A “Bonus” Book Summary from Books At a Glance
By Benjamin J. Montoya
Chapter 1: INTRODUCTION
by Robert A. Peterson
What is the eternal destiny of the person who, through no fault of their own, never hears the gospel of Christ? Are such people condemned to hell? When Jesus says, “I am the way,” does that mean there is no possibility of salvation apart from explicitly responding to the gospel? These questions are of a serious nature. Evangelical Christians have responded differently. All evangelical Christians agree that all people stand condemned before God, not all persons will be saved, and God is entirely fair and just. But, they disagree on whether or not someone needs to hear the gospel.
There are three positions: pluralism, exclusivism, and inclusivism. These categories will receive further treatment in chapter 2, but for now, they will help set the proverbial stage for understanding this larger doctrinal issue. Pluralism argues that all religions lead to God. John Hick has written a book entitled God Has Many Names that presents that position. Exclusivism claims that Jesus Christ is the only Savior of the world and that one must hear the gospel and trust in Christ to be saved. Ronald H. Nash penned a book entitled Is Jesus the Only Savior? that defends this position. Inclusivism is that view that one does not need to hear the gospel to be saved, although they still claim that Jesus is the Savior of the world. Books like No Other Name by John Sanders explain this view. This book focuses on providing a response to inclusivism. Before responding, the position requires further explanation.
Inclusivism employs at least five arguments. First, they argue that God’s revelation of himself in creation and conscience not only condemns but also saves. Second, they claim that God would be unjust to condemn people because they have never heard the gospel. Third, some of them claim that people that are part of other religious may also be saved apart from believing the gospel. Fourth, they will point to OT believers as people who were saved apart from hearing the gospel. Fifth, they claim that some people in Scripture are saved by a more generic faith principle outside of trusting in Christ.
Chapter 2: INCLUSIVISMS AND EXCLUSIVISMS
by Christopher W. Morgan
Evangelicals agree that they disagree on the issue of the inclusivity-exclusivity of the gospel. But, they also agree that the two labels of “inclusivism” and “exclusivism” used to describe their positions are inadequate. When this debate began, three labels seemed to fit: exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism. But, as it has progressed over time, evangelicals have realized that the discussion requires more labels. As they published more books and articles about the issue, they have come to realize that there more positions than originally thought.
Many theological issues have a spectrum of positions. When asking each position about the fate of the unevangelized, nine positions surface. First, church exclusivism argues that outside of the church, there is no salvation. Second, gospel exclusivism claims that people must hear the gospel and trust Christ to be saved. Third, special revelation exclusivism opines that people must hear the gospel and trust in Christ to be saved unless God chooses to send them special revelation in an extraordinary way—a dream, visit, miracle, or angelic message. Fourth, there is an agnostic position that claims that we do not know the fate of the unevangelized. Fifth, general revelation inclusivism contends that people can respond to God in saving faith by seeing Him in general revelation. Sixth, world religion inclusivism says that people can respond to God through general revelation or a different religion altogether. Seventh, postmortem evangelism proposes that people will have the opportunity to trust Christ even after death. Eighth, universalism claims that everyone will ultimately be saved. Ninth, pluralism argues that many people will experience salvation as they understand it because they embrace their version of the real.
Chapter 3: GENERAL REVELATION: SUFFICIENT OR INSUFFICIENT?
by Daniel Strange
The larger debate about the fate of the evangelized centers around general revelation: is it sufficient or insufficient for salvation? In addition to having a variety of understandings of this issue, there are also a variety of understandings of general revelation. This chapter, however, will limit itself to evangelical positions. Evangelicals agree that both general and natural revelation exist and that God has freely and purposively chosen to reveal himself in creation and history. Second, this chapter will not focus on the issue of whether there is truth or revelation in other world religions. Third, this chapter argues general revelation is insufficient to save but sufficient to condemn and, thus, render people without an excuse before God. Given that this book addresses inclusivism, it will turn its attention to the positions on general revelation within inclusivism.
