Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Optional Gospel? How Inclusivists Misuse and Abuse Romans 2:12-16

In my last post, I dealt with implicit assumptions of inclusivism. I demonstrated that in inclusivism, one does not need to be consciously aware of his/her need for God, does not need to experience conviction of sin of any kind in order to be saved. God can simply accept a practicing Buddhist or a devout Hindu or Muslim just the way they are...
In this post, I desire to show why Romans 2:12-16 is such an important prooftext to inclusivists. Then, I intend to show why their hidden assumption behind their prooftext justification is wrong according to sound biblical theology.
Let’s examine Romans 2:12-16:
“For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel” (Romans 2:12-16, New King James Version).
Inclusivists favor this passage (see Amos Yong, “Beyond the Impasse,” page 25) because they view the unevangelized (“those who have never heard”) as the “Gentiles, who do not have the law.” The evangelized, then, are labeled as the Jews who do have the law, who “sin in the law.” To be brief, the “Jews” of Romans 2 are deemed “the evangelized,” and the “Gentiles” are deemed “the unevangelized”...according to inclusivist theology.
In the same way that Romans 2 says the Gentiles will perish apart from the law, inclusivists feel that the unevangelized should be judged apart from the Gospel. I guess the question we should ask ourselves is, “Is it possible for the unevangelized to be judged apart from the Gospel? And, if so, does this necessarily imply that they would be saved?”
To answer the first question, I think that the unevangelized could be judged apart from the Gospel; but, if so, then they will perish, since the only thing that remains (should the Gospel be eliminated) is law---both natural law and Mosaic Law. If the Gentiles are judged on the basis of natural law, they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18), which condemns them, and cannot be saved since the law only brings awareness of sin (Rom. 3:20). Apart from the Gospel, then, the unevangelized face the judgment, wrath, and condemnation of a Holy God. Contra inclusivism, eliminating the necessity of the Gospel does not “free up” the unevangelized to have a chance of salvation...instead, it only eliminates any hope of salvation at all.
Having established this, then, my task will be to prove the importance and necessity of the Gospel (and Christ) in salvation. To do this, I will let the Scriptures speak for themselves.
First, let me reference some passages that stress the universality of the Gospel--- that the Gospel is for all nations. Jesus notes this in His end-times discussion in Matthew 24:
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14, NKJV).
The gospel will be preached “in all the world,” which signifies that every nation will experience the proclamation of the Gospel...before the end arrives. Jesus says the same thing in Mark 13:10.
In Mark 16:15, Jesus tells the disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Clearly, if Christ desired that “every creature” get the gospel, then He desired all men would know the Gospel and be presented with His plan of salvation.
In Revelation 14:6, we read that there will be an angel who proclaims “the everlasting those who dwell on the earth---to every nation, tribe, and tongue---saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God, and give glory to Him, for the hour of judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.’” Notice in Revelation 14:6 that the angel proclaims the gospel “to every nation, tribe, and tongue.” In other words, there is a universality to the proclamation of the gospel: the gospel is intended for all persons, all people, all nations.
There is more I could say about the universal intention of the Gospel, but I will save that discussion for future posts. At this point, I just wanted to make a small case in favor of the Gospel not just being for Christians, or for those in Western civilization, but for all people everywhere.
Having establish the universal intention of the Gospel (salvation for all persons everywhere), let’s look at the necessity of the Gospel for salvation. One text that is often attacked by inclusivists is Acts 4. In this chapter, we find that the apostles are being questioned because a man was healed in their presence in the name of Jesus (Acts 3:6-8). The priests, temple captain, and Sadducees approach the apostles about the healing, and they tell the leaders that the individual “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified...this man stands here before you whole” (Acts 4:10). Verse 12, then, as regards salvation, is rather appropriate in the context. Peter is using the Lord’s healing to win souls to himself. After all, the same thing happened in chapter 3: the man was healed (the Scriptures say he was over forty years in age, see Acts 4:22), Peter preaches about Christ and His power that healed the man, and five thousand people came to the Lord (Acts 4:4). As chapter 4 progresses, Peter finds himself doing the same thing he had done in chapter 3: using the man’s healing as a bridge by which to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all those having witnessed the miracle.
Notice, too, that the miracle is not what upset the leaders; what upset them was that it was done “in the name of Jesus.” In verse 17, the leaders agree to “severely threaten them that from now on they speak to no man IN THIS NAME” (Acts 4:17). The miracle was not the disappointment...rather, the disappointment was “the name of Jesus.” Jesus was the one the Jewish leaders had crucified on the tree, the one who had been guilty of treason and “making Himself one with God.” To many, Jesus was just a common criminal; and the thought of anyone being healed in His name was detestable at best. On the basis of the reaction towards the name of Jesus (and the prohibition that the men stop mentioning the name), we can tell that Christ’s exaltation was an offense to them.
I think this is the case today as well: people are still offended by the name of Jesus. When someone mentions Jesus and Christianity (based upon Jesus), many label Christians as “intolerant” and “bigoted” and “haughty,” etc. One who names the name of Christ is often thought of as “close-minded” and “narrow-minded,” someone whose beliefs are antiquated and outdated. But notice the words of Scripture: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is NO OTHER NAME under heaven given among men by which we MUST BE saved” (Acts 4:12). There is salvation in no one else but Christ! Buddha, Mohammed, the gods of Hinduism, etc., will not save. Christ is the only way to the Father, the only way to be saved (John 14:6).
The name of Jesus Christ offended many in both Christ’s day and the apostles’. And sadly enough, it still offends today. It may sound harsh, but it’s true: Christ is the only solution for the nations. Take away Christ and the gospel, and there is nothing left but condemnation, wrath, and death. In future posts, I will deal with the gospel being intended for all and Christ as God’s gift to the world. God Bless...

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