Inclusivism Exposed

Bible-candle-light-reading-1439638-mLast year I addressed a false teaching that seems to have gained some traction among Evangelical Christians—inclusivism. As a reminder, that view rethinks salvation, so “while no one is saved apart from the redemptive work of Jesus, it is not necessary either to know about the gospel or to believe in Jesus for salvation.” (See “The Way Of Salvation” and “The Way Of Salvation: An Addendum”).

Since then I’ve been mindful of the numerous places in Scripture that refute the concept that someone could love God and seek to know Him but remain ignorant of the gospel. In those earlier posts, I stated that such an idea was inconsistent with God’s character, and I cited in discussion comments, at least, that James lays out God’s promise to draw near to those who draw near to Him.

In other words, God is not going to let someone who wants to know Him floundering in the dark. Believing this, I have still been surprised at the host of passages that make clear God’s promise to rush to those who choose Him.

I started with Proverbs 2:

For if you cry for discernment,
Lift your voice for understanding;
If you seek her as silver
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will discern the fear of the LORD
And discover the knowledge of God. (vv 3-5)

If you look, then you’ll discover. In reality, then, there are no hosts of pagans or Muslims or any other religion loving God and wanting to know Him but remaining ignorant of Jesus. How could there be? Each of those would put the lie to this passage.

Or how about this in Jeremiah:

‘I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.’ (24:7)

Some people might quibble that this verse is addressing Jews returning to Israel after the exile. That’s true, certainly, but all Scripture is for our profit, and the passage refers to “My people.” God’s promise would seem to be for His people regardless of place and time—He will give us a heart to know Him.

Here’s another one. Jesus said this, recorded both in Matthew and Luke:

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” (Matt. 11:27)

I don’t know how much clearer Christ could be: The Son reveals God the Father; He’s the only One who knows the Father and it would stay like that unless He disclosed Him to us.

There’s more:

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

Eternal life is conditioned on knowing: knowing God and knowing Jesus Christ.

John repeats this truth in his first letter:

And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)

Understanding from the Son lets us know that He is true, that were are in Jesus and that being in Jesus is what eternal life means. In fact, “This is the true God.” Any concept of God apart from Jesus is false.

Sincere Buddhists or pagans or Hindus are not saved. We might as well say sincere atheists are saved.

It’s actually cruel to suggest that someone who is separated from God by his sin is doing just fine by sacrificing his chicken on a high place outside his village in the sincerity of his heart, desiring to know God; or that by sincerely working toward enlightenment, he’ll actually be saved.

That’s like telling someone he isn’t going to die. Well, no actually he will die because we all face death, unless we’re caught up with Christ when He returns. Meanwhile, the person thinking he isn’t going to die, is living as if he isn’t going to die. He’s not taking care of his health or making a will or doing anything to prepare spiritually for life after death. By believing a lie, he’s neglecting what he needs.

Anyone without Christ needs to get that message—Christ shows us who God is; Christ is the door to eternal life. Inclusivism is nothing more than a human invention at best, and a demonic one at worst. It’s a lie, and telling dying people lies is cruel when what they need is saving truth.

Published in: on January 28, 2015 at 6:18 pm  Comments (5)  
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Christ, The Mediator Between God And Man

Communion_TableBecause author and friend Mike Duran has been exploring a theological position termed inclusivism, I’ve been reading Scripture with this view in mind. As a review, inclusivism agrees with the traditional view of salvation—that Christ’s sacrificial death paid the price for sin and that salvation is only through His atoning work.

Where inclusivism departs from the established evangelical position, is that actual belief in Jesus is not necessary. Rather, a person, particularly someone who has not heard the gospel of Christ, may be covered by His blood without knowing it, if he lives according to the light he’s been given through general revelation.

With this idea in mind, then, verses such as John 14:6 in which Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me,” are explained as applicable to the means by which a person is saved and not how that person must come to God.

As I said, now that I’m fully aware of this theological position, I’m reading Scripture anew. I can see how a person holding the inclusive view can then interpret many of the clear statements of Scripture in that light—not stating what a person must do to be saved but what God will do (apply the blood of Christ to him on the bases of his following to the best of his ability the light he has been given).

The problem as I see it is that a person must arrive at the position of inclusivism apart from Scripture in order to interpret certain passages in this way. Scripture itself, as a meta-narrative, points to Christ and Christ alone.

In fact, Jesus is the Light and therefore the means by which a person is reconciled to God. Scripture states this plainly more than once.

For instance, after John introduces Jesus as the True Light, he said,

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name. (John 1:12, emphasis here and in the verses to follow are mine)

Then towards the end of his book John gives the purpose for recounting the details about Jesus’s life and ministry:

these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31).

