Last week I began to address Jordan’s questions regarding C.S. Lewis’s views on inclusivism. I concluded that C.S. Lewis was indeed an inclusivist who held that although Jesus is the only way to eternal life, explicit faith in Christ is not necessary for salvation. Lewis’s views are echoed by other theologians and pastors — most notably, Billy Graham has endorsed a form of inclusivism in recent years.
So does the Scripture support inclusivism?
I’ll be arguing my position from the Bible, but my intent is not to label those who disagree with me as heretics or heathens. I’ll talk more about that issue in my final post on this subject, but my hope is to simply lay down the biblical facts as I see them.
That having been said, I strongly believe that the Bible supports Christian exclusivism, the belief that explicit faith in Christ is necessary for eternal life. Here’s why:
The Scripture consistently states that faith in Christ is necessary to receive salvation. Although you could argue that “faith in Christ” includes unconscious belief, this isn’t the most natural way to read the passages in question. For example, John 3:16-18 repeatedly talks about faith in Christ as necessary for salvation — it’s hard for me to imagine the original readers understanding that in any way other than explicit belief in what Jesus had accomplished through His death and resurrection. Romans 3 is another example. After declaring that nobody achieves eternal life through his own righteousness — because everybody is wicked — Paul states that justification comes only through belief in Christ. In other words, I think he directly contradicts the inclusivist position here by saying that no amount of sincerity or piety is enough to receive salvation apart from exercising faith in Christ.
Most of the apostles died trying to evangelize the world. Why would they do this if they felt that a sincere person could be saved apart from knowing about Jesus? Why not leave well enough alone? Why insist upon the worship of Jesus alone (and face terrible consequences for doing so) if it wasn’t really necessary? From what I see in the Scripture (particularly the book of Acts), they strongly believed in the exclusivity of salvation through faith in Christ.
Romans 1, in particular, eliminates the myth of the “righteous pagan.” In Romans 1 Paul states that worship of false gods is the way that people run away from God, not a way that they seek to know Him. As I stated above, his premise is that general revelation leads to condemnation, not to salvation. What we often call “seeking for God” is in fact a way of avoiding Him and rejecting Him. So the idea of an idolater in Africa who has never heard of Jesus but worships Him nonetheless is a myth, according to Romans 1.
For those who do sincerely want to know God, He provides further revelation leading to an understanding of the Gospel. I have biblical evidence of this and anecdotal evidence. From the Scripture, we see the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8), who genuinely wants to understand the Old Testament but has nobody to tell him what it means. He is the paradigm of the “righteous pagan.” How does God respond? He sends Philip to the man, and Philip clearly explains the Gospel of Christ! Cornelius is another example (Acts 10). God sent Peter to this God-fearing Gentile, just so he could know about Jesus and be saved.
Anecdotally (from people I know personally), I’ve heard of Muslims having dreams instructing them to listen to a particular missionary who would tell them about Jesus. I know of a formerly Hindu man who had a vision of Jesus that led to his salvation. I strongly believe that God is gracious, and He can get the message of the Gospel to whomever He pleases, assuming those individuals are prepared to hear it.
And this is critical to explain about exclusivism — we don’t believe that everybody in the Middle East is going to hell because they happen to be born in a particular place with particular parents. To the contrary, God is very capable of penetrating those lands with the Gospel in any way He pleases, and He does it all the time. God is deeply gracious and concerned with the salvation of the entire world. And I think we will be surprised to see many people from all over the world with us in heaven because God in His mercy revealed the Gospel to them in amazing ways.
There’s obviously not enough space to answer every question on this topic here, so I’ll leave it to your comments. My next post will address the question of how we ought to respond to the writings of Lewis, and others who hold his view. What should we think about a brilliant Christian theologian who held a view with which many of us strongly disagree?[Image via http://www.lostseed.com/meet-jesus/prayer.php]