The False Logic of Inclusivism6 min read
Inclusivism claims that while the provision of Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation, explicit faith or knowledge in him is unnecessary for salvation. In other words those who have never heard the gospel are not exempt from God’s mercy, providing they respond to natural revelation. The position finds its attractiveness from the logic it uses: the wideness of God’s mercy, the unfairness of condemnation for the ignorant, and the implications of Scripture. Yet its logic is its very weakness, as this essay will show.
It is unfair to limit the wideness of God’s mercy.
The phrase “the wideness of God’s mercy” is common inclusivist language. Clark Pinnock, an inclusivist, wrote a book by a similar title. F. B. Meyer also used the phrase for the title of his book in which he asserted inclusivist positions. Robert Shuller used this phrase in his interview of Billy Graham in which Graham asserted that sincere pagans can be saved by faithfulness to “the only light they have.”
This appeal is based on two presuppositions. The first is that one cannot limit God’s power to reveal himself apart from the gospel. The second is that God is more concerned with mercy than with exactness in theology.
The first presupposition fails, however, because one could ask the inclusivist, “If God is sufficiently powerful to reveal Himself to seekers apart from the gospel, why not by the gospel?” God’s very heart is in the gospel. He defines it. He ordains it. He defends it. There is no reason why he, by the same power with which he reveals the gospel, would desire to reveal himself apart from his gospel.
The problem with the second presupposition is that mercy becomes an arbitrary term if understood apart from theology. Universalists use the mercy of God as proof for their position. Atheists use the mercy of God as an argument in theodicy. Their problem is that they do not understand biblical mercy, that is, mercy in context of divine righteousness. This is what inclusivists seem to be forgetting. God is merciful, but his mercy cannot violate his righteousness and truth. Apart from strict theology, the wideness of God’s mercy is too arbitrary a concept to support inclusivism.
It is unfair for the ignorant to be condemned.
Inclusivists also invoke the concept that God cannot righteously condemn the ignorant. They cite John 15:22, which says, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin.” The logic is that accountability comes only when God’s message is heard. However, if this logic is carried to verse 24, one must conclude that miracles are also necessary for accountability. “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin.” Obviously, the passage has a specific context apart from what makes a man accountable for sin in and of itself.
Fairness according to human standards is not the issue. Matthew Smethurst put it well when he said that “it is not our place to subject the Creator to our finite and fallen notions of fairness. Our task is to take him at his word and trust his heart.”
A pagan is not condemned for his ignorance; he is condemned for his sin. Romans 3:22b-23a is clear when it says “there is no difference: for all have sinned.” Romans 6:23 says, “the wages of sin is death.” The logic is clear. All have sinned; thus, all face death.
Scripture supports inclusivism.
Romans 10:17 is clear when it says, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” It advocates explicit faith as being necessary for salvation. Robert Culver well said on this passage,
One can hardly imagine anyone holding withered exclusivist convictions regarding the necessity of knowing ‘the name’ of Christ ever writing the book of Romans. . . . I call on pluralists and inclusivists in their debate with exclusivists to note the outright claim of this portion of Scripture that hearing the gospel is an assumed necessary preliminary to believing on Christ.
Yet inclusivists attempt to use Scripture to support their position. For instance, they cite Revelation 5:9 in that it mentions the redemption of people from “every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation,” though not every nation has been evangelized. However, this interpretation requires an assumption of inclusivism, a very narrow view of what “every kindred” means, and a comprehensive knowledge of missions. These are not sound foundations of exegesis.
Further, they use the so-called age of accountability as evidence for the sufficiency of implicit faith. Scripture implies the existence of this “age” in 2 Samuel 12:23 which records David’s hope of seeing his deceased son in heaven. By their logic, explicit faith was not necessary in this instance; hence, it should not be necessary in dark paganism. But the infant had no faith at all. Would this not better support universalism since faith itself would not be required for salvation? This is problematic.
Inclusivists also cite the implicit faith of Old Testament saints as evidence for their position. Millard Erickson invokes this reasoning when he asks, “Would not such a person [a sincere pagan] be in the same situation as the Old Testament believers?” However, this evidence is actually non-existent. From the beginning of humanity, God promised the Seed of the woman who would crush the Serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). Explicit faith in this promise is evidenced throughout the Old Testament. One cannot say that Christ was not the object of pre-Incarnation faith. Further, justifying faith was always in God’s specific revelation and never in God’s natural revelation (Romans 1 and 4). Scripture does not support inclusivism.
Inclusivism’s logic is its weakness because its logic exposes emotionalism at its foundation. Inclusivism raises more implications and hypothetical examples than it does Scripture as positive proof. Not only does it contradict the clear logic of Romans 10, but it cannot be biblically consistent within its own implications. Thus, one should reject inclusivism as a logically coherent belief.
Clark Pinnock, A Wideness in God’s Mercy: The Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).
F. B. Meyer, The Wideness of God’s Mercy (New York, NY: Eaton and Mains; Cincinnati, OH: Jennings and Graham, n.d.).
“Billy Graham Denies Christ – Interviewed by Robert Shuller on ‘Hour of Power,’” uploaded by BibleTheologyMin, <https://youtube.com/watch?v=hrf60-zHI9A> (September 19, 2017).
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are taken from the Authorized King James Version.
Matthew Smethurst, “What Happens to Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?” The Gospel Coalition, September 7, 2016, <https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-happens-to-those-who-never-hear-the-gospel> (September 14, 2017).
Robert Culver, Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical (Geanies House, Great Britan: Mentor, an imprint of Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 2005), p. 787.
Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), p 197.