Saturday, August 20, 2011

Objections to Inclusivism

In an earlier post, I maintained that the concept of inclusivism is at least metaphysically and biblically possible. The definition of inclusivism is “The view ‘that although God saves people only on the merits of Christ, not all who are saved have consciously known of Jesus or heard the gospel. God saves those who, although they have not heard of Jesus, nevertheless respond to the best of their knowledge to the revelation of God available to them.’” This should also be distinguished from pluralism (that there is more than one way to God) and universalism (that all will be saved) as well as being located under the umbrella of Christian particularism (the view that only Christianity is the way to God).

In the aforementioned article, I took pains to point out that most Christians, by definition, are inclusivists. This is because most Christians believe that babies who die and the mentally handicapped have righteousness imputed to them, whether upon their death or otherwise (which is in contrast to exclusivism which maintains that one must hear of the Gospel of Christ to be saved—hence unborn babies and any mentally disabled who do not hear of Christ go to Hell). However, some objections remain. What about those people that do not believe necessarily all aborted babies go to Heaven? What about Scripture? The following are some objections that I have either directly read about/heard, and one or two I could think of on my own.

1. This makes Jesus not the only way to God.

John 14:6 says that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one can get to the Father except through him. So obviously the man in the uttermost part of the earth who has not heard cannot be saved, right? Not so fast. In fact, inclusivism maintains that Jesus Christ is the only way to God the Father. How can this be? Because the imputation of righteousness holds the same basis in either case: the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Upon our belief in the Gospel, we are saved. That ultimately is a belief in God (not his mere existence, nor mere intellectual facts, but our belief in God is a repentance and trust in the forgiveness of sins by God).

Under our scenario, the man in the jungle realizes there is one God who created all, realizes his own sin, repents of it, and asks for forgiveness. In addition, his sins have been paid for by the death of Christ.[1] We can further postulate he has been drawn by the Spirit, just as is every man. In this case, then, his salvation experience mirrors our own, and thus Jesus Christ still is the only way. Without him, there is no salvation.

2. We would be better off not telling those who have not already heard.

This objection claims if it is possible for those who have never heard to go to Heaven, we should not tell them. If we do tell them, then they are responsible for what they have heard, whereas if we had only kept our mouths shut they would not be responsible for hearing the Gospel. Hence, “the good news becomes the bad news,” some have said.

However, the major issue is that the inclusivist does not claim that the unevangelized are not responsible; indeed, Romans 1 shows that they are. Where the inclusivist differs is for what they are responsible. God holds them responsible for their suppressed knowledge of him and their unrepentant sin. Further, the inclusivist always has the option of claiming that while there are those who would reject Christ if told, there are never any individuals who truly accept God but who then would reject Christ. A case in point are the Old Testament Jews who came in contact with Christ. There were not any such Jews who were of God the Father who heard of Christ and then rejected him. Jesus himself backs this up by stating “Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” (John 6:45) So every person to whom inclusivism would apply would believe in the Gospel were it to be presented to him.[2]

Therefore, we can see there is no one who would have gone to Heaven if only he had not been told the Gospel. On the other hand, there are plenty of people (in fact, millions as we have seen throughout time) who would reject God and die in their sins but would freely come to accept the Gospel if it were to be presented to them. Thus, not only is the objection false, but our motive for evangelization remains exceptionally strong.

3. Abortion of babies and the euthanizing of the mentally handicapped would be good.

This type of objection is closely related to the one above. It seeks to postulate a counterexample by presenting an appeal to an undesired consequence. Since, of course, we know that aborting babies and euthanizing the mentally handicapped are morally reprehensible, then it follows we should reject inclusivism as well. This would also be an objection for someone who thinks it is not necessarily so that all deceased infants should go to Heaven.

As Alexander Pruss noted over at his blog, it isn’t correct to say that if someone performs some negative action with an ultimately positive consequence exceeding the immediately negative consequence(s) that this person is doing “good.” A paraphrase of the example he uses is this: if a man places a gun to the head of a woman whom he knows is saved and pulls the trigger, has he done something wrong? Absolutely. Has he done wrong even though it is true she will experience virtually no pain (since she’ll be dead before her brain can register it) and she will leave behind the pain and suffering of this life for eternal bliss? Yes! Applying this concept to babies, we can intuitively say it is still wrong for us to take their lives, even if the consequences are good.

However, there is something even more compelling that Pruss pointed out. If you are the abortionist/murderer/euthanizer, it is not you who send them into eternal bliss. In the case above, you are just the shooter. God is the one who sends them to glory! So this objection won’t work, because it is not we who sends the unborn baby on his way to Heaven. In this scenario, we are merely the murderers. Thus, the objection fails.

4. This contradicts Scripture such as Acts 4:12, Mark 16:16, John 3:18, etc.

This typically trades on a confusion between ontology and epistemology. Acts is a perfect example. “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under Heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” This is cited as proof that if the unevangelized do not hear of Christ, they will spend eternity in Hell on this one point alone. The problem is that this verse is clearly ontological. How are we saved? By the mere name of Christ? Taken literally, either everyone is saved (since the name’s mere existence is sufficient for salvation) or everyone who has heard the name of Christ is saved (which seems unlikely, for look at all those who reject it). Taken more figuratively, it means that Jesus is the foundation for sin’s payment and hence salvation. There is no other way to God. That’s what this verse means, and as we’ve already seen, that’s what inclusivism teaches.

