, actually has an important inclusivist text: “and He made from one every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (acts 17:26-27). It is important because it says explicitly that God determined some things about people groups in order that they would seek after him and find Him. This negates the often referenced “proof text” from some exclusivists from Romans 3 claiming that the nonbeliever never ever seeks after God.

    Robert

    • Robert, It is too bad there is not a delete button for I certainly regret replying with a singe word to you. Argue with whomever you wish. I am not interested.

    • Thanks Robert for the observations.

      It seems to me (I left a similar comment on Billy’s blog) that practically speaking there is little difference between Calvinism and Exclusivism.

      Calvinism says that God “wants” everyone to be saved, but he doesn’t give grace to the reprobate, and justly leaves them in sin.

      Exclusivism says that God “wants” everyone to be saved, but some don’t hear the gospel, and God justly leaves them in sin.

      In both cases the sinner is without help, left in a state of inability, and certainly lost. On this point there is little difference between Calvinism and Exclusivism.

      I’ve also noticed (as you pointed out) that frequently in discussions with exclusivists there is little concern for the lost. It is more a matter on signing off on a bullet point list of correct doctrine. That is alarming.

      • Just curious, what was excellent about Robert’s observations? He made one dishonest misrepresentation after another against me to the point I deeply regret ever interacting with him.

        Arminianism is from its beginnings “exclusivist” even though I dislike the term. Arminius was an exclusivist and I believe your observation is correct, that on at least this issue, Calvinists and classical Arminians agree. There is no salvation outside the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That does not mean that there is no concern for the lost or a lack of evangelical zeal. I would argue that the lack of zeal is more prevalent among the radical inclusivists for the Gospel becomes essentially unnecessary for salvation. What do we do with the Protestant essential of justification by faith if inclusivism is presented as a truth? Where and when is the “inclusively saved” soul justified by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ? The Father desires the salvation of all yet why Christ at all if inclusivism is a way to the Father? Surely you can see these difficulties? Paul warned of “another” Jesus. Why a warning at all? Why evangelize to anybody if the Gospel is not a necessary aspect of salvation?

        I’m perplexed. What kind of Arminianism is this?

        (I know, lots of questions but I don’t mean this as any kind of intellectual assault, brother. It just strikes myself and a LOT of others as something based on emotion and feelings rather than sound exegesis of scripture)

      • Robert

        Hello Kevin,

        “Thanks Robert for the observations.”

        Sure. My problem is not someone disagreeing with me, it is the arrogance of asking questions when they really don’t want an answer. The arrogance of making snide comments about other believers as if you alone take the Lord’s word seriously. As if you alone have it right and other Christians who think differently are inferior to you and your “correct doctrine.” I can smell a Pharisaical mindset from miles away. And I note Jesus did not get along well with Pharisees either. Jesus got along great with the common people, with the street people. But the Pharisees that was a totally different matter (see especially Matt. 23).

        “It seems to me (I left a similar comment on Billy’s blog) that practically speaking there is little difference between Calvinism and Exclusivism.
        Calvinism says that God “wants” everyone to be saved, but he doesn’t give grace to the reprobate, and justly leaves them in sin.
        Exclusivism says that God “wants” everyone to be saved, but some don’t hear the gospel, and God justly leaves them in sin.
        In both cases the sinner is without help, left in a state of inability, and certainly lost. On this point there is little difference between Calvinism and Exclusivism.”

        That is a very, very strong point Kevin. I have noticed the same callous attitude towards the lost among some exclusivists and calvinists who really don’t seem to care about the lost. They are more concerned to see others adopt their “correct doctrine” than to see souls saved. They will try to bring up any possible argument to make sure as many people as possible will be damned. In my opinion there is something very wrong with such a heart attitude. It seems to be what the bible is discussing when it speaks of people being hard hearted (e.g. when some were more offended that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath day, contradicting their “correct doctrine” than happy that the person had been healed). It is not at all like the heart of God or the heart that we see expressed in Jesus while he was on earth. And I thought we were supposed to become like our Heavenly Father if we really belonged to him? Seeing some of the comments made by calvinists and exclusivists you would think they are more happy the more people are damned.

        This does not at all compare well with the heart of God (and if you wonder what the heart of God looks like for the lost, look at the apostle Paul ready to go to hell so that others would be saved, look at Jesus willing to go through what he went through from Pharisees so that He would die for all [including the Pharisees who rejected him and mocked him and wanted him crucified], look at how they speak of God desiring to save all and sacrifice themselves to see others saved. None of that attitude is present in these self righteous exclusivists and calvinists who relish the doctrine of reprobation and the reality of hell.

        I believe in hell because the bible clearly teaches it and I have seen hard hearts that rejected God over and over and did so till they died. But it really bothers me that some professing Christians seem to take pleasure in seeing others go to hell. The callousness in the way they can speak of whole people groups all going to hell because they did not accept Jesus when they never had the opportunity to do so, just does not seem like the heart of God or the heart seen in Jesus towards sinners at all.

        “I’ve also noticed (as you pointed out) that frequently in discussions with exclusivists there is little concern for the lost. It is more a matter on signing off on a bullet point list of correct doctrine. That is alarming.”

        It is alarming because it means these people who profess to be disciples of Jesus do not have the love of Jesus for the lost. They love their doctrine more than they love the lost.

        They are more concerned about people getting doctrine “right” (which of course means agreeing with them about every jot and tittle) than seeing people who are lost getting saved. I believe in hell and I also believe that Jesus is the way of salvation. I believe the bible is true and is God’s word. I take it extremely seriously. I also want to reflect the heart of God. I want to be more like Him. It is hard to believe that those who joyously shut out other people from the Kingdom of God are reflecting His heart on this matter. I don’t want to be that clanging gong that Paul talks about in 1 Cor. 13. I only wish he has also said something like: “you can have correct doctrine but if you don’t have love . . .”

