'Inclusivism' teaches that God is able to include people in the
number of those finally saved although they may never have heard
the name of Christ and did not directly know the Lord God who had
revealed Himself to Israel. If the reader is not clear exactly
what 'Inclusivism' is, I strongly recommending going through my
brief defining article first. It is Here.
There is actually abundant biblical evidence of Evangelical Inclusivism (despite the claims of a few), which my articles look at in some detail.
But first of all, I wish to firmly separate myself from the form of Inclusivism supported by British philosopher John Hick and his supporters; Hick argues for a form of Inclusivism which rejects the authority of the Bible more or less completely, whereas, as a conservative evangelical, I argue for 'Evangelical Inclusivism' which fully upholds the authority of the Word of God.
As I seem to have mentioned several times just
recently the mis-information on this subject to be found - either
on the internet - or in book form, is truly worrying. Many
continue to be determined to confuse Inclusivism with Either
Pluralism (all religions lead to God), or,
Universalism (everybody will finally be saved).
It does not end there, many continue to insist that Inclusivism came from the Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner; Rahner wrote about the concept of the 'anonymous Christian' - yes, it is Inclusivism and I take joy that Rahner recognises that Inclusivism is indeed revealed in the Bible, but he was not the first Inclusivist.
The 'Church Fathers' did not use the word 'Inclusivism' because no such word was on their agenda, but they were mostly far closer to being Inclusivist than Exclusivist, as any careful theological evaluation of the patristic writings will readily reveal.
We really need to understand that
Exclusivism in its most harsh and uncompromising form,
does not go back to the apostles (as so many erroneously claim),
it goes back to Augustine, bishop of Hippo, the great theologian
who lived 345-430 AD. Augustine came to Christianity through two
stages of philosophy which he had embraced:
First of all he was highly affected by Manichaeism; This was an ancient syncretistic cult which took many of its teachings from eastern religions. Manichaeism strongly stressed Fatalism - that is, the belief that the courses of all our lives are already decided, 'written in the stars' as it were.
Later Augustine rejected much (though many believe not all) of the teachings of Manichaeism, moving on to Neo-Platonism. Thirdly, Augustine became a Christian, and there is no doubt that his Christianity was utterly sincere, but his route to the true Faith encouraged him to 'major' on predestination and divine electon. But to his huge credit Augustine rediscovered and 'dusted off' the full conception of grace which the apostle Paul had upheld.
In the 16th century, the Protestant Reformers looked back to the 5th century Augustine as their great champion since his teaching on pervasive and irresistible grace seemed to be strongly in line with what the apostle Paul had taught in his epistles. The reformers surveyed an established church which had become fatally compromised and effectively crippled by its sacramental theology - grace now appeared to have very little place. Quite correctly the reformers, especially Calvin, wished to go back to the more biblical teaching on grace found in Augustine.
The very odd thing about Augustine is that some
of his teachings seemed opposed to grace. He also, for example,
upheld Baptismal Regeneration - in other words, he firmly
believed that the very act of water baptism led to salvation. He
was not the first to believe this, there are at least indications
of it in Justin Martyr (though Justin's comments on baptism are
not entirely conclusive). The belief in baptismal regeneration
led to a feverish and desperate attempt to baptize all small
babies in a day where infant death was highly common.
Baptismal regeneration is just part of the whole concept of sacramental theology (the sacraments themselves can administer grace); the irony, of course, is that Augustine himself had been a keen supporter of Sacramental theology, and it was largely this which had led the church into very grave doctrinal error by the time of Calvin.
So although Augustine's 're-discovery' of the irresistible grace of God was highly attractive, the reformers knew full well that there were inconsistencies in his writings and they could not simply pick up all of his material and move it from the 5th to the 16th centuries!
Augustine was passionately concerned for 'divine election' and this was to prove a major influence on Calvin, although especially on the later 'Calvinism'. Calvin fully accepted Augustine's very pessimistic view on the salvation of the human race, formulating a restrictivist view which is highly dependent on Romans, chapters 9 through 11.
The amazing thing is that Inclusivism is especially clearly revealed in Romans 11, but Calvin was apparently oblivious to this.
In fairness to both Augustine and Calvin we should point out that one might find statements in their works which suggest support for a broader salvation and maybe these are inconsistencies; it is the later Calvinism which put a final 'hard edge' on Restrictivism.
I am now going to go through some verses in
Romans, chapters 9 and 11 and would strongly advise readers to
have their Bibles open to these chapters. I am going to be using
the NIV, but the NKJV would be fine.
Do these chapters really reveal the utter pessimism on salvation which Calvin believed that he saw within them?
Be prepared for some surprises!
Here Paul is clearly discussing what some have sneeringly called 'Replacement Theology'- Christians now become the true heirs of Abraham and the true people of God. We are spiritual Israelites. Even as a passionate Benjaminite, Paul cheerfully upholds this great truth.
