by Al Maxey

Issue #549 ------- September 28, 2012
Salvation is attained not by subscription
to metaphysical dogmas, but solely by
love of God that fulfills itself in action.

Chasdai Crescas (1340-1412)

Evangelical Inclusivism
Definition & Reflective Analysis

The concepts of inclusion and exclusion can be applied to a great many areas in life: social, political, racial and the like. Those of the former mindset tend to embrace and include others who are different, while those of the latter mindset tend to build walls of exclusion around themselves, shunning any association with those whom they perceive to be different in some way. With respect to our Christian faith, especially as it relates to soteriology and evangelism, there are four major theological "-isms" that significantly impact one's perception of who is saved or lost and how God deals with them (and thus how we are to deal with them as well). Sadly, the theology of exclusion characterizes far too many disciples and denominations, with some groups being so exclusivistic that they truly believe themselves to be the only ones saved: "the one, true church" on the planet. On the other extreme, some are so inclusive in their theology and practice that they embrace anyone and anything indiscriminately, believing none are lost. Neither extreme, in my view, represents the true teaching of Scripture or reflects the mind of God. The four "isms" mentioned above are: Exclusivism, Inclusivism, Pluralism and Universalism. Under each of these there are many subgroups with somewhat varying theologies and practices.

On one extreme of this soteriological spectrum one finds Universalism -- all are saved, none are lost. God is love, thus would never actually condemn anyone to hell. Some within this group concede that God might punish some people for a time, but that the punishment would be more for the purpose of purifying them of their dross, and that ultimately they would be welcomed into His heavenly realm. Kind of like a punitive "time out," after which the rebel child may come out and be welcomed into the bosom of the Father. Such persons were always saved, they just needed a bit of "refining" (a purgatorial concept, as seen in the Purgatory of the Roman Catholic Church, although this group certainly does not embrace Universalism). The other extreme on the soteriological spectrum is Exclusivism -- almost nobody is saved, except for the handful of faithful ones found only in their religious group. There have always been such arrogant exclusivists within Christendom (and other world religions as well -- radical Islam, for example), and, sadly, the Churches of Christ were at one time among the worst. Thankfully, this is rapidly becoming a perspective of the past, and our movement is now far more grace-centered, Jesus-focused, and accepting of perspectives and practices other than our own. A third position along this soteriological spectrum is Pluralism -- there are many paths to salvation; Christ is one path, but so are Buddha, Mohammed, and other religious leaders. Christianity is not the only religion leading to God; others seek union with the Divine as well, and thus each legitimately offers salvation to its adherents. Of course, I suppose we could also throw in Atheism -- no one is lost; no one is saved; there is no God.

I would imagine everyone reading this article can quickly see that none of the above truly reflect the teaching of Scripture. Yes, there are probably some legalistic patternists reading this who might argue vigorously for Exclusivism (since most of them believe that they, and they alone, are saved), but such rigid religionists are rapidly being relegated to a footnote in history, and rightly so. They should not be taken any more seriously than atheists. The only aspect of Exclusivism that should be taken seriously, however, is the position that salvation is ONLY found in Jesus Christ. If we hold this to be true, then Pluralism is false. Most Christians firmly believe that eternal life is IN HIM, and not to be found in following Buddha or Mohammed or in worshipping trees and stones. Again, I think most reading this article would agree with this aspect of exclusivistic theology. But even here there is room for diversity of understanding regarding salvation. What if a person has never heard of Jesus or His sacrifice? What if they lived and died without ever having the opportunity, through no fault of their own, of hearing the gospel message? Is such lack of opportunity and knowledge sufficient to send them to eternal death? What about young children? What about those who are cognitively challenged; who never have the mental capacity to grasp such spiritual realities as we associate with salvation? Are these all excluded? Or, is there room for inclusion? Even the most hardened exclusionists will quickly admit that there are exceptions to their theology of exclusion, exceptions which serve to include some people as "saved" under certain circumstances.

