Is Jesus the Only Savior?
Is the Gospel of Jesus Necessary for Salvation?
Read these two questions again, and marvel that some modern theologians can answer “yes” to question one, and “no” to question two!
Their position, called “Inclusivism,” is growing in popularity today. Inclusivist’s believe that the work of Jesus on the cross is the basis for salvation, but the means of salvation is a more vague “faith in God.” Notice, “faith in God,” not “repentance for sin and faith in the Gospel, or “faith in the cross of Jesus” is what is required. Therefore, Inclusivism believes that Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and any others who have “faith in God,” are saved by their “faith,” and that the blood of Christ is applied to all who “believe in God.” They become, as Roman Catholic Theologian Karl Rahner describes them, “anonymous Christians” who saved by Jesus though they may not believe in Jesus at all.
Christian Exclusivism (or historic Christianity) rejects Inclusivism, Pluralism, and Classic Universalism as Biblically faithful options. I know, these are big “theological” titles! So here is a brief breakdown of these important concepts.
Christian Exclusivism – Salvation only through the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Exclusivists hold that salvation is found only through individuals responding to the Gospel message with repentance and faith. The Gospel is beautifully summarized in passages like 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Acts 2:23-24, 38; 3:15; 4:10-12. The message is clear- Jesus died in our place, paying for our sins on the cross. When the sinner repents of their sins and places their faith in Jesus Christ (the One who paid for their sins), they can be forgiven and reconciled to God– forever. Exclusivism boldly asserts four propositions:
(2) There is one way to God (Acts 4:12; 10:43; John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5).
(3) We are to take this one way to all peoples (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 17:30; Rev. 1:7; 14:6).
(4) Other gods/religions are deceptive products of the evil one (Psalm 106:36-39; John 8:44; Rom. 1; 1 Cor. 10:14-22; 2 Cor. 4:4; 11:13-14; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Peter 2).
Classic Universalism – Everyone Will Ultimately Be Saved.
Universalism holds that everyone will ultimately believe in Jesus (Phil. 2:6-11; 1 Peter 3:19-20; 4:6). That is, after death, everyone will have an opportunity to believe in Jesus– and they will. This is the classic doctrine of the second chance (Heb. 9:27).
Pluralism – All Religions Equally Save.
Pluralism holds all religions to be equally true, and an equal path to God. As Oprah Winfrey has said, “One of the biggest mistakes we make is to believe there is only one way. There are many diverse paths leading to God.” Or, to quote the world’s leading pluralistic theologian, Dr. John Hick writes, “God as known to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and others represent different manifestations in relation to humanity, different ’faces’ or ’masks’ or personae of God, the Ultimate Reality.” (Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995., p. 39).
Inclusivism – Jesus only Savior, Everyone who “believes in God” will ultimately be Saved.
Inclusivism holds that only Jesus saves. Yet if followers of other religions sincerely believe in God and follow their religion (even rejecting Christianity!), they can be saved, and be “Christians” without even knowing it! Jesus is the basis (ontological ground) for everyone’s salvation, but the gospel is not the only message (epistemological means) for salvation. Inclusivist, Clark Pinnock says, “Inclusivism offers… a middle ground between exclusivism and pluralism, holding both to the particularity of salvation through Christ, and to the universal scope of God’s plan to save sinners.” (Ibid, p. 102). Pinnock explains,
“By faith, one receives the prevenient grace of God on the basis of an honest search for God and obedience to God’s word [note: not “Word” as in Scripture], as heard in the heart and conscience. A… believer is, one might say, latently a member of Christ’s body and destined to receive the grace of conversion and explicit knowledge of Jesus Christ at a later date, whether in this life or after death. Faith cannot be identified with adherence to Christianity or any other religion….I contend that those who have faith in God during their earthly lives… are ‘believers,’ even if they are not Christians” (Ibid, p. 117, 148, emphasis and note added).
Inclusivism appears to be the “official” position of the Roman Catholic Church. The Catechism says,
“Those who through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ of his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience– those too may achieve eternal salvation.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York, Doubleday, 1994. Para 847, emphasis added).
So, what do we make of these views? James Packer may express it best when it writes,
“Universalism in all it’s forms [including Pluralism and Inclusivism] is a human wish seeking a divine warrant” (Hell Under Fire, p. 174).
We might wish for things to be like the movie, “All Dogs Go To Heaven,” so that “all people go to heaven,” but they do not (Mt. 25:46). Jesus is clear, tragically most people do not go to heaven (Mt. 7:13-14). This is difficult in our global, relativistic society. We live and work next to people of different religions (globalism), and we are constantly taught tolerance for all. Tolerance once meant tolerate, now it means affirm as valid. As Christians we face two choices- (1) compromise our faith through Pluralism or Inclusivism, or (2) hold steadfast to our faith and graciously contend for the truth of the Gospel (Exclusivism).
My prayer is that we will choose the later, even when it means rejection by those around us. Beloved, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is exclusive, glorious, powerful, and the onlybasis and means for salvation in this world– let’s share it boldly!