Home > Theology > Some thoughts on Exclusivism and Inclusivism

Some thoughts on Exclusivism and Inclusivism

I basically just made a post on the discussion boards of the Facebook group “Open Theism”, and I thought I should post it here as well, if for no other reason to save it for myself! But maybe some other people might find my thoughts interesting.

Basically, first I made a general post asking about Open Theism in connection to Annihilationism, alternative views of the Atonement and Inclusivism. However, despite that being my most minor point, a person reacted to my mention of Inclusivism. I’ll post his reply here:

In one sense or another, every religion may have some seed of truth. Perhaps a buddhist may have a good idea of what mercy is, or a muslim may have a keen understanding of sovereignty or justice. This understanding may help those of different religions understand the Christian God better and lead them to the truth.

However, all other religions significantly or totally rely on merit/works, whereas Christianity bases its foundation on intimate relationship and God’s Grace. Man in no way deserves this Grace. There is nothing any man can do to earn this Grace, or to gain favour based on ability. This is something that no other religion has.

To be frank, I find it quite impossible to support inclusivism based on these grounds alone. All other religions may in some sense hold Jesus to be a great teacher; they may hold Him as a reference point for their proverbs or as a character to emulate. Nonetheless, what they continually fail to see is that he was not just a great teacher, prophet, or social activist, but he was as the old saying goes, “The way, the truth and the life”.

Here is my reply:

The line between Exclusivism and Inclusivism is pretty vague. The extremes of both are very different, but the gray zone between them is hard to define.

In a Christian context, the most extreme Exclusivism I can think of states that no one can be saved unless they explicitly profess faith in Jesus Christ before they die.

The most extreme Inclusivism would state that all people are saved in the end, although it would be through Jesus Christ. Another (although often connected) belief in this extreme of Inclusivism, sees all or most of world religions as positive ways that also lead to Christ, whether they know it or not.

I think most Evangelicals in reality believe something between these two. If we truly believe in salvation by grace and not by gnosis/knowledge/understanding, we need to problematize this. Otherwise, we would be saying that all infants and people of limited understanding would be in danger simply for being mentally incapable of what we classify as belief.

In the book I’ve read on this subject, “Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World”, five authors give four views on this. John Hick, advocating the Pluralist view, is the only non-Evangelical of these, which is understandable, as no person could seriously call themselves Evangelical in any meaningful sense and claim that Jesus is just one of many ways to God. As for the strict Exclusivist view given, I was definitely not surprised to see two Calvinists (R. Douglas Geivett and W. Gary Phillips) explain this. The two views that I found most sincere to the Bible and to God as I’ve come to know Him, were given by Alister E. McGrath and Clark H. Pinnock. Their views were very similar, but McGrath leans towards Exclusivism and Pinnock towards Inclusivism. Both concluded they were not very far from each other, and I would agree. I recommend you to read the book, or any other writings by McGrath or Pinnock on the subject you may find.

I might get into arguing in favour of a weak Exclusivism or careful Inclusivism later on, but at this point, all I’m going to say is that I agree with you. I think the danger of Exclusivism is to give a picture of an unmerciful God (punishing people with hell for, by no fault of their own, not having heard the gospel).
However, the problem with Inclusivism is that it can bring about a naïvity about the demonic aspects of other world religions (including legalism, as you mentioned), as well as relativizing evangelism.

The first problem with Inclusivism is something any Bible-believing Christian must deal with before even thinking about adopting it. While indeed other world religions can have a preparatory role for them hearing the true Gospel (just like any background can), we must also be aware of the demonic chains it can bind human beings in.

The second problem with Inclusivism I think is important, but personally I’ve tried to adopt another view of evangelism. I’ve always had a problem with the common (mostly implicit) idea that Jesus came to save us from the wrath of the Father against us poor sinners. This is why I related this issue to the views on Atonement, by the way. My point is that I don’t think telling people about the Gospel should equal telling them about God’s wrath against our sin, and then adding a Get-Outta-Hell-Free-Card in the form of Jesus in the end. I think evangelism needs to be about telling the good news, although we should of course never forget the bad news either. It’s a matter of how you come across, not a matter of hiding the ugly truths in favour of the good ones.