Within this understanding, though, there are three positions. First, the synergistic inclusivist position holds the view of Open Theism, that the future is open, even to God. This position also claims that for every action to be considered free, that God can have no power over individual’s decisions. In this view, then, every human has to have the opportunity to hear the gospel in order for God to hold them accountable for their decision. They claim that God makes their hearing of the gospel possible by His omnipresent Spirit who helps everyone understand. Second, the monergistic accessibilist position claims that God is sovereign over all, but people do not need to hear the gospel to be saved. Unlike the previous position that accepts Open Theism or at least Arminianism, this position holds to Reformed Theology. They claim that there are graduations of understanding that can make salvation accessible. They believe that God uses general revelation to save the elect all around the world, even if they do not hear the gospel. Their salvation is still in Christ even if they do not know about him. Third, the missiological experiential position argues that people can experience salvation as they receive knowledge that is experienced and passed down. God uses this knowledge, even if it is incomplete, to save them.
This chapter holds the exclusivity position coming from a Reformed understanding. This position has several tenets that undergird its position on this particular doctrinal issue. First, God reveals himself both in nature and in the gospel. Second, God reveals himself in His works and words. Third, God reveals himself in nature apart from persons and internally within persons. Fourth, God’s revelation is objective but people appropriate it subjectively. Fifth, we need to differentiate between the time before and after the Fall. Sixth, the Holy Spirit operates one way more generally in the world and another way more specifically in the work of regeneration. Several texts support this position like Psalm 19, Romans 1, and more.
Several theological conclusions can be made on the basis of these texts; three will be included here. First, the judgment and punishment that unbelievers receive is always based on the measure of revelation they receive. Second, the categories of general and special revelation are inadequate categories; something like John Frame’s “the word that comes through nature and history, the word that comes through persons, and the word written” would provide a better approach. Third, general revelation, though distorted and perverted by us, still contains an echo of truth.
Chapter 4: EXCLUSIVISM: UNJUST OR JUST?
by William Edgar
It is one thing to talk about the exclusivity of Christ among Christians, but the conversation may take an entirely different turn while speaking with an unbeliever. For example, they may ask, “Is it really fair/just for God to condemn someone who never had the chance to hear the gospel?” On an emotional level, we can all empathize with this question. Would we ourselves want to be condemned to an eternal hell because we never even had the opportunity to hear the gospel? Of course not. Then why do we insist that others will? This question has stirred lots of reflections from theologians and philosophers, as probably expected. Some have denied that God would condemn someone for never hearing. Others have claimed that if they do not hear, they will still be saved in Christ. But, what should we think about this matter as we look to Scripture.
Scripture teaches several points. First, strictly speaking, there is no one that has not heard about God. The problem is their response. Second, everyone rejects the knowledge of God they have. That is what Paul explains in Romans 1:18ff. We serve the creature instead of the Creator. Third, their rejection of him is pure evil. We may think of people like Hitler when we think of evil, but we should think of ourselves because of how we reject God. The rejection of God the Creator is a serious matter. Fourth, we are evil because our first parents were evil. We are children of the Fall (Gen 3). Fifth, our only hope is trusting in Christ after hearing the gospel.
The question of the fairness of the exclusivity of Christ should move us emotionally to be concerned for people who have never heard. But, if we want to conquer that matter, we need to engage in going to share the gospel for the purpose of making disciples. Although God will condemn sinners to hell for eternity because they rejected Him, He has also made a way for reconciliation through Christ’s blood on the cross.
Chapter 5: OTHER RELIGIONS: SAVING OR SECULAR?
by Eckhard J Schnabel
When it comes to thinking about the exclusive claims of Christ about salvation, what, then, are we to make of other religions? That is, can someone be saved through them? The Bible shows knowledge of other religions throughout the OT and NT. For example, there were plenty of pagan idols mentioned in the OT. But, the LORD condemns them and the people who worships them and even uses His prophets to mock them. Rather, the LORD presents himself as the only God worthy of worship and praise.
