Exclusivism vs. Inclusivism (the middle way) [part 3 of Pluralism, Inclusivism, and Exclusivism: are they all equally Christian?]
“Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.” Westminster Confession of Faith
The Exclusivist position has been the most widely held position by Christian leaders through the vast majority of Christian history. The position simply stated is that salvation is in Jesus Christ alone and requires both the objective knowledge element as well the subjective personal authentic commitment and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (with elements of repentance of sin, and a trusting in the historic work of Jesus on the Cross).
While Inclusivists such as John Sanders believe that an act of faith is necessary, they insist that this faith need not have the historical Jesus as its direct object. “Saving faith…does not necessitate knowledge of Christ in this life. God’s gracious activity is wider than the arena of special revelation. God will accept into his kingdom those who repent and trust him even if they know nothing of Jesus.”
Exclusivists understand the Biblical data to clearly and unequivocally require the objective side as well as the subjective side. Faith in a generic God (personal or impersonal) along with a sense of remorse or repentance is insufficient, without some rudimentary level of understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what he has done on the cross and through the resurrection.
A very brief Biblical defense (focusing just in Acts) of Exclusivism: (much of this is on one of my previous blog entries here)
Paul referred to conversion when he said to the Ephesian elders, “I have declared to both Jews and Greek that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). In the book of Acts we also discover that genuine conversion involves believing in the truth (Acts 11:21; 15:11), a turning from evil (8:22) and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation (20:21). Luke records the message of the physically resurrected Jesus to Paul on the road to Damascus, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:15-18). Clearly the reception of forgiveness and a place among those who are sanctified is by faith, which requires a turning from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. This chapter serves as a bookend to Peter’s sermon/speech in chapter 2. “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation'” (2:37-41).
Faith is belief in the truths of the Gospel and a commitment and obedience to Jesus. We can see this in the fact that the object of faith was to be the person of Jesus (Acts 11:17; 14;23; 16:31) as well as the preached word (4:4; 17:11) and the full message of saving doctrine (6:7; 13:8; 14:22; 16:5). This clearly indicates a certain minimum knowledge of the gospel message with the focus being a trusting in the person of Jesus Christ for salvation.
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