Inclusivism begins with Christ

Süleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul

If you want to witness the gross abuse of the term, “inclusivism,” in the hands of a conservative evangelical blogger, then read this post from Trevin Wax of Kingdom People, a blog with a fairly sizable readership.

Does the following sound accurate?

An increasing number of evangelicals find the “inclusivist” view of salvation appealing. This view maintains the traditional Christian belief that “Jesus is the only way to God” while denying the necessity of placing personal conscious faith in Christ for salvation. In other words, there is the possibility that other religious paths lead ultimately to God through Christ, even if the adherents never profess faith in Christ.

What? “Other religious paths”? So, according to Trevin, an inclusivist believes that a Buddhist by way of his Buddhism may be saved, or a Muslim by way of his Islam may be saved, or a Hindu by way of his Hinduism may be saved. Is this actually what inclusivists are saying? Would most inclusivists articulate it this way? Of course not, but a nuanced and responsible articulation of the inclusivist position is not nearly as effective.

An evangelical inclusivist is more likely to say that the Hinduism (etc.), as with the Law, is often an indolatrous hindrance to be overcome by God’s electing grace. Such a grace can convert and bring repentance, relinquishing the dependence on oneself and the idols that serve man’s pride instead of love. Such a grace can bring light to the understanding, the light that Noah and Job received apart from the Temple and apart from the knowledge of Christ. Yet, this light is Christ: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. …The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (John 1: 4, 9). That is where the inclusivist begins: with Christ and with grace.

As a side note, if a “personal conscious faith in Christ” is such an absolute condition for salvation, then how is the infant saved or the severely mentally handicapped saved? Even though he rightly believes in original sin (i.e., we are sinners before we actually sin), the exclusivist recognizes that such indomitable barriers, for receiving Christ with “personal conscious faith,” do not limit God’s grace from reaching the infant or handicapped. If the exclusivist is willing to admit such non-normative means for salvation, then the inclusivist position is hardly much of a stretch.

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9 comments

  1. He might just be Augustinian on the whole infant thing.

    😉

    Seriously, though. I have a friend who, as a Baptist, contends that infant damnation a la Augustine is the only consistent doctrine.

    • Funny. Actually, I wish more evangelicals, like your friend, would have such clarity on the issue. As it stands, most are incoherent and confused on the matter.

      E.g., an infant born in Indonesia is saved if he dies as an infant but surely damned if he dies as a child or adult Muslim, even if there is inadequate (if at all) access to the Gospel for such a Muslim. Do the actual sins of the child/adult make him “accountable,” while the original sin does not make him accountable? The whole “age of accountability” criteria is fundamentally non-Christian and Pelagian.

  2. You can always appeal to the vicarious humanity and faith of Christ (Gal. 2.20 subjective genetive) to assuage the problem of for infants and severely mentally disabled, that’s what “EC” does 😉 .

  3. Election then is the best way of solving the thorny problem of how shall those who have never heard of christ be saved. Any ideas what people who don’t agree with election solve this?

    Also do you recon that, for example a Hindu, who is elected by God will find his or her life as a hindu deeply unsatisfying and long for something else? Im trying to visualise what this would look like. I ask because i think its fair to say that most evangelicals lack your precision on this issue and would see what you have written and what trevin has written and still think “good buddhists can be saved” for the like of them some examples of how this looks like are needed.

    • Yes, we need some imaginative work here, and your description of the elect Hindu is a good example. But we have to be careful. We are unable to penetrate the subjective/internal mode of God’s electing grace, especially where the object of faith (Christ) is unable to be articulated explicitly (as with the Hindu). In other words, we won’t be able to interrogate the Hindu and figure-out whether he is elect. Even for the Christian, such an interrogation is impossible. [As a side note, this is what Jonathan Edwards failed to understand.] Thus, as you and Bobby have said, we need the doctrine of election to help us out and provide the objective parameters.

      Yet, we can expect fruits of the Holy Spirit and a love for righteousness, among both the elect Christian and the elect pagan. But, this expectation is not a criteria (a Law) to be applied as a standard to judge whether or not someone is elect, namely because we still exist with our unglorified bodies in a fallen world…that is, we remain sinners. So, it’s not incorrect to say, as I did in my post, that God converts the pagan, establishes love in the heart, and enlightens the understanding. We can say all this without being Pelagian, for the same reasons that we can say all this about the Christian. Reformed theology has the tools we need to be inclusivists without compromise.

  4. I wonder if that elect Hindu would instantly become a Christian (or at least be intrigued) when he/she first meets news of Jesus ..yet if we follow this idea of God’s ability to chose anyone anywhere we would have to allow that he could just as well chose the guy down the road from the church who has never liked church going or even church goers. Which is a big jump for most evangelicals.

    • Maybe not “instantly” because of whatever misconceptions or other barriers that may exist, but, yes, we can say that the elect Hindu would accept Christ. And, certainly, God can choose the guy who doesn’t like going to church.

  5. 🙂 I should have been clearer. I meant that he would chose that guy down the road who after his call would never outwardly or even self-consciously be a Christian

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