We see precisely the same point in the NT. First, in Acts 17, Paul addresses the people of Athens by commenting on their “unknown god.” Paul, however, instead of suggesting that they just add Christ onto everything else they already worshipped, he suggested that all their other worship was wrong. Instead, Paul insisted that they repent of their idol worship and trust in Christ for salvation. Second, Paul also makes this same point to the Jews of his day. He explains in Romans 2 that their worship is outdated because Christ has come. That is, even though they used the OT Scriptures to guide their practice, they too needed to trust in Christ. Third, Paul explains his reasoning in Romans 1:18–23. People refuse to acknowledge the light and power of God’s reality and to participate in God’s glory since they have been made in His image. Rather, they want to serve their own image.
The overall conclusion is that Christ holds exclusivity over salvation. Sure, people may follow other religions, but they are deceiving themselves about salvation. We, as Christians, then, should seek to proclaim the gospel to them for their salvation. We need to follow the pattern of the apostle Paul in helping people turn from their pagan idols to the God who will judge the living and the dead.
Chapter 6: HOLY PAGANS: REALITY OR MYTH?
by Walter C. Kaiser Jr.
Someone who knows the Bible well will likely have some questions concerning the salvation of those in the OT and NT who seemed to be “holy pagans.” Does such a thing exist? That is, can someone be holy apart from trusting in Christ for salvation? There are several names that pop up from the OT when considering this topic: Abraham, Melchizedek, Jethro Rahab, Balaam, etc. In the NT, we have the case of Cornelius. Do these people fit this category?
The answer for each of these persons is, “No.” None of these people can be considered “holy pagans” because such a category is an oxymoron, e.g, like calling someone a “married bachelor.” For example, take the case of Abraham. He is only referred to as righteous before God after Abraham trusts in God. The Bible, however, does not describe him as a holy pagan. In fact, the Bible repeatedly shows Abraham’s own faults.
It is better to follow the Bible’s teaching on this matter rather than trying to create a category that does not exist. People in the OT who trusted God in a salvific way trusted in what they knew about God as He had revealed to himself at that time. But, in the NT, we cannot and should not draw a parallel to people who have never heard about Christ because people in the OT who responded to God were, in fact, responding to God’s special revelation of Himself. In the NT, too, then, we have to respond to God’s special revelation of Himself in Christ in the gospel.
Chapter 7: SAVING FAITH: IMPLICIT OR EXPLICIT?
by Stephen J. Wellum
Must people hear and believe the gospel to be saved? Yes. The Bible supports this very position. Texts like John 3:16–18, Acts 4:12, and Romans 10:9–15, 17 all support this point. Each text explains that salvation is through Christ alone through an explicit faith in Christ. That is, people have to know who He is and what He has done.
There are people who read the same Bible and reach different conclusions. For example, some argue that people may have an implicit faith. This is the argument from inclusivism as explained throughout this book. Nevertheless, this position, in any of its varieties, fails to handle the biblical texts properly because of their theological method. That is, their theological starting points lead them to the wrong theological destination. Recall the survey of the various positions in chapter 3. For example, Clark Pinnock argues for a synergistic form of inclusivism and espouses a certain view of the work of the Holy Spirit to justify his position. Pinnock sides with the so-called Eastern church in denying that Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son by arguing that the Spirit comes only from the Father. But, the Bible itself does not permit for Pinnock’s position. Pinnock claims that the Holy Spirit can work implicit faith in people apart from the knowledge of Christ. The Bible, however, claims that the primary work of the Holy Spirit in the NT is to point to Christ. Jesus explained that in John’s Gospel and we see just that in the book of Acts. Our theology must match what the Bible says. Or, more specifically, our Systematic Theology must follow our Biblical Theology, and not vice versa. We should not interpret Scripture in light of what we want it to say; rather, we need to follow what it says.