Mark says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” This seems to indicate that anyone who does not have belief in Christ is condemned. While there are those who would say that this part of Mark 16 is inauthentic, let us rather proceed on the assumption that it is valid. First, while it is true that disbelief (rejection) and unbelief (mere lack of belief) fall under the category of “believe not” or “do not believe,” it is not necessarily the case, at least on an examination of the language, that Jesus means even those who simply have not heard. It is highly unlikely Jesus intends to give a categorical premise in a philosophical sense. Second, this verse comes on the heels of verse 15: “go and preach the Gospel to every creature.” In context, then, verse 16 detail the responses of those who do hear the Gospel. If they accept it, they have life, and if they do not, they have death.

A similar situation occurs in John 3:18, which says that he who believes not is condemned already. But again, I think this is ontological. After all, the context is the ontological status of the unregenerate. Since we have already postulated (due to John 6) those who believe the Father (OT saints) in turn believe the Son (of necessity, since they are one [cf. John ]), then we can say those who have never heard who nevertheless have imputed righteousness are ontologically, if not epistemically, believing on the Son! Again, it seems as though rejection of the Son is in mind in this phrase. Just in case one doubts, look at verse 19: men loved darkness rather than light.

5. This means everyone who has not heard will go to Heaven.

This is simply a variation of objections made above; it just makes explicit what others implied. No, it is not the case that the inclusivist position entails that every person who has not heard will go to Heaven. In fact, it’s perfectly consistent with my defense to say that every person since the first-century church who has not heard will ultimately end up in Hell. This is because of two things: 1. I merely defend the possibility of inclusivism, and 2. It is possible that although inclusivism is true, there are nonetheless zero persons who respond to God’s drawing in this manner.

In any case, please understand: I believe the Bible is not explicit about this issue, and I think the biblical evidence is not strong enough to support saying it is as good of an implicit argument as other such doctrines (such as the Trinity), and hence I am not dogmatic about it. I do think it is metaphysically probable, but these things are not up to me, praise God! This is just a defense, and feel free to leave your comments and agree or disagree below.

                [1] It should be pointed out this version of inclusivism is based on a denial of limited atonement, where atonement is understood to be effective for only those God elects. However, it does not depend upon it. For instance, one may accept both limited atonement and inclusivism by stating though Christ died only for the elect, the man in the jungle had his sins paid for, since everyone who believes God for salvation in forgiveness of sins is part of the elect.

                [2] For a primary interpretation of this verse, an inclusivist must say that this verse only necessitates that the imputed righteousness is the righteousness of Christ, and hence by definition learning of the Father is coming to Christ, who is God, and brings the message of the Father.

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  1. Randy,

    Good post.

    Regarding objections 2 & 3, notice that the objections presuppose that the only reason for living is to get saved and go to heaven. This is an impoverished view both of life and of the gospel.

    The purpose of life is to grow in the knowledge and love of God. Accepting the good news is only the starting point of an eternal journey into the knowledge of God; it is not the whole journey. The person who has been accepted on some less-informed basis has missed much opportunity for growth because of the lack of information -- opportunity that, for better or worse, seems to require our living in this 3-dimensional, silent universe and dealing with its common problems in the silent presence of God. We give the gospel to the young and the uninformed so they will benefit to the maximum from this experience.

  2. Phil, thanks for the insightful comments! I agree; salvation is a great thing, but if that is all there was to life, we wouldn't really be in the situations we're in! We must be holy, as God is holy, and strive to know Christ, even as we are known of him.

  3. Another objection one could offer - which in some way I guess is related to Objection 3 - is to say that if babies, young kids, and the mentally handicapped go to heaven this makes salvation almost a "luck of the draw" type thing since the unbelieving adult who goes to hell could say, "Hey, if I was lucky enough to have died as a baby I would've got to heaven. All those billions of babies who've died throughout history' really dodged a bullet there since surely some of them would've rejected Christ had they lived to adulthood like me". I suppose, however, one could respond by saying that God foreknows who would've accepted or rejected salvation in adulthood and thus maybe all babies who died are people who would've come to Christ had they lived that long? Or would you offer a different argument?

    1. I wouldn't go that route, only because I don't think it's fair to punish people for things they would have done, but symmetrically we wouldn't reward them for things they would have done either. I would confront the objection itself--it is in God's providence who lives and dies, and so not up to luck. What the objector could do is state that he wished that God would have so allowed him to die as an infant, so that he could go to Heaven. Surely, if God were a mere utilitarian in getting people to Heaven, this would be the way to go. But I think there are a number of issues here. First, even if we are only taking basic salvation numbers, how do we know what outcome(s) would take place if that person were not to live the life they are in fact living? We have no idea what such a world would look like. Second, God created the natural order; if all people who would go to Hell were they to live be killed as infants, the next generation would not be born, and so on and so forth, so that we would have a radically different world (or perhaps none at all, as the human race would go extinct if the situation were bad enough). Finally, note that another criticism would arise: God kills all babies who would have grown up to reject Him. This would prevent the possibility of choice on a grand scale (I get that there are some whose lives are lost and thus have no choice in living or dying, so that God grants them grace; what I am saying is that if choice is removed on a grand scale, we're really just back to God's creating anything at all).

    2. Hi Randy,

      Very good points. Regarding the first one, though, where you said:

      "First, even if we are only taking basic salvation numbers, how do we know what outcome(s) would take place if that person were not to live the life they are in fact living?"

      Just wondered what you mean by "outcome(s)"? D'you mean that if God had allowed the person to live beyond infancy they may have gone on to affect the world in a positive way (even if they themselves were unbelievers) in the sense of their actions causing the world to have more good in it in total? Or d'you mean something else by "outcomes"?

    3. My only point is that, since the objector is wondering why he wasn't killed in infancy, we have no idea what a world would look like that contains this fact. Perhaps the world would be much worse off. In any case, any objector who wanted to press this point can be gently reminded that he may accept Christ at any time, and it is only his unwillingness to do so that prevents him from gaining eternal life! :)


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