My point is: While I know there are millions of sincere people whose Exclusivist views of God does not seem to damage their view of God’s love, it has been a moral problem for me and many others, Christian and non-Christian alike. When I came to the conclusion that God as revealed through Jesus is just and probably won’t punish someone eternally for not accepting something they could have no knowledge of, that helped me love God more!

However, I don’t think all who haven’t heard the gospel will therefore automatically be saved, either. I think cultures that haven’t heard of the Gospel are generally at a greater risk of perdition than those cultures where the message of God’s grace is affluent. But I do think the Holy Spirit takes every chance He can get in the world, including those cultures that haven’t yet had Jesus revealed to them.

Jesus is the only way to the Father, but a person who doesn’t know Jesus by name hasn’t therefore necessarily rejected Him. We can only speculate, of course, and there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved. And I don’t think we are called to encourage any other faiths than ones that glorify Jesus either, you must not get me wrong there. What I do think Inclusivism as a doctrine should change among evangelicals today, is rather our own views of God, as someone who does everything He can to lead people to relationship with Him. He wants everyone to know Him as fully revealed in Jesus Christ eventually, but when that is not possible due to our failure to reach people, I am not sure if that always has to stop God. What I am certain of is that God does everything He can to save as many as possible, without disrespecting our free will in the process. I think perdition, or Hell, in the end is something that happens to people who refuse God to the very end.

I cannot say how or to which extent God does this, but I think there are many people out there who are waiting for a fuller revelation, like the God-fearing Cornelius in Acts 10, or many other believers through the ages who were born BEFORE Jesus. As to what happens to those who reject the Gospel once they’ve heard it, my Inclusivism does not really concern them. Salvation is in Christ alone, by grace alone. I only pray that we will preach the gospel clearly and truthfully, “so that His house may be filled” (Luk 14:23)!

  1. branderudanders
    July 19, 2010 at 12:54

    Quote: “However, all other religions significantly or totally rely on merit/works, whereas Christianity bases its foundation on intimate relationship and G[*]d’s Grace. Man in no way deserves this Grace. There is nothing any man can do to earn this Grace, or to gain favour based on ability. This is something that no other religion has.”

    My reply:
    How to live in order to enable the Creator in His loving kindness to provide His foregivness is outlined in Tan’’kh ( the Jewish Bible) ; and was also taught by the first century historical Ribi Yehoshua from Nazareth (the Mashiakh; the Messiah) (His teachings are found here: http://www.netzarim.co.il)

    (Ribi Yehoshua was born in Betlehem by Yoseiph and Miriam 7 BCE. He had twelve talmidim (apprentice students). He was killed by the Romans year 30 CE. His original teachings were in accordance with Torah, Netzarim Hebrew Matityahu. The redacted teachings, which are anti-Torah, are found in “the gospel of Matthew”.)

    Tan’’kh – for example Yekhëzqeil (de-Judaized to Ezekiel) 18 – promises forgiveness to those who do their sincerest to keep the mitzwot (etymological translation: directives or military-style orders) in Torah (“the books of Moses”). The Creator cannot lie and He does not change (Malakhi 3:6)! According to Tehilim (de-Judaized to “Psalms”) 103 the Creator gives His foregivness to those who do their sincerest to keep His berit (pact) (this includes doing ones utmost to keep the mitzwot in Torah (“the books of Moses”) non-selectively).

    There is a provision for the mistakes people make in doing their utmost to keep Torah non-selectively. The man Ribi Yehoshua ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) lived and did his utmost to keep Torah non-selectively, was killed by the Romans although he hadn’t done any crime and became a sacrifice. Because of this the Creator can give His foregiveness for the mistakes of everyone doing his/her sincerest to keep His instructions found in Torah, and to everyone turning away from their breaches of directives of Torah to instead starting to do their sincerest to keep the instructions in Torah.

    Living in the above described way until one dies implies that the Creator will continue to give His forgiveness during one’s whole life, which will keep ones nephesh (psyche) in a connection with the Creator, which will lead to ha-olam haba (which Christians would call “heaven”). While not living in the above described way, according to Yekhezeqeil, won’t lead to ha-olam haba.