This discussion leads to several conclusions. First, we need to avoid the temptation to speculate on this or any issue; rather, we need to look to God’s Word. Second, this entire discussion should drive us to evangelism and missions. If we truly believe that people are condemned to hell for eternity for rejecting their Creator and that their only hope is the gospel, then we must take the gospel to them right away. God can save them, but He does so through an explicit faith in Christ.
Chapter 8: INCLUSIVISM VERSUS EXCLUSIVISM ON KEY BIBLICAL TEXTS
by Robert A. Peterson
Evangelicals want to make the best sense of Scripture possible. That is part-and-parcel of what it means to be “evangelical.” Nevertheless, that desire does not mean that they will always agree. Rather, if the inclusivity-exclusivity debate shows anything, it shows that two people can look at the same texts and come away with different conclusions.
This debate focuses on eight specific texts: Genesis 14:18–20, John 14:6, Acts 4:12, Acts 10, Romans 1:18–23, Romans 2:13–15, Romans 10:17–18, and Hebrews 11:6. The essence of inclusivist exegesis on each of these texts is that they have to speculate what these texts could mean rather than what they do mean. For example, Genesis 14:18–20 speaks about Melchizedek. One inclusivist, Tiessen, argues that Melchizedek was saved through God’s special revelation to Melchizedek. Part of the problem with this interpretation is that it involves speculation; the text does not explain much about him. It is better to just admit that Scripture does not explain how he came to salvation and leave it at that. Building a theory of “holy pagans,” as other inclusivists do, from texts like this one, is exegetically unwise. The inclusive position cannot make best sense of these texts because of this kind of speculative exegesis. The exclusivity position, however, explains all the texts well.
What would it take for inclusivists to change their minds? Their response to the exclusivist explanation of these texts is twofold. First, they claim that these texts do not have the unevangelized in view. Thus, when Jesus says that, “I am the way” (Jn 14:6), He is not explaining the fate of the unevangelized. Second, inclusivists opine that these texts do not say that persons will be lost if they do not believe the gospel. In essence, the inclusivist position finds a way around every Scripture that is thrown their way by means of saying what they think the text does not say. This is not the way to do good theology. “Good theology is not built on a combination of appeals to what the Bible does not say and theoretical possibilities. Rather, it is based on solid and clear exposition of Holy Scripture. And this is what exclusivism demonstrates and inclusivism lacks.”
Chapter 9: THE GOSPEL FOR ALL NATIONS
by Andreas J. Köstenberger
The gospel is the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. The gospel serves as one of the major themes in the NT and the entire Bible. This message is for all nations. As each of the biblical writers refers to and explains the gospel, they make this point repeatedly. Specifically, as concerns the larger topic of this book, the biblical writers explain that the gospel of Christ is the only way of salvation for all nations.
In the Gospels, the gospel is central to Jesus’ teaching and mission. Matthew writes, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Mt 4:23). This statement serves as a summary statement of Christ’s teaching throughout Matthew’s Gospel. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus preaches, “Repent and believe the good news” (Mk 1:15). In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus identifies himself as the one prophesied about in Isaiah who came to preach the gospel (Lk 4:18). In John’s Gospel, although he does not use the word “gospel,” he refers to the message about Christ and writes so that people will believe in Christ (John 20:31). The Gospels also explain that someone must trust in Christ or they stand condemned already (Jn 3:18). There is not a third option. In the book of Acts, Luke records, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The requirement for salvation is faith in Christ. Similarly, the requirement for joining the Christian community, the church, is faith in Christ (Acts 2:38). Likewise, the Apostle Paul proclaimed the exclusivity of Christ in Athens (Acts 17). In Paul’s letters in the NT, he continues this same emphasis (Rom 1:16–17). He makes no exception for anyone anywhere, especially as he explains in Romans 1:18ff, as has been explained in other chapters of this book. The rest of the NT bears the same mark of exclusivity. For example, the writer of Hebrews explains that God has spoken to us in these last days in His Son (Heb 1:1–2). God has not chosen to speak through anyone else because salvation is in Christ alone.