Here we read of God's choice in how He uses people to fulfil His mighty purposes upon earth; He is never dependent on any real or imagined merits of the people He uses. God chose Jacob above Esau for a specific purpose; He is utterly sovereign. By the way, salvation and heaven and hell are not being discussed here. Please note the context: it is this present life and world and how a sovereign God decides to use people to fulfil His purposes upon earth which is under discussion. F.F. Bruce believed that 'Esau' here only represents the people of Edom and 'Jacob' represents the people of Israel. God decided to bless the descendants of Jacob but not the descendants of Esau. This is all that is meant.
So is God unfair in how He may use people upon this earth?
No. The Creator God has every right to say, 'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy...' God is under no obligation here. There is absolutely nothing here to suggest that Paul is discussing God's calling of certain people to Eternal Life, and his rejection of others. God's 'hardening' of Pharaoh is discussed, verses 17-20, then we are presented with the picture of the potter having a perfect right to decide how he will use his lump of clay, verses 20-21. God alone decides how He will raise up people or nations to fulfil His purposes. We may liken this to things in more recent times: God has powerfully used Great Britain and the United States to send countless millions of Bibles around the world. Yes, other nations too, of course, but especially us. We should not congratulate ourselves about this - its just the way that God ordained that it would be done, not because we are better than other peoples. So, in that sense, He 'raised us to honour'. But God also - in His perfect wisdom - decided that the German people would play a major part in two 20th century world wars; in that sense, He 'raised them to dishonor' (perhaps we should say, 'lowered them to dishonor') - just the way He decided to do it; it does not mean that Germans are more evil than Brits, and it certainly does not mean that Germans are doomed to Hell!!
Now for the first time we do get a sense of calling and judgment in an apparently more eternal sense.
Paul now returns to the calling of the Gentiles, freely quoting Hosea. But we need to be a little careful now because while showing that Christians are of the seed of Isaac, he still refers to Israel in a national and fleshly sense:
'...Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.' (Verse 27).
We must not misunderstand this: Paul is not saying that very few people will finally be saved, he is saying that it is only a remnant of national Israel who (apparently) accept Christ. Please bear with me with my use of the bracketed 'apparently', it will soon be obvious why I have done this! But up to this point, this is highly discouraging regarding national Israelites, it appears that a huge majority of them have no way back into God's favour. Indeed, If it were left to men and women, very few would ever be saved.
In Romans 10, Paul continues with his discussion of national Israel and his sorrow that they had - at that time - mainly rejected Christ, and the reader is encouraged to read that wonderful chapter, yet the chapter does not add anything to our particular discussion and consideration so we move straight on to Chapter 11.
So now Paul is looking at national Israel - the Jews - are they fully and finally rejected? After all, he has already explained that it is Christians who are now counted as the true children of Abraham and Isaac, so this looks very depressing. Paul reminds us of his lineage as a member of the tribe of Benjamin, verse 1, he again mentions the '...remnant chosen by grace', verse 5, and this again refers to Jews who had accepted Christ, then he quotes both Isaiah and the Psalms, verses 8-10, in making most gloomy statements about the blindness of Israel (I do hope the reader is reading these verses in his/her own Bible!).
All of this seems most depressing regarding the future of Israel, but now we come to the major theological shock and surprise of Romans 11:
The rejection of Israel, we are now told, is not their full end since God is quite capable of grafting repentant ones back in again!
Here comes the glorious revelation (witheld until now), that the hardening of Israel (national Israel), was only ever intended to be temporal! When 'the full number of Gentiles has come in', God again opens the door to national Israel. But are they not now rejected as the true Israel in favour of the Church? Yes, in a very real sense they are, yet God still has a sense of loyalty toward them:
'As far as the gospel is concerned, they (that is the Jews) are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and His call are irrevocable.'(Verses 28-29).
These verses undoubtedly look ahead to a future time when a huge majority of both fleshly Israelites and Gentiles will be saved. Verse 32 has this reassuring message:
'For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all'
What an incredible and hugely encouraging message! The chapter concludes with the wonderful doxology of verses 33-36 in which glory is given to God for His 'unsearchable' judgments, wisdom and mercy!
Just when it seemed that few could ever be saved, the truth is revealed that few will be lost! We cannot help but be reminded of Matthew 19:23-26. When it seemed to certain of the disciples that few could ever be saved, Jesus astonished with the statement:
'..."With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible"'(Matthew 19:26).
So, in looking for the verses in Romans 9 and 11 which Calvin (utterly sincere and godly man that he was) saw as upholding a stern Restrictivism in which few will be saved, we instead find some of the most joyful and reassuring statements and should leave our little study with renewed certainty that, despite the failures of men and women, an all-knowing and all-merciful God will indeed include the overwhelming majority of His creation in His glorious and eternal kingdom!
I again hand over to the apostle Paul for the final words in our little study, this time from the 5th chapter of Romans:
'Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.' (Romans 5:18).
Robin A. Brace
it is also essential to read:
THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST - AN INCLUSIVE MESSAGE
AN EVANGELICAL INCLUSIVIST DEFENDS EVANGELICAL INCLUSIVISM
MUSELTOF COUNTERCULT AND APOLOGETICS
WITNESS TO THE WORD
UK CHRISTIAN WEBSITES