The Case for Inclusivism

Inclusivism is the Christian doctrine that teaches it is possible to be justified through Jesus Christ without explicit or complete knowledge of who he is.  Specifically, inclusivists hold that it’s possible that some who have never heard the preached word can still be saved through Christ.  Inclusivists believe that Jesus died for the world, and that God is working in the heart of each person in order to draw them them to Himself.  Given God’s character, we can trust Him to do what is right.  The intent of this post is to illustrate that inclusivism is Biblical, and that it is a position that Arminians should endorse as orthodox.

Inclusivism is often maligned by those from the Reformed perspective.  It has nothing to do with universalism or pluralism (see this post, where I address what it is, and what it is not).  Inclusivists believe that non-Christian religions are in error and keep people from God.  But we also believe that God has the capability to save some non-Christians.  This is in spite of their errors, not because of them.  Inclusivists believe that Jesus is the only way.  We also believe that those who reject Christ will be eternally lost.

I am a hopeful inclusivist.   Given what scripture teaches about the character of God, inclusivism makes the best sense to me.  God can be trusted.  He sees the heart.  Through Christ, God is capable of saving those who have a distorted view of who he is.

Biblical support
A plenary reading of scripture gives us evidence that inclusivism is likely to be true. God shows no favoritism, but accepts people everywhere who fear him.  God is love.  Jesus’ blood purchased people from every tribe and nation.  Jesus is good news and great joy for all people.  The shepherd seeks out the lost sheep.  Jesus is the light of the world.  Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Jesus died for the world. God is not willing that any should perish, but wants all to repent. The grace of God brings salvation to all men. God did not send his son to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Jesus is the propitiation not just for our sins, but also 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 will be before the throne.  These verses (and other verses like them) make inclusivism probable.

Every Tribe and Nation?
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb (Revelation 7:9). People from every tribe and nation will be represented in heaven.  Every tribe.  This presents a problem for exclusivism, as there are tribes who have not heard of Christ.  Moreover, there are extinct people groups who never heard the preached word.   Inclusivists believe that people from those groups will be represented before the throne, just like John’s vision affirms.  One such tribe is the Teotihuacans – a group that lived in southern Mexico between 300 BC and 900 AD.  Other tribes in the Americas (and throughout the world) disappeared prior to the arrival of  missionaries.  Since these tribes never heard the preached word, they will only be represented in heaven if inclusivism is true.

Mercy Trumps Doctrine – the Good Samaritan
The Samaritans were the heterodox heathens of Jesus’ time.  We have a tendency to romanticize them today, however, their history and religion were despicable.  Imagine a voodoo worshiper who integrates a few Christian symbols into his religion, and you have a pretty good idea of what Jews thought about Samaritan religion.  The Samaritans were those from the northern kingdom that had intermarried with pagans, and had worshiped Baal.  In Jesus’ time they refused to worship in Jerusalem, and they had dedicated their mountain temple to Zeus.1  In one case they opposed Jesus simply because he was on his way to Jerusalem.  James and John despised them so much they asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven to have them all destroyed (Luke 9:51-56).  Yet only a few verses later in Luke, an expert in the Law asked Jesus what he needed to do to be saved. Jesus’ answer was the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus said that the Samaritan who had mercy was preferable to the Levite and Priest who did not.  Jesus said the same thing about the sheep and the goats. “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.” (Matt 25:31-46). John said the same thing about love.  Everyone who loves others has been born of God. Whoever “claims” to love God yet hates his brother is a liar (1 John 4:7-21).  In God’s view, mercy trumps doctrine every time.

The Shortcomings of the “Biblicist” Argument
Exclusivists argue that inclusivism is wrong because it is not explicitly affirmed in a particular proof-text. But there are other doctrines that exclusivists do not hold to the same standard – such as the doctrine of the Trinity, and the doctrine of Prevenient (or Irresistible) grace.   A teaching that deserves special attention is the “age of accountability”. Outside of a few hyper-Calvinists, there is broad consensus that those who die in infancy and the severely mentally handicapped will be saved.  This doctrine is arrived at through a plenary reading of scripture that appeals to the character of God.  The “age of accountability” is a type of inclusivism. It affirms that God will not by default reprobate those who lack the capability to understand the gospel.  In order to be consistent, those who reject inclusivism because it’s not “Biblical”, also ought to hold the same standard for infant salvation.

Inclusivism in the Early Church
Perhaps without realizing it, today’s exclusivists are promoting doctrinal prejudices that are holdovers from Roman Catholicism. Wesleyan Jerry Walls notes that “There is a significant tradition of Inclusivism going all the way back to the church fathers.”2  Forms of inclusivism were advocated by church fathers such as Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria,  Origen, Athanasius, and others (see this post).  These include the same fathers who spoke Greek natively, defeated Arianism and wrote the creeds.  But after Rome began to control the church, inclusivism dropped off the radar until the time of the Reformation.  The state church had a vested interest in dictating who was and wasn’t saved.  Augustine went so far as to state that all Christians not submitting to Rome were damned3, as were all non-baptized infants4.  Augustine’s view became the default one.  During the Reformation, theologians both inside (Erasmus) and outside the Catholic Church (Luther, Zwingli) began to consider inclusivism once again.  They placed more emphasis on scripture, and less on Catholic tradition.  Some Reformers continued to hold to exclusivism, replacing “Catholic” with their own state sponsored Protestant denominations.

Exclusivism is Synonymous with Calvinist Thought
All Arminians ought to reject exclusivism for the same reasons they reject Calvinism. Our view of God ‘s character demands it.   Calvinists claim that God wants everyone to be saved, but then go on to argue that God doesn’t give grace to everyone, and justly leaves the reprobate in their sin.  Exclusivists claim that God wants everyone to be saved, but then go to argue that some don’t hear the gospel, and God justly leaves them in their sin.  There is no practical difference.  Neither group has genuine means to be saved. Anyone who believes that God is drawing everyone to himself ought to be at least sympathetic with the inclusivist view.  We can leave those who do not hear the preached word to our good and capable God.  He always does what is right.

—————————————————————–
(1) David Carson, Who were the Samaritans?
(2) Jerry Walls, Heaven: The logic of Eternal Joy, p81
(3) Augustine, Address to the People of the Church at Caesarea “Outside the Catholic Church one can have everything except salvation. One can have honor, one can have the sacraments, one can sing alleluia, one can answer amen, one can have faith in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and preach it too, but never can one find salvation except in the Catholic Church”
(4) Augustine, On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants

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108 Comments

Filed under Inclusivism

108 responses to “The Case for Inclusivism

  1. Oh, and one further thought: exclusivism always ends up turning Christianity into some sort of Creedology: ‘Believe thus-and-so (on pain of Hell) and you shall be saved.’ Or: ‘experience thus-and-so and you shall be saved.’ But, it is Christ alone who is the Savior! And, anyway: holiness is the goal God is seeking in human lives. Not primarily: ideas, experiences or (certainly) religiosity.

  2. I disagree with the overwhelming majority of this. Would you be offended if I responded to this in a post of my own tomorrow? If you think it would cause further tension or disunity between us, just say so. I won’t be put off in the slightest. But I did want to get your go-ahead before writing one.

    God bless.

  3. Craig,
    Thanks for the comments, good point about “creedology”.

    William,
    Feel free to write up a post, I won’t be offended at all. :)

  4. Kevin – done well, being of the Wesleyan tradition, you would know that I would find much of what you written as being spot on.

    You made one comment, “One such tribe is the Teotihuacans – a group that lived in southern Mexico between 300 BC and 900 AD.” When I think of “every nation, tribe, people and language” I think that the Teotihuacans survived. They just are not called by that name anymore. Myself, I represent individuals from Germany, England, Scotland and Ireland as well as America and speak two languages but also represent more languages than that. So, for “every” to be represented, IMHO, doesn’t necessarily mean someone who calls himself a Teotihuacan but someone with Teotihuacan lineage.

    I admire you and Mr. Birch and look forward to his response to this post even though this is the ONLY area in which I disagree with him. I think that you are of the same mindset :-)

    • Hi Dale, I have descendents from all those countries too. Perhaps that helps to explain why we get along so well. ;) I do see your point, but interpret the passage more broadly. The Teotihuacans have descendents, but the descendents speak a different language, and live in a very different culture than their ancestors. There is a real sense in which they are not the same people group that they were 1,000 years ago.

  5. slw

    Not to be combative, but…
    Biblical Support: I can handle all of those verses without difficulty or contradiction within an exclusivist framework
    Every Tribe and Nation: an argument from ignorance and silence, in that our history of any given people, its migrations, assimilations, adaptations, etc, is incomplete
    The Good Samaritan: citing a teaching illustration meant to shock as much as to make a point is a far way from establishing any inclusivist claim
    The Biblicist claim: is comparing apples to oranges since there are verses which clearly state that specific response to the Gospel is essential to salvation. Furthermore, I do not hold to the “age of accountability” because it is not found in scripture (although I do believe something akin to it for the children of believers)
    The Early Church: arguments citing agreement or disagreement with the early church really hold very little if any water. Acts and the Epistles demonstrate more than clearly that error was rampant in the pristine church. Therefore, the only testimony that is trustworthy doctrinally is the scriptures themselves
    Calvinism Synonymous With Exclusivism: Calvinism was bound to get something right, exclusivism was one of those things. The way Calvinism derives exclusivism doesn’t have to be right for exclusivism to actually be right. Synonymous is therefore too strong a term for the relationship.