To sum up all the teaching of the Bible, several points can be made. First, the gospel is part of the fabric of all biblical revelation. Second, the God of the OT is the same God of the NT and, thus, the God of the gospel. Third, the NT church is obliged to obey the Lord’s “Great Commission” to take the gospel to the nations. Fourth, but what about those who have never heard? The Bible allows us to say a few things. First, the gospel is God’s saving message to a world living in darkness and a humanity lost in its sin. Second, people must accept the gospel for salvation. Third, the gospel is about Christ, and, more specifically, about the atonement of his vicarious death on the cross. Fourth, the Great Commission of going and making disciples is linked to the exclusivity of the gospel of Christ. Finally, there is no proper biblical basis for arguing that someone can be saved apart from trusting in Christ. Therefore, it is unwise to do so for any reason.
Chapter 10: GOD’S ZEAL FOR HIS WORLD
by J. Nelson Jennings
God is the most zealous being of all, and He is zealous for His world that He created. God created His world good, man sinned against Him, God zealously brought about redemption in Christ, and now that same zeal seeks to takes the gospel to unbelievers so that they can partake of that redemption. But, as God seeks to do this, He does so ontologically through Jesus Christ. As people hear the gospel about Jesus Christ, they need to believe it, that is, have an epistemological reception of it, such that they understand what they hear. That is the kind of understanding that Isaiah 52:15 predicts. The church, then, possesses a responsible declaration because they have the message of the gospel. They are the people chosen to take this message to all the nations. God zealously uses His church to take His gospel to all the world. The debate about inclusivism-exclusivism is a much smaller debate within this much larger story.
Inclusivism, however, does not fit this story well as exclusivism does. Inclusivism cuts the nerve cord of Christian missions. God is on a mission to save people through the gospel, but inclusivism fails to account for God’s mission according to the story of Scripture. Inclusivism removes the epistemological reception of the gospel. Exclusivism, however, provides the biblical push to share the gospel with unbelievers as believers go on the same zealous mission that God himself is on. Now, that does not mean that all inclusivist positions cut the nerve cord of missions; for example, the Reformed version from Tiessen, as explained above, still provides some motivation for missions. He stresses that Christians should still share the gospel out of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ for the glory of God. But, the position as a whole still removes most of the motivation if people can be saved without a knowledge of Christ anyways. Furthermore, this particular flavor of inclusivism fails to account for the particularity of God’s work of salvation through Christ. Paul made it clear that people must trust in Christ and that no other way of salvation is possible.
Finally, the terms inclusivism and exclusivism are better used if we reappropriate them in an exclusivist model. That is, salvation is possible exclusively in Christ, but the message of the gospel includes an inclusive offer to all who would repent of their sin and trust in Christ. “The gospel of Jesus Christ is outrageously magnanimous and generous in its scope.” Thus, we should take it to the ends of the earth. Christians should have God’s zeal for the nations that manifests itself in going to the nations with the gospel.
Chapter 11: ANSWERS TO NOTABLE QUESTIONS
by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson
There are undoubtedly still questions that people have after reading this book. This final chapter will address some notable questions. Many of these questions, however, were addressed throughout the book, including the summary above.
1. IS IT JUST FOR GOD TO SEND PEOPLE TO HELL WHO NEVER HEARD THE GOSPEL?
Although this question has an emotional appeal, this question contains a mistaken assumption that condemnation is based on rejection of the gospel. We are condemned because of Adam’s sin and our own. Similarly, this question confuses justice and mercy. God is both just and fair to send people to hell for their sin; He, however, is merciful and gracious to provide salvation in Christ to anyone at all. This question, then, would be better rephrased as, “Is it fair that God punishes the guilty in hell?” The answer is, “Yes.” We, however, should still be concerned about those who never hear the gospel; we should be moved to take it to them.
