Thursday, March 31, 2011

An Elusive Inclusivism

There is a thorn in the side of modern Arminianism and it seems to aggravate a recurring injury inflicted upon us by various adversaries. Our Calvinist brethren are often quick to suggest the end of Arminianism is a Universalist theology, much to our consternation. Arminians, at least those adhering to the classical Arminianism of Episcopius and the Remonstrant as well as James Arminius, are not in any fashion shadowed by the umbrella of a doctrine that maintains all will eventually be saved. Universalism is heresy, acknowledged as such by all of orthodox Protestantism. The charge usually is derived through a misrepresentation of the doctrine of the atonement i.e. our rejection of Calvinist limited atonement. Fortunately, the writings and evidence of James Arminius and others soundly refute these suggestions.  The charge becomes another false representation made by a rather divisive sect within Christendom that is added to several others. These include not only universalism but open theism, semi-Pelagianism, liberalism, postmodern theology, process theology and radical inclusivism. This last error, inclusivism, has been the topic of several discussions lately, both public and private.

Terminology is sometimes an elusive beast. What is inclusivism? In simple terms, it is the belief that souls might be saved via the light that they have received absent explicit affirmation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   Inclusivism can include several facets and variations. In a sense, all but the hardest determinists, the hard Calvinists, incorporate some measure of inclusion in their theological Weltanschauung. Our young children, the mentally infirm among us, aborted children, all fall into a category of inclusion as it regards the assent of explicit faith. Whether the inclusion is via covenant theology, innocence with regard to accountability or the teachings specific to Christ regarding children, conservatives, liberals, Protestants and Catholics alike embrace some form of inclusivism in their theology. The difficulty arises when salvation becomes attainable through general revelation rather than by the means of evangelization. The matter becomes much worse when the inclusivist embraces a post-mortem evangelization allowing the soul who dies lost to be rescued from hell itself. It is these latter notions of inclusivism, salvation through general revelation and post-mortem evangelizing, that are the focus of this aggravating thorn.

By making the accusation of universalism, Calvinists suggest that Arminian soteriology makes universalism possible through an atonement that pays the price of sin for all men and that, if true, condemning men to hell would be an unjust double jeopardy. The Arminian replies that the atonement is an unlimited provision made by Christ to the Father that is efficacious only through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This understanding is the predominant position in the church and, remarkably, was also held by Calvinists namesake, John Calvin. However, when the inclusivist introduces post-mortem evangelization, what I refer to as radical inclusivism, he brings his soteriology right to the brink of the Calvinist charge of universalism. He has a soul lingering in hell responding to the “great second chance” at salvation. It is convenient to suggest that some souls might prefer the eternity of death to the bliss of glory but I think the suggestion smacks of incredulity. At the very least, such a theology turns the teaching of Jesus on its head and promotes a wide, broadest road to salvation and the tiniest sliver of a path, if at all, to destruction. It becomes an elusive inclusivism that reaches for the universalist ideal while attempting to dismiss what is obvious, it’s own glaring heterodoxy. The radical inclusivist is nothing but a hairs breadth from a Universalist philosophically and for practical purposes is nothing but a Universalist. The moderate inclusivist who denies post-mortem evangelization has other problems, not the least being an inability to reconcile his philosophy with the scriptural teachings of justification by faith. How does a salvation via general revelation bring any sense of justification by faith unless the moderate inclusivist accedes to a post-mortem faith and justification? Logically, the moderate inclusivist is in just as tight a place as the radical. He must embrace either post-mortem evangelizing or reject justification by faith.

With all these things in mind, a passage from the prophet Ezekiel seems proper to close with. It goes to the very heart of our urgency in seeing souls saved and declares without a doubt the eternal importance of salvation now in this mortal life.

“ But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand. So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.” (Eze 33:6-9 AV)


Pumice said...

There are some areas that are interesting to discuss without being dogmatic. Inclusivism is in that category. You need to find some reason that Paul wrote what he did in Romans. I have a lot of ideas I come up with that I would not call doctrine and are spin offs of science fiction ideas about alternate universes and such. I need to be careful where I share them.

Grace and Peace

A.M. Mallett said...

I don't have a problem with inclusivism as it relates to infants, the infirm and aborted babies, for example. We can ponder how God saves such souls without reaching any certainty. As for general revelation vs. special revelation I think we end up venturing into areas that challenge our very missionary commission. That becomes especially true with post-mortem evangelizing.
I agree with you about certain ideas. On this forum, I have no restrictions even though I am bound to have some hard and fast opinions. For example I can easily contemplate eternal travel at the speed of thought but I can't relate that biblically. It is a philosophical construct.