Christian Evangelical Inclusivism acknowledges that salvation is to be found only in Christ Jesus. In that sense it is exclusivistic. However, it does not teach the theology of "Limited Atonement" promoted by Calvinism (the middle tenet of TULIP theology). According to Article 8 of the 2nd Head of Doctrine of the Canons of Dordt, which were the decisions that came out of the Synod of Dordrecht held from November 13, 1618 to May 9, 1619, "For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation." Yes, the Inclusivists state, salvation is only in Christ Jesus, but that salvation is not limited to a select few (the "elect"). Rather, salvation is for all. This was one of the chief tenets of Arminian theology, with which Calvin took exception. God "wants all men to be saved," thus He sent Jesus, "who gave Himself as a ransom for all men" (1 Tim. 2:4-6). Heb. 2:9 informs us that Jesus suffered death for everyone, not for a select few. "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Jesus dealt with sin, all sin, "once for all when He offered Himself" (Heb. 7:27). Sin had made a separation between mankind and God, and that sin was forever dealt with in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Thus, the Father took away the sin of the world through the atoning act of His Son, and in so doing extended, by grace, His gift of salvation to all men everywhere! Thus, the view of Christian Evangelical Inclusivism is that eternal salvation is a gift for ALL, and that NONE are excluded. With this position I concur completely.

This raises a very important question, however, and the proponents of Inclusivism are divided on the answer. Salvation is a gift freely offered to all men everywhere, a gift of grace made possible by the fact that Jesus forever dealt with sin by His sacrifice. However, does this mean (1) God regards all men everywhere as now saved, and the only ones lost will be those who knowingly reject His gift, or (2) God regards all men everywhere as lost, and the only ones saved will be those who willingly receive His gift? Stop and think about these two positions for a moment, as they are extremely significant with respect to the question: who is saved and how? It also greatly impacts our understanding of such areas as evangelism and fellowship. For example, if everyone is viewed by God as saved, then what is the purpose of taking the knowledge of Jesus and His sacrifice to them? If rejecting Jesus is what causes one to move from being saved to lost, then why place such people in a position of rejecting Him, if their ignorance is salvific? If "ignorance is bliss," then leave them blissfully ignorant. On the other hand, if they are lost until such time as they hear of Jesus and accept Him, does this mean that if they never have opportunity to hear of Him, then they die in a lost state and will be destroyed by God? Frankly, there are huge problems associated with both of these views. I'll be honest with you, I do not embrace either position as worded. In other words, I think there is a way to reconcile these positions in such a way that we arrive at the beauty of what God intends with respect to His gift of salvation to mankind.

As for those who hold to the position that God, through the sacrifice of Jesus, views all men as saved, I have dealt with this position in some detail previously. I would encourage you to read Reflections #421 -- Quid Pro Quo Theology. This is the view of a man I respect very, very much: Dr. Leroy Garrett. It is also the view promoted in the latest book by Neal Punt titled "A Theology of Inclusivism." In a review of Punt's work by Edward Fudge, another man I love dearly and highly respect, he wrote, "Are people lost unless saved, or saved unless lost? Neal Punt offers compelling Scriptural evidence for the second statement. This simple (but profound) shift in vision magnifies God's grace, highlights Christ's atonement, encourages evangelism, helps bridge the gap between Calvinists and Arminians and generates an authentic welcoming spirit toward those who do not yet know Christ." Neal Punt is perhaps one of the leading advocates for this form of Evangelical Inclusivism, and for those who would like to know more about him, and more about his thinking on this subject, I would suggest a visit to his web site -- Evangelical Inclusivism. My own personal view, at this time in my spiritual journey (and this is always subject to change with further study and reflection), is that our God does not regard all men as saved, with the only ones lost being those who specifically reject the light He makes available to them. Again, I have tried to show my reasoning for that in the above mentioned issue of my Reflections.

