Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Inclusionist, Exclusionist, Pluralist...What do they all mean?

While I was preparing this week to be on a panel for the discussion of theological issues I came across a very difficult question that pushed me to spend some time solidifying my own doctrine on a certain issue. The question came from a student in our youth group: "How can a person who has never been exposed to the gospel (through no fault of his own) be expected to come to a saving knowledge of Christ?" This simple question has been discussed for centuries and divided denominations since the first denomination was formed. Dr. Ken Keathley, now a professor at a Southern Baptist seminary wrote an interesting work on this very question. His paper delineates the differences between the three schools of thought on the issue presented. The excerpt presented below is from his paper titled, "None Dare Call it Treason: Is an Inclusivist a Paul Revere or a Benedict Arnold?" appearing in the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry, Vol. 1 No. 2.

"Exclusivism holds that an explicit response of repentance and faith to the preaching of the Gospel is necessary for salvation. Until recently, this has been the dominant position of the church and still is the majority position in conservative evangelical circles. Pluralism looks upon the non-Christian religions as alternative and valid venues for the salvific work of God. Unlike the classic liberal of times past, the pluralist does not see the various religions as expressions of the same religious impulse, but as unique systems in their own right, believing there should be no attempt to reconcile or judge between the competing truth claims. Offered by its proponents as a mediating position, inclusivism posits that even though the work of Christ is the only means of salvation, it does not follow that explicit knowledge of Christ is necessary in order for one to be saved. In contrast to pluralism, inclusivism agrees with exclusivism in affirming the particularity of salvation in Jesus Christ. But unlike exclusivism, inclusivism holds that an implicit faith response to general revelation can be salvific. God expects from man a response proportional to the light given. Saving faith is not characterized so much by its cognitive content as it is by its reverent quality. Perhaps pluralists are the most fond of the threefold taxonomy since the terms cast them in the most positive light. This should not be surprising since the pluralist Alan Race coined the terms."

So in light of this article here is my response to the question posed by our student.

Paul was very clear that mankind has no excuse for its sinful state. He reminds us that God has revealed Himself to us through natural revelation (Rom. 1:20) and thus we cannot plead ignorance in our sinful state. So knowing this, what happens to those who die never having heard the Gospel? Let’s first examine Christ’s command to all of us as believers. He commands us to go out to preach the Gospel message to all people everywhere (Matt. 28:19-20). Paul then has the same concerns that we do in Rom.10:14-17. How will people believe unless they hear the Gospel message? This should spur all of us on to spread the Gospel wherever we are. As to the fate of that person who lived 1,000 years ago who did not hear the Gospel message. What happens to that person? First we must remember that God works in incredible ways, so we can in no way pass judgment on someone’s salvation. We know not the absolute destination of any one person. What we do know is that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ so consequently if someone doesn’t believe in Him then he or she will not be saved from the wrath of God for his sin and will go to Hell. Many times we get so concerned with that man or woman who lived 1,000 years ago who may or may not have been saved while our friends or neighbors who we see every day most certainly do not have a relationship with Jesus. We all have so much work to do.

What are your thoughts on this topic?


matt said...


matt said...

I think that everyone has that void that they are trying to fill, no matter if they have heard of Christ or not. Some people try to fill the void with other religions, drugs, sex, money or fame. The excuse, "I never heard of you Jesus" will not work on your day of judgment. I think that we try to make excuses for our actions, try to make things easy. Some feel that they have done there part and that is all I need to do. Some feel that since they did something then they need to be paid back before thay can continue. The word Jesus means something to everyone no matter if they beleive, or have even heard of the name. I myself have missed many opertunities to be a light for Christ and I can always think of an excuse to make myself feel better or excused. "What do they all mean"? To me they are all just a way for someone to feel he has done his part for Christ, I worte a book and catagorized people. The focus is not on Christ but on people and what they are and how they act. It is selfnature to compete with other people and try and place yourself in the best catagory. Let you light shine for Christ!!! not personal worldly gain.

Josh said...

I think that you have a good point here Matt. We all need to be focused on the reason why the Lord has chosen to keep us around here after we are saved. Because there are people in this world whether they are our neighbors, friends, or relatives who need to see Jesus Christ and experience His life changing power in their lives. We like to rely on our excuses...not enough time or someone else will do it when in reality God is asking us to tell someone about Jesus. Thankfully for us, however, as believers God forgives us for our mistakes and gives us new chances each day to please Him. That is our challenge as we go through life...To bring God glory.

Traci said...

I may be a simple minded person, but when I was reading over the article, I felt like I needed a dictionary or something to follow along. Pretty much it boils down to the fact that we have no control over what happens to people in far off places that may not hve gotten the chance to hear about Christ. We do, however, have the control over the people we come in contact with day to day and whether they have the chance to hear or see Christ through us. That is pretty much all we can do!

Josh said...

I think that you have hit the nail on the head! The terms used in this article can be a bit overwhelming if you have not been exposed to them before. If we can all press on in our learning of this type of stuff then we will definitely be for the better. What I am hoping for those involved in these discussions is that we will all broaden our knowledge of theological issues and then form our own based on the study of God's Word. So thanks for reading and press on!

Darlene Dryer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Darlene said...

I think that a childhood scripture, John 3:16, fully supports the Exclusism point of view. Whoever believes in HIM will not perish but have everlasting life. This salvation is not reflective of works or worship, simply faith. So without knowledge of Jesus Christ one can not be saved. At one time in History everyone knew of God. (Adam and Eve or Noah's family) But some chose to not believe and part ways with truth. After generations of denying God, the relationship was lost. This should ring in our heads load and clear how important it is to pass our faith down to our children. So I guess this posses the question: is "generational sin" real?

As far as Pluralist goes I don t see how there can be equality in all religions. Bible aside, religions differ in morals (Satan worshipers vs. Morman), text (Bible vs. Koran), saviors (living and non). The list could go on. I am simply saying there is no equality.

Inclusionist.... I dont believe they have scripture to back up thier idea that those that never heard the gospel will go to heaven. If that was the case why would we be commissioned to go out into all the nations?

Bottom line the bible says to spread the gospel to all the ends of the earth. I witnessed a woman today doing just that. She walked up to me and said Jesus loves you and we talked for for about 5 minutes. Why cant we all be like that and put our pride and busy scheules aside for the chance to win more to christ.

manny said...

you forgot about illusionist...just kidding...I just wanted to post and say I am looking forward to connecting on this blig with you... good luck

Josh said...

Thanks Manny!
I look forward to your insight. I am sure that you will educate us all with your knowledge of the Word! Hope to hear from you soon.