An increasing number of evangelicals find the “inclusivist” view of salvation appealing. This view maintains the traditional Christian belief that “Jesus is the only way to God” while denying the necessity of placing personal conscious faith in Christ for salvation. In other words, there is the possibility that other religious paths lead ultimately to God through Christ, even if the adherents never profess faith in Christ.
Some evangelicals find this view attractive because it softens the exclusive claims of Jesus without completely doing away with them. We can go right on saying “Jesus is the only way” while acknowledging the possibility that people outside the Christian faith may still be saved. It appears more humble and openminded than the traditional view that insists – not only that Jesus is the only way, but also that our response to Christ in this life matters for eternity.
Despite the veneer of humility, I believe the inclusivist position to be more arrogant than traditional exclusivism. Here are three reasons why:
1. If our response to Christ in this life doesn’t matter, then evangelism is merely an attempt to force one’s religious preference upon another.
Let’s say you’re trapped in the middle of a forest that is on fire. The blaze is all around you, and you don’t know how to escape the dense underbrush. Someone comes up to you and says, “There are multiple paths out of the forest, but I really think you should follow me out this one.”
“Why should I follow your path if I can escape the fire any other way?” you ask.
“Because my path is the best,” he says. “If you join me on my path, you’ll find that it’s the best possible way to live.”
“Thanks, but I’m not that concerned with the best path. I just want to escape.”
Transfer this illustration to the inclusivist position and you can see how smug it sounds. Evangelism for the inclusivist isn’t telling people, “Trust Jesus before it’s too late.” Instead, it’s telling people, “It may not matter what you do with Jesus in this life for your eternity, but I still think you should trust Him because He’s the better than all the other religious options.”
It’s one thing to say that Jesus is the only way and to call people to repentance based on that truth. That’s not arrogant; it’s loving. It’s another thing to say that there are multiple ways to God, but that people should still choose Jesus because He’s just better than Buddha, Mohammed, or another religion’s holy person. That’s like trying to force someone to choose your favorite flavor of ice cream.
2. Inclusivism is patronizing to non-Christians.
Evangelicals may feel better about themselves when they adopt inclusivism, but most of my non-Christian friends find it patronizing. That’s why Lisa Miller confronted Rob Bell about this matter. She took umbrage at the thought that her Jewish relatives wound up in heaven through Jesus when they most assuredly did not believe in Christ. She’s right. Inclusivism fails to take into account that our choices and beliefs in this present life really do matter and really do have eternal consequences.
Inclusivism lightens the burdened conscience of the Christian who is not active in fulfilling the Great Commission. It does not soften the offense of the gospel to those who want nothing to do with Christ.
3. Inclusivism isn’t as inclusive as the call to evangelism.
Evangelism takes place because the call of salvation is radically inclusive. We are to call all people everywhere to repentance and faith: people from every tongue, tribe, and nation; people of every color, ethnicity, and background; yes, even people who claim other religious identities.
The truly narrow-minded, prejudiced Christian looks at a Buddhist or a Hindu and stays quiet about Jesus. Their silence says this: Jesus isn’t for you.
On the other hand, the evangelistic Christian recognizes the radically inclusive call to salvation. It is because of the exclusive nature of Christianity that the offer of the gospel is so radically inclusive. Christ calls all people everywhere to repentance. Forgiveness in Jesus Christ is available for all… even those outside our faith.