2. SHOULD INFANTS AND THE SEVERELY MENTALLY CHALLENGED BE COMPARED TO THE UNEVANGELIZED?
The short answer is “No.” Inclusivists argue that infants and the severely mentally challenged will be in heaven because they do not have the ability to know about God. Many evangelicals, including exclusivists, will argue that this people group will be in heaven because they do not have the ability to have any knowledge of God. The unevangelized, however, do know about God. The problem is that they suppress the knowledge they have.
3. HOW ARE WE TO VIEW NON-CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS?
Christians should view non-Christian religions as the product of sinful humanity twisting the knowledge of God they have from creation. Sure, there may be some measure of truth in the other religions. Nevertheless, Christians must maintain the exclusivity of the gospel about Christ. Just as Paul proclaimed in Athens in Acts 17, Christ is the only way.
4. WHAT ARE THE PURPOSES OF GENERAL REVELATION?
Inclusivists claim that the purposes of general revelation include revelation about God and salvation from him. Scripture, however, does not allow us to make that kind of conclusion. Romans 1:18–25 explains that God has revealed himself in creation; this knowledge, however, informs us about Him only enough to condemn us. This knowledge does not have saving capabilities. This knowledge should lead us to seek and worship God, but no one actually does because of the Fall. Our fallen nature forces us to reject God. Paul further unpacks this point in Romans 3:1–20. But, this knowledge provides a good thing; that is, when missionaries come to people who have never heard the gospel, they can build upon the knowledge of God that people have in creation.
5. WHAT IS SAVING FAITH?
Inclusivists argue that saving faith is a generic faith in God. Exclusivists, however, along with Scripture, argues that faith is always a specific faith. In the OT, people had to trust in the LORD (YHWH), not just any god of their choosing based on the knowledge they had. So also in the NT; people have to trust in the LORD revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. For example, although Cornelius was spoken highly of, Peter still preached the gospel to Cornelius for salvation. Saving faith, then, is an explicit trust when considering the entire storyline of Scripture.
6. HOW DOES INCLUSIVISM SQUARE WITH EVANGELICAL THEOLOGY?
This question is harder to answer because it depends on with whom one speaks. If, however, we follow Alister McGrath’s definition of evangelism that includes (1) a focus on the person of Christ; (2) the identification of Scripture as the ultimate authority; (3) an emphasis on the new birth; (4) a concern for sharing the faith, especially through evangelism, we see that inclusivism denies two of the core tenets of evangelicalism. They deny the need for the new birth and for a specific faith in Christ through evangelism. Rather, evangelism is nullified if they are saved through a generic faith anyways.
7. WHAT DO WE SAY TO PEOPLE WHO ARE TROUBLED BY EXCLUSIVISM?
This question is a difficult one because if people ponder the eternal destinies of those who do not trust in Christ, they will struggle not to be troubled. Similarly, if they have family or friends who seem devout or like “good people,” it is difficult to think about what is coming to them unless they repent and trust in Christ. The answer to this question, then, depends on specifics of why someone is troubled. It is best to begin by addressing the concerns that led them to ask the question in the first place. Nevertheless, evangelicals should not back down from their belief in exclusivism though they should try to respond as pastorally as possible.
8. IS THERE ANY HOPE FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NEVER HEARD THE GOSPEL?
Yes, but not in the way that an inclusivist would argue. Rather, the only hope for anyone is in the gospel of Christ. God has made a way for sinners to be reconciled to himself through Christ in the gospel. God has sent Christians to share that gospel with unbelievers everywhere. Paul did that as did the other apostles. We need to act on our theology. God is passionate about reaching the nations, and evangelicals should be also. After all, we look forward to the day when we can worship God with people from every nation in eternity (Rev 5:9–10).
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FAITH COMES BY HEARING: A RESPONSE TO INCLUSIVISM, by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, eds.