        You see this callousness especially on the internet. I expect to see a harsh and hateful and hostile attitude from atheists. I expect more from professing believers. Jesus said that just knowing the word is not enough. In fact he said if you know it but don’t do it, you are foolish. I think that is reflected in the attitudes of people who are prudes and spiritually elitists about “correct doctrine” and yet where is the love for the lost? Where is the love in these people, period? Sure they love others who think like them who hold the same doctrine. But where is the love for others, especially the lost. Jesus has this love that is what the incarnation is all about: He has such a love that he gave up the glory of heaven to come to earth and be abused and mocked and ridiculed by Pharisees who also believed they were the elect and believed in their “correct doctrine”. Where is the love that is ready to sacrifice your self (Jesus) or sacrifice even your own salvation (Paul in Romans 9) for the lost?

        People sometimes wonder why many professing Christians do not evangelize? Simple, where there is no love there is no strong desire to get the message out and see others saved. The more love the more easy it is to evangelize. If you love Jesus how can you not tell others about him and want others to experience His love? Because when your heart lines up with God’s heart you have the same desire He has which is for all to be saved and none to be lost.

        Robert

    • Hi AM, to address your questions:

      There is no salvation outside the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

      The inclusivist agrees. Perhaps what you impling is that there is also no salvation for the person with limited knowledge of Christ, or distorted ideas about who Christ is and how he justifies. The inclusivist disagrees on that point.

      I would argue that the lack of zeal is more prevalent among the radical inclusivists for the Gospel becomes essentially unnecessary for salvation.

      Your point may hold for universalists. It is not true of most inclusivists, and I address that “myth” above under: “Inclusivism Takes Away the Motivation to Evangelize”.

      What do we do with the Protestant essential of justification by faith if inclusivism is presented as a truth?

      The inclusivist holds that the heathen is justified with the limited (and to be pitied) faith that he has. God credits righteousness to him (or holds him responsible) based on his response to the limited light that he has received.

      Where and when is the “inclusively saved” soul justified by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ?

      He is justified by the work of Christ, who looks at the heart, rather than the heathen’s misguided ideas, which are flawed due to no fault of his own.

      The Father desires the salvation of all yet why Christ at all if inclusivism is a way to the Father?

      Inclusivism affirms that the only way to the Father is through Christ. The Father -through Christ- saves those with limited and inaccurate doctrines.

      Why evangelize to anybody if the Gospel is not a necessary aspect of salvation?

      This is similar to what you asked above and is addressed under the point “Inclusivism Takes Away the Motivation to Evangelize”.

      Regarding Robert’s observations. The hypothetical example of Xavi was very good. This is exactly the kind of person the inclusivist believes will be justified. His points on the nature of depravity were good. I also agree with his observation that it is a false dichotomy that inclusivists don’t hold to scripture. And he’s right that excluvivists are often more interested in logic than the lost.

      I realize that Robert is abrupt. However, he makes some excellent points as well. Don’t take his comments personally, that’s his style.

  8. There is much to say about this issue, I will just comment about the question of motivation for evangelism if inclusivism is true. It is this.

    Many people do not respond to the light they have. We tell them about Jesus so that they may repent and be saved. Evangelism makes a difference. Like Paul said how can they hear if no one preaches.

    And for the person who is trying to follow God in the limited light they have, they can have assurance of salvation, and can worship God aright, and have they joy of knowing Christ.

  9. postpre

    A man I respect wrote the following years ago when the question, “What about those who haven’t heard the gospel”, was posed.

    “On Sunday mornings, I am teaching through the book of Romans at our church. What is quite clear from the first couple of chapters is that God does not use a single standard for everyone. One’s responsibility before God depends upon how much revelation of God you have available.

    We hold as an axiom that no one can come to the Father except by the blood of Christ. However, there are cases where the blood of Christ is applied to those who have not heard or understood the Gospel. OT saints for example, are saved based upon faith in God regarding the revelation they had at the time. Children who die, or mentally impaired people cannot be held responsible for what they cannot possibly understand.

    What I think we need to shed is this idea that salvation is automatic when we meet certain conditions. It is not automatic. God alone saves. He alone decides whom He will save, and on what basis. Granted, the sacrifice of Christ is the legal basis on which God forgives sins. But, the degree of one’s knowledge of the Gospel is not necessarily fixed.

    There are certain PROMISES in the Scripture, regarding conditions for salvation. Acts 2:38-39 is a good example. And God WILL save those who meet those conditions. But, it is not proper logic to assume that the reverse is also a promise.

    I think we need to look at this issue from the opposite angle. Just what does the Bible say will absolutely condemn someone? I know of only one thing – unbelief. There are several passages that refer to this, including John 3:18, 3:36, 1 John 5:10. But, our English translations are a bit misleading here. When the text refers to those who “believe not” the Greek uses either “mh pisteuo” or “a-pisteuo.” Either of these should be translated “disbelieves” rather than “believes not.” This is a subtle difference, but an important one. These passages are referring to those who REFUSE to believe. This implies they heard the message, and made a choice NOT to believe it. It does NOT include those who never heard, and therefore have not believed.

    That this is the case can be shown from the following example:

    John 3:18
    18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
    (NKJ)

    Literally, this verse say this: “the believing one unto Him is not condemned; but the disbelieving one is condemned already, because he had disbelieved….” “Believing one” is a present participle. It refers to the one who is currently believing. “Disbelieving one” is also a present participle, referring to the one who refuses to believe. The next line explains this: “because he had disbelieved.” This time, the verb “disbelieved” is perfect active indicative. The perfect tense indicates a past COMPLETED action with the results continuing to the present. The implication is that when he heard the Gospel, he DISBELIEVED (past completed action), and the present results continue, hence the present participle (the one disbelieving) is used to identify him. This verse is positive proof that the statement about “believing not” refer only to those who REFUSE to believe, having heard the Gospel. They do NOT refer to people who have simply failed to believe, because they have not heard, or understood the Gospel. It points to a past conscious choice to disbelieve.