    Thank you, Roy, for the defense of inclusivism. It does clarify in my own mind why I am not an inclusivist.

    • Thanks for the thoughts SLW. We’ve discussed this in depth before, so I’m content to let it stand at that. I’m not Roy, but I’ll take that as a compliment. :)

    • This is what every exclusivist needs to answer. Do all babies go to Hell? If you say no, don’t say you are an exclusivist, you aren’t. You are just a selective and inconsistent inclusivist. Affirm with Calvin there are infants a span long in hell and then you can call yourself an exclusivist. Actually you must outdo Calvin as he affirmed baptised infants could be saved.

      • Absolutely. Holding to an “age of accountability” is a type of inclusivism.

      • Adrian

        If you hold Rom 8:29-30 as the foundation scripture for your understanding of salvation then babies are not a problem, it’s all up to God.

        If you hold John 3:16 as the foundation scripture for your understanding of salvation then babies are a problem as they can’t believe.

        IMO from this comes the Roman Catholic beliefs of Limbo, Purgatory and the age of accountability which I have yet to see in the Bible.

        Now Kevin says here that “Because God is good, he doesn’t hold accountable those (infants, disabled) who are unable to believe” but again where does scripture actually say that? There is no “unless you’re unable to believe” in John 3:16 (or elsewhere as far as I know). Some may say that God is good and wouldn’t do that but here’s the word of the Lord from 1Sam 15:3 “Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey”, that is the command of a good God, and God is good.

      • Giles

        Good points. Especially re Romans 8:29 which could be a basis for a Calvinist inclusivism. And yes those who hold God’s essence is love have some exegetical work to do. I agree with Lewis. If your reading of scripture comes up with a God who is, by our standards; evil, you should reject him, even at the cost of eternal torment. To say “well God gets to define good and evil” is to say might is right. I reject that. With respect to divine genocide I believe God commanded the extermination of the Canaanites because he saw Israels rebellious and violent nature and saw that commanding a genocide would be the only way to prevent one. Reverse psychology. True Saul was rebuked for leaving Agag alive but that IMO was because Saul killed the innocents while sparing the guilty. David abandoned the genocide, and he was a man after God’s heart.

      • Hi Adrian,

        I don’t agree that John 3:16 states that all infant must believe in order to be saved. You’re reading that into the text. For starters, it states that God loves the world, and that would include infants. We also get additional insight by reading the next verse. “God did not send his son to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

        It’s a mistake to base a belief system on any one scripture to the exclusion of others. Both Romans 8 and John 3 are relevant to salvation, as are many other passages. Our understanding of salvation ought to come from the overall tenor of scripture, not from one passage.
        Here are some more verses that are relevant (as paraphrased in the post).

        God is not willing that any should perish, but wants all to repent. 2 Peter 3:9

        The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all. Titus 2:11

        Jesus is the propitiation not just for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:2

        When Jesus is lifted up he will draw all men to himself. John 12:32

        The servant who does not know his master’s will is beaten with few blows. Luke 12:38

        Also, even Calvinists agree that we must believe in order to be saved. Calvinists simply think that God causes/ordains that belief with irresistible grace. The view you’re arguing for here is in the minority, even among Calvinists. Almost all Christians believe that infants are not held accountable for their sin.

        Lastly, Jesus Christ and his example are more important than the Old Testament genocide passages. We get the most direct and complete picture of who God is from Jesus and from the way he lived his life. While the Old Testament is certainly important, we look at Jesus first, and do what he says to do, not the other way around. He seasons our understandings of OT passages. Importantly, Jesus very often interpreted the Old Testament hate/destroy passages in a new light. He made a distinction between the law of Moses and his law. Matthew 5 (for example) is full of these distinctions.

        Moses says “an eye for an eye”, but I say turn the cheek.
        Moses says “hate your enemy”, but I say love your enemy and pray for him.
        Moses says divorce is fine, but I say…

        etc…

      • Adrian

        “I don’t agree that John 3:16 states that all infant must believe in order to be saved”.

        I don’ understand how you can say that Kevin.

        John 3:16 says God loved the world, yes, but in response to that He gave His son “that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life”. There’s no “except …” in John 3 Kevin.

        Calvinism is straightforward: Before the foundation of the world God choose who He would save (Eph 1). He also decided that Jesus would suffer and die for these people. Each of these He regenerates at an appropriate time and they believe. The process is the same for everyone including infants (how God works it with infants He doesn’t explain).

        Arminianism to me is, rather than inclusivism, is exceptionism. It starts by telling people they must believe to be saved but then brings in exceptions when they face situations where it’s obvious people can’t believe.

      • Adrian,

        You realize that your view is heterodox, even among Calvinists, right?

        Let’s address your dilemma and go with your argument the Arminian interpretation of John 3:16 rules out infants being saved. This absolutely isn’t an issue since God can enable infants to believe. Can he not? Remember, Arminians agree with Calvinists that we can’t believe unless God first draws us / enables us (John 6:44) The difference between A’s and C’s on this is that we hold scripture teaches that God gives grace to all. “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all” (Titus 2:11) All includes infants.

        The bottom line is we know God is good. God has a way to save infants. It could be because God enables them to believe. It could be because God holds them innocent. We don’t really know. We just know that God is good. At least I do. :)

      • Adrian

        Interesting word Heterodoxy, in a religious sense meaning “any opinions or doctrines at variance with an official or orthodox position”. The idea that man was in control of whether or not he was to be saved would once have been considered likewise until enough people believed it to call it “orthodox”. But then believing in Evolution or Aliens doesn’t make it/them so.

        I agree that “Arminians agree with Calvinists that we can’t believe unless God first draws us / enables us (John 6:44)” but then it differs doesn’t it. Calvinists believe that those enabled (i.e born again) choose to believe because it’s the natural thing for a born again person to do whereas Arminians believe that those drawn then have to choose to believe and be born again.

        With Calvinism nothing different happens next, but with Arminainsim God has to do a second thing to cause those unable to believe to believe (unless John 3:16 is incorrect [tempted to say “is a lie”]).

        Yes God is good, but (I think I mentioned this elsewhere) we find this in scripture “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. 3 Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” 1Sam 15;2-3. We have to not confuse what we THINK is good with what God SAYS is good.

      • Adrian,

        Aminians believe God draws everyone, and that he woos / does not force himself. That view best aligns with scripture.

        And again, we ought to base our understanding of God’s goodness on the person of Jesus Christ.

        You can commit yourself to any view you want. Most Christians disagree with you. I give a lot of weight to the orthodox consensus (things that almost all Christians have agreed on at all times), because all believers read the same Bible, all have the same Holy Spirit who guides us, and all have wrestled with these types of issues in real life.

        For example, we (my wife and I) have three kids, and also had two miscarriages. If you think scripture teaches that those two children are in hell, then frankly I’m not interested in talking to you further.

      • Adrian

        “If you think scripture teaches that those two children are in hell”

        Kevin,
        My wife lost a child and my first daughter lost her first. I don’t believe scripture teaches that they are in hell.

      • Giles

        For myself I don’t think infants are automatically saved. Rather I think they grow to maturity in the next life and get a post mortem choice, like those spirits to whom Jesus preached in Hades.
        People always quote Hebrews 9:27 against this, but it has nothing to say. It affirms only that there is a judgement after death. It says nothing about no second chances. In any case if someone has never heard the Gospel it’s a first chance, not a second, though the spirits in Hades had rejected the Gospel of Noah, so there are second chances on a plain reading of 1 Peter.

      • Adrian

        Giles,
        “Rather I think they grow to maturity in the next life and get a post mortem choice”

        Given that the Bible doesn’t clearly address this issue, and it is one that we have an emotional concern with, it is only natural for us to come up with “answers” that give us comfort.

        Which is why I’m glad (as I’ve tried to say) that I hold to reformed theology. Reformed theology says that we must believe but that God has decided who will be regenerated and so choose to believe and who will not. This applied to everyone.

        Arminian theology says that we must believe and have to decide for ourselves if we will or not. [Actually we’re on the same page here, both sides say we have to choose to believe, though the A’s think we can do it in our own strength while the C’s say we need God’s help to do it]. But here Arminians have to come up with caveats to cover those who obviously are unable of themselves to believe with all the related inequalities.

        Where are dead infants? IMO that is determined by a good, holy, all knowing, just God, and I can live with that.

      • Giles

        I am a Calviminian. I think God elects some of those who would, if the scales were removed from their eyes, believe, and hardens others in their former commitments. Gods choice is in accordance with their prior choices, but he chooses only some of those who, given those prior choices, could be certainly brought to Christ without coercion. So, in the sense that it is always fully determined in advance if they will be saved or hardened those who receive the faith of Jacob don’t have libertarian freedom at the point of Salvation.
        However I believe those not gifted with the faith of Jacob have libertarian freedom to receive the Gospel preached by Noah, and by Jesus prior to his death. Repent or perish! During Jesus mission only a select few were asked to receive Jesus as Messiah and Son of God, Peter was told to tell no one of this secret. But all were called to repent. Those who receive the faith of Jacob judge the world, those who receive the Gospel of Noah receive the faith of Esau. These are the sheep who are judged and aquitted. Those who wont repent and choose the path of Pharoah are the goats who are condemned.
        As you say neither of us knows. I don’t know anyone who holds my exact position but for me it best reconciles the various texts. So I’m neither Arminian or Calvinist. I respect the Arminian focus on divine love and the Calvinists courage in holding to a counter intuitive position.

