Inclusivism (1): The Issues

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There is a debate about salvation in Christian theology with respect to the “unevangelized”. An unevangelized person is someone who has never heard the message of Christianity. The problem that these people pose for Christianity is easy to see. If God is all-loving, and wills the salvation of all, and faith is necessary for salvation, and there are people who never even have an opportunity to exercise faith, then this seems to create a problem: God does not give an opportunity for salvation to all people. This series of posts will be aimed at articulating the approach to this issue called “inclusivism”, according to which salvation does not require explicit knowledge of the historical facts of Christianity.

The Questions

In order to explain the range of opinions on this subject, consider the following two questions:

-Is every human person saved?
-What are the conditions for salvation with respect to the kind of *knowledge* a person must have?

The first question can be given two different answers: yes and no.

-A person who answers “yes” to the first question is called a “universalist”.
-A person who answers “no” to the first question is called a “particularist”.

I will take it for granted that particularism is true, and move on to assess questions about how salvation becomes available.

With respect to the second question about conditions of knowledge for salvation, several sub-questions arise:

Is explicit knowledge of the Gospel–the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord and the Kingdom of God has come by the power of his death and resurrection for all who repent and believe–necessary for salvation?

-A person who answers “yes” is called an “exclusivist”.
-A person who answers “no” is called an “inclusivist”.

Regardless of whether or not this knowledge is necessary, how can people gain access to this knowledge?

-One answer (sometimes erroneously considered the traditional view) is called “restrictivism”, according to which only missionary work by human Christian missionaries can make the knowledge necessary for salvation available.
-A second view is called “post-mortem evangelism”, according to which after death, unevangelized people are given a chance to convert to Christianity.
-A third answer is called “accessiblism”, according to which God provides access to the Gospel to every appropriate person, whether through human missionaries, or direct revelation (dreams, angels, etc.). Many accessiblists think that God is not obligated to reveal himself to people who He knows wouldn’t respond to Him if given the opportunity.

If it is not necessary that one have explicit knowledge of the Gospel, then what are the conditions of salvation?

-Inclusivists vary widely on this issue, giving answers that include monotheism, belief in a future life, belief in future judgment, belief in one’s own sinfulness, belief that God remedies one’s sinfulness through salvation, and various other potential points.

I will be attempting in this series to weigh arguments in favor of exclusivism and inclusivism, and eventually move to questions about the different varieties of exclusivism.

Sources of Information:

Biblical data bears on these questions in the following ways:

-Principles could be located in Scripture that either entail or refute these positions.
-Principles could be located in Scripture that make up the assumptions and frameworks of these various views or count against their assumptions and frameworks.
-Concrete examples could be given of people who fit the criteria unique to one of the specific views.

Reason can bear on these questions in the following ways:

-What we know about God from nature could count for or against any of the views
-There could be concrete examples from our experience that support one of these views
-There could be an implication that we could draw from logical or philosophical principles in conjunction with our knowledge of God from nature, a concrete example from our experience, or the content of Scripture, that would support one of the views.

Tradition can bear on these questions in the following ways:

-The majority view of the early fathers may be that one approach is true
-Principles in the early fathers may favor one approach

It is important to realize that some of these views can overlap, such as post-mortem evangelism and inclusivism.

These distinctions help set the groundwork for assessing the strength of these various views.

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One Response to “Inclusivism (1): The Issues”

  1. Pete Siemens Says:

    This is all fairly new to me but I like the way you’ve laid things out here so far. Some of these terms I have never heard of before but I have thought about these issues often. I’m looking forward to reading more…

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