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Reformed minister Neil Punt's following comment is undeniably accurate,
"The leading early church fathers taught that the “good news” was that all persons will be saved (Origin 185 – 254 AD) or that all persons will be saved except those who reject the salvation that had already been given to them (Athanasius (293 – 373 AD). The early church accepted such inclusive views of the plan of salvation for a period of more than 350 years immediately following the writing of the New Testament....A change came in the later part of the fourth century when Pelagius (about 350-418 AD) began to teach that all persons will be finally lost except those who live in obedience to the law of God following the example of Christ. Augustine (354-430 AD) taught that all will be lost except those who were chosen (elected) to salvation. Ever since then mainline theologians have followed their example..." (From A Brief Introduction to the Earliest View of The Plan of Salvation, Posting One, by Neal Punt. Full source in Bibliography).
Just what is 'Inclusivism'?
Theologians and Christian writers have pointed out that there are really only three possible positions to adopt on the spiritual salvation of the human race, as seen from an eternal perspective. Here are the positions:
All the world religions lead to God and can save.
Only those who came to God during the Old Testament era, such as Abraham, and all Elect Christians since the time of Christ can be saved. Those who were believers before the coming of Christ are included in the efficacy of His sacrifice; there is salvation in no other name but that of Christ. Outside of these groups, there is no salvation. All those who live and die without accepting Christ will go to Hell whether or not they ever had the opportunity to hear about Him.
There is salvation in no other name but that of Christ and those finally saved will only be saved through Him. Yet, it must be true that - at the end of time - the majority of the human race will finally be saved since the Scriptures appear to speak of a final complete triumph of Christ; therefore God will extend His grace and mercy to many who have a very imperfect knowledge of Him (Exclusivists would say that God is not interested in numbers, only in quality, and He only intends saving a minority of the human race, the remainder being entirely cut off from His grace). Inclusivists would say that Inclusivism is already clearly demonstrated in the Old Testament since those saved in the Old Testament had never heard of Christ. Also, upon the death of his little baby, David clearly seemed to believe that the child was saved (2 Samuel 12:15-23). Some areas of Exclusivism (not all) would allow for the salvation of small children and the mentally handicapped, but this is increasingly being seen as an inconsistency in their position.
A Defence of Inclusivism.
I propose to defend the theological position of Inclusivism by making three points:
1. Has God Told us Everything? (The Danger of 'Systematic Theologies').
I have on my bookshelf several Systematic Theologies and I would not be without them. They are an invaluable help in their consideration of the great Bible doctrines. I have the Calvin, Berkhof, Grenz and Grudem Systematics, not to mention numerous other theological books. But there are dangers in these great 'systematics'; I'm afraid such books all too frequently appear to assume that God has told us everything in the pages of the Bible - it's just a matter of us doing the necessary detective work and pulling all of these extraneous 'strands' of biblical teaching together!
While we can be grateful that some great Bible-believing theologians have done this, the danger of a purely human logic being applied to the sacred Scriptures is often huge. We all tend to like things being neatly arranged under various headings for ease of reference, and I think we all dislike untidiness whether we see it in a room (why am I reminded of our daughter's bedrooms?), or whether we witness it in a reference work. The great Systematics tend to work by considering a particular biblical topic, then finding everything within the Bible on that topic, putting it all together, then coming to a theological conclusion! Okay, I know I am greatly simplifying the process there, but that's something of the basic approach. Unfortunately, however, problems develop when one reaches biblical 'grey areas' - difficult or unclear Scriptures! Does such and such a Scripture really fit in here...or is it talking about something slightly different? I'm afraid that even some of the greatest of these works often appear to proceed on the assumption that God has told us everything - but can we be smart enough to piece it all together correctly?
The great theologian Karl Barth well recognised the danger, he said, "Systematization is always the enemy of true theology." (from the Questions and Answers session held by Karl Barth at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1962).
But I am quite convinced that God has not - at this present time - revealed everything to us, there are certain things which He has held back, while perhaps, dropping a few hints here and there. But if we are proceeding on an assumption that 'it's all there if we know how to use it' we may well discover some of these 'hints' but pull them into our humanly logical doctrinal system. It can somehow just be so mentally satisfying to do this, because of our innate dislike of randomness and untidiness.