Shortly after feeding the five thousand with a few loaves of bread, when Jesus was teaching about eternal life, the people asked him the key question: what do we have to do? Jesus’s answer was clear:

Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

When Peter first preached on the Day of Pentecost, the people responded with a question to which Peter also gave a clear answer:

Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38)

Paul and Silas had someone ask almost the exact same question:

After [the jailer] brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Interestingly, the only thing the latter two answers have in common is Jesus. But the sum of the two is clear: to be saved a person must believe in Jesus, repent, and be baptized in Jesus’s name.

Many evangelicals today understand baptism to be the public profession of faith in Christ, not a work that earns salvation. But even those who don’t adhere to “believer’s baptism” nevertheless correlate baptism and the saving work of Jesus. In other words, baptism is not a work that earns a person favor in God’s eyes, nor is it a service that indentures God to save. Rather, it is an identifying act enjoining the work of Christ on behalf of the person being baptized.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he clarifies his answer:

if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Rom. 10:9-10)

Peter clarifies his in the first epistle bearing his name:

knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Jesus also expanded on His statement:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.”

Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. (John 6:32-35)

The significance here is that inclusivism lacks any such clear scriptural basis. At best those who hold this position apply a reinterpretation to passages pointing to Christ’s redemptive work, removing the “belief component” which is so clear in the scriptures above.

Further, Jesus, the gospel writers, and those who penned the epistles identify Jesus as the unique link between God and humankind. For instance, John states, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).

Jesus made that same point:

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:8-9)

Paul states emphatically in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Peter says, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

The point then is that Christ, as the perfect High Priest, brings reconciliation between God and those He saves.

The inclusivist view, however, inverts this work of Christ so that God, through general revelation, brings sinners to Christ in order to cover them with His blood.

It’s true that God has chosen those who are His and that He has called His children, and yet salvation—the work that justifies a sinner before God—is Christ’s work. To say that God draws sinners in order to apply Christ’s blood without them knowing it is to ignore Christ’s purpose—to explain God, to show us the Father, to mediate, to serve as the High Priest.

The inclusivist view has no place for this part of Jesus’s work. In so truncating Christ’s role, it reduces His glory, and in the end, God’s glory, because it is through Christ that He is glorified:

. . . so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11b)

Published in: on May 16, 2014 at 2:55 pm  Comments (12)  
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The Way Of Salvation: An Addendum

Abraham005This morning I once again thought about inclusivism and salvation, Jesus and the unreached peoples, Abraham and faith–many of the same topics I covered in yesterday’s post “The Way Of Salvation.”

Why Abraham? Because a number of those in the Facebook discussion I was a part of mentioned Old Testament figures such as Noah and Job and Abraham as examples of people who, like the unreached peoples today, did not know Christ but who had faith in God.

I remember some time ago thinking about Abraham’s faith. Scripture says, “And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (James 2:23b). What, I had to ask, did Abraham believe? It had to be more than that God exists–James makes the point earlier in the same chapter that the demons believe God is.

So what precisely did Abraham put his faith in?

I concluded by reading the account we have of his life in Genesis that Abraham believed what God told him, whether it was command or promise.

So when God told him to leave his home and go into a land he didn’t know and keep going until God told him to stop, Abraham said OK. When God said He would give him a son, Abraham said OK. When God told him to circumcise his household, Abraham said OK. When God told him to send Hagar and Ishmael away, Abraham said OK. When God told him to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham said OK.

At every turn, Abraham listened to what God said and did what God asked.

As I thought about Abraham today, I realized that he had this direct, special revelation from God and his faith was based on believing what God told him.

So if Abraham were a parallel with today’s “unreached people,” God presumably would give them the same kind of special revelation. He would communicate to them personally and specifically as He did with Abraham. Would their faith, then, be consistent with what Scripture says about salvation?

The question doesn’t go far enough. If God communicated with the “unreached people” today, giving them personal and specific revelation, wouldn’t He tell them about His Son Jesus? He wouldn’t have to tell them about circumcision or sacrifice. He could tell them specifically about His Son who came to be a blessing to the nations.

This kind of special revelation is absolutely within the power and possibility of an omnipotent, unlimited God. I have no trouble believing that God can reach down through miraculous means and save “unreached people” by preaching to them the gospel which they would believe.

I think God’s Word is clear that there is only one way for people to come to Him–through the Door, by the Way, by means of the one Mediator, the man Christ Jesus.

As I see it, those who believe in inclusivism have flipped God’s message on its head. They believe that God will bring them to Jesus so they can have salvation through His shed blood, but Scripture teaches that Jesus will bring us to God so that we can be reconciled to Him.

The inclusivism view seems to ignore the problem of sin. Scripture teaches throughout that sin is the problem humankind cannot overcome:

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short
That it cannot save,
Nor is His ear so dull
That it cannot hear,
But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
And your sins have hid His face from you so that He does not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2)

Praise God that He sent His Son Jesus to conquer sin once for all.