    There are other Scriptures that state the wicked will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But, does the term “wicked” include all people who have not positively responded to the Gospel? I don’t think so, otherwise children, mentally disabled persons, and even the OT saints would be considered “the wicked.”

    Because of these things, I do not take a firm stand on this issue, because I don’t think the Scripture takes a firm stand in black and white. I have to leave such people at the mercy of God who CAN forgive sins to anyone whom He choses, based upon the shed blood of Christ.

    Some might consider this to be a “liberal” position. I don’t think so. I think it is speaking where Scripture speaks, and being silent where Scripture is silent. One thing I know, God is just, and He is love.”

    • Thanks for the reply Postpre. Well stated. I don’t think your position is at all liberal, it is thoughtful and I appreciate your spirit. :)

    • slw

      I think you miss the point of John 3:18. Condemnation is not founded upon the act of disbelieving, it is a condition continuing, one not abated because of it. IOW the natural condition is condemnation, belief relieves it, disbelief continues it.

      • I believe that is the salient point to be made, that those who do not believe were already condemned. Specifically, they are condemned because of their natural, sinful enmity toward God. Each of us were condemned in our natural states and in need of what? … redemption. Redemption from what? our sinful, condemned natural state.

    • Robert

      Hello Postpre,

      I really appreciated your post and the comments of the man that you respect.

      I also want to comment upon it.

      “A man I respect wrote the following years ago when the question, “What about those who haven’t heard the gospel”, was posed.
      “On Sunday mornings, I am teaching through the book of Romans at our church. What is quite clear from the first couple of chapters is that God does not use a single standard for everyone. One’s responsibility before God depends upon how much revelation of God you have available.”

      This is both a valid and important observation. If you read the early chapters of Romans closely while Paul is attempting to establish that all have sinned and so all are condemned before God for their sin. He does differentiate between people and does mention different standards being applied to different people. Exclusivists tend to ignore his and simply proof text from certain passages especially in Romans 3.

      “We hold as an axiom that no one can come to the Father except by the blood of Christ. However, there are cases where the blood of Christ is applied to those who have not heard or understood the Gospel. OT saints for example, are saved based upon faith in God regarding the revelation they had at the time. Children who die, or mentally impaired people cannot be held responsible for what they cannot possibly understand.”

      Again a very good and valid observation. There are cases of people who will be saved without ever hearing the name of Jesus during their lifetimes (most notably OT saints, but also children and the mentally disabled **if** they are saved).

      “What I think we need to shed is this idea that salvation is automatic when we meet certain conditions. It is not automatic. God alone saves. He alone decides whom He will save, and on what basis. Granted, the sacrifice of Christ is the legal basis on which God forgives sins. But, the degree of one’s knowledge of the Gospel is not necessarily fixed.”

      He is correct again. A favority proof text used by Calvinists comes from Romans 9 where it is said that God has mercy on whom he has mercy. In the context of salvation earlier in Romans the apostle Paul said that God is both “just and justifier” based upon the work of Christ. What this means is that the work of Christ is the objective basis of salvation for anyone who is to be saved. It also means that by doing it in this way (through the crucifixion of Jesus) God maintains his own character (“just”) and gives Him the right to save whomever he wants based upon the work of Christ (“and justifier”). This means that because Jesus died for all, because this death is sufficient for all, God is now in the place that based upon this all sufficient work of Christ he can save whomever He wants to save. Now we know that in regard to those who hear the gospel they must believe it and have faith in order to be saved. But a baby or mentally disabled person cannot have faith in this way and so for them to be saved (which most exclusivists concede to be true that they are saved) they also have to be saved through the work of Christ. That is why the inclusivist believes that all are saved literally through the work of Christ (only through Christ can anyone be saved whether they are able minded or not).

      “There are certain PROMISES in the Scripture, regarding conditions for salvation. Acts 2:38-39 is a good example. And God WILL save those who meet those conditions. But, it is not proper logic to assume that the reverse is also a promise.”

      Again his logic is correct. For those who hear they must believe, which is **the** condition for salvation. But because the able minded must believe it does not logically follow that those not able minded or those who do not hear the gospel must fulfill this condition to be saved.

      “I think we need to look at this issue from the opposite angle. Just what does the Bible say will absolutely condemn someone? I know of only one thing – unbelief. There are several passages that refer to this, including John 3:18, 3:36, 1 John 5:10. But, our English translations are a bit misleading here. When the text refers to those who “believe not” the Greek uses either “mh pisteuo” or “a-pisteuo.” Either of these should be translated “disbelieves” rather than “believes not.” This is a subtle difference, but an important one. These passages are referring to those who REFUSE to believe. This implies they heard the message, and made a choice NOT to believe it. It does NOT include those who never heard, and therefore have not believed.
      That this is the case can be shown from the following example:
      John 3:18
      18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
      (NKJ)
      Literally, this verse say this: “the believing one unto Him is not condemned; but the disbelieving one is condemned already, because he had disbelieved….” “Believing one” is a present participle. It refers to the one who is currently believing. “Disbelieving one” is also a present participle, referring to the one who refuses to believe. The next line explains this: “because he had disbelieved.” This time, the verb “disbelieved” is perfect active indicative. The perfect tense indicates a past COMPLETED action with the results continuing to the present. The implication is that when he heard the Gospel, he DISBELIEVED (past completed action), and the present results continue, hence the present participle (the one disbelieving) is used to identify him. This verse is positive proof that the statement about “believing not” refer only to those who REFUSE to believe, having heard the Gospel. They do NOT refer to people who have simply failed to believe, because they have not heard, or understood the Gospel. It points to a past conscious choice to disbelieve.”

