Monday, February 7, 2011

Evangelical Inclusivism

I’m back today to tackle a little more of Neal Punt’s work, “A Theology of Inclusivism.” In the last post I did on Punt’s work, I talked about Punt’s contradictory “fumble” regarding whether or not faith is a condition for salvation. Punt says both in just a matter of a few pages, and the reader is left wondering whether or not even Neal Punt knows what he believes regarding the issue.
Today’s post will tackle Punt’s title “A Theology of Inclusivism.” For many, the word “inclusivism” brings up all sorts of connotations. When one places the word “evangelical” in front of it, this can also lead to an even bigger confusion surrounding the phraseology.
Have no fear, though; Punt tells us what we can expect from his discussion on “Protestant Inclusivism” by his definition of inclusivism:
“Inclusivism is the teaching that, although Jesus is the only Savior, nevertheless salvation is possible through Him even among those who have never heard the gospel during their lifetime on earth. This perspective is called Evangelical Inclusivism because it is based directly upon the inspired, infallible, written Word of God, making its claims upon no other source (Neal Punt, “A Theology of Inclusivism.” Allendale, MI: Northland Books, 2008, page 146.
From Punt’s words, those who have never heard the gospel can still be saved...and this comes directly from God’s Word. I agree that those who do not have the aid of a human missionary can still be saved (God has other means by which to bring the gospel message, since the gospel message is essential to faith).
Where I disagree with Punt has to do with his statement that “Evangelical based directly upon the inspired, infallible, written Word of God, making its claims upon no other source.” Such a statement is a rather confident one, since the Scriptures themselves seem very supportive of the exclusivity of Christ (that is, that Christ through the gospel is the only means to salvation, see Acts 4:12).
Punt decides to go after an exclusivist (one who argues the centrality of faith in Christ), such as Ronald Nash. Nash makes three critiques against inclusivists: 1) the misuse of Romans 10; 2) the biblical imperatives to “repent” and “believe”; and 3) the so-called “universalistic” texts.
In discussing Nash’s critique of inclusivists regarding Romans 10, Punt does not use Scripture; rather, he critiques Nash’s view based on his dichotomy of “objective” versus “subjective” salvation. In addition, he claims that, since “by his blood Christ ‘purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation’ (Rev. 5:9)...what Nash calls the indispensable ‘special revelation’ has not been proclaimed to ‘every tribe and language and people and nation’” (Punt, 153). My question is though, does this mean that the special revelation of Christ and the gospel is to be disregarded on the basis that “not everyone has heard”? I think not. This emotional appeal is not a sufficient argument against the Scriptures themselves, which argue that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The next critique Nash makes regarding inclusivism is its negation of the biblical commands to “repent” and “believe.” (see John 3:16, 18) If such commands are given with no specifications as to who is required to follow these commands and who is not, then doesn’t that settle the question? Inclusivism, then, becomes nothing more than a “heart-tug” because, whether inclusivists like it or not, every single person has to “repent and believe the gospel.” What is Neal Punt’s response to this?
“These demands to repent, believe, and live in joyful obedience through Christ, which can be called ‘demands of the gospel,’ have never been made known to those who live their entire life beyond the reach of the gospel. It is simply unwarranted to conclude that these gospel demands are made of those who never hear the gospel during their lifetime on earth, as Nash insists” (Punt, “A Theology of Inclusivism,” page 154).
Once again, I will make the claim that this is an emotional appeal. Let’s say that, hypothetically, Punt is right---that some do not receive the gospel from the hands of a human missionary. Does this discount the person getting the gospel at all? In other words, does the lack of a human missionary signify the lack of gospel presentation altogether? Is God’s work stunted, His plans thwarted, via the absence of a human missionary on some remote island? Let’s note Alister Macgrath’s response:
“So what about those who have never heard the gospel? Is the universality of the gospel compromised by the fact that, as a matter of history, the gospel has not been preached to all and its benefits made universally available? There can be no doubt that certain types of evangelical theology have caused considerable anxiety in this respect by their apparent insistence that only those who respond to the explicit verbal proclamation of the gospel will be saved. Pluralists and many others rightly observe that this is to write off the vast majority of those who have ever lived, who are deprived of salvation by matters of geographical and historical contingency. But this is a flawed theology, which limits God’s modes of actions, disclosure, and saving power (Alister Macgrath, “A Particularist View: A Post-Enlightenment Approach,” from “Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World” by Dennis Ockholm, general editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, page 178).
The person who says, “the lack of a human missionary indicates the lack of salvation for those who never hear,” is a person that is committed to either a) God didn’t choose for such persons to hear the gospel (Calvinist) or b) God cannot save them except through means of general revelation. And I think that both positions are terribly flawed in their outlook.
Calvinist exclusivists and Arminian inclusivists get the answer to the question “What About Those Who Have Never Heard?” wrong. The answer is not found in arguing general revelation (to the inadequacy of faith in Christ) or the doctrine of unconditional election (which posits that those don’t hear the gospel were never elected for salvation to begin with); instead, the answer is found in a Classical Arminian approach to missions. I will get into this missiological approach in my next post. Stay tuned...


