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Greg Koukl’s Inclusivism

September 20, 2011

or

“Should I Come Up With a Different Term Than ‘Inclusivism’?”

I Just listened to Greg Koukl’s talk about the list  of non-negotiables that should prevent your sending your child to various bible colleges.  In it he specified that (among all the other things I agreed with) they should not hold to inclusivism.  Here’s the link.  The topic is at about 2/5 of the way through (I think at around the hour mark or more).

The question he wants you to ask about the school is “Do they think that Jesus is the only way of salvation, or are there other ways?”  He’s talking here about pluralism (different religions can save people) and inclusivism as well, but I think he’s blurring the line between the two.  He does this by describing inclusivism as a straw-man depiction (at least in my eyes), meaning he’s including an obvious flaw in the argument that I don’t consider part of inclusivism in order to be able to knock it down.

He continues: “inclusivists hold that Jesus is the only way but God will put up with your belief in another religion as a show of good faith and forgive you through Jesus even if you got the details wrong”.  So far, so good…
Here’s where I think he starts making stuff up (or at least getting thinks wrong):

“…but they’re really included by God’s grace and under the blood of Christ because they’re good Buddhists, or good Jews, or good Hindus, or good Muslims,  so it amounts to the same as pluralism, but they get there in a little different way, but in both cases the great commission is undermined, because if people can get to God without the gospel, then there is no pressure to get the gospel out and fulfil the great commission.  There might be value to it, but its not essential.  That’s the distinction.  Most of these groups, or at least inclusivists will say ‘gee the gospel’s valuable but its not essential – people can be saved without believing in Jesus.  And that to me undermines the great commission.”

Now, I don’t know if he’s accurate that this is what some bible colleges hold when they say they allow teaching on inclusivism, but its certainly not what I mean.

Lets break this down:

…but they’re really included by God’s grace and under the blood of Christ because they’re good Buddhists, or good Jews, or good Hindus, or good Muslims,  so it amounts to the same as pluralism, but they get there in a little different way

When I say that the bible seems to be teaching inclusivism, that means all of the bible still applies and I think that exclusivists have actually made a mistake.  Its obvious that no one will be saved because they’ve been good at being bad.  All of the above mentioned religions teach things that contradict God’s word, so if the kind of inclusivism I’m thinking about is correct, its not for this reason.  I think that if a professing Muslim dies without professing Christ and still ends up in eternity (and not entirely destroyed, remember I’m an annihilationist) its not because of anything to do with Mohammed.  It entirely has to do with Christ.  If that person has repented from selfish reflexes to do a real (objectively virtuous) good deed, something to help someone around him at his own expense, there is no possible way he or she could have done that on their own without the movement of the Holy Spirit.  He could have heard people talk about that virtue at some point earlier in his life…

Rom 10:17 Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ.

and remember that the first person in existence to speak was God himself, and we know that:

Isa 55:11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

What I’m trying to say is that just like “innocent” humans born in abject circumstances can suffer due to the sins of previous generations through no fault of their own, so too might people eventually be blessed by the preached word of Christ (the personification of truth) implanted into their (otherwise deranged) culture as little bits of moral truth were told to their forefathers in the past and made it through to them.  Christ wants us to be front and center with our faith, but He can still work at the fringes.

It may seem as you read this that I’m emphasizing inclusivism as a main pillar of my view of the Gospel, but its only so because its in such contrast with the current state of the majority of evangelicalism.  Its really (in my current interpretation) at the perifery of Gods intension for how God’s people are to participate in the conquoring of the world for Christ, just as those innocent human persons (aborted babies) that never make it into active society today are still human persons nonetheless.  Likewise I persist in this line of thought about inclusivism because to sweep it under the rug has a similar effect to just ignoring the problem of abortion.  Its been 30 odd years since Roe v. Wade and society hasn’t collapsed in the states yet, right?  But its still an outrageious abomination and some would argue that that may have some part of what’s happening in the states today as their society does seem to be reeling now.  In the same way, the reason I seem to be harping on inclusivism here is that I think (if I’m right in my hypothesis) it can be part of what is ailing evangelicalism in the world today.  If its true, then its true and truth will prevail.  The faster we get more truth glorified in more areas of life, the sooner the blessing of God can begin to reach new heights in building the kingdom of God

Lets continue.

but in both cases the great commission is undermined, because if people can get to God without the gospel, then there is no pressure to get the gospel out and fulfil the great commission.

This just follows from my argument above.  As always, Christ is the only one who can save, however (and this may be a major dent in the armor – I’m not sure about this next statement (time for research)) I don’t think it says “the gospel saves” but “Jesus saves”.  I think the gospel makes people into Christians, i.e. when they comprehend the good news, the Holy Spirit comes upon them in such a way as to awaken them to new life – the conscious awareness of Christ working in their life, and the beginnings of their participation in that.  They become born again, born from above over top of their life in the flesh (meaning their bare biological life and all that that entails).  So if I’m right that God can choose to bring some people into eternal life by the finished work of Christ on the cross without their knowing it outright within their lifetime, that has no bearing on the great commission other than to possibly enhance it.