      This is again a very important piece to the puzzle. I tell people all the time, a person does not end up in hell simply because they sinned (because all sinned and so all would end up in hell). NO, you end up there according to scripture if you keep rejecting God (and not just once, again all would be condemned and sent to hell) FOR AN ENTIRE LIFE TIME. That is what gets you to hell. If instead of rejecting you believe, then all of your sins are covered by the cross of Christ. Note in the parable of the wedding guest that the one condemned is the one that did not have the covering, the garment. Scripture speaks of atonement as the covering for sin. It does not mean that God is happy about sin or ignores it or minimizes it: it means that if you have atonement/covering for sin, that is what saves you.

      “There are other Scriptures that state the wicked will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But, does the term “wicked” include all people who have not positively responded to the Gospel? I don’t think so, otherwise children, mentally disabled persons, and even the OT saints would be considered “the wicked.””

      This is true as well. It also goes to something that I have already said bothers me in the comments of **some** exclusivists. They seem to act as if they are delighted that the more people who end up in hell the better. Some even speak of all nonbelievers as “the wicked”. My wife and I have extensive experience working with the mentally disabled, and though sometimes severely limited in capacities that the rest of us take for granted, they are not what the bible is talking about when it speaks of the “wicked.” It also seems to me that if we take the explicit statements about God’s concern for the lost seriously and sufficiently. HE says that he desires the salvation of all. HE says that He provides Jesus as atonement for all. HE speaks of himself as leaving the 99 to go after the one that is lost. HE speaks of the invitation for the great banquet being first offered to some who reject it and then taken to all. Now universalists make the error of taking these statements as teaching that all will be saved (which is countered by clear references to an existing and eternal destiny of hell). But it seems that if we take these verses seriously then the principle that results is that God wants as many to be saved as possible. And that goes more in the direction of inclusivism rather than exclusivism.

      “Because of these things, I do not take a firm stand on this issue, because I don’t think the Scripture takes a firm stand in black and white. I have to leave such people at the mercy of God who CAN forgive sins to anyone whom He choses, based upon the shed blood of Christ.”

      My only slight disagreement with this, is that I look at all the strong statements where God actually says how he feels about the lost and how he wants all saved, and the reality of hell, and my conclusion is that he wants as many as possible to be saved and the one thing that damns you is to reject the light he gives you for an entire lifetime (so both the person who hears the gospel and rejects it and the Xavi’s of this world who reject the light they receive are condemned, but in both cases it is disbelief and rejection of light given that ultimately sends you to hell).

      If He really is “just and justifier”, then He can save whomever He wants, which I say is as many as possible (since He says He desires the salvation of all), if they do not reject him for a lifetime.

      “Some might consider this to be a “liberal” position. I don’t think so. I think it is speaking where Scripture speaks, and being silent where Scripture is silent. One thing I know, God is just, and He is love.””

      It is not liberal, it is precisely what I urge people to do: take the bible principles that we know are true and see how they apply to those who never hear, the babies and the mentally disabled.

      Robert

  10. Kyle

    And one only need to look at John Wesley to see if Inclusivism undercuts motivation to evangelize. He was an Inclusivist, and yet he spearheaded one of the greatest missionary thrusts the church has ever seen.

  11. Kyle

    By the way – great stuff Kevin! I appreciate your forthright, yet gracious manner. Good to distinguish Inclusivists who hold to postmortem grace and those that do not. I would say probably most do not (though I do, for some biblical and theological reasons). They are certainly distinct issues, though they are related in some ways.

    Keep it up!

    Kyle

  12. Robert

    Mallet wrote:

    “I believe that is the salient point to be made, that those who do not believe were already condemned. Specifically, they are condemned because of their natural, sinful enmity toward God. Each of us were condemned in our natural states and in need of what? … redemption. Redemption from what? our sinful, condemned natural state.”

    It seems here **as if** Mallett believes that every human person is born as a condemned sinner inheriting the guilt of Adam (I hope I am mistaken about this).

    And so if they do not believe they are then eternally condemned (i.e. they end up in hell for eternity).
    If that is all true then babies and the mentally disabled are also all born condemned sinners (if all are born with the guilt of Adam),and since they have no capacity to have faith and believe and be saved, then according to Mallett’s premises they must all go to hell.

    My wife once went to a funeral of a co-worker whose baby had died of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). The mother of the deceased child was told by a religious authority that since the child had not been baptized and had it sins washed away the child was going to hell.

    Apparently this religious authority held the same premises as Mallett appears to hold.

    And yet the early church taught none of this, nor does the Eastern Orthodox Church today.

    No, it was Augustine who came in and introduced this notion that not only are descendants of Adam and Eve born spiritually dead (which is true, we are born separated from God because of the fall). we are all condemned sinners at birth and inherit the guilt from Adam’s sin. That latter notion is Augustine, and that is neither biblical nor acceptable by either the early church or the Eastern Orthodox church.

    But I am sure that Mallett does not strictly follow the logic of his own premises (again if these really are his premises).

    I am sure that he makes ****exception***( for babies and others who cannot believe).

    So he makes babies and the mentally disabled his chosen exceptions, but not those who have never heard. Perhaps Mallett does not see the implications of his own premises and what the outcome will be. Now some are not bothered by this logic that sends whole people groups to hell with no chance of salvation (again as Kevin pointed out earlier in this thread, this is eerily similar to what calvinists teach on this about the “reprobates” who never ever have a chance to be saved). I have seen some act as if they relish these premises and they want to see them all condemned and sent to hell since they are born as a condemned sinner. They will have no opportunity to hear and believe so they all automatically go to hell, is that right? And how is THIS any different than what Calvinists believe about reprobation (doomed from the womb with no chance to be saved, and God desires it to be that way??)

    Carefully consider the logic of Mallett and what it results in (what the logic of that Augustinian premise results in).