      • Giles, I would actually consider your view a type of Arminianism. Most Arminians have no issue with God unilaterally saving certain individuals. But we disagree with Calvinists that God unilaterally damns other individuals (double predestination). I don’t think that all have an equal chance to be saved, but rather that through God’s grace it’s possible for all to be saved. And God really wants all to be saved.

        An example here is the hardening of Pharaoh. Calvinists would say that God purposefully planned to harden him (from the beginning), in order to accomplish his purposes. Put differently, from the Calvinist view it was never possible for Pharaoh to do other than what he did. Arminians would instead say that Pharoah could have done other than what he did, and that God loved even Pharaoh. But as Pharaoh continually set himself against God and his people, eventually God as a punishment hardened Pharoah into continuing to do that which he really wanted to do all along. BTW, you should take the Arminian quiz here: Are you an Arminian and don’t even know it?. I think you are a closet Arminian. ;)

      • Giles

        Ok. Then I guess I’m Arminian. I agree about Pharaoh. To harden also means strengthen. God gave him the courage of his convictions, where he might otherwise have succumbed. I will take the quiz. Thanks

      • I’m glad to hear it! ;)

        If interested, here’s a post I did on Pharaoh. I agree with you.

      • Giles

        It’s perfectly possible I stole the idea from you, then forgot about it!

  6. Doubting Thomas

    Kevin, this is a balance post with which I find myself in substantial agreement. Another passage that comes to mind is in Acts 17 which of course contains Paul’s preaching in Athens:

    “And He has made from one blood every nation to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ ” Acts 17:26-28

    So Paul indicates that God arranged the people/nations in their historical and geographical situations so they might seek God. It’s hard to imagine given this statement that God would so prearrange where/when folks would live for the purpose of seeking Him while leaving them devoid of any grace by which to seek Him and revelation of Who He is. Of course, this is not the same as advocating pluralism and universaliwm, because all the other religions have MUCH error mixed in (and perhaps only a glimmer of truth) and many choose not to seek after God by purposefully ignoring the real revelation God has given them and cling to the erroneous aspects of their false religions (or no religion at all). I remain a HOPEFUL inclusivist, and I think your quote from C.S. Lewis from your other linked article sums up my thoughts pretty well:

    “…But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other [unreached] people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”

    Lewis goes on to write (in MERE CHRISTIANITY) that (wtte) that perhaps those are saved who haven’t had the opportunity to hear the name of Jesus Christ yet who by God’s grace focus on the TRUE aspects of their particular religion, aspects which are in common with Christian teaching.

    At any rate, since we aren’t sure how God will specifically deal with these cases, we can trust Him to be just and merciful, and we are still called to evangelize

    • Hi Doubting Thomas, Thanks for your comment, well stated. Regarding the passage you referenced in Acts, it’s interesting to note that Paul was quoting the pagan poets. I think one of the reasons Paul was such a successful evangelist was that he was “all things to all people, in order that he might save some.” Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he was not opposed to using nuggets of truth (from a false religion), if it helped him to reach the audience he was preaching to.

  7. LexCro

    Kevin,

    I appreciate the clarity with which you presented this view. I must admit that I’ve never seen inclusivism defended via the use of Rev. 7:9. I’ll really have to think about this in light of the fact that some extinct tribes/nations (to the best of our knowledge) never heard the gospel. My question at this juncture would be: What constitutes a tribe or a nation in God’s eyes? Is there always an exact parallel between our concept of tribe/nation and God’s? I don’t posit this in a combative fashion, but from a curious posture. I’m open.

    As for your treatment of the biblical account of Samaritans, I don’t think I agree. Without question, Jesus’s commendation of the Samaritan’s behavior is intended to tease out the veiled sinfulness of many of his Jewish religious contemporaries. However, upholding the Samaritan’s actions is not the same as unconditionally including the Samaritans in the kingdom. I mean, in John 4:22, Jesus says to the Samaritan woman at the well: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” This is not an instance of mercy trumping doctrine! If anything, Jesus is correcting the woman’s doctrine. Granted Jesus is also not automatically underwriting the (doctrinal/theological) beliefs of his own people (the Jews). This is evidenced by his challenge to the Jewish AND Samaritan beliefs about the “correct” place to worship Yahweh (Jerusalem vs. Gerazim, in Jn. 4:20-21, 23-24). Also, I’ll grant that Jesus correction of the Samaritan woman’s doctrine is not the end of the story; he directs her to the Spirit as the proper sphere of worship (over and against geography–a big deal in John’s gospel) and the Father (through the Messiah) as the proper object of worship. So Jesus is not first and foremost concerned that all her doctrinal i’s are dotted and t’s crossed. However, Jesus does place some value on setting her straight in this regard. I think Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4 is far more instructive for how we handle inclusivism vs. exclusivism than is the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

    Lastly, in response to post-mortem inclusivism, I think it better to argue that God is FAR more concerned with the salvation of the living than we often give Him credit for. In other words, why is it that we assume that God’s reach with respect to those who have not heard the Gospel is limited by what we know of the move of the Spirit and the move of God’s people? Here’s one example: In the late 19th/early 20th century an Indian Sikh named Sadu Sundar Singh was miraculously converted to Christ. He subsequently had what could only be described as an apostolic ministry to many, including Buddhists in the Himalayas. In one instance, Singh was rescued from persecution by members of the Sannyasi Mission, a secret Christian society claiming to have 24,000 members scattered throughout India. They traced their roots back to the Magi who visited Christ and the ministry of Thomas the Apostle (who many Indian Christians claim brought the Gospel to India). Singh claimed to have encountered members of this society all over India.

    What if there are more stories like this than dare imagine? I for one believe that many Western Christians don’t have this kind of imagination because we conceive of Christian missionary history to flow from the West to “the rest”. But what if God has had a veritable cornucopia of witnesses and witnessing communities doing things on this side of eternity that beggar our imaginations? Also, in the power of the Spirit, God has and does perform miracles that prepare peoples’ hearts for the Gospel. Granted the preaching of the Gospel comes via human, Christian witnesses, BUT many of these miracles (dreams, visions, healings) occur by the hand of God without the agency of believers. I think of the visions that many Muslims in countries closed to the Gospel are having of Isa (Arabic for “Jesus”) the Man in White. I have actually met a handful of former Muslims who converted to Christ as a result of these miraculous encounters with the Lord. Jesus presented the miracles as a means of preparing them for the Gospel and guiding these then-Muslims to hidden individuals/communities who eventually presented the Gospel to them.

    Sorry to have prattled on so long. I realize that I haven’t necessarily answered every question or assertion made by hopeful inclusivists like yourself. I also recognize that many exclusivists are faaaar too comfortable with a kind of hope-bashing cynicism with regard to those who we perceive to be bereft of a Gospel witness. But I think it’s more responsible to anchor our hope in God’s work among the as-yet-unreached on this side of eternity. As someone who was converted miraculously myself from another religion (there, my cards are on the table!), I look forward to continued discussion about this on this thread. Thanks for having the courage to broach the subject while maintaining a desire for biblical and doctrinal acuity!

    • Hi LexCro, thanks for stopping by. I agree with a lot of what you say here. It sounds like we may be pretty close in our understanding. God does reveal himself in miraculous ways to the non-believers, that’s certain! I agree that God’s reach is beyond what we know and understand. Really, that’s the type of inclusivism that I lean towards, not one of “man centered works”, but rather one that acknowledges that God is interested in all people, and that He has ways of supernaturally reaching everyone who is lost. Importantly, God’s methods of reaching the unevangelized (like the dreams Muslims have) always point to the person of Jesus Christ. I going to have to read up about Sadu Sundar Singh, his story sounds fascinating.

      Regarding tribes/nations, John’s description is pretty specific – “every nation, tribe, people and language”. That would include people groups that haven’t heard the word preached. It’s likely, however, that the reason some from those groups will be in heaven is that God supernaturally reaches those people in the ways that you describe above.

      You make some good points about the “Good Samaritan”. For starters, Jesus is using a parable to make a point, and is not speaking of real people person. However, I think the parable does also have some reference to salvation. The expert in the law asks “what must I do to be saved?”. The answer is: “Love God, Love your neighbor”. Jesus’ parable is specifically about what “loving your neighbor” means. Put differently, if the Samaritan in the story didn’t love God, he wouldn’t have stopped to help the neighbor. His treatment of the neighbor is evidence of his relationship with God. I also agree that Jesus places value on setting us straight with doctrine, like he did with the Samaritan woman. But doctrine is of little value if it’s not also accompanied by love.

  8. Kevin,

    Interesting post. While it motivates sympathy for inclusivism, what I don’t see addressed is how the unevangalized get saved. Do they have to believe something and if so, what? In your view, could a Muslim (who believes what Islam teaches) be saved?

    God be with you,
    Dan

    • Hi Dan, good question. I believe that God (through prevenient grace) is in the process of drawing everyone to himself – even the unevangelized. This is a wooing, and is resistible. God holds each person responsible based on how they respond (or do not respond) to the grace that he gives them. For those who positively respond to the limited grace they receive, they will at death instantly recognize Jesus as the person who was drawing them, and that it was him that they were seeking.

      In the case of devout Muslims, God works in a similar way on their hearts. He draws them in spite of all the false parts of Islam that they believe. Some of them might have visions that draw them to Christ (as LexCro describes above). Others may receive less spectacular sorts of drawing. Either way, God holds them accountable for their response.