The other view, and the one which I presently tend to favor, is that God regards all men as lost, with the only ones saved being those who seek Him and long for a relationship with Him based on their best understanding of the light He makes available to them. I would have to modify this position, however, to say (with which most would agree) that infants and children and the mentally challenged would not be regarded as lost since they would not be in any way guilty of willful rebellion against His revealed will, and thus would not be accountable. God is a holy God, and no person or thing will be allowed to dwell forever in His presence that is unholy -- in the case of men: those who have willfully chosen to live in a manner contrary to His revealed holiness. God in His infinite mercy has chosen to offer His Son to ALL men everywhere as the remedy for sin. It is a free gift to all who would receive it. But, God does not impose this remedy against a person's knowledge or free will. The remedy is there, and it is effective, and it is given as a covering for sin to all who genuinely seek Him according to whatever level of light has been given to them. Yes, that means that the covering of Christ's shed blood, which takes away sin (and continues to take away sin), will be bestowed as a gift to some who seek Him, according to the level of light available to them, even though they may never have heard the name Jesus, and may live and die never knowing what He accomplished on their behalf. Such men show forth their faith in God by their embracing of the light available to them, and in so doing receive the gift (even though they may never have heard of the gift). "Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him" (Heb. 11:6). Paul, in Rom. 1:19-20, makes it clear that God has made Himself known to ALL men, although that revelatory light may be less for some than others. Nevertheless, all men have some light, and thus they are amenable to that light (to either receive it or to reject it). For those who seek to walk in/by the light available to them, God, who judges their hearts (Rom. 2:14-16), will reward them. That reward is that their sin has been covered by the blood of Christ, and they are thus counted as holy and pure and welcomed into His presence, both now and in the new heavens and earth. This in no way suggests that salvation is "works-based." It merely states that those who seek Him will find Him, those who chose not to seek Him, or who chose to reject His revelatory light, will not receive the free gift of the covering of our Lord's blood. I have dealt with this doctrine of available light in far more detail in my following study: Reflections #158 -- Grace and the Caveman: Pondering the Parameters of Divine Acceptance of Human Response to Available Light.

Based on this theology, can one be welcomed into the embrace of the Lord God and never have heard the name Jesus? YES!! Indeed, one can be covered by the blood of Christ, and have his/her sins forever dealt with, and never have known Jesus lived, died or arose. And yet, their acceptance is based on the fact of that life, death and resurrection. Edward Fudge stated it very well in a statement made about the work of John Sanders (author of "No Other Name"), another scholar who has embraced inclusivism: "Interestingly, most evangelicals today expect God to save many who die without personal exposure to the gospel of Jesus Christ. That number includes faithful Jews and Gentiles born before Jesus, who (like Christian believers) will be saved through faith in God, by virtue of Christ's atonement, even though (unlike Christian believers) they died without knowing about it. For them, Christ's death was ontologically necessary (they could not be saved without it), but not epistemologically necessary (they did not have to know about it to enjoy its benefits)." Even Billy Graham acknowledged such persons abound, stating on Robert Schuller's "Hour of Power" program [#1426, May 31, 1997], "I've met people in various parts of the world and in travel situations who have never seen a Bible or heard about the Bible or of Jesus Christ -- but believe in their heart that there is a God and they try to live a life separate from those around them." These are the ones who are responding by faith to the revelatory light available to them, and by that faith have received the free gift of the covering over of their sins by the blood of God's Son. This is known in scholarly circles as "salvific balance."

Perhaps Robin A. Brace, the editor of the publication "UK Apologetics," expressed it best in March, 2008 when he wrote, "Evangelical Inclusivism is a fully biblical concept which shows that while it is vital to accept Christ as personal Saviour in those periods of time and in those nations in which the knowledge of Christ is freely available, those who have never had such an opportunity to learn of Christ during their lifetimes are certainly not excluded from God's love and calling, as amply demonstrated even within the Old Testament. Salvation is a free gift of God which cannot be earned through knowledge or through being in certain places at the right time, and God is well able to include many -- wherever He will -- who respond in faith to that level of true spiritual knowledge which was available to them -- yet they are only saved through Christ -- there is no other Saviour (Acts 4:12)." Christ Jesus dealt with the SIN problem, and He did it through one sacrifice for ALL MEN. That free gift of grace is now available to every living being. For some, sin has never been imputed to them (infants, small children, the mentally challenged), thus they are safe. Where sin has been imputed, however, and that's all the rest of us, that sin has been dealt with. The free gift of that covering is available to ALL MEN in the same way: by faith. God has shed His light upon all men everywhere; those who come to that light by faith are saved (even though their circumstances may prevent their ever knowing of the One who secured that covering of their sin). It is this form of Evangelical Inclusivism that I embrace as best representing our God and the Truth revealed about this matter in the Scriptures.