However, ultimately God transcends human comprehension! He does not operate according to our standards of logic; compared to God, our processes of deduction are undoubtedly pitiable at best. The transcendent God is ultimately incomprehensible to us. Elsewhere on this website we have an article called, 'Our Mysterious God' which shows that it is an ultimate folly to think that we can domesticate God. The development in understanding of the mature Christian after many years of Bible study, is - in truth - never enough for such a person to come to know very much about God. If we think otherwise, we are really kidding ourselves!
Now this does not mean that we can never understand anything about God of course. God has graciously revealed many things to us: His righteous character, His love, His work of Creation, His covenants, most of all the glorious revelation of Jesus Christ. These are indeed glorious truths which God has graciously shown to His people. But without question He has not yet shown us everything, and probably cannot yet show us everything. Let's keep in mind such Scriptures as Deuteronomy 29:29,
"The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever..."
I also think that we Bible-believing evangelicals have often been the worst at adopting an 'it's all there, if we can only reference it and organise it' approach to the study of the Word of God. In this desire for theological tidiness, one is going to be left with Scriptures which don't appear to fit anywhere. When we find such Scriptures, I believe that we should occasionally be prepared to say, 'Hey - this does not fit, maybe this is something which the Lord simply has not clearly revealed to us at the present time.' But I am afraid that the tendency to bring in a 'control belief' from outside that Scripture's context can be strong. Yes, we have (rightly) criticised the cults and sects for doing this, but does this not happen in some of our greatest 'Systematics'??
But why is all of this important to my defence of Inclusivism? Because there are a few large groups of Scriptures which don't quite fit in with any of our superbly tidy 'theologies' so they have either largely been ignored (not good), or in some cases been pulled into areas where they simply don't fit (even worse)!
As an example, we are all familiar with the 'little flock' and 'narrow is the gate' Scriptures as applied to the Church in this world, and so we should be, but there are another group of Scriptures (and sometimes the same Scriptures) which show Christ having saving efficacy even beyond the Church per se, that we are comparatively ignorant of. Why? This is largely because of the huge influence of Calvinism upon most Bible-believing Christians of the last few hundred years. Of course, the influence of Calvin the theologian has been mostly very good but let us at least be aware that this has shaped our doctrinal prejudices to some degree.
NEW TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES WHICH REVEAL A BROADNESS OF SALVATION GOING BEYOND 'THE LITTLE FLOCK'
None of the following group of Scriptures are new to us nor a surprise to us - we 'know' all about them....or, do we? Truthfully, we are so used to using such Scriptures when we speak of our life in Christ and the Church, we may well fail to notice that the work of Christ and the efficacy of that, cannot be wholly restricted to the present period of the Church.
Matt 25:31-46; Luke 15:2-32; Luke 19:10; John 1:9,29; John 3:16-17; John 4:42; John 6:33,51; John 12:31-32; Acts 10:1-35; Acts 14:16-17; Acts 17:23-28; Romans 2:6-16; Romans 5:6,15-20; Romans 11:12,15. 1 Cor. 15:24-28. 2 Cor. 5:14-15,19; Eph. 1:10; Phil. 2:10-11; Col. 1:20. 1 Tim. 2:4,6. 1 Tim. 4:10; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; James 1:27. 2 Peter 3:9. 1 John 2:2. 1 John 4:14; Rev. 20:12; Rev. 21:24; Rev. 22:2.
Now I am not able - because of space considerations - to go through every single Scripture listed and explain it, though I would love to. Perhaps one day I will do that, but if the reader should now not read any further until carefully considering the above Scriptures, that can only be beneficial. The scope of the above Scriptures (oh, by the way, there are more of them but these are perhaps the most significant) goes beyond the Church as a present day entity. The overall impression is that while the Church is obviously going to be small at the present time (the 'little flock', 'narrow is the gate' type Scriptures), there must come a time or there must be some way in which the saving work of Jesus Christ is going to have a broader application. I'm afraid that we Calvinists (I speak as a huge admirer of Calvin), have been a little disingenuous with some of these Scriptures; we have (correctly) applied them to the Church while refusing to acknowledge that, in many cases, they also appear to have a clear application beyond the Church, or at least, beyond many of our restricted concepts of 'church.'