Here’s the implied argument in the statement “no pressure to get the gospel out”: “inclusivists say that God doesn’t really care about the overall health of his kingdom here on earth let alone glorification, He’s really just wanting numbers – pew sitters in heaven.  Therefore if we know that some, or probably many, non-christians will get to heaven, what’s the rush to get all excited about talking about the gospel.  In fact why bother even praying…”  You know the argument, its just like the old “Why do Calvinists bother praying or doing missionary work” argument (because Calvinists are serious about the belief that God chose all believers before they were even born, some Arminians argue that for a Calvinist to be consistent, they shouldn’t bother to try to “convert” people – more on this in the chapter on that debate).  I think inclusivism actually demonstrates that God does care about the overall health of the kingdom.  I think its part of his providence.  He takes care of us in a minimal sort of way by acting in grace through non-churchy and perhaps even “anti-religious” people doing actual (objective) good when the church isn’t doing what it should be doing well enough.  I think this method of providence may even be to shame the church onto action – I don’t know.

I think its safe to say that every Christian yearns for perfection – both their own perfection and the perfection of the church.  The great commission says that we are to make disciples of all the nations.  I believe we are in the spiritual millennium (1000 figurative years of Christs kingdom on earth as he rules from the right hand of God) that was foreshadowed by the actual millennium (1000 literal years of the kingdom from Solomon to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70AD).  History will unfold by the nations eventually becoming fully Christian (disciples), and just before the end (in 100, 500 or maybe thousands of years from now) Satan will be released to deceive the nations against the church briefly one last time before the end of this age.  That said, how does the fact that some people might get to heaven without being a conscious christian dampen that yearning to strive for christian perfection , i.e. maturity in Christ on the personal and international levels?

In fact I think that if this kind of inclusivism was widely accepted, that would make it easier to disciple the nations and bring all these “pre-born” christians into the world as it were.  Again its like the abortion problem.  If everyone agreed that it was wrong to sacrifice innocent human persons to the pagan god of our convenience (acknowledge that fetuses of any age are human persons) then more of them would make it into life alive and ready to join in with the glorification of God.  Picture yourself on a plane next to someone who’s not yet a believer.  What’s harder to do, trying to convince them that the straw-man Jesus they have in their head is not actually the true Jesus and that they should start believing what you believe about him, or trying to steer the conversation towards what’s good and bad about the world and perhaps where that goodness comes from or maybe fan the flames of that righteous attitude?  I don’t know, but I just think inclusivism is helpful in the evangelism department rather than a hindrance.  Besides, like I said before, it doesn’t reallly matter if its good or bad for evangelization.  Its either true or its not true, and if it is true, I’m just saying it’s not to the detriment of the discipling of the nations.

Lastly, Greg says:

inclusivists will say ‘gee the gospel’s valuable but its not essential – people can be saved without believing in Jesus.

The gospel is essential.  There is nothing good in this world that wasn’t either created by God or originated in something said by God.  In fact, everything created in the physical universe was through the word of God anyway.  The fact that society continues to proceed forward in spite of the church dropping the ball for the past 100-200 years is because of the residual effects of the word of God living in the hearts and minds of individuals throughout all those years, and against the buffeting winds of scientism and secularism and relativism etc.  The world needs the gospel for the kingdom to grow however – it is the spirit of the kingdom.  Saying the gospel is not essential to christianity is like saying consciousness is not essential to living a human life.  Sure you can be human and unconscious, but that’s not what we’re made for, and a christian who’s an inclusivist certainly doesn’t think the gospel is in-essential to the church or to those who end up with eternal life either way.

Greg’s last sentence there (people can be saved without believing in Jesus) is the crux of his making inclusivism a straw-man to be knocked down.  I’m not saying here that people can be saved without believing in Jesus.  I’m saying that believing in Jesus includes a lot more than what many evangelicals today say that it means.  Every statement in the new testament concerning how one can be saved (I think that may be the next real “chapter” I’ll have to write about – going through all the salvation passages) describes examples of the many ways that a person can exercise faith in Christ.  They are examples of the underlying theme (only Jesus saves), not an exclusive list of items that you have to check off to “make the grade”.

So now that i’ve differentiated what I mean from what Greg means by “inclusivism”, how should I proceed here?  I don’t want to drive readers away from learning something potentially valuable just because I use a red flag word.  I think I’ll start using the term “particular inclusivism”  This is mainly because it emphasizes this book’s main thesis – the national soul.  If God grants immortality to someone at the fringe of Christendom – someone many of us might be surprised to see in eternity, he’s granting it purely because of the “parts” of that person he identifies as the work of his son.  The other “parts” of that person not glorifying Christ will be destroyed.  For further discussion, see here.

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