    To imply that the practitioners of Judaism try to earn forgiveness is not a correct statement.

    Anders Branderud

  2. July 21, 2010 at 00:42

    Well, Anders, first of all, you didn’t quote me, but the guy I was responding to. So I can’t really take responsibility for how he phrased himself.

    However, do you personally have any answers to the question of why HaShem allowed the “true gospel” to be hidden from ~200 AD to like the 1970’s when the various Messianic movements appeared? Because honestly, as my interpretation of who Jesus was is based on the 27 books of the Brith Chadasha as canonized and used by the Early Church, we can’t even discuss the same person – because we have disagreements on which text to use. As for arguing from the Tanakh on its own, I’m going to admit I’m not quite equipped to do that right now. I just don’t see why HaShem would let His Mashiach be so totally misrepresented for thousands of years, only to be “reconstructed” by some fringe group. No disrespect or anything, but you are by definition fringe.

    I would argue later that many, many of the mitzvot are definitely unfit for being literally followed in modern society, but right now it’s almost 2 am, so I’ll return to that later.

  3. Hans-Georg Lundahl
    August 14, 2010 at 09:33

    Och hvad säger McGrath och Kinnock?
    And McGrath and Kinnock say what?

    • August 19, 2010 at 00:58

      McGraths position är “svag exklusivism”, typ, eller snarare agnosticism kring vad som händer de som inte hört evangeliet.

      Pinnocks position (han dog förresten i söndag…) är Inklusivism. Det innebär att frälsningen är enbart genom Jesus, men han har ett bibliskt hopp om att det finns människor som inte hört evangeliet, där den Helige Ande har uppenbarat någon form av ljus i deras värld ändå, och där Gud dömer dem beroende på hur de har svarat på den begränsade uppenbarelse de fått.

      Vad är din position? Jag vet att 2:a Vatikankonc. förordar en sorts inklusivism, men jag vet också att du nog är skeptisk till det 🙂

  4. Neema
    August 21, 2010 at 08:13

    Thanks for an interesting, very well written and argued saturday morning read. In agreement with what you wrote these questions have always been a moral dilemma for me and it is always comforting to know that I am in good company. As I am not a theologian I will not provide any other comment than the above stated thank you!I feel encouraged to think that God is doing what he can to reach my searching agnostic and Muslim friends with his love rather than with solely a message of judgment. They are all too good at judging themselves sometimes! Hopefully, God will find me and other Christian’s around them useful in His endeavors to do so!

    Kristina Lundborg

  5. September 3, 2010 at 04:58

    There seems to be something missing from this discussion about inclusivism, and it’s an inclusivism that looks like this:

    God’s grace is more persistent than mankind’s rebellion, so all will (eventually) be saved. There are some that live into this future reality now and are therefore blessed (and a blessing).

    In this view, the evil in the world (not least amidst God’s own people) is not relativized but is thoroughly vanquished. I think this is somewhat in line with the beliefs of the early church father Origen, who (if I’m not mistaken) believed that even satan himself would eventually be saved.

    This is not my own view…instead I’m of the mind that ultimate salvation depends on being brought back to life: resurrection. Everything that is not brought back to life perishes; that is, it remains dead and separated from God’s good creation.

    But hey, what do I know?

    • September 3, 2010 at 05:15

      Well, yeah. I’m aware of apocatastasis/universalism, and I held to that view back in 2007-2008 or so, only to start leaning towards annihilationism starting in 2009 and onwards. Note that I did mention universalism briefly in my post, but I didn’t really elaborate on it, because it’s not a realistic option as far as I see it. I do think God *wishes* it could be true, but I think Jesus’ warnings make it clear that there’s a risk of “perishing”. Daniel 12 and Revelation 20 also seem to make it clear that there is a resurrection for the wicked as well, although probably not into unperishable bodies… What the point of this is, I cannot say, but I guess it has to do with God setting all things right.

      My theology at the moment makes me think God would never stop trying to save someone until it was too late, and only then would he ever, out of mercy, allow them to perish.

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