      Bill Craig expresses something like this, and I’ll include a quote by him, since I know you’re a fan. :)

      “But the Bible says that the unreached will be judged on a quite different basis than those who have heard the gospel. God will judge the unreached on the basis of their response to His self-revelation in nature and conscience. The Bible says that from the created order alone, all persons can know that a Creator God exists and that God has implanted His moral law in the hearts of all persons so that they are held morally accountable to God (Rom. 1.20; 2.14-15). The Bible promises salvation to anyone who responds affirmatively to this self-revelation of God (Rom. 2.7)..” (source).

      It’s worth noting too that some Molinists think that God can save the unevangelized based on what their response would have been in a different reality where they did hear the gospel preached. I’m not convinced of that view, but it’s worth considering.

      • slw

        Given what the Bible says about believing in Christ being the only surefire means of being saved and God’s desire to save people, if God knew that different circumstances were all that was required in order for a person to be saved, would he not have put them in those different circumstances?
        I think inclusivism fails the Bible test, but Molinistic inclusivism relying on alternate possibilities is just ludicrous.

      • SLW, I’m not convinced of Molinism, however, Jesus does seem to suggest that given different possibilities people would have responded differently (Luke 10:13).

      • KJ,

        Why not just believe (or hope) that God somehow gets the gospel to those who respond to the revelation they receive? That view enjoys all the sound points you made in your main post without saying people can be saved without the gospel (which contradicts scripture).

        God be with you,
        Dan

      • Dan, I agree with you that no one can be saved without the gospel. I think that those who respond to the revelation they receive are in the process of embracing the gospel. I don’t know how explicit that is for each person, but agree with you that God will provide them with the revelation that is necessary for them.

      • slw

        I actually do believe something along the lines of what Dan suggested. If God has that much insight into the response of people, trusting him to make sure the Gospel gets to those who would benefit does no damage to those things stated clearly in scripture. Believing in some kind of theorized unfinished process does.

  9. Kevin,

    Maybe I am not clear what I mean by gospel. Natural revelation leading to the belief God exists is not the gospel. Conscience, leading you to believe you are a sinner and under God’s judgement is not the gospel. The gospel is that God promises forgiveness to sinners whoever believes in Christ: especially in who He is and in His work of His death, burial and resurrection.

    Do you have a different understanding of the gospel?

    God be with you,
    Dan

    • Dan, I agree with you that “The gospel is that God promises forgiveness to sinners whoever believes in Christ: especially in who He is and in His work of His death, burial and resurrection.” Jesus is the culmination of the gospel. Scripture also teaches that if someone has not heard the gospel, they are held to a different standard. (Romans 2:6-17). People can only relate to God based on the terms that He has revealed himself to them.

      My primary concern here is protect the character of God. I believe that the offer of salvation through Jesus Christ is both offered to all and accessible to all.

  10. Kevin – It seems to me that Wesleyanism tries to reconcile the love of God with those individuals who have never had a chance to hear the gospel. We know Rev 7:9 is true, so how will there Teotihuacans in the “great multitude” if there are not some elements of inclusivism in God’s salvation of mankind?

    Otherwise, as you point out, if God created people without ever having a chance of being lovingly reconciled to Him, then the Calvinist belief of reprobation is true (which it is not). God doesn’t create people just to throw them away. Every person has a chance to come to Him. God has created each and every person with the ability (thru His prevenient grace) to call upon Him.

    Wesley stated that prevenient grace elicits, “…the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning His will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against Him.”

    So, then as Wesleyan-Arminians, we need to reconcile our hopeful inclusivism with Romans 10:14 which, of course, Wesleyan-Arminians hold to be true as well. It seems, to me, when I try to reconcile this, Wesley points to Rom 10:15 and the need for evangelism and then points to Israel as an example of people who “heard” but “did not believe” and then points to Joel 2:32 and Isaiah 53:1. Throughout, Wesley, in his commentary, continues to use “Gospel” as the means of salvation. I would think that Wesley is using “Gospel” the way other Christians do.

    So, you can see, at least in my mind, there is a conundrum. The comforting fact is that we know God is just and loving. His character is impeccable and all His judgments are right and true.

    My conclusion is that we are to tell others about Christ, wherever we go in the world, and pray that God sends His prevenient grace ahead to till the soil for the seed of the Gospel. I can trust that those who never hear the Gospel will be judged rightly by our LORD whether I have my theology perfect or not.

    • Thanks for the thoughts Dale. I really like what you said here:

      “if God created people without ever having a chance of being lovingly reconciled to Him, then the Calvinist belief of reprobation is true (which it is not). God doesn’t create people just to throw them away. Every person has a chance to come to Him. God has created each and every person with the ability (thru His prevenient grace) to call upon Him.”

      And there is a conundrum. We want to emphasize both the centrality of Christ and the character of God.

  11. Kevin,

    You seem to be saying some people both A) embrace the gospel and B) never hear the Gospel. I take that from these two comments.

    Where I got “A”:

    “I agree with you that no one can be saved without the gospel. I think that those who respond to the revelation they receive are in the process of embracing the gospel.”

    Where I got “B”:

    “I agree with you that “The gospel is that God promises forgiveness to sinners whoever believes in Christ: especially in who He is and in His work of His death, burial and resurrection.” Jesus is the culmination of the gospel. Scripture also teaches that if someone has not heard the gospel, they are held to a different standard. (Romans 2:6-17). People can only relate to God based on the terms that He has revealed himself to them.”

    That’s either a contradiction or you are using gospel in two different senses.

    BTW, I strongly disagree that Romans 2:6-17 teaches people who have not heard are held to a different standard. It’s just saying God reveals His standard of the law in different ways.

    I hear you on “the character of God”, but I think there are better ways then inclusivism.

    God be with you,
    Dan

    • Hi Dan,

      Sometimes our Calvinists brothers argue that God gives a “genuine offer” of salvation to everyone, but then at the same time they also hold that God doesn’t enable the faith response in most individuals. Arminians rightly point out that if a person is unable to respond to an offer, the offer was not genuine. That’s the same type of concern the inclusivist has for the unevangelized. Unless salvation through Jesus Christ is in some way accessible to every person, it is not a genuine offer for every person. The way I resolve that “conundrum” is by being hopeful that God is able to save some through Christ, even though they (through no fault of their own) don’t cognitively have an adequate understanding of who Jesus is. Wesley said that such people are to be pitied rather than blamed for the narrowness of their faith. Their limited understanding is not due to a lack of sincerity, but rather due to a lack of light. I believe God judges these persons based on how they respond to the light that they do receive. They can be credited with righteousness in a way not unlike what happened for Abraham (for example). This is possible because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

      I’m also interested in hearing the “better ways than inclusivism” that you mention. Do you believe that those who haven’t been evangelized are damned by necessity? That’s the root issue that I’m concerned with. If you think there are genuine ways that God can reach such people, we are probably not very far apart.

  12. KJ,

    I think if people responds to the light God gives them, He provides more light (to him that hath, more shall be given…). Most of the time that involves God sending a person to preach to them, but I would sooner believe those in remote locations are evangelized through the ministry of angels then that they are saved without the gospel.

    God be with you,
    Dan

  13. Great article. I too have been using the character of God to deal with the death of infants etc. However I had never heard this doctrine espoused like you have done. Great job, however Romans 10 is a problem for me…

    For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:13-15)

    Just wondering if you could share how you reconcile this passage?
    Thanks!

    • Hi James, thanks for stopping by, and great question. It’s helpful to identify Paul’s primary concern in Romans 10. I think it’s this: Why hasn’t Israel accepted Jesus as the Messiah? Is it because they haven’t heard the gospel preached? No, they have heard the gospel preached, and yet they still haven’t believed.

      Read through Romans 10 in one sitting and see if you agree about Paul’s focus on the Israelites.

      Romans 10:1 “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.”
      Romans 10:16 “But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?””
      Romans 10:18 “But I ask:”Did they not hear? Of course they did…”

      As the above verses indicate, Paul is focusing on Israel, and is considering the question “Why hasn’t Israel accepted the person of Jesus Christ as the Messiah?” This is actually Paul’s primary concern throughout all of Romans 9-11. In these chapters he looks at different possibilities for why Israel (by and large) has rejected Jesus.

      Specifically in chapter 10 Paul asks if the the reason Israel does not believe is because they have not heard. But he comes to the conclusion that Israel has heard, so that can’t be the case.

      Paul doesn’t really have the unevangelized in mind here. Rather, He’s concerned about the lack of response of the Israelites to Jesus – and this is in spite of the fact that they actually have heard the gospel preached. So even though Romans 10:13-15 seems to have the unevangelized in mind, it really does not. It’s misapplying and over-reading the passage to take the focus off of Israel and to put it on the unevangelized.

      • Kevin – I had been reading thru Wesley’s take on this passage as well. What you are saying is quite consistent with his take on it.

      • Thanks Dale, I actually haven’t read Wesley’s take on Romans 10, but it’s encouraging to know that I’m on the same track. Now I’m going to have to look it up. :)

        And nice blog btw. I was just looking at it after you mentioned it on facebook. Very good stuff on men’s issues.

  14. “Inclusivism is the Christian doctrine that teaches it is possible to be justified through Jesus Christ without explicit or complete knowledge of who he is.”

    This reminds me of a joke, a lot of which I can’t remember, but the jist of which is:

    A missionary reaches a previously unknown tribe and presents then with the Gospel telling them that they must believe in Jesus else they’d spend eternity in hell.