The Seeking Disciple said...

Does he deal with the Calvinist view of unconditional election at all? I know some Calvinists hold that since regeneration occurs before faith then its logically possible that there are elect among those who have never heard the gospel since God regenerates them for His own glory. Does he deal with such a view?

Enjoying this posts by the way!

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


He does spend a great deal of time on unconditional election. He thinks that people can be saved without the gospel...and I think this influences his inclusivism. From what I've read of him so far, he doesn't seem to blend these two thoughts together.

One theologian in particular who seems to blend his Calvinism into some form of inclusivism (although he wouldn't call it that) is Terrance Tiessen, in his book "Who Can Be Saved? Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions." In Tiessen's massive 482-page book, he argues for "accessibilism," which means that other religions provide some sort of "access" (hence the name) to the one true God. Tiessen is a well-known five-point Calvinist, who doesn't mind positing that God is sovereign to work in ways other than human preaching to get the gospel to all. Tiessen's problem comes in when he discusses the recorded visions and dreams of Muslims who have no access to the gospel. While he clearly believes this is a sign of God (and we should not limit God's sovereignty to just human preaching), he believes the dreams and visions are only sent to certain individuals whom God has elected. In Tiessen's mind, since God isn't sending these to all, God Himself is making clear His stance--- that is, that all are not meant to be saved.

But then, Tiessen turns around and argues that, at least once in every individual's life, each person is given some sort of "inefficacious grace" to allow them to be saved "if they desired salvation." Of course, such grace must be inefficacious because God's efficacious grace is only given to God's chosen individuals (those He determined). Tiessen somehow thinks this gets God off the hook, but what we end up with is a "teasing God," as one of my friends once stated. "Teasing" theology states that God "teases" the reprobate with grace for a time, and then "abandons him and smites him with greater blindness" (quoted by Calvin in his Institutes on "The Doctrine of Temporary Faith").

Thanks for the encouragement. Keep praying for me and the blog. More exciting posts regarding theology of religions (pluralism, exclusivism, inclusivism, etc.) are on the way.

Watcher said...

I believe that "one died for all, therefore all died." God can choose whomever He wants to save because His Son has paid the debt for all. I believe that many will be in Heaven learning for the first time that the ONLY reason they are saved is because of Christ crucified for their sins. ALL before the cross will learn that, both Jew and Gentile. Why can't it happen after the cross as well?

BUT when the gospel of Jesus is heard, judgment is present to save or to warn: "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."

The question for me isn't about those who hear the gospel but those that haven't remembering this: "If righteousness could come in some other way, then Christ died needlessly." Gal. 2:21

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


You make a good point about Galatians 2:21. If there were some other way that we could be saved, Christ died for nothing. This is what I have stated to inclusivists in my dialogues with them. One cannot (as an inclusivist) claim that "Jesus is the only way to salvation" (declare the gospel) and then turn around and say "but for those who never see a human missionary, they don't have to believe on the name of Christ to be saved (aka, such individuals do not have to believe the gospel message). If they do not have to believe on the name of Christ, then there is some other way to be saved...and the incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection were all for nought. Jesus' mission on earth was nothing more than just a 30-something-year vacation (if one takes this train of thought).

Thanks for responding. Christ is the only one that has made known the father to mankind (Jn. 1:18), and if Christ is not "all there is" to the revelation (contra Heb. 1:1-2), then we should all look for another to come. Praise God that we do not have to look for another, for all we need is in Christ.