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lead_basilica.jpgNot a week goes by that someone in their 20’s or 30’s asks me the perennial question: “Is Jesus the only way to God?” I believe that the question of Jesus as the only way to God is the defining question for our generation. 

America has quickly become a pluralist society. The number of religious options for American citizens has grown considerably in the past two hundred years, and immigration ensures that this trend will continue in the future. Often tethered to American pluralism is a philosophical pluralism that relativizes all religious truth claims and fights vehemently against any religious “monopoly” on truth.

Though evangelicals have largely avoided the philosophical pluralism that plagues the mainline denominations, several prominent evangelical scholars have begun espousing a “middle way” between the exclusivist claims of traditional Christianity and the relativistic doctrines of today’s pluralism. Over the next few days, I will seek to define this evangelical “inclusivism” and then show how evangelical inclusivism represents a capitulation to the current culture by adopting Western individualistic notions of “fairness,” by emptying saving faith of its biblical content, and by sharing the culture’s high view of human goodness.

Defining Inclusivism

In evangelicalism, no monolithic movement of “inclusivists” exists. Each inclusivist scholar will define and describe the inclusivist position with different nuances.

Yet, most inclusivists will agree with the basic points of Clark Pinnock’s proposal. Pinnock is a leading proponent of evangelical inclusivism who believes that Christians should take seriously the doctrine of God’s omnipresence. God’s presence in the whole world indicates that God’s grace is also at work “in some way” among all peoples.

The inclusivist position rests upon two axioms: particularity and universality. Regarding particularity, inclusivism differs from pluralism by stating clearly that salvation is found only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Regarding universality, inclusivism differs from exclusivism by claiming that God intends his salvation to be available to all humans everywhere. These two axioms lead Pinnock and other inclusivists to “entertain the possibility that religion may play a role in the salvation of the human race, a role preparatory to the gospel of Christ, in whom alone fullness of salvation is found.”

Inclusivists join with exclusivists in proclaiming that God’s salvation is always grounded on the person of Jesus Christ and the work he has accomplished for human redemption. Inclusivists also stand with exclusivists against universalism (the belief that all human beings will be saved) due to the frequent biblical references to hell and punishment.

But inclusivists are quick to agree with pluralists that God’s salvation must not be and cannot be restricted to only those who hear the gospel and consciously put their faith in Christ. After all, the practical implications of such a restriction would necessarily mean that the vast majority of human beings who have lived never even had an opportunity to believe in Christ and are therefore doomed to hell.

Though inclusivists claim to offer a “middle way” between pluralism and exclusivism, John Hick, a well-known pluralist who rejects Christ’s divinity, the inspiration of the Bible and other essential Christian doctrines, claims that “Pinnock’s inclusivism represents an enormous advance on Christian exclusivism.” Hick’s enthusiasm for the inclusivist position indicates the proximity of the inclusivist and pluralist views. Exclusivists tend to be much more reserved in their appreciation of evangelical inclusivism.

The inclusivist affirmation of salvation for people apart from conscious faith in Christ is what separates the inclusivists from exclusivism and this crucial difference will be the main focus of the remaining posts in this series. Stay tuned.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2007 Kingdom People blog


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5 thoughts on “What is Inclusivism and Why Does It Matter?”

  1. Trevin,

    As someone who is much invested in this topic, I look forward to reading your posts. In fact, I just completed a position paper on the mission of the Holy Spirit in the world where I critique modal/pneumatological inclusivism.

    Just a note – IVP is coming out with a book, I think entitled “Faith by Hearing” where nine authors contribute to a response to inclusivism. It is due out in March 08.

  2. trevinwax says:

    Hi Timmy,

    Thanks for your comment. Inclusivism is on-the-surface an attractive doctrine, but it leaves you empty because it weakens the missiological cause and adopts the world’s way of looking at “faith,” human goodness and the idea of “fairness.”

    I’m looking forward to the IVP book. Sounds like it will be great!

  3. David Parker says:

    There was a dust-up in my hometown along these lines, which can be read here. It basically involved a conservative Baptist church backing out on a commitment to host an interfaith event, which included Muslims, Bahai’s, etc. This is the kind of thing that gets all kinds of press, but is never really fully discussed in the media. They just dismiss it as wrongheaded, intolerant bigotry by conservative Christians, rather than seeking to understand why they sometimes take stands against ‘multi-culturalism’.

  4. I know this is an older post but thank you so much for posting this. I have been getting asked much about Neal Punt and his theology lately and am thankful for your knowledge that you share here. I wish there was a book that addressed this issue so that other evangelicals could biblically respond to those who hold to incluvisim.

  5. Wait I found the book Tim Brister mentions.

  6. Neal Punt says:

    For my response to Bell’s book LOVE WINS, please go to http://www.evangelicalinclusivism.com and
    scroll down to FAQ number 24 “Thee Observations About Bell’s Book, LOVE INS.

  7. Neal Punt says:

    My response to Rob Bell’s book LOVE WINS can be found at my website:
    http://www.evangelicalinclusivism.com and scrolling down to FAQ Number 24 “Three Observations About Rob Bell’s Book, LOVE WINS.”

    Peace, Neal Punt

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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