    One of the natives asks “What would have happened to us if you hadn’t of come here to tell us this?”

    “Well” replies the missionary “God is a loving God and because you didn’t know about Him, if you’d been good then most likely He’d have let you into heaven”.

    To which the native replies “They why did you come here and tell us this?”

  15. I’m a “left brain” person Kevin and we left brainers look at details. So to me this idea of “inclusivism” seems to me to be “spongy theology” (i.e. you press on it gives way; and there are holes in it).

    “inclusivists hold that it’s possible that some who have never heard the preached word can still be saved through Christ” but the Apostle Paul (inspired by the Holy Spirit and hence this text is “useful for teaching, pointing out errors, correcting people, and training them”) asks “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Rom 10) and in that statement statement Paul later says “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Rom 10:17).

    But then Arminians need inclusivism don’t they because they say that salvation is our responsibility, not God’s, and that causes problems with the unborn; children; those with limited mental abilities and of course those who the Arminians don’t go and preach to.

    To get around the problem with children there’s the concept of an “age of accountability” or worse a denial of original sin (Question:how does one die without sin when death is the wages of sin?) but where does scripture teach this other than our preferred understanding of “God’s character”?

    Man is sinful Kevin. Man deserves God’s wrath. That God chooses to show mercy to some should be applauded not maligned.

    If you believe the Apostle Paul when he said in Ephesians that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” and that “in love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” then you have one rule for everyone. Everyone who God has chosen He regenerates (no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again (John 3:3)) and then they believe, be they old or young, be they here or there, whatever their abilities,

    P.S. I like

    The FACTS
    Freed to believe by God’s grace
    Atonement for all
    Conditional election
    Total depravity
    Security in Christ

    Freed to believe by God’s grace:
    – once God by an act of grace regenerates us we are freed to believe.
    Atonement for all
    – who believe
    Conditional election
    – on the condition that God chose us
    Total depravity
    – which is why we need His grace before we can believe
    Security in Christ
    – ye, there is no condemnation to those in Christ (see http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-du_oCe0YVjc/UwwwNU13-sI/AAAAAAAAOtw/njgNbb_2mtw/s1600/932.jpg )

    • Hey there HISI, Most Calvinists are left brainers, so it’s not a surprise that you are. I’m a left brain person too (although Arminian), so I think in similar sorts of ways. And it’s probably why at one time I almost became a Calvinist.

      The difference between the two of us is that I’m focused on the character of God. You are not. You have different motivations, which are probably well intentioned. However, an accurate understanding of the character of God is foundational in order to be able to grasp other Biblical truths (such as God’s sovereignty).

      Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8). If you have everything, but not love, you have nothing (1 Cor 13). That’s true for us, because God has modeled to us what true love looks like.

      You’re adding something to Romans 10 that is not in the passage. Romans 10 states that faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. It does not state that only those who hear about Christ will be saved, or that those who do not hear about him are damned by necessity. CS Lewis correctly noted that “We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.” God is able to save through Christ even those who do not have a complete knowledge of who he is. Because God cares about the heart, not our head knowledge.

      You also skip over the parts of Romans 10 that show the flaws of your interpretation. Romans 10 states that salvation is centered on the righteousness of God, not on a zeal for knowledge (10:1-4). It states that the word is already near to us, that is what Paul proclaims (10:8). The passage is not about restricting salvation to a few, it’s about including it for all who believe. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

      Your restrictivist view also means that Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jaccob, Moses, and all the other Old Testament saints are damned by necessity, because they didn’t know about Christ. But Hebrews 11 states that they are all in heaven. I give the examples of the OT saints, infants, and the handicapped because all three groups illustrate that there will be some in heaven who did not hear about Christ. They are saved because of what Christ did, but they did not fully know about Christ.

      Nearly all Christians hold that infants who die, and the mentally handicapped can be saved. Including most Calvinists, like Calvin, Spurgeon, Piper and MacArthur. See also the WCF.X.III. It’s not an Arminian view. It’s an orthodox Christian view that comes from a basic understanding of who God is. I have two children that died before they were born, and am confident they are in heaven today, because I’m confident in God.

      Arminians do not say salvation is our responsibility. We say that Christ’s death and resurrection was intended for all, and that those who believe will be saved. The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all. God loves the world, those who believe in him will be saved. Your view fails to take into account what God desires, and what scripture clearly teaches.

      You state that man is sinful (I agree) and “That God chooses to show mercy to some should be applauded not maligned.” Your view does not take into account the heart of God, or the intended scope of his grace.Scripture states that God has bound all over to disobedience, so that he may have mercy on all (Romans 11:32), and it states that God does not want any to perish, but wants all to repent (2 Pet 3:9).

      If God wants to show mercy to all (what scripture teaches), then that is what we ought to focus on.

      Eph 1 states that those who are IN CHRIST are chosen. It’s not focused on individual election (which is ironically a man-centered focus). It’s focused on being in Christ. God didn’t choose us before the foundation of the world (Calvinist view). Rather, he chose those who are IN CHRIST before the foundation of the world (the Arminian view). Those who believe in Christ are chosen in Christ.

      Romans 8 states that God works for the good of those who love him, and who are called according to his purpose. It states that those whom he foreknows, he also predestines to be conformed into the image of his Son, so that Christ might be the firstborn among many brothers (and sisters). Arminians fully agree.

      You state ” Everyone who God has chosen He regenerates”, and quote John 3:3 as proof. But John 3:3 does not in any way state what you say. And of course Jesus goes on to say the following in John 3: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

      That’s what inclusivism is all about. God did not send his son to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

      Finally, it’s a privilege for you to post here, not a right. Disagreement is fine, but if you can’t maintain an attitude of gentleness and respect, I won’t permit you to post further. Keep that in mind.

      God bless,
      Kevin

      • “maintain an attitude of gentleness and respect”

        Yes, very important, and normally possible.

        Always a challenge when you’re called a heretic though :-)

      • Indeed. For the record, I think Calvinists are saved, and I don’t call Calvinism a heresy. I just think it’s wrong on several key points. :)

      • So many points to answer: :-)

        “an accurate understanding of the character of God is foundational”
        and won’t that be discovered in what God says? You say later “God has modeled to us what true love looks like” and that includes “So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest” (Heb 11:3).

        “You’re adding something to Romans 10 that is not in the passage. Romans 10 states that faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. It does not state that only those who hear about Christ will be saved, or that those who do not hear about him are damned by necessity.”
        Is there scripture to back up that last sentence which you’ve a.d.d.e.d :-)

        “Your restrictivist view also means that Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jaccob, Moses, and all the other Old Testament saints are damned by necessity, because they didn’t know about Christ”.
        Not at all. You need to be regenerated to see the kingdom of God (J 3:3) and having seen it you’ll believe. There’s no minimum/maximum time between the two. In my case it was four days.

        “Nearly all Christians hold that infants who die, and the mentally handicapped can be saved.”
        I agree. Whether they are or not is (imo) up to God.
        There are (as I see it) two options for God, either spend eternity with people He chooses to or spend it with a bunch of randoms. If infants etc are all saved then God has millions of randoms to live with and as we get more evil we have more and more deaths (e.g. by abortion) so why should God waste His time attempting to draw to himself grown ups who mostly reject Him anyway?

        “Arminians do not say salvation is our responsibility”
        OK I’ll reword it. Arminians say that they decide if they will accept salvation or not and even reject it after receiving it.

        “Eph 1 states that those who are IN CHRIST are chosen”
        Well the words in my Bible are “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” and at this link (http://biblehub.com/ephesians/1-4.htm) you’ll find 20 other translations that say similar words. How do you get it the other way around?

        “You state ” Everyone who God has chosen He regenerates”, and quote John 3:3 as proof”
        Na, J33 was not a proof text but to point out that Jesus said we can’t (even) see the Kingdom of heaven till we’re born again. Arminians say that we see the kingdom, believe and are born again. From what Jesus said I see it as you are born again, you see you believe.

        God Bless,
        HISI

      • Hey HISI,

        Thanks for your reply, and also for your tone. It’s much appreciated. I will try to be careful with my tone as well.

        I’d love to discuss Hebrews 3, thanks for bringing it up! It states that’s God’s wrath is against those who have already heard from the Holy Spirit and then have hardened their hearts and gone astray (3:7-11). They are making a choice against God. That’s why God is angry, because through the Holy Spirit they have heard God’s voice, and they still refuse him. It’s fully consistent with Arminianism. God draws all, his wrath is on those who refuse him.

        On the flip side, In Calvinism, God does not give the reprobate the ability to respond, and then he damns them in their helpless state. That’s disingenuous, and is the antithesis of love. That’s the root problem with Calvinism (from my view), it makes a mockery of God’s character. God is good. He doesn’t lie. BTW, I’m not saying that Calvinists think God lies, only that that’s the unavoidable conclusion I come to when looking at Calvinism, and it’s why I’m an Arminian.

        I think you’re contradicting yourself with the OT saints, infants, and mentally disabled. If not, then we agree, and you’re an inclusivist (of a sort) too. The point is these are all groups who didn’t explicitly believe in Christ during their lifetime, because they were unable to. If God can save them (and you agree he can), he can also save those today who do not fully know the gospel. We just disagree how this takes place. You say he simply regenerates some of them. I say God holds the unreached accountable for how they respond to the grace that he has given then, and they can still be saved because Christ’s sacrifice was inclusive of them. BTW, if you want to read further about inclusivism from a Calvinist view, check out this very good blog. He calls it “accessibilism”.

