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"Inclusivism posits that even though the work of Christ is the only means of salvation, it does not follow that explicit knowledge of Christ is necessary in order for one to be saved. In contrast to pluralism, inclusivism agrees with exclusivism in affirming the particularity of salvation in Jesus Christ. But unlike exclusivism, inclusivism holds that an implicit faith response to general revelation can be salvific. God expects from man a response proportional to the light given. Saving faith is not characterized so much by its cognitive content as it is by its reverent quality."[1]




Private inclusivism

"Private inclusivism contends that one who is accepted by God apart from the preaching of the Gospel is saved in spite of whatever religion to which he may be an adherent. His religious orientation plays no part in his salvation and in fact is a definite hindrance. The non-Christian’s ignorant beliefs, if sincere, are inculpable but have no positive role in his relationship with God." [2]

Corporate inclusivism

"Corporate inclusivism... argues that the non-Christian religions mediate the work of Christ." [3]

Favorable arguments cited

  • Romans 2 indicates that there are justified law-doers without exposure to the Law--law-doers not in the sense of sinless perfection, but in the sense of the obedience of those in Romans 2:7,9.
  • Passages such as Acts 4:12 indicate the ontological necessity of Christ's work, but not knowledge of that work.
  • People like Cornelius and Melchizedek show that one can be a God-fearer who pleases God, in right relationship, before hearing special revelation.
  • That infants who die are saved, without respect to faith or lineage (something that almost all proponents of exclusivism hold), shows that special revelation is not absolutely necessary for salvation.
  • That God is loving and good infers that God would save the unreached.
  • It would be unjust of God to damn those without knowledge of the gospel.


Critics of inclusivism argue that general revelation, or anything else for that matter besides Christ himself, is not sufficient for salvation.

", not professing the Christian religion, [cannot] be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the laws of that religion they do profess. And, to assert and maintain that they may, is very pernicious, and to be detested. [4]

The only way to the father is through Jesus (John 14:6), furthermore, "he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:12). Most emphatically, Paul declares:

"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent." (Romans 10:13-15)

It is important to notice Paul's breakdown in his series of questions: "calling on", "believing in", "hearing about", "preaching to", and "being sent." "The clear implications of these questions is that if missionaries are not sent to preach the gospel of Christ to those who have not heard about him in order that they may hear about him, believe in him, and call upon his name for salvation, these unevangelized people, who are condemned already, will remain unsaved and cannot and will not be saved by any other means." [5]

Romans 2

Moreover, although inclusivists use Romans 2 to support their view, it becomes clear upon a close and consistent reading of the text that inclusivism does not make sense of verse 12. Paul asserts that, "For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law." Most commentators equate the "law" with special revelation. Thus, this passage states that those without special revelation (i.e., those without the law) still perish. It becomes difficult to understand how "those who have sinned without the law" will somehow be saved, or "included", when Paul explains very clearly that they will "also perish without the law." Inclusivists must deal with this Pauline affirmation that both - those with the law and those without the law - perish.

Salvation in the OT

Portions of this debate hinge on one's understanding of salvation in the Old Testament. Inclusivists generally claim that Jews in the OT were saved apart from Jesus and that this warrants a similar view today. Robert Reymond argues in his A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (1998) that salvation in the OT was in fact seen through Israel's faith in the promised Messiah.[6] This is consistently seen as a trust in God and in his promises of which is both seen in the present and in the future. Thus, Israel was to trust God to deliver them from their present suffering (e.g., the Exodus), and they were to trust God that he would deliver them from their future sufferings through the Messiah. In these regards, deliverance (i.e., salvation) was always placed in a God who revealed himself to the nation Israel who hoped and look forward to His promise of the coming Messiah. Lastly, the Westminster Confession of Faith asserts the following:

" promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types of ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation." (VII.5)

Notable quotes with an inclusive tenor

  • "We can safely say (i) if any good pagan reached the point of throwing himself on His Maker's mercy for pardon, it was grace that brought him there; (ii) God will surely save anyone he brings thus far; (iii) anyone thus saved would learn in the next world that he was saved through Christ" [7]
  • "So what of the more mature persons who have sinned consciously, but have never heard (and are therefore in no position to accept with explicit faith) the gospel of God’s matchless love for the whole world? May it not be that ‘God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved’ (1 Tim. 2:4), and does not want ‘anyone to perish’ (2 Pet. 3:9), quickens in some men by his Spirit a consciousness of sin and need, and enables them, n the twilight, to cast themselves on his mercy? If so, then they, too, would be saved by the grace of God in Christ alone." [8]
  • "God can illuminate whom and when he will, even without the external ministry, which is a thing appertaining to his power." [9]
  • "elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth." "So also are all other elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word." [10]
  • "The benefit of the death of Christ is...extended...even unto those who are inevitably excluded from this knowledge. Even these may be partakers of the benefit of His death, though ignorant of the history, if they suffer His grace to take place in their hearts, so as of wicked men to become holy." [11]
  • "That some unevangelized men are saved, in the present life, by an extraordinary exercise of redeeming grace in Christ, has been the hope and belief of Christendom. It was the hope and belief of the elder Calvinists, as of the later." [12]
  • "Those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them by the dictates of their conscience." [13]
  • C. S. Lewis - "We do know that no person can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved by Him." [14]
  • John Stott - "I have never been able to conjure up (as some great Evangelical missionaries have) the appalling vision of the millions who are not only perishing but will inevitably perish. On the other hand… I am not and cannot be a universalist. Between these extremes I cherish and hope that the majority of the human race will be saved. And I have a solid biblical basis for this belief." [15]
  • Billy Graham - "And that's what God is doing today, He's calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don't have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they're going to be with us in heaven." [16]


  1. Ken Keathley (PDF)
  2. Ken Keathley (PDF)
  3. Ken Keathley (PDF)
  4. (Westminster Confession of the Faith, X.4, emphasis supplied, quoted in Robert Reymond, Contending for the Faith, s.v. "The 'Very Pernicious and Detestable' Doctrine of Inclusivism", p. 367.
  5. Reymond, "The 'Very Pernicious and Detestable' Doctrine of Inclusivism", p. 381.
  6. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Thomas Nelson, 1998), p. 503-44
  7. J. I. Packer, God’s Words, p. 210.
  8. J. N. D. Anderson
  9. Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter 1 (1566)
  10. Westminister Confession 10.3 (1647 A.D.)
  11. Statement by Robert Barclay, with which John Wesley says Christians agree with, Letters 2:118
  12. William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology vol. 2 (1888), p. 706.
  13. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium, 16
  14. Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), p. 65.
  16. Interview of Billy Graham by Robert Schuller, May 31, 1997.


  • Robert Reymond, Contending for the Faith. Mentor, 2005.
  • ________ A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998.
  • Stanley N. Gundry, ed., Four Views of Salvation in a Pluralistic World ISBN 0310212766

See also

External links