    Of course the problem is the first premise, the Augustinian premise/invention, that people are born condemned sinners inheriting the guilt of Adam.
    And consider if Augustine was wrong and people while born spiritually dead do not inherit the guilt from Adam’s sin. That does not mean that those who never hear the gospel are not sinners (Paul was clear on that in Romans 5, that all are born spiritually dead and all have sinned). It does mean that those who never hear the gospel, just like those OT saints who never heard of Jesus, have to be saved through the later work of Christ being applied to them individually.

    Robert

    • slw

      Robert,
      I think you’re missing the force of Romans 1:18-20. There is no biblical difficulty in seeing a difference between infants and the infirm who have no capacity and are not therefore responsible for ignoring the testimony of creation, and those of sufficient capacity to see but who are unwilling to and therefore are responsible. It is the word of God which says they are without excuse, not AMM or me.

      • Kyle

        Inclusivists affirm that all have sinned against the light they have to some degree, and that all are guilty. But they also affirm it is possible for the unevangelized to repent, exercise faith in God, and follow Him according to the light and grace they have, however imperfectly.

        Let me ask you, slw: do you believe it is possible for the unevangelized to respond properly to the light and grace they have and exercise faith in God? If not, then it is hard to see how they could be held responsible for their sin. If yes, then they can respond properly at some point, and be saved. The idea of having enough light to condemn but not enough to save is incoherent. If a responsible negative response is possible, so is a responsible positive response. The same light that condemns can eventually save, by God’s universal prevenient grace.

      • Kyle, you said:

        do you believe it is possible for the unevangelized to respond properly to the light and grace they have and exercise faith in God? If not, then it is hard to see how they could be held responsible for their sin.

        This point is a key distinction. The unevangelized ought not be damned for doing what they didn’t have the ability to avoid. Arminians often point this that this is a problem for Calvinists when discussing the nature of grace.

      • slw

        Kyle,
        Whereas I do not believe it is possible for any to believe in Christ apart from some prevenient work of the Holy Spirit exercised through conviction and drawing and the hearing of the Word, I do believe it is possible for mankind in the natural to recognize that God exists and it is with him that we have to do.

        What I find incoherent, Kyle, is the assertion hidden in your question:
        it is possible for the unevangelized to respond properly to the light and grace they have and exercise faith in God? If not, then it is hard to see how they could be held responsible for their sin.
        How is the sinner not responsible for his own sin? Did someone else do it? Perhaps a la Flip Wilson, the Devil made him do it.

  13. Robert

    Hello SLW,

    “I think you’re missing the force of Romans 1:18-20. There is no biblical difficulty in seeing a difference between infants and the infirm who have no capacity and are not therefore responsible for ignoring the testimony of creation, and those of sufficient capacity to see but who are unwilling to and therefore are responsible. It is the word of God which says they are without excuse, not AMM or me.”

    I am quite familiar with what Romans 1 says. It is speaking of those who reject the light given to them. It says that God shows Himself to them both without (i.e. the creation) and within (their conscience, their sense of the moral law written on every heart, possibly what Ecclesiastes means when it says that God has written eternity onto their hearts, etc.). And it speaks of these people who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”. That means not only do they have some truth and understand that truth, but they in a wrongful way deny it, suppress it, try to cover up what they know in their hearts to be true. So they are not mere innocents that do not know, they know the truth and yet intentionally reject it. It says they are without excuse for this intentional rejection of the truth. SLW you yourself say that they were unwiling to accept the truth. And that is the key, is is quite specific in talking about people who have intentionally rejected the truth.

    But what if someone like I talked about in the hypothetical, Xavi, did not reject the light given to them? What if that person responded properly to the light given them but then died before they heard the gospel? That is the kind of person that I am talking about when I talk about Xavi. So Romans 1 would not apply to him if he was not intentionally rejecting the truth as the persons in Romans 1 do. I believe it was A. E. Wilder-Smith who once wrote a little book (don’t recall the name off hand) in which he took a hypothetical group of people and talked about what they could logically conclude about God from observation of nature. They would be people like Xavi who recognize there is only one God, that He is not physical, a spirit, etc. etc. That he is both powerful and creative. If they have a conscience and respond properly they will also believe they have done wrong and seek this creator’s forgiveness.

    Robert

    • slw

      Robert,
      Take your example of Xavi immediately above, have Xavi responding to some work of God’s Spirit (e.g through a dream or vision or a sudden awareness in the soul) than I would concede that you’re describing something Noachian or Abrahamic. That such a possibility could exist, I’d be hard-pressed to prove otherwise. Would I hold out hope for such a thing, I see no biblical warrant to do so. Could I teach such as a doctrine to be relied upon, no, it would be sheer speculation.

  14. Kyle

    And saying this hypothetical does not exist in reality because “no one responds apart from God’s grace” is inadequate. Inclusivists don’t believe people respond “on their own” “apart from grace” – they believe God’s grace is at work everywhere. And this grace can even work apart from the explicit Gospel of Jesus, just as it did in the Old Testament. If OT saints had enough grace to respond positively, so can others whom God gives equivalent revelation. The fact that Jesus has come doesn’t change that for people who haven’t heard.

  15. Robert

    Kyle made some good observations that I want to piggy back upon:

    “Let me ask you, slw: do you believe it is possible for the unevangelized to respond properly to the light and grace they have and exercise faith in God? If not, then it is hard to see how they could be held responsible for their sin. If yes, then they can respond properly at some point, and be saved. The idea of having enough light to condemn but not enough to save is incoherent. If a responsible negative response is possible, so is a responsible positive response. The same light that condemns can eventually save, by God’s universal prevenient grace.”

    When assigning blame or praise when we hold someone responsible for something we normally assume that (1) they could do X (but did not do it, so they are blamed for their action) or (2) they could have also chosen not to do X (but they did it, so they are praised for their action. We don’t praise or blame people for things completely outside their ability, things it was impossible for them to do.

