Inclusivism Defined

What is inclusivism?

Gregg Allison provides the following definition for Inclusivism in The Baker Compact Dictionary of Theological Terms:

“With regard to Christianity and other religions, the position that salvation comes through Christ yet extends beyond Christianity to include adherents of religions like Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Like exclusivism, inclusivism affirms that the person and work of Christ is the ground of salvation; through the life, death, and resurrection, Christ accomplished redemption. Unlike exclusivism, inclusivism denies that faith in his person and work is necessary to experience salvation. While people from non-Christian religions can be saved only by the salvation accomplished by Christ, they may experience salvation apart