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

(A 193 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism

(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

Immersed By One Spirit
Rethinking the Purpose and Place of
Baptism in NT Theology and Practice

(A 304 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

Readers' Reflections

From a New Reader in Norway:

May I ask that you please add me to your mailing list for your weekly Reflections? I just found your web site and I would very much like to follow your work, if you don't mind. Best regards to you.

From a New Reader in Germany:

Please add me to your Reflections mailing list.

From an Evangelist in India:

"Paul's Professorial Predilection" is a great, insightful Reflections article on the discussed words used by Luke, as well as the mode of Paul's teaching. If possible, please think about writing a similar article on Deut. 4:10 and the Hebrew word lamad -- "The Lord said to me, 'Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn (lamad) to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach (lamad) their children."

From a Minister in Australia:

Thank you, Al, for your article "Paul's Professorial Predilection." Whatever went on in that upper room in Troas, there wasn't much "discussion" going on with Eutychus because he fell asleep and fell out the window. This has happened with my preaching also (except for the falling out the window part). The congregation here that has asked me to "preach and teach" for them did not mean by that that they wanted me to "have conversations" with them. I think a lot of this discussion of late about dialegomai ("dialogue") is simply because some people aren't prepared to listen to someone telling them what the Bible says. Jesus said many times: If you have ears to hear, then listen! Titus 2:15 is appropriate. Brother, I appreciated that your article was thorough and covered all sides. Walk with God -- He's always great company!

From a Reader in Georgia:

There's an old proverb that says -- "Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I'll remember; involve me and I'll understand."

From an Elder in Florida:

Speaking of "lectures," I love the definition of a "college lecture" I once heard -- "The process by which a professor's notes pass into a student's notes without passing through the brains of either." This seems to fit well with the remarks you made in the opening of your article dealing with "lectures."

From a Minister in Missouri:

In your last Reflections, one of your readers from Oklahoma asked, "When is it wise to tear up a church for a value, even when that value is right?" My response is: any issue that is blatantly contrary to God's will, such as same sex marriage, must NOT be tolerated!! Paul says that "a little leaven leavens the whole lump." As you know, I have left the far right legalism of the One Cup fraternity, and I refuse to accept a congregation that will go to the far left extreme of advocating same sex marriage. Al, I also want to "ditto" you on your statement, "I also simply can't endorse a party or candidate who promotes this." I absolutely refuse to vote for the current man in office. If I did, I'm afraid the Lord would punish me, knowing full well that what I would be endorsing is totally against His will.

From an Ed.D. in Florida:

The Bertrand Russell quote you gave at the top of your article ("If the object of education were to make pupils think, rather than to make them accept certain conclusions, education would be conducted quite differently; there would be less instruction and more discussion") strikes at the very heart of many Bible departments in our Christian colleges and universities. More often than not, a student's final grade will be determined by the way in which he/she agrees, or disagrees, with said professor. A university, by definition, should not be of that mentality. Fortunately, a few of our brighter ones slip through all of that and truly think for themselves! I hope that preachers who read your article, and who have no knowledge of educational philosophy or any training in the art of teaching, will rethink the clergy/laity, performer/spectator mindset of our churches, and do much more "expository teaching" from God's Word.

From a New Reader in Colorado:

A recent conversation with a friend (who was raised "Non-Institutional") on patternism prompted me to do an Internet search on Buster Dobbs and the Firm Foundation. This search brought up your web site, which had some of your interactions with him (i.e., Reflections #298 -- Brother Buster Breaks Silence: Critiquing a Firm Foundation Editorial by Editor H. A. "Buster" Dobbs and Reflections #307 -- Editor Buster Busted: Dobbs' Deception Exposed). What a God-send!! Upon reading these, and some of your other issues of Reflections, I felt the need to contact you, first, to be added to your mailing list, but also to inquire about how to get copies of your three books. Thanks!

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