    I remind you SLW that one of the longtime arguments of non-determinists against theological determinists/Calvinists is that they blame the nonbeliever for their unbelief when God himself predetermined their every action, thought and desire and predetermined their unbelief (so it was impossible for them to do otherwise, and yet they are still blamed).

    This also goes to the nature of libertarian free will: if you didn’t do something that you should have (in this case responded properly to the light that you were given) then a consistent libertarian free will advocate will also believe/claim/argue, that you also could have done it.

    What Kyle brings out here is taking these principles related to responsibility and applying them to the unevangelized.

    SLW you want to hold them responsible for their rejection of the light: then it stands to reason that they also could have accepted and responded properly to the light. Therefore I believe that Kyle makes a very strong point here.

    I particularly appreciate his statement that “The same light that condemns can eventually save, by God’s universal prevenient grace.” This also brings out the common non-determinist belief that God’s prevenient grace is operating universally to bring people to salvation. So the light is being given, and if we hold people responsible for their rejection of it then we must **simultaneously grant that they also could have chosen not to reject the light given**. All of this logically follows if you hold a libertarian free will position which I believe that you do hold SLW.

    Robert

  16. Robert

    The other very good point that Kyle made was this one:

    “And saying this hypothetical does not exist in reality because “no one responds apart from God’s grace” is inadequate. Inclusivists don’t believe people respond “on their own” “apart from grace” – they believe God’s grace is at work everywhere. And this grace can even work apart from the explicit Gospel of Jesus, just as it did in the Old Testament. If OT saints had enough grace to respond positively, so can others whom God gives equivalent revelation. The fact that Jesus has come doesn’t change that for people who haven’t heard.”

    Here I believe that Kyle is correct about the nature of prevenient grace. It is universal and no one is saved without God’s grace operating in their hearts. Kyle is correct that “Inclusivists don’t’ believe that people respond ‘on their own apart from grace’.

    This is an important point because I believe some exclusivists are fearful that the inclusivist position will lead to some form of Pelagianism (the person is inherently good and does not need God’s grace to be saved, this is false and unbiblical as all are born spiritually dead/separated from God and all sin) or works salvation (the person justifies themselves by their good works, they earn their salvation, this is false because it is not your own actions that justify you before God it is God applying the actions of Jesus to you individually that justifies you). Instead the inclusivist argues that the unevangelized if they are saved are saved because they responded properly to God’s grace and GOD then justified them based upon the finished work of Christ (so they, like we are saved by having the atonement applied to us individually by God, in fact God saves whomever He wants through the cross of Christ.)

    Robert

  17. Robert

    Hello SLW,

    You wrote:

    “What I find incoherent, Kyle, is the assertion hidden in your question:
    it is possible for the unevangelized to respond properly to the light and grace they have and exercise faith in God? If not, then it is hard to see how they could be held responsible for their sin.
    How is the sinner not responsible for his own sin? Did someone else do it? Perhaps a la Flip Wilson, the Devil made him do it.”

    You asked: How is the sinner not responsible for his own sin? Who says they are not? Kyle never said that.

    You asked: Did someone else do it? No, they did it, we are all responsible for our own choices (c.f. Ezekiel 18). Kyle never said we are not responsible for our own sins.

    You then wrote rather flippantly which makes me wonder if you are really interested in a serious discussion or not: “Perhaps a la Flip Wilson, the Devil made me do it.”

    Now SLW I just discussed some principles related to responsibility and blame in a previous post here.

    And I assume from seeing your interactions in the past that you are a non-determinist (actually your line about “the devil made me do it” is an evasion of responsibility citing that one’s action was determined by the devil so it was impossible for us to do otherwise). But SLW that is not your position, you reject determinism, you believe in libertarian free will.

    So if you do, then you have to do a much better job of wrestling with Kyle’s point: if you blame the unevangelized for rejecting the light given them, that blame only makes sense if they also could have freely chosen to have responded properly to the light they received.

    Robert

    • slw

      Robert,
      I have a hard time just finding my way through all these nested comments! ;-)

      if you blame the unevangelized for rejecting the light given them, that blame only makes sense if they also could have freely chosen to have responded properly to the light they received.
      Asked and answered (see my last two comments above)

      Do you not see Romans 1 making that very claim? I do believe in freewill (to a certain extant, I suppose I should say). I do believe it makes people responsible to their Creator (along the lines of Romans 1), and believe as well that nothing about the witness of Creation would lead one to Christ (that takes a definite work of grace through the Holy Spirit and the Word).

      It seems to me that you have adopted the concept that judgment is predicated on whether or not one believes in Christ; therefore, one who hasn’t heard of Christ cannot be judged. I do not believe that accurately reflects the teaching of the scriptures. Condemnation, when referenced to causes, will refer to sinful deeds. Those condemned will be condemned because their deeds were evil, whereas those redeemed are such because they believed on Christ. Those that believe are not judged, those who do not believe are judged on their works. Works cannot save or Christ died in vain.

      • Kyle

        slw,

        “Do you not see Romans 1 making that very claim? I do believe in freewill (to a certain extant, I suppose I should say). I do believe it makes people responsible to their Creator (along the lines of Romans 1), and believe as well that nothing about the witness of Creation would lead one to Christ (that takes a definite work of grace through the Holy Spirit and the Word).

        It seems to me that you have adopted the concept that judgment is predicated on whether or not one believes in Christ; therefore, one who hasn’t heard of Christ cannot be judged. I do not believe that accurately reflects the teaching of the scriptures. Condemnation, when referenced to causes, will refer to sinful deeds. Those condemned will be condemned because their deeds were evil, whereas those redeemed are such because they believed on Christ. Those that believe are not judged, those who do not believe are judged on their works. Works cannot save or Christ died in vain.”