        I don’t get your point about God spending eternity with a bunch of randoms. Every person is created in God’s image. No person is here by random chance. Your analogy is inconsistent with the nature of creation.

        As for your question why would God waste his time with people who will reject him, scripture states it’s because he’s patient, doesn’t want anyone destroyed, and wants all to repent (2 Peter 3:9). In addition, God is limitless. God can’t “waste” anything.

        Yes, Arminians do believe we can reject God’s offer of salvation. That’s what scripture states, and that’s what brings God’s wrath – rejecting his provision. Hebrews 3 (which you quoted the tail end of) illustrates this. As does Romans 10.

        Romans 10:21 But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”

        And Luke 13:34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

        So either God is offering his hands and people are refusing them (Arminianism), or God is lying. But God is not a liar. God longs for all to respond, but not all do.

        You ask where Eph 1 states that “those who are IN CHRIST are chosen”. That’s later on in the same passage.

        Eph 1:13-14 “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

        Notice the order of being elect IN CHRIST: 1) they hear 2) they believe 3) they are marked IN HIM with a seal. Christ has been the elect one since before the foundation of the world. We are elect in Christ when when believe. That’s what Eph 1 states, and that’s Christ centered election.

        As far as the order of salvation goes, I’m not seeing your view in John 3:3. No one can go to heaven unless he is born again. True. That says nothing about God causing certain individuals to believe. And John 3 goes on to state: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

        God loves the world, and sent his son. Whoever believes will be saved. Whoever doesn’t believe is condemned.

        God bless,
        Kevin

  16. “Thanks for your reply, and also for your tone. It’s much appreciated. I will try to be careful with my tone as well”.

    After years of this I’m learning to be careful. It’s so easy to be misunderstood online and easy to take offense. A couple of things that I think help me are (1) I try to keep things in the 3rd person when talking about other views and (2) I try not to be dogmatic, I try to say “I think” or “it seems to me”. There’s more but it’s a topic in itself.

    “On the flip side, In Calvinism, God does not give the reprobate the ability to respond, and then he damns them in their helpless state. That’s disingenuous, and is the antithesis of love. That’s the root problem with Calvinism (from my view), it makes a mockery of God’s character. God is good. He doesn’t lie. BTW, I’m not saying that Calvinists think God lies, only that that’s the unavoidable conclusion I come to when looking at Calvinism, and it’s why I’m an Arminian.”

    I come from a different angle. I see man being reprobate as having no call on God for anything other than the punishment he deserves. I see God’s love demonstrated in J3:16, loving the world so much He sent His Son to suffer and die for undeserving man, something He did not have to do.

    The problem with Arminianism (as I see it) is that it seems to believe that God owes man something (well He does actually), but it seems to believe that God owes man the opportunity to be saved when the only thing man is owed is hell. Salvation is a gift, not an entitlement.

    And that’s were “randoms” fit in. My son goes out with friends and some of their other friends turn up, these are randoms, people who are just there but you don’t know who they are. To me the Arminian view seems like God is throwing a party (heaven) and throws out an open invitation to anyone to come and if they do they do and if they don’t then they don’t. On the other hand to me the Calvinist view seems like God is throwing a party (heaven) and sends out specific invitations to those whom He wants to come and (naturally) they accept.

    “God loves the world, and sent his son. Whoever believes will be saved. Whoever doesn’t believe is condemned”.

    Which we know is true. The difference is Arminians think everyone has the ability to believe while Calvinists think they don’t.

    • Hey HISI,

      You are technically correct that God doesn’t owe us anything. But that view also entails that God doesn’t love the world, and scripture says he does.

      The difference between our views is what genuine love entails. Scripture says God loves the world, and that he want everyone to be saved. We agree there. So what does genuine love entail? To genuinely love someone means that you desire what’s best for them, and that you promote their true flourishing as much as you properly can.

      Humanity can only truly flourish in Christ. That’s true for every person. Put simply, God can’t genuinely love everyone in the Calvinist system, because he doesn’t desire what’s best for them. It is not love to let someone perish in their helpless state while all along withholding from them the grace you have that they need.

      I still don’t get the random thing. Each person is created by God in his image. He wants all to come. He is not limited as we are, so he knows every person intimately.

      And to correct you on your last point, Arminians don’t think everyone has ability to believe (that would be Pelagianism). We think that God draws everyone, and that he enables us to believe (John 1:9, John 12:32, Titus 2:11). That’s what makes us responsible before God.

      God bless,
      Kevin

      • Giles

        Here is the proof of inclusivism. The tax collector who prayed “God have mercy” went home justified. Is that now invalid because it was before the (bad news?) of Jesus death restricted the rules? Then what about this? Christians are raised at Christ’s coming to judge the world. Some of those judged (the sheep/those written in the Book of Life) are saved. QED
        In a literal translation John 3:18 makes it clear. Christians are not judged. Those yet to confess are judged (not “condemned” – an ideological translation). Cornelius gained salvation from judgement and a place in the first ressurection when Peter preached. Before that he was judged already, but judged a sheep not a goat. Salvation from judgement is what John promises to believers. Salvation at the judgement is still available for those who love (and thus are born of God) or pray the tax collectors prayer. Prove that the Sheep judge the goats and were raised first, then I will consider exclusivism. Oh, and please also explain why, if Christian, they ask “when were you hungry” etc when a Christian would know the parable and thus the answer.

    • ” To me the Arminian view seems like God is throwing a party (heaven) and throws out an open invitation to anyone to come and if they do they do and if they don’t then they don’t. On the other hand to me the Calvinist view seems like God is throwing a party (heaven) and sends out specific invitations to those whom He wants to come and (naturally) they accept.”

      “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.
      But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.
      So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matt 22:2-13

      It appears that the king sends specific invitations and they get rejected.

  17. Guilhe

    Dear Kevin,

    I have a very important question regarding this. If one can be redeemed without explicit knowledge of Jesus, then isn’t the worst thing we can do is to bring the Gospel to them, as now they truly are without excuse?

    Thank you and God bless

    • Good question Guilhe. No, we should always evangelize. Here’s what I wrote in another post on the topic (that you can find here):

      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.

      • Giles

        A few comments. To those who hold to the view all infants (or even all Christian infants) are saved but most adults are not, how do you reconcile it with your conscience that you let your children live to the age of accountability?
        To those who say no Salvation without explicit Christian faith, how did the tax collector go home justified, when he didn’t pray in the name of Jesus? Did the (bad news?) of Jesus death invalidate his prayer? And if Christians are to judge the world as Paul says, and some of those will be judged sheep, as Jesus says, how do you conclude that only those who called on the name of Jesus prior to death can be saved?

    • Adrian

      Guilhe, I think judging in this sense is passing judgement on someone who’s sin is already known as in God saying to Ezekiel “Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Then declare to them their abominations”.

      With respect to letting children live to the age of accountability someone (can’t remember who) once made a similar comment in saying “IMO the concept of original sin is a problem for those with an Arminian view of salvation.  It is a problem because of the conflict between the belief that each of us has the ability and responsibility to choose our salvation and the fact that the unborn, infants, mentally disabled etc. have not yet developed a level of understanding that will enable them to do that”.

      Obviously I prefer the “one size fits all” salvation model of Calvinism to the “different strokes for different folks” Arminianism model with the rather fuzzy “age of accountability”.

      • Giles

        So infants all go to Hell? Well, a kind of Kudos if you are prepared to say that. Even Calvin thought baptised infants could be saved.

      • I notice no one has answered my questions which genuinely interest me. I can tell you how I understand the exclusivist texts. I hold they refer either to salvation from judgement, as opposed to salvation at the judgement, or to those who persist in unbelief on the last day.
        Can any exclusivist tell me whether the tax collectors prayer has been cancelled, or how they explain that some will be judged sheep, if all the Christians are sitting as judges?

  18. There is broad consensus among all Arminians and most Calvinists that all those who die in infancy will be saved (along with the mentally handicapped). The only exception is hyper-Calvinists, who think that infants are damned because they didn’t believe.

    Because God is good, he doesn’t hold accountable those (infants, disabled) who are unable to believe. Of course, it’s much easier for Arminians to arrive at this conclusion, because we believe God’s defining characteristic is love. That the core teaching of Ariminianism – God is good. In this case I think Calvinists are being inconsistent by holding that infants are saved, but I’m glad they do believe it. Most Calvinists are inconsistent on the matter, and reject the logical conclusion of their viewpoint, and thankfully so.

    For example see John MacArthur, John Piper, Al Mohler, and Charles Spurgeon.

  19. Adrian

    Just attended my first Hospital Chaplain’s meeting in a year or so and the scripture spoken on – Eph 1:3-6 :)

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  22. I’ve seen a LOT of Calvinists argue that Arminians believe God “owes” us a chance at salvation. When all they’re really accusing Arminians of is taking God’s promises and statements of love sincerely.

    God does not owe us anything by nature. However, he has stated that he loves us, wishes us to be saved, and that he offers us salvation as a free gift. To then insist on the validity of that offer (as Arminians do) is not entitlement: It is the only possible way to take God at his word concerning who he is and who he loves.

    • Adrian

      “he has stated that he loves us”

      In general terms, yes, but in more specific terms we have:

      Psalm 5:5, “The boastful shall not stand before Thine eyes; Thou dost hate all who do iniquity,
      Psalm 11:5, “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates.”
      Lev. 20:23, “Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I shall drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them.”
      Prov. 6:16-19, “There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.”
      Hosea 9:15, “All their evil is at Gilgal; indeed, I came to hate them there! Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of My house! I will love them no more; All their princes are rebels.”
      and of course His twice stated hatred of Esau.