Published in: on April 8, 2014 at 7:01 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Way Of Salvation

A recent Facebook discussion came up about salvation, particularly Inclusivism–whether or not God’s grace extends to people who, to our knowledge, have not heard the gospel preached.

Proponents of a view known as inclusivism argue that while no one is saved apart from the redemptive work of Jesus, it is not necessary either to know about the gospel or to believe in Jesus for salvation. (“Is Belief In Jesus Necessary?“)

Bible-openI see no teaching like this position in Scripture, so I am troubled to see this view taking hold with some Christians. Here are my concerns: are these ideas a “different gospel,” which Paul warned against? Does inclusivism honor humankind over God? Is this teaching a departure from the clear teaching of Scripture?

Here are the thoughts I shared on Facebook (with some editing and some addition) which address my concerns to a degree.

– – – – –

Scripture teaches salvation is the result of God choosing us AND of us choosing God. I trust God to know the hearts of all humankind. He’s not going to hide from someone who would choose Him. I think that’s inconsistent with His nature as revealed by Scripture.

The thing is, we don’t know who all has received God’s word in the past–and rejected it.

I only recently learned that Church tradition says the Apostle Thomas went to India and evangelized many. How many Indians, then, went further east to spread the good news? We assume there was no missionary endeavor into places like China and Indonesia because they are not Christian cultures, but that’s merely an assumption on our part.

What did the other ten Apostles do, the ones Scripture doesn’t tell us about? Did they sit home or did they go to the utter parts of the earth as commanded and evangelize those we think never had a chance to hear?

We know that Philip evangelized an Ethiopian. Presumably he took the gospel to Africa. So how many African converts traveled south and west spreading the gospel? We assume none because we don’t see fruit. But that’s based on our limited knowledge.

In addition, before the earth was divided, all men knew of God. Did they take that knowledge and teach their children to mock Him or love Him?

And is it possible that God has a way of reaching people, preaching to people, that is beyond our understanding? 1 Peter 3:18ff certainly raises that question.

There’s a key passage in Ezekiel that speaks to this very issue, I think:

When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may die, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself. Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will die, since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. However, if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you have delivered yourself. (Ez. 3:18-21, emphasis mine)

I’m still mulling the divide between “wicked” and “righteous” mentioned in these verses since other passages tell us there is none righteous. But for the sake of this topic, it seems clear that those who aren’t warned don’t get a pass. They are still responsible before God for their unrighteous state.

And even if there are people today who we think could fit the “righteous” category because of their sincere desire to seek God, this passage leads me to believe their sin, like that of all the rest of us, still separates them from God. In short, they need to be warned.

But I’ll come back to my original point. I believe God is good, and wise and faithful and omniscient and all powerful–so He is more than capable of meeting those who seek Him, however He chooses to do so. I tend to think that is by sending someone to them to preach Christ and Him crucified–whether that’s a missionary or an angel (angels rescued Lot, after all) or the resurrected Christ Himself–He’s not going to turn His back on anyone except those who turn their back on Him.

I personally think this issue has become hard because we live in a society that believes humans are good. We no longer think people deserve to die, though that’s what Scripture tells us. We believe people deserve to be rescued, that God was wicked for only saving Noah. But that’s an idea from the deceiver, I think.

God certainly isn’t wicked, and He would have saved any other person who was righteous. And Noah preached that they might be saved, probably for as long as he was building the ark and perhaps for years and years before hand.

In the end, I think it’s a matter of taking God at His word, much the way Abraham did: he believed God when He told him that Isaac would be the heir of a great nation AND that he was to sacrifice Isaac.

So, too, I think we need to believe God means what He says that Jesus is the way, that He shows us the Father, that no man comes to the Father except through Him AND that God desires none to parish. He’s a good God and He’s not going to do wrong.

We can trust God to deal with those we label “unreached” according to His lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness because He delights in these things.

As I understand the Bible, those who are saved are those who believe that God gave His only Son Jesus who died once for all, the just for the unjust, that we might have peace with God.

I believe in a big God who knows the hearts and minds of all people and who will not turn away those who draw near to Him. He’s told us in the Bible how He saves. Consequently, I believe He will bring the truth of Jesus to all who want to know Him.

Is He limited? We in the West seem to think so. We can only conceive of God saving the “unreached people” by a means we understand–a reasoning away of clear statements throughout the Bible about humankind’s guilt and need of salvation which God provided through His promised Messiah.

I choose instead to believe, “The Word of God stands forever” AND that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, nor His ways my ways, but that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than my ways, and His thoughts higher than my thoughts.

Whatever ideas I have of solving the “unreached peoples” problem are tiny. God’s ways are right and best and will not violate His word. He is righteous and He is infinite, not limited nor unfaithful. He can be trusted to do what is right.

Published in: on April 7, 2014 at 5:14 pm  Comments (17)  
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