        Let me begin by asking you this: what is biblical faith but a recognition of guilt, a pleading to God for moral cleansing, and a willingness to lead a better life? Now, you maintain that the witness of God in creation and conscience is enough to condemn someone for evil, but not enough to lead one to saving faith in God (or Christ). But you cannot put evil deeds and faith in totally different, unrelated categories. A faith response is not morally neutral: it involves repentance, a trust in God to save, and a willingness to live a better life. If there is enough light and grace to the unevangelized to bring guilt, then there must be enough light and grace to understand what sin is and avoid it to some degree – for we cannot be held responsible for that which we cannot avoid.

        Now, Paul is clear that all sin against this light at some point, which is his argument in Romans 1-3 for the universality of guilt. But if this light and grace is sufficient to render us guilty, then it is also sufficient to lead us to repent, trust in God for salvation, and live a better life. Unless it is possible for us to choose the right path, we cannot be blamed for choosing the wrong path. Faith/belief in Jesus is not an amoral decision; it is a humble, moral choice to forsake sin, trust in God, and follow Him. Indeed faith is just the opposite response of sin. We have two options: sin or faith, unbelief or belief. I fear many Exclusivists see salvation in solely forensic terms, focusing only on justification. But even justifying faith is highly moral in nature – it involves self-knowledge, a trust in God to remit guilt somehow, and a desire to do better.

        Faith, as it goes on, includes good deeds, or it is not faith. Unbelief, accordingly includes evil deeds. You cannot separate faith from deeds in the long run; they are inextricably connected. And if there is enough light to involve culpable non-belief, then it must also be possible to have faith – the only two responses available for humans to make.

        And by the way, we will indeed be judged by our works – all of us, yes, even believers. Those who do evil are finally damned, those who do good are finally saved. Yes, the blood of Christ covers our guilt for our past sins, but the Final Judgment is according to OUR deeds (done by grace), not Christ’s deeds (Rev. 20:11-15).

      • slw

        Kyle,
        And by the way, we will indeed be judged by our works – all of us, yes, even believers. Those who do evil are finally damned, those who do good are finally saved.
        That is a very intriguing statement, one that would be interesting discussing on its own merits (I have enjoyed discussing these matters with you). I’d be interested to see your development.

  18. Kyle

    “Whereas I do not believe it is possible for any to believe in Christ apart from some prevenient work of the Holy Spirit exercised through conviction and drawing and the hearing of the Word, I do believe it is possible for mankind in the natural to recognize that God exists and it is with him that we have to do.”

    There are only two responses open to human beings: faith or unfaith. We are not “saved by works,” but faith without works is dead (it is not faith), and unbelief always includes evil deeds. There is no category of people who has faith but doesn’t have good works, or who is in unbelief and has no evil works.

    If we are going to be held responsible for our rejection of God, we must be able to accept God at some point. And since faith or unbelief are the only two possible responses we can give, if we cannot possibly avoid unbelief, we cannot be responsible for our damnation. That is why it is incoherent to say we can have enough light to be damned but not enough to be saved.

    • slw

      what is biblical faith but a recognition of guilt, a pleading to God for moral cleansing, and a willingness to lead a better life?

      Logically, it seems to me, faith is first a recognition that God exists, followed by any sense that he can be pursued: “he who comes to God must believe that he is…”. I would say the existence of God would have to be settled in one’s mind before any sense guilt or conviction could gain traction. I do not want to nitpick (or get sidetracked), but I think your definition says more than what is entailed in Romans 1 and therefore misses what is sufficient to attribute blame worthiness.

      you maintain that the witness of God in creation and conscience is enough to condemn someone for evil, but not enough to lead one to saving faith in God (or Christ)
      I specifically said that the witness of Creation is not sufficient to lead anyone to Christ; not God, and not saving faith in God. That is not to make an anti-trinitarian remark, but to be accurate regarding the Trinity. I do not see anything in Creation that would intimate that God would send the Son, or that the Son would die for sin and rise for our justification. No one can or will come to faith concerning these salvivic issues apart from the Holy Spirit.

      What I did say was that the witness of creation is sufficient to reveal God to mankind, and that this gracious feature was sufficient for mankind to incur responsibility for that existential knowledge of God. As I said above, that is not what condemns them, that is what renders them without excuse. They have no mitigating circumstance (e.g. “but I didn’t know You existed”) to paper over their condemnable record of behavior.

      you cannot put evil deeds and faith in totally different, unrelated categories…
      Agreed. Faith informs deeds, deeds are the fruit of faith, and whatsoever is not of faith is sin. But the fact is, no merely human person is in a position whereby, even with the knowledge of God, that person will avoid exercising their freewill at some point in a fashion at odds with God (we do what we want whether or not that is what God wants). If it happened for Adam in his pristine goodness, while looking into the face of God, then it happens for anyone looking through a glass darkly. That is just a consequence of freedom. That does not in any way erase the fact that in every choice along the way, there was truly choice, and that God holds us accountable for those choices.

    • slw

      But even justifying faith is highly moral in nature – it involves self-knowledge, a trust in God to remit guilt somehow, and a desire to do better.
      I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at. If a response would be interesting to you, give me a little help, and I’ll get something back to you.

      if there is enough light to involve culpable non-belief, then it must also be possible to have faith – the only two responses available for humans to make.
      Again, its the actual record of deeds that is condemnatory, belief or non-belief has to do with relief. There is enough light to make us culpable for our deeds.

      <If we are going to be held responsible for our rejection of God, we must be able to accept God at some point.
      I already stated that we, in our natural state, are capable of acknowledging the existence of God. That is why we are without excuse for our deeds. We stand alone, as it were, on the basis of our record. What we are not capable of doing is independently deriving the plan of salvation nor apprehending the Son of God who accomplishes it. That requires the Holy Spirit.

      That is why it is incoherent to say we can have enough light to be damned but not enough to be saved.
      Two different things, so not incoherent at all.

  19. slw

    Thank you Kevin for hosting, very graciously, this long discussion.