      Looking at God loving us in the Bible we see it in Romans (addressed to “all who are beloved of God in Rome”), Ephesians (addressed to “the saints who are at Ephesus”) 2 Thessalonians (addressed to “the church of the Thessalonians”) 1 John (it doesn’t state whom it’s addressed to) 2 John (addressed to “the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth” and Revelation (addressed to “the seven churches that are in Asia”) i.e of course the epistle writer can say God loves THEM because they’re saved, they’re His children.

      I like ice cream. I don’t like generically branded ice cream. The first statement is true but general because I like most ice cream. The second is specific because that particular ice cream I don’t like. Similarly I don’t like watching sport on TV but I do like watching the end of a game when the team I’d support wins. Again one’s general one’s specific. To me Arminian theology accepts the general statements without also applying the specific (perhaps harder to take) statements.

      • Fair points, but it is clear (to me, at any rate) from the moving story of the reconciliation of Esau and Jacob that both were saved and loved by God. “Esau I have hated” is hyperbole, like “hate your father and mother”. Hate here means a lesser love. That’s the flaw with Calvin’s take on Romans 9. He assumes both Esau and Pharaoh are damned. I see Jacob as a type of those who will judge the world, Esau as a type of those who are handed over to judgment and acquitted and Pharaoh as a type of those judged and condemned.

      • Adrian

        “the moving story of the reconciliation of Esau and Jacob”

        Giles, how does two sinful humans reconciling get translated into reconciliation with God? Hebrews 12:15-16 says of Esau “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God …. that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau”.

        P.S. If “Esau I have hated” is hyperbole then surely “Jacob I have loved” would be hyperbole too yes? Besides what Paul didn’t mention in Romans is the result of God’s “hatred” of Esau, “I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness”. To me this sounds more serious than “lesser love”.

      • To the first question, I was thinking more of his forgiveness of Jacob, which seems to me to indicate he was himself forgiven first. “everyone who loves is born of God”. Re the verse from Hebrews, I didn’t know it! It is certainly an obstacle to my position. But it does focus on his selling the inheritance, ie his youth. If those who were godless in their youth could not repent in their maturity there would be no Gospel. And we all have verses we must work around, even Calvinists! As for the inheritance, the quoted verse emphasises that God’s preference of Jacob is hereditary. I don’t really get the point that if hate is hyperbolic love must be too. Do you conclude that if our “hate” for our parents is hyperbole our love for Christ must be also? I conclude the opposite.
        However you make a strong case. I am going to chew over your comment. I’d be interested if anyone else wishes to weigh in. I both feel the force of your comments and yet still see God’s grace at work in Esau’s forgiving spirit. “Forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us” states that God won’t forgive us if we don’t forgive others. I admit it doesn’t prove that God will forgive us if we do forgive others, but I see an implication there. Though I see it like the story of the woman who was forgiven because she loved much. It wasn’t that she earned forgiveness but rather that her love was proof of Gods grace working in her. Likewise our forgiveness of our enemies is a sign God has forgiven us.
        Still, based purely on the verses we have traded I would decide the argument in your favour. But one’s position must reconcile all the verses of scripture, and that always requires creative exegesis of some.

      • Oh, in addition I have always thought it significant that Paul says nothing of hardening with respect to Esau, only with respect to Pharaoh.

      • Adrian, This is because of what Edom did. It is conditional based on what they did. And God says the same thing about his chosen in Jeremiah.

        “Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. “

      • Adrian, notice that in all the passage you quote, God hates what the people do. It’s conditional.

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  24. Adrian

    Giles,
    “I don’t really get the point that if hate is hyperbolic love must be too”.
    The Biblical phase is “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”, the feelings towards the two are opposites. If a verse said “Jacob went east, but Esau went west” or “Jacob was wet, but Esau was dry” or “Jacob was single, but Esau was married” would you say that “west” or “dry” or “married” were hyperbolic? If not why is “hated”?

    Hardening is interesting. On a quick scan Pharaoh gets lots of mentions re the hardening of his heart by himself and by God and the only other individual I can find mentioned is Zedekiah in 2 Chron 36.

  25. Adrian

    Kevin, “God hates what the people do . It’s conditional.”

    Yes He does, but the quotes say:

    o- Thou dost hate all i.e peoplewho do iniquity
    o- the one i.e the personwho loves violence His soul hates
    o- I have abhorred them i.e people
    o- A heart that devises wicked plans a person, feet that run rapidly to evil a person, A false witness a personwho utters lies, and one a personwho spreads strife among brothers.
    o- I came to hate them peoplethere!

    as well as hate what people do He also hates the people who do those things does He not? And we all “do iniquity” ….

    • Giles

      Surely “hate your father and mother” has the same implied contrast? Don’t you conclude there that it means our love for Christ must surpass our love for our parents?
      But you made a good point with the Hebrews quote. So let’s say, for arguments sake Esau is damned. I would still hold that Jacob was pre selected as a judge and Esau as one who will be judged. Not as one who will be condemned. If he is damned it will be by his own choice of godlessness. You know this argument never concludes? We each have our texts, and each interpretation is plausible. You know the many “Arminian” texts. We know the “Calvinist” texts. We can trade them forever!

      • Adrian

        It’s a good one that one isn’t it! “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple”, though it has to be a double implication as the Bible doesn’t contrast anything with it there in that text. But later John says “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other”. Tricky.

        Yes we each have our texts which we can trade. And our own interpretation of texts. With most humans we are structured such that we want to continue to believe what we currently believe and new information will be interpreted to support what we already believe.

        I see the idea of God choosing to choose those who would eventually choose Him as one of these “fit my box” cases. Imagine God talking to Himself pre creation:

        “I’m going to choose Giles and Adrian (and Kevin :-) ) because they’re going to choose Me and I’m going to write their name in my book right now”
        “But they don’t exist yet!!!, nothing exists yet!!!”
        “No, but they will”
        “How do you know”
        “Because I’m going to create a world in which they will exist”
        “How do you know they’ll believe in you?”
        “Because I’ll create them in a way that they do”
        “So you could create them differently but you wont?”
        “I’m God, of course I could create them differently. I could create a world where they would never exist if I liked too, but this is how I’m going to create things”
        “Oh, OK”

      • Giles

        Well that’s where I’m Calviminian! I think God looks at the class of those he could bring to Christ freely and chooses just some of them. They become the judges. Everyone else is judged, but not all are condemned. Those who pray the tax collectors prayer, “God have mercy on me a sinner” (note no mention of Christ) are justified as Jesus says. The big problem I have with exclusivism is that, given Christians will be judging the world, it demands that all those judged will be condemned. Which seems to contradict the “sheep and goats” parable and Revelation which says that of those judged those written in the book of life will be saved. Though at a stretch you could say that it turns out none of their names are in the book! I’ve never had a satisfactory response to that, only text trading.

      • Giles

        Oh, I liked your imaginary scene, glad to see Calvinists have a sense of humour. Also that you think Arminians like Kevin and I are saved.

      • Here’s what I wrote about that in the recent post on Romans 9:

        One more thing to be aware is the Hebraic idiom of “hate” (as used in Romans 9:13 and Malachi 1:3 – “I love Jacob, but I hate Esau…”) This idiom means to love someone less in comparison to someone else. Just as we have idioms (For example: “It’s raining cats and dogs.”), so did the Hebrews. This idiom doesn’t mean that God unconditionally despised and damned Esau and all of his descendants. It meant that he preferred Jacob’s nation over Esau’s nation, and chose Jacob’s children for the special honor of being the line in which the Messiah came. Jesus uses this very same idiom when he says “Anyone who follows me must hate his Father and Mother (Luke 14:26).” He’s not saying you should actually despise your parents, that would be breaking a commandment! He’s saying that in comparison to our love for God, our love for our parents ought to be much less. The same thing is going on with Jacob and Esau. God loved both of them and their descendants. However, he had a special affection for Jacob and his descendants, and chose Jacob’s descendants over Esau’s for the purpose of saving the world.

        In the case of Pharaoh, Paul uses him as an analogy as to how God can fairly treat the nation of Israel, even if he has to “harden” them in the process. Just as God hardened Pharaoh for his purposes (after a great deal of evil behavior by Pharaoh), he has the right harden the nation of Israel for his purposes. And we see from the Jeremiah passage that this hardening comes about as God’s response, it’s not God’s first preference. Importantly, it wasn’t God’s first preference to eternally damn Pharaoh. God treated Pharaoh fairly, and wanted him to be saved. For more on that topic, see the post: The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart.

      • Giles

        We are on the same page, I may even have stolen some of your ideas. However I do agree with the Calvinists (perhaps you do too) that God’s choice of Jacob over Esau was not based on his foreseeing Jacob’s faith or Esau’s godlessness (if Esau was indeed damned, which I still doubt).

  26. Adrian

    Of course Calvinists think that “Arminians like Kevin and (you) are saved”. It’s just that we put God at the top of the pecking (picking) order, believing that you choose God because in the past He choose you, not God choose you because in the future you would choose Him (which as I have pointed out could only happened because of the way God created the universe and specifically you)

    • Giles

      Well, as I said I agree, it’s just that I think God chooses from amongst the class he knows he can bring to him without coercion whereas you believe he chooses from the class of all mankind. I note that God had a choice of either Esau and Jacob but not a free choice of anyone, as he had already chosen their father Isaac. So his choice was between the members of a sub class of mankind, as in my “Calviminian” system. I suspect you will agree with Adrian that it’s more “minian” than “Calv”.
      Also I am not persuaded that our genes/environment fully determine our choices. I have read of the brother of a serial killer who was a decent man.

