Thursday, September 22, 2011

Where the Inconsistency Lies: The Inclusivist Denial of the Greater Revelation

“The explanation for the salvation of these Old Testament saints [Moses and David] is, typically, that they are saved by the blood of Jesus--- in the same way we are saved. This is undoubtedly the case. However, they then constitute people saved by Jesus without explicitly accepting him---in other words, they are saved via inclusivist means. Why separation from Jesus chronologically should permit inclusivist salvation while separation from him geographically or culturally cannot, is a puzzle exclusivists must solve if they are not to fall into a blatant inconsistency” (James F. Sennett, “Bare Bones Inclusivism and the Implications of Romans 1:20.” EQ 77.4 (2005): 316).

Today’s post is a bit of a detour from the series on annihilationism I’ve been writing here at The Center for Theological Studies for the last two to three weeks. I realize that I need to provide an update to my readership as to my whereabouts and before I get started with today’s post, let me provide a quick update here.

For the last near two weeks, I have been reading for my new degree. Having graduated from Southeastern Seminary this past May 2011, I then turned to Southeastern’s Master of Theology (ThM) program, which constitutes the start of doctoral studies. In other words, I’m well on my way to obtaining a PhD...though it will take another four to five years before I obtain it. In any case, between that and looking for full-time positions of work, I’ve had my hands tied. I am currently applying for a full-time position of theological researcher at an international writing company. Still though, I don’t yet have a decision from them. Pray that all goes well---and that I can get the job.

Now, on to the task at hand. Sennett seems to posit that there is an inconsistency in the exclusivist argument, since exclusivists argue that the OT saints can be chronologically disabled from explicit faith in Jesus while people today cannot be geographically or culturally hindered. But this claim of Sennett’s is problematic.

First off, let’s notice that the OT saints were hindered from explicit faith in Christ because of chronology, the time in which they lived. People today are not chronologically hindered from Christ. Christ had not yet come in the Old Testament. He has come today (Romans 3:24-26; Acts 17:30-31). Men can no longer claim ignorance because Christ has come. Though it may not seem true, the person on the island today has been given more revelation (because Christ has come) than persons on the island in the days before Christ. That in and of itself indicates a greater responsibility toward the gospel.

Now let’s tackle the idea of what Sennett calls “inclusivist means.” What about Old Testament Gentiles such as Rahab and Ruth? Were they saved by “inclusivist means”? I think not! The story of Ruth shows that Ruth left Moab, her homeland, and her family in order to join herself to Naomi and her God:

“Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people; and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16, NASB).

The last statement Ruth makes is “your God [shall be] my God,” a statement that indicates an explicit confession in the Lord God of Israel, Yahweh. It is at this point in the narrative of the book of Ruth that Ruth says, “I claim your God as my own God. Yahweh is Lord of my life, Naomi, just like He is Lord of yours.” Does this indicate inclusivism of any sort, inclusivism in the manner James Sennett seems to think it does? Of course not! After all, the Lord was known in the days of Naomi as “Yahweh” Ruth’s ownership of the God of Israel was her very own personal confession of faith in God. This contradicts Sennett’s claim to inclusivism---for Ruth had an explicit confession, recorded in Ruth 1:16, that Yahweh would be her God.

Thus, there is no inclusivism in the Old Testament, for explicit faith is there in the text. The second problem with Sennett’s claim is his statement that individuals today are culturally and geographically hindered from explicit confession of faith in Christ. Is this true? No! This is where making distinctions is so vital to the theological profession.

There is a difference between “hindered from a human messenger” and “hindered from Christ.” Can individuals of today be hindered from a human messenger? Of course. There are still countries in which human missionaries are denied access. There are still countries in which missionaries cannot work and live. Such countries do not want to know the God of the Bible, and do not want missionaries to come in the country for fear of converting their people. In such situations, missionaries are denied access and cannot give gospel presentations. But does the limited access of missionaries indicate that the Missio Dei, the mission of God, is limited? Not at all. Paul said it best in 2 Timothy 2:

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned” (2 Timothy 2:8-9, NASB).

Paul was imprisoned, but the Word of God was not. And today, there are many missionaries who are imprisoned...but the Word of God is not. Sometimes in this discussion, inclusivists do not understand that when they synonymize the message and the messenger, they negate the sovereignty of God to take the gospel to those who are denied access to a human messenger.

I think the real inconsistency does not lie in exclusivist claims to distinguish the pre-Christ and post-Christ eras, but rather, to inclusivists who claim that Christ must atone for sins (necessary atonement) but that one can believe in Him for salvation or not (optional faith). Will a husband give himself for his wife and yet, allow his wife to go have an affair with another man? Hardly any. And if a husband is this jealous for his wife’s affections, why wouldn’t the Lord be even more jealous for the praise of the humanity for which Christ died? God bless. 

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