  20. Kyle

    So your position is that the unevangelized can know enough about God’s existence and His moral will to know what we are doing and avoid it – therefore, when we choose sin, we are without excuse, and are justly held condemned for our guilt. But, this revelation does not tell us about a Savior, and so we have no means of getting out of this predicament once we get into it (freely and culpably).

    I agree that God has to continue His gracious overtures to us for us to see the sin we have freely chosen, but I disagree that we have to know about Jesus for this to happen. If that were true, no one would have been able to be saved without knowing about Jesus in the Old Testament. I think God can speak to modern unevangelized persons such that they trust in Him to save them somehow and such that they begin to follow Him, in a way similar to how God did this with early OT figures such as Abraham (who retained several false pagan beliefs).

    I also think it is doubtful that we deserve *eternal* damnation and condemnation unless we reject the rescue plan. We certainly are rightly condemned punishment because we are all guilty, but eternal punishment in Scripture doesn’t come into the picture as a just sentence until persons reject the means of escape from their guilt.

    Because of God’s continuing prevenient grace, it is possible for those who are guilty to turn around and trust in Him for salvation – the same light and grace that will condemn them eternally if they persist in rejecting it can lead them to repentance if they accept it – and persons are only eternally condemned if they persist in evildoing to the end, just as they are only saved if they persist in good deeds to the end (Romans 2:1-10).

    Again, the only two ultimate responses we can give are faith and unfaith – one leads to eternal life, the other eternal death. Faith always includes good works (not just as a fruit, but as part of faith over time), and unfaith always includes evil works. You cannot separate the two, as if faith or unfaith only comes in after we have fallen into sin. Sin is unfaith. If we have enough light and grace to render us responsible for choosing eternal death, we must have had enough light and grace to avoid this choice and instead choose eternal life. This is why it is ultimately incoherent to say there is enough light to damn someone justly to eternal hell, but not enough to enable a positive response unto eternal life. The former entails the latter.

    • Kyle wrote:
      “I also think it is doubtful that we deserve *eternal* damnation and condemnation unless we reject the rescue plan. We certainly are rightly condemned punishment because we are all guilty, but eternal punishment in Scripture doesn’t come into the picture as a just sentence until persons reject the means of escape from their guilt.”

      I ponder:
      Genghis Kahn was a butcher, a man whose heart was wicked. He didn’t hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ nor the word of Moses. Did he deserve a chance from God? Would his condemnation be unjust and if not, why is the more civil sinner entitled to a “chance” that Genghis never received?

    • slw

      Kyle,
      I think we’re beginning to understand each other. ;-)

      So your position is that the unevangelized can know enough about God’s existence and His moral will to know what we are doing and avoid it – therefore, when we choose sin, we are without excuse, and are justly held condemned for our guilt.
      Even allowing that perfect avoidance is impossible (which is what I have purported), we can still know of God, our duty to him as creatures and not callously avoid or suppress it. To ignore that light, makes us fully responsible, without excuse, for the deeds we choose to do. To embrace that light makes us seek God’s mercy.

      If that were true, no one would have been able to be saved without knowing about Jesus in the Old Testament…
      They were capable of being saved because the provision of Christ was not yet made available, and there is no way they could have known about it with any accuracy. What they did know was their encounter with God, and/or the testimony of his word that promised his mercy. Faith has always come by hearing and hearing by the word of God. For modern pagans to achieve the same thing as Abraham (and I’m not saying that is strictly impossible) they would have to recognize that the Creator exists, realize they have a duty to him, realize they need him to look upon them with mercy or favor, and have God visit them with a word that told them that was possible. In light of John 6:45, why would God send them less that which directed them to Jesus?

      <If we have enough light and grace to render us responsible for choosing eternal death, we must have had enough light and grace to avoid this choice and instead choose eternal life.
      Who chooses eternal death? If anyone had a choice between ice cream forever or eternal death, they would choose the ice cream (even if they didn’t have the wherewithal to pull it off). Your characterization of the choice involved is flawed. We choose to do what we want to do regardless of what God might say about the subject (sin). We choose to go our own way and are separated from God as a result. Heaven will be a place run by God’s judgment (or choice), those not willing, ready and enabled to walk according to His choice perfectly won’t be there. We have enough light to know there is a God, and that it is with him that we have to do. That removes any excuse of mitigating ignorance we offer. No one can truly say, “I didn’t know any better.” That is all Romans 1 is getting at. If we knew better, than our licks are ours.

      I can separate saving faith from damning works because the scripture does. It is not incoherent whatsoever, but is the testimony of God’s word.

  21. Thank you for this post, Kevin. I’ll admit that in the past I’ve confused universalism for inclusivism (calling inclusivism “hopeful universalism”), but this clarified it in greater detail. It has given me much to think and work on.

  22. Pingback: The Case for Inclusivism | Wesleyan Arminian

  23. This is a fantastic discussion. I have been pushed into the inclusivist camp by my growing discomfort with the idea of salvation from hell as a motivator to follow Jesus Christ. If by following Jesus Christ we more and more empty ourselves of self-interest and replace that self-interest with love and service for God and others, it seems paradoxical that the ultimate aim would be our own salvation from torment in the life to come.

    Instead, might we see salvation as a grander and more epic movement by which the kingdom of God is built on earth as it is in Heaven–a movement in which we can participate by calling more and more people to follow Jesus Christ and be transformed by the One who stepped out of eternity and into this world to be with us and serve us and show us a better way? What if we called people to repentance and faith in order to be a part of the work of the Kingdom, leaving the next life in the hands of God?

    There’s something about preaching the fear of hell that becomes a barrier to people who want to have faith in Christ, but have a hard time accepting that suffering in the afterlife somehow satisfies the justice demanded by a good and loving God.

  24. Good thoughts Matt. I agree that avoiding hell is a poor motivation to follow Christ.

  25. Pingback: Hard Questions Conversations – Is Jesus the Only Way to Be Saved? | A Conversation about Theology and Life

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