      • Meant to say “I suspect you will agree with Kevin…”

      • Going back to Esau, much hinges on the translation of Hebrews 12:17. Some translators have Esau seeking repentance with tears, but not securing it. Others have him seeking the blessing with tears but not being able to change what he had done. I don’t know Greek but the story of Esau has him begging for the blessing. So the latter translation fits best. And on that reading we have Esau repenting of his godlessness. So while he couldn’t secure the blessing (which Kevin points out means the honour of being the ancestor of the Messiah) I see him as being saved. But in the lesser sense of being saved at the judgement rather than the greater sense of being saved from the judgement (ie being chosen as one of the judges).

      • I agree, I think Esau will be in heaven. God’s election of Jacob (Israel) and rejection of Esau (Edom) was for the blessing of being in the line of Christ. It is not for salvation. And references to Jacob and Esau in both Romans 9 and Malachi are both corporate – they refer to the nations, not individuals.

      • Adrian

        “I note that God had a choice of either Esau and Jacob but not a free choice of anyone”

        No, because he promised their Grandfather Abraham that the Messiah would come through him. Then He made the same promise to Issac. Later it was stated that it would be through Judah and then David. Whenever you make a choice you always limit any dependent choices.

        In your thinking though did God make that choice at the time or before time?

      • Well, we are told that he chose Jacob before birth. We aren’t told if that and the other elections you refer to were from before time. Though the election to salvation in Christ is before the foundation of the world. So my view is irrelevant. We just don’t know. Not sure what hangs on this. An Arminian could surely affirm that all forms of election are from before the foundation of the world? Have to sign off for now

      • Yes, Arminians agree election is before the world. We have two views – 1) Corporate (God chose the church in Christ before the foundation of the world, and the members of the church are those who believe) or 2) Individual Election by foreknowledge (God chose the people he knew would believe). I prefer the corporate view, as it places the focus on Christ, rather than individuals, but either view is possible.

      • Adrian

        Where those thoughts dither my brain Kevin is if you go Corporate aren’t you suggesting that God does not know the future and therefore moving towards “Open Theology”, and if you go IE by (your interpretation of) foreknowledge how do you fit in the fact that you and I only exist as a result of God’s multiple direct history changing “interferences” in the affairs of the world?

      • Adrian, Corporate election puts the focus on Christ and the church with God still having foreknowledge. And Arminians think God works with humanity in the way future unfolds. The future is more than a chess board.

    • Arminians of course put God first too. We believe God created us in his image, and that by his design he wants to have people with the ability by his grace to make moral decisions. As A.W. Tozer said, “A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so. “

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  28. The Jews of the Old Testament never really heard the Gospel, or understood it, yet they were saved through the blood of Christ in and through faith in the Messiah to come, not knowing what or how that salvation would actually occur. Had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
    Genesis 4:26 tells us that men began to call upon the name of the Lord. Were they not saved, or could they not have been saved? Then and in other times there have been many that have desired to know God, and those that did have that desire, were saved by faith in the Son of God Who influenced them through His Spirit centuries before He walked on the earth. They didn’t have perfect knowledge, and hadn’t heard the gospel as such, but they had hearts that thirsted for truth and were ready to embrace what limited truth God revealed to them. God Himself will not be limited by our understanding nor by our assertions about God’s intentions toward those heathen that might not hear the Gospel clearly or fully.
    It is possible that though the heathen don’t hear the Bible from the mouths of missionaries, they, isolated and alone in a Spirit evoked desire for truth, and with a keen sense of a need for more understanding may be saved by the grace of God through the death of Jesus, even though they haven’t heard the Gospel as such. God, if He so wishes it, is capable of knowing the hearts of men, and saving those that would respond to the Gospel if given the opportunity. Our place is to do what we can to spread the Gospel because that is what He has revealed to us and desires us to do, not to second-guess Him or seek to arrogantly hold Him to our theology. Any people that we do not see come under conviction by the Spirit through our influence can be left to the mercy of God in His wisdom and will. Nevertheless, the heathen do have a witness to God’s existence and power:
    Romans chapter 1:18-24 (GW) says: God’s anger is revealed from heaven against every ungodly and immoral thing people do as they try to suppress the truth by their immoral living What can be known about God is clear to them because he has made it clear to them. From the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly observed in what he made. As a result, people have no excuse. They knew God but did not praise and thank him for being God. Instead, their thoughts were pointless, and their misguided minds were plunged into darkness. While claiming to be wise, they became fools. They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for statues that looked like mortal humans, birds, animals, and snakes. For this reason God allowed their lusts to control them.
    This passage indicates clearly that in general, mankind have a natural knowledge of the existence of God, having the witness of creation, but refuse to acknowledge Him because men love their sin and want to be their own gods and as a result they enter into all kinds of idolatry. This is not a sin they cannot help – a sin that results from inability to choose, but rather indicates a willing choice to follow their own way and ignore God, belief in Whom makes them uncomfortable. If this were not so, Why is God angry with them? We’re told that God made and makes His existence clear to them. That they knew (know) God, that they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for idols etc.
    This tells us at least that God’s existence is known to all men, but that those that refuse to believe in or follow, or seek Him refuse to do so, & close their minds to Him willingly. It was for this reason that God allowed their lusts to control them – not because they were born with a sinful nature that could not choose. Men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil and they loved their sin. When men have choice, most tend to choose to live in untruth and live a lie and their spiritual eyes as it were, are closed. God is not to blame for this, and it has nothing to do with God hating them, as the Calvinist would believe in relation to persons such as Esau.
    Other Believers
    God’s Kingdom was never limited to only the Jews in the Old Testament. There were people who believed in the Almighty God apart from such men as Noah and Abram. Generations before God called Abram, men began to call upon the name of the Lord. Both Abel and Cain offered sacrifices, one accepted and one rejected. Why was Cain’s offering rejected and what was God’s desire for him? The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Was God’s appeal to Cain insincere or was He truly concerned and disappointed because of what He saw in Cain’s heart? God was dealing with men even at that early date, desired their salvation and offered them choices.
    Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him: Enoch was a man that was saved not through hearing the Gospel (so far as we know), but his trust in God and his life’s walk in obedience to that trust saved him so that he never even had to face the trauma of physical death.
    Job and his compatriots were men who lived (probably) around the time of Abraham but were not in Abraham’s line. They had a real, palpable faith in God. Is there any indication in scripture that Job knew the Gospel? No – and yet Calvin’s believers would surely see him as a man of God. Lot was not of the lineage of Abraham, and not under the Abrahamic covenant of faith, nor was he awaiting the coming of the Messiah, but he was acceptable to God.
    Abraham offered a tithe to Melchizedek, a man that had no connection with the Jewish nation yet was a priest of the Most High God. Where did he get this knowledge of God and how full was this knowledge? I realise that many will claim that this was Jesus, but was it?
    The wise men of Christmas day were God-followers but it seems separated from the Jewish nation and looking for a salvation that even the Jews misunderstood. These men were led by God’s Spirit to the place where the infant Christ lay and this witness by these non-Jewish men, was a testimony to the Christ Himself. There is little, if any evidence that they knew the substance of the Gospel apart from the coming of a Messiah or special person. God’s favour was upon Jacob, through the nation of Israel, but it was not limited to that nation, to which some Old Testament scriptures would attest. How were those Old Testament men saved? Was it not through the Christ on the cross? Were those men saved through Jesus because they believed the light they had at that time? I think so. As scripture says there is no other name by which we might be saved but Christ’s. All those that are accepted by God come to Him through faith and that salvation is accomplished through Jesus Christ the Son no matter how limited their knowledge. If knowledge is necessary then how can a child or person of limited intellect be saved?

    • Thanks for the comment Colin. I agree that both the OT saints and the mentally disabled will be in heaven for the reasons you list.

      Dale Moody wrote, “It is possible to say that this general revelation of God has only a negative function that leaves man without excuse. But what kind of God is he who gives man enough knowledge to damn him but not enough to save him? The perception of God in creation has both negative and positive possibilities.”

      And Wesley said “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.”

      • Adrian

        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
        and
        Without holiness, I own, “no man shall see the Lord;”

        Good stuff Kevin

  29. I agree that “We can leave those who do not hear the preached word to our good and capable God. He always does what is right.”

    Yey, and I don’t know if anyone asked this but, if inclusivism mean “it is possible to be justified through Jesus Christ without explicit or complete knowledge of who he is”: (1) what happens if he has no knowledge of Christ at all? (2) and, if one can be saved w/o knowing Christ at all, why evangelize?

    • Thanks for the comment Nelson. For the first question, I believe God holds the non-believer accountable for what he knows. Everyone knows something about Christ, even if it is not explicit. So in those cases, a person is held accountable (or credited as righteous) based on how he has responded to what he does know. And for the second. Jesus is the light of the world. Bright light in a room with open windows is better than dim light in a basement, that comes around a corner. The person down stairs ought to be invited upstairs, so he doesn’t trip. :) Wesley said that heathens are to be pitied rather than blamed for the narrowness of their faith. If you’re a fan of Wesley, check out his sermon On Faith where he addresses both of these questions.

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