In short, to refer back to my earlier comments, some have noted such 'loose strands' of biblical teaching and quickly pulled them into their nice, tidy terms of reference by applying 'Calvinistic control beliefs' to them. In the process of doing this, some incredibly confused statements are made in some 'Systematics.' Some, for instance, will say, 'Yes, Christ is the Saviour of the world, rather than simply being the Saviour of the 'little flock' of the church, but that only means that His truth is available to the world, even though they are cut off from embracing it, and therefore reject it. Only the Church are not cut off from embracing it'
Can we at least all recognise that that statement (which I actually read somewhere) is simply theological gobbledygook!
So let us recognise that - according to the Scripure - Christ is 'The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world' (John 1:29), that 'God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved' (though many teach exactly the opposite) (John 3:17), that Jesus Himself said that He gave His flesh, 'for the life of the world' (John 6:51) (though many say that Christ's sacrifice means that the world is now condemned), that Jesus said that when He is 'lifted up from the earth', He would 'draw all peoples ' to Himself (John 12:32). Moreover, Peter states that '..God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him' (Acts 10:34-35), Paul too consistently presents a picture of God's utter impartiality in dealing with the people's of the world. For God will, 'render to each one according to his deeds; eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth...indignation and wrath...for there is no partiality with God' (Romans 2:6-11). Moreover, while some picture a Hell which will eventually contain the overwhelming majority of humankind (one noted evangelical even said that those in Hell might be at liberty to continue to sin for eternity!!) Paul clearly shows that the victory of Christ will be a complete triumph: 'But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many...where sin abounded, grace abounded much more' (Romans 5:15-20). Paul also said that 'He died for all' (2 Cor. 5:15) and that 'God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them...' (2 Cor. 5:19). In writing to Timothy, Paul said that God 'desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth' (1 Tim. 2:4) and that Christ 'gave Himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time' (1 Tim. 2:6). Intriguingly, the apostle John finally states a startling truth in quite clear terms, '...we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world' (1 John 2:1-2). Oh, the trouble that some theologians have with this verse, and the lengths to which they will go to twist John's clear words!! Yet honest exegesis shows that the 'little children' and the 'our' of 1 John 2: 1-2, refers to the Church, while the meaning of the 'whole world' should be clear enough for all. Of course, Paul says the same thing to Timothy in any case in 1 Tim. 4:10 - so this clear delineation of this truth is not confined to John.
Finally, the 'great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues' is NOT a description of those in Hell, as would be a logical conclusion to draw from the teachings of some, but of those finally saved! (Rev. 7:9; 19:1,6).
Herman Bavinck, the Dutch reformed theologian, said this,
"...Many will come from east and west to sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 8:11). The grace that appeared in Christ is much more abundant than the trespass of Adam; it comes to all people for justification and life (Rom 5:12-20. 1 Cor. 15:22). In this dispensation all things in heaven and on earth will be gathered up under Christ (Eph 1:10). And one day at the end every knee will bow before Christ and every tongue will confess Him as Lord (Phil 2:10,11). Then a great multitude that no one can number will stand before the throne and the Lamb (Rev 7:9; 19:1,6). Nations will be saved and walk in the light of the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:24,26; 22:2). And God will then be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28)."
(Herman Bavinck, 'The Last Things', trans., Vriend, p 164, Baker Books, 1996).
Bavinck was, perhaps, not fully Inclusivist but appeared to stand right on the dividing line between Inclusivism and Exclusivism. He appears to say enough to make clear his challenge to Calvinistic Restrictivism/Exclusivism and yet does not finally break with his received Calvinist philosophy.
So to close this first point, let us recognise that - at the present time - God has not necessarily clearly revealed everything to us about His dealings with humankind as a whole, but we do indeed find rather more than occasional strong hints that the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice will eventually extend to the majority of the human race.
Do we not do wrong, then, to assume that Christ's work with His church - that is, during this present age - is the full summation of His work of salvation?? Do we really have the authority to restrict God in such a manner when Scripture itself does not do so??
Let us also recognise that all too often theologians have been deficient in their handling of those Scriptures which we just considered which may well be looking beyond the theologian's grand vision of 'The Church in the Present World.'
