Time For Truth

A place to grow in the Grace & Knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ

The Middle way – the Inclusivist position [part 2 of Pluralism, Inclusivism, and Exclusivism: are they all equally Christian?]

The current moderator of the PCUSA Bruce Reyes-Chow and others are currently advocating for a “middle way” when it comes to such issues as the ordination of homosexuals. Throughout this series I will show that when it comes to “essentials of the faith” or moral imperatives, the so-called “middle way” always leads toward the liberal position or a “soft liberal” position. It is true when it comes to a foundational aspect such as the issue of salvation, and it is true on the major issue of the moral imperatives in areas of sexuality. Only if the issue is relegated to the arena of non-essential is a middle way possible. In this blog entry I will continue my review of Ronald Nash’s excellent book Is Jesus the Only Savior as I present the inclusivist (middle way) position on salvation, highlighting in general terms the problems with this view. Part 3 will focus on exclusivism with a review of the important biblical texts on this issue. Part 4 will be my assessment of this middle way more thoroughly and how this “middle way” is analogous with the so-called “middle way” on the issue of the ordination of self-identified unrepentant homosexuals.

The Inclusivist position is summed up well by John Sanders in the following quote:

“The unevangelized are saved or lost on the basis of their commitment, or lack thereof, to the God who saves through the work of Jesus. Inclusivists believe that appropriation of salvific grace (grace that is able to save) is mediated through general revelation (knowledge of God through nature, culture and our inner-consciousness) and God’s providential workings in human history.  Briefly, Inclusivists affirm the particularity and finality of salvation only in Christ but deny that knowledge of his work is necessary for salvation – The work of Jesus is ontologically necessary for salvation (that is no one would be saved without it) but not epistemologically necessary (that is one need not be aware of the work in order to benefit from it).”

Pluralists (part 1) believe that sincere followers of non-Christian religions can experience salvation through those religions, but Inclusivists insist that devout believers of other religions will be saved, but only on the basis of Christ’s atoning work.

 There are two basic maxims of Inclusivists:

1.      Particularity – Jesus Christ is the only mediator of salvation.  Jesus is Lord and Salvation is only available in and through Jesus Christ.

2.      Universality – God intends his salvation to be available to all (1 Tim. 2:4; Titus 2:11). God must therefore give everyone a chance, because he wills that everyone be saved.  Therefore, God must make available salvation to all including those that were outside the sphere of Hebrew influence in the Old Testament, and who have never heard the gospel after the resurrection of Christ.


According to Ronald Nash and others who have studied the statistics on this, well over 50% of those who consider themselves Evangelicals are Inclusivists, other statistics indicate 75% and above are inclusivists in mainline denominations. The statistics vary depending on how the questions are asked.


Catholicism & Inclusivism:

Modern day Catholicism also is not immune to this.  It is considered the majority view of Catholicism today.  The second Vatican Council (1962-65) issued this statement: “They also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or his church, yet sincerely seek God, and moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do his will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.”  Karl Rahner is a major Catholic theologian who coined the term “anonymous Christians.”  He believed that God worked through other religions to save people (anonymous Christians), then when the church (Catholic) becomes established in that area, God no longer needs those other religions.  Rahner held a very high view of other religions.


Evangelical Inclusivism:


Clark Pinnock, a leading advocate for Inclusivism writes, “We must not conclude, just because we know a person to be a Buddhist, that his or her heart is not seeking God…What God really cares about is faith and not theology, trust and not orthodoxy.”

Evangelicals historically have held that a person’s faith must be directed toward the right object, and that faith must include the right subjective attitudes such as sincerity, genuine commitment and trust in a personal Lord.  What Pinnock’s view does is minimize or completely remove the first aspect, which is directing faith toward the right object. Pinnock also writes,

“Faith in God is what saves, not possessing certain minimum information…A person is saved by faith, even if the content of faith is deficient (and whose is not?). The Bible does not teach that one must confess the name of Jesus to be saved.”  

John Sanders another defender of Inclusivism writes this:

“People can receive the gift of salvation without knowing the giver or the precise nature of the gift…’Saving faith’…does not necessitate knowledge of Christ in this life.  God’s gracious activity is wider that the arena of special revelation.  God will accept into his kingdom those who repent and trust him even if they know nothing of Jesus.”


What Inclusivism does not do is affirm Universalism (Everyone will be saved).

Key assumption #1:  General Revelation (what might be known by God through nature, history and one’s inner conscience) is sufficient to bring salvation.  The term gospel tends to be used for more than simply the good news of God’s saving work through the Second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, but also what God is revealing through nature and history. 

Major Problem: There is no biblical warrant for using the term “gospel” this broadly. Rather the term always focuses on the work of Christ in redemption.

Key assumption # 2:  People who lived before Christ are in the same position as those who have not heard of Christ or have had a bad presentation of the gospel.  Therefore Old Testament Jewish believers are on the same footing as present-day non-Christians who believe in some form of God.

Major Problem: There are major biblical problems with this assumption that adherents tend to avoid:  Both Old and New Testament believers share a covenantal relationship that was based and grounded on special revelation (The Bible, and prophets who speak for God).  The Old Testament foreshadowed the coming Messiah and his death and resurrection, and they were to trust in what the true God was doing and revealing in that.

Key assumption #3:  The existence of “holy pagans” such as Job, Jethro, Naaman, the Roman centurion Cornelius, the Magi, and most especially Melchizedek.  

Major Problem: Unfortunately this argument has no biblical warrant for all these supposedly “holy pagans” respond in the O.T. to what Yahweh is doing and revealing through his prophets by faith, while in the N.T. it is their response to Christ that is key. The Magi were in fact seeking Jesus, not just some unknown god, possibly by what was imbedded in their culture through special revelation through Balaam in the Old Testament, who prophecies were revealed to him by Yahweh about a kingly star. 


February 9, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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