2. Are We Sure That We Know What "Exclusivism" Is Saying?
I am not exactly happy that in some places where the positions of 'Pluralism,' 'Exclusivism' and 'Inclusivism' are defined, some definitions are a little disingenuous. It is sometimes claimed, for instance, that only Exclusivism fits in with the traditional Christian view, but that 'liberals' are more likely to support Pluralism or Inclusivism. While it is undoubtedly true that the great majority of evangelical Christianity since the Reformation has supported Exclusivism, there are actually many examples of writers who are closer to Inclusivism, including the great C.S. Lewis. Yet - as we shall see later - the 'church fathers,' for example, were often closer to Inclusivism that Restrictivism ('Restrictivism' is the belief that few or very few will finally be saved and is essentially the same as 'Exclusivism').
But it is wrong to infer that only liberals are likely to support Inclusivism, though that might be true of Pluralism (All religions lead to God and have equal salvific efficacy). In fact an increasing number of evangelicals are starting to identify themselves with Inclusivism, including John Sanders and Neil Punt, who is a reformed minister. Other evangelicals have made statements of seeming support for Inclusivism while stopping short of theological exposition, these include Billy Graham and John Stott (about whom, more later).
But the disingenuousness of some who define these positions while strongly supporting Exclusivism extends to the fact that such writers rarely state exactly how much is involved in a fully consistent Exclusivist position! For instance, Exclusivism must mean (if it is to be consistent) no salvation for those who die in childhood, no salvation for the millions of unevangelised who lived and died without hearing the Gospel and no salvation for dearly loved relatives who lived and died without embracing Christianity because they never properly understood it, even while they may have been loving, kind and gentle human beings. No salvation too for those who lived miserably short and sad lives of suffering and despair, perhaps in impoverished third world countries. (Even though the Bible suggests that many who have suffered greatly in this life will be in the kingdom of God! - another 'strand of biblical teaching' - and quite a strong one - which is ignored by Systematic theologians! The parable of Lazarus and the rich man just one example which springs to mind).
Of course, some Exclusivists (or, Restrictivists; it's the same essential meaning) have quite often attempted to 'have their cake and also to eat it'; they have been unbending in their overall position, but then suddenly claimed (surely correctly) that those dying in childhood, and the mentally handicapped will be saved! Of course, the moment they say this, they are supporting Inclusivism. Exclusivism does not allow for such exceptions if it is to be consistently upheld. Exclusivism states that only those who have had an active relationship with the true Eternal God in this life have hope of salvation, and - since the time of Christ, of course, - only Christians. But Inclusivists raise hard questions about the millions of unevangelised, about those who led short lives of misery and squalor, about young children who die, about those mentally handicapped through no fault of their own and, yes: even about noble examples among false religions, who are obedient and faithful to as much light as was available within that religion. We Inclusivists are well aware that false religion can save no one, but we point out the numerous biblical examples which depict God's concern for the suffering, the deprived, the deceived, yes, and the lost too. The biblical approach is to seek out and recover that which was lost!
So if some exclusivists allow that all small children who die are saved (and we agree), what of those who have lived short, miserable and wretched lives before being swept away in some monsoon flood? The Bible seems to be optimistic about the eternal prospects of those who have suffered unreasonably in this life. Psalm 126:6 says,
"He who continually goes forth weeping,
Bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
Bringing his sheaves with him"
A similar teaching can be found in many other places, frequently with little or no reference to the suffering person's relationship with God. Similar Scriptures would be Psalm 37, Psalm 73 and Luke 16:19-31.
We are sometimes concerned at the Restrictivist's apparent eagerness to despatch a huge majority of the human race to eternal damnation without remedy! Is such an approach one which manifests the love of God?
Romans 2:13 makes this comment about one's reaction to the moral law, or spiritual law:
"For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them). This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares."
(Romans 2:13-16, NIV).
So we have here something of a picture of Gentiles (or, unbelievers) not necessarily finding themselves in a hopeless position on the Day of Judgement, but being judged according to their behaviour as indeed Revelation 20:12 confirms. And Paul finishes by stating that this by no means hopeless Day of Judgement position for those who do not know God, is "..as my gospel declares."
But in complete contrast to Paul's gentleness, Exclusivists would say, 'These people will all be condemned, it's just a question of the grading of their eternal punishment!'
So let us recognise that Exclusivism supports the bleakest possible outlook for those who have not had a relationship with God, even if they never ever even heard that such a loving merciful God existed. Some definitions of Exclusivism written by keen supporters of that position, seriously gloss over the very great theological and philosophical difficulties of Exclusivism/Restrictivism.
'THOSE WHO SUFFER NOW WILL BE REWARDED' TYPE SCRIPTURES IN BOTH TESTAMENTS:
(Exclusivism is disinterested in these Scriptures for which they find little place. Inclusivism insists that these Scriptures cannot be ignored).
Ps. 12:5; Ps. 34:6; Ps. 35:10; Ps. 37:14-17; Ps. 72:4,12-14; Prov. 17:5; Prov. 19:1,17; Ps. 126:6; Prov. 21:13; Prov. 22:16; Prov. 28:6,11; Matt. 5:3-12; Luke 6:24-25; Luke 16:19-31.
(There are many more than these; these are the ones which tend to quickly come to mind).
3. The Universal Nature of the Bible Covenants.
We sometimes forget the wide-reaching scheme of the biblical covenants. It starts off in Genesis 1:26-28 with the Adamic Covenant. This did not just concern one family or nation but the whole human race. Mankind was given dominion and commanded to spread out and to multiply. After the Fall, the 'seed' was promised who would eventually provide a deliverance from the state of falleness, of course that 'seed' was Jesus Christ. The promise applied to all of the children of Adam (Gen. 3:15). Then when we come to the time of Noah, we find the Noahic Covenant. We all often love to teach small children about this and to point to the rainbow in the sky as God's sign that He would never entirely flood the earth again, yet there is more to it than that. You can read about this covenant in Genesis, chapters eight and nine. Often summarized as 'The Seven Laws of Noah,' these laws applied to all of mankind, certainly not just the Jews. Let us read verse 17:
"And God said to Noah, 'This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.'"
Again, the concern is for 'all flesh.' When we come to the time of Abraham, we find what some refer to as the Abrahamic Covenant. This appears to be rather a special one since the inspired text repeats it several times. It can be found, in some form or other, in Genesis 12:3; Gen. 18:18; Gen. 22:18; Gen. 26:4 and Gen. 28:14. It is this:
'In your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'
So, again, God is concerned with ALL of His human Creation. That 'seed,' of course, was Christ. And God had the blessing of 'all the families of the earth' in mind. This applies to Christ and it is clearly not a picture of Restrictivism.
Now when we come to the Old Covenant which was ratified at Mount Sinai many believe that God now only had Israel in mind and, without doubt, that covenant was only between the Lord and Israel. But the point was that Israel should become a model nation to show the other nations what a nation walking with God could achieve. Of course, Israel were also to be a type of the Church of God to come.
And some Calvinists have felt that that was the end of God's dealing with all mankind, God was only now concerned with Israel, first physical Israel, then spiritual Israel; but that is just not so. Through the promised 'seed' God had the blessing of 'all the families of the earth' in mind as we have already noted. Indeed, the Old Covenant was temporal and is now fulfilled and set aside (Hebrews 8:13). This, by the way, is a vital point which became undermined in the post-Calvin Covenant Theology.
In Galatians, Paul looks back to the Abrahamic Covenant as being most meaningful for Christians today:
"...Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness. Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the nations by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, 'In you all the nations shall be blessed.'"
The New Covenant requires that the gospel of Jesus Christ be preached to the entire earth and that those who come into contact with that will be largely judged by their reaction to Jesus Christ. (Mark 16:15-16). We see from such Scriptures that all who willfully reject Jesus Christ while in full possession of the details of the Gospel, are in real danger of damnation! But the situation of the unevangelised is not directly addressed but, as we have seen, we can surely count on God's mercy in many such cases. But the surest way to 'lay hold on life' is to accept and embrace Jesus and His Gospel! But we must realise that a very large part of the world do not have this opportunity, but we can safely leave such people to God's infinite mercy while doing all we can to get the Gospel into all nations.
Those Who Have Supported 'Inclusivism.'
It often comes as a real surprise to modern evangelicals to learn that many of the early 'Church Fathers' supported Inclusivism; and this is especially significant since these people were so near to the time that Jesus walked this earth! Again, I repeat: the profound influence of Calvinism from the 16th century onwards is a major reason that some of these things now sound a little strange! Justin Martyr, for instance, was Inclusivist in approach. This is especially interesting since there is a link from Justin, through Polycarp, right back to the apostle John! (It appears as though - at some stage in his life - Polycarp personally knew both John and Justin). Some early writers combined Inclusivism with Logos Christology; Justin, Clement of Rome, Irenaeus and others. Clement of Alexandria used a somewhat different approach but was still clearly Inclusivist in overall theology.
J.W. Hanson, D.D., has written the following of the early councils of the church:
"...the credal declarations of the Christian church for almost four hundred years are entirely void of the lurid doctrine with which they afterwards blazed for more than a thousand years. The early creeds contain no hint of it, and no whisper of condemnation of the doctrine of universal restoration as taught by Clement, Origen, the Gregories, Basil the Great, and multitudes besides. Discussions and declarations on the Trinity, and contests over homoousion (consubstantial) and homoiousion (of like substance) engrossed the energy of disputants, and filled libraries with volumes, but the doctrine of the great fathers remained unchallenged. Neither the Concilium Nicaea, A.D. 325, nor the Concilium Constantinopolitanum, A.D. 381, nor the Concilium Chalcedonenese, A.D. 451, lisped a syllable of the doctrine of man's final woe. The reticence of all the ancient formularies of faith concerning endless punishment at the same time that the great fathers were proclaiming universal salvation, as appeared later on in these pages, is strong evidence that the former doctrine was not then accepted. It is apparent that the early Christian church did not dogmatize on man's final destiny. It was engrossed in getting established among men the great truth of God's universal Fatherhood, as revealed in the incarnation, "God in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself." Some taught endless punishment for a portion of mankind; others, the annihilation of the wicked; others had no definite opinion on human destiny; but the larger part, especially from Clement of Alexandria on for three hundred years, taught universal salvation. It is insupposable that endless punishment was a doctrine of the early church, when it is seen that not one of the early creeds embodied it." (J.W. Hanson, Introduction - Statements of the Early Councils, 'Universalism. The Prevailing Doctrine.' 1899).
One does not have to go to the lengths of supporting universalism (rather than inclusivism), to note that Hanson is clearly largely correct on this point: the 'church fathers' held no concept of the 'limited atonement,' or restrictivism, which came with the deeply pessimistic Augustinian/Calvinist position (actually, there is evidence that Calvin himself later became more 'open' on salvation).
If we travel on to the Reformation period, we should note that Zwingli, one of the three great Reformers with Luther and Calvin, was very much for Inclusivism. Needless to say, Calvin did not see 'eye to eye' with him over this. Zwingli had little doubt that a great many unevangelised would be in heaven (source: Plumptre, 'The Spirits in Prison' 1898). Others apparently advocating this theological position were John Milton (Christian Doctrine, 1.17 and 1.20), and even Matthew Henry (Exposition of the Old and New Testament, 6 vols. 1829-29 reprint, New York: Fleming h. Revell, n.d., 6:33). There are also strong indications of Inclusivism rather than Exclusivism in William Cowper, certainly in Richard Baxter and, of course, John Wesley. (I am indebted to John Sanders' No Other Name for some of this sourcing).
In more recent times the great Baptist theologian, Augustus Strong was clearly Inclusivist and others would include the great C.S. Lewis and, in more recent times, such current writers as Bernard Ramm, Charles Kraft, Dale Moody, Neil Punt and John Sanders. John R.W. Stott, perhaps the leading UK evangelist of the last 40 years, makes a statement of support for Inclusivism in a recent book. He wrote,
"I have never been able to conjure up (as some great Evangelical missionaries have) the appalling vision of the millions who are not only perishing but will inevitably perish. On the other hand, I am not and cannot be a universalist. Between these extremes I cherish and hope that the majority of the human race will be saved. And I have a solid biblical basis for this belief."
(David Edwards and John R.W. Stott, Evangelical Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988, p. 327; quoted in Ibid., 145).
Unquestionably, this statement makes Stott an Inclusivist! Moreover, F.F. Bruce (1910-1990), one of the leading New Testament scholars of the 20th century and a primary mover in the intellectually-active 20th century British evangelical movement, made this comment to Inclusivist Neal Punt,
"I read your book 'What's Good About the Good News?' with great interest. Your position is very much my own. The seven couplets in your book command my emphatic agreement. Your exposition of the subject is thoroughly in line with the insight: 'Admittedly Christ is much more powerful to save than Adam was to ruin.' I wish your work a wide circulation; it will stimulate much fresh thought on this important subject."
Two others who have made statements of at least loose support for Inclusivism during the last few years include evangelist Billy Graham and leading UK evangelical theologian Alister McGrath.
I advocate Inclusivism as the safest and most biblical position to adopt on the spiritual salvation of the human race. The scope of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ will ultimately extend beyond the 'little flock' of the Church in this world, to embrace a great majority. The Word of God gives us rather more than strong hints that this will happen, even though we have frequently passed over many illuminating Scriptures, largely due to the influence of Christian writers/theologians who have majored on the subject of the Church in this present world, whilst not being prepared to look beyond that. The Jesus who especially considered the outcasts of the society of His day, the publicans, sinners and Samaritans is also likely to seek after other lost ones. Such perseverance is evident in the parables of the coin and the lost sheep, to say nothing of the Prodigal Son. With such a will to seek after the lost, is it credible that He would have created billions of people while intending that a large majority of them should go to an eternal Hell for the 'rejection' of a God most never even had any knowledge of?? Again, we have to ask whether such a thing could ever be reconciled with a God who forgave those who hated Him, persecuted Him and tortured Him, before cruelly executing Him.
I maintain that the Exclusivist view is a view which is sadly and seriously distorted, even though usually proposed by very sincere people. It is, in fact, often perilously close to the Fatalism of the pagans and that form of Dualism which seems to have emerged from Plutarch; that is, that good and evil will always co-exist because neither God nor Satan can challenge each others domains. If we say that - right at the end of time - Hell has a huge 'population' (which - make no mistake - many evangelicals believe) can that really be a picture of every knee finally having to bow to Christ?? (The scriptural position). I don't use this to argue for Universalism (all will finally be saved), but some of these things do seriously challenge Exclusivism!
WE BELIEVE THAT THE DAY OF JUDGEMENT WILL LEAD TO A POSITIVE OUTCOME FOR THE MAJORITY OF THE HUMAN RACE. The 'Sheep and the Goats' Scripture of Matthew 25:31-46 is utterly intriguing here. We need to be a little careful with this Scripture since it is a picture, or impression of the judgement of the human race, rather than being literalistic. The righteous are 'the sheep' and the unrighteous are 'the goats'; but the really intriguing thing is that one's relationship with God is not mentioned, only how these people had treated others! Moreover some of those saved appear to be surprised to be saved! There is surprise in the statement, "When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?"
Intriguingly, it appears as though some will be surprised to find a positive outcome to their judgement, and are there not hints here that the surprise is when certain ones will find themselves saved by a Christ they knew little or nothing about? Some have made the comment that religion is absent here, only the demonstration of the love of God will be enough! Yet finally ONLY Christ is the door into Eternal Life, there is no other entrance.
I should point out that the providence and sovereignty of God is in no way compromised by the Evangelical Inclusivism which we advocate. It remains the case that God alone is our elector, just as Ephesians makes so abundantly clear; rather, we say that the predestined elect of God cannot be confined to the visible Church of God. Only God can evaluate just who is genuinely walking with Him and worshipping Him 'in Spirit and in truth.'
Finally, let me make it clear that Inclusivism is not Universalism! Universalism states that all will finally be saved. Inclusivists are very aware of the awesome power and righteous judgement of God and that His holy judgement cannot be compromised! We simply assert that Exclusivism discounts too many Scriptures which obviously look beyond God's dealing with the Church in the present world and at the present time.
Without any doubt, there will finally be a broadness in God's mercy.
Robin A. Brace, 2002. Slight further edit, 2009.
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Here are a few other articles not entirely unrelated to this one:
THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST - AN INCLUSIVE MESSAGE
(This one is especially vital to read).
WHERE ARE THE SCRIPTURES TO SHOW THE WIDENESS OF CHRIST'S ATONEMENT?
OUR MYSTERIOUS GOD
ARE SMALL CHILDREN SAVED IF THEY DIE?
LIMITED ATONEMENT EXHAUSTIVELY REFUTED
WILL MOST OF THE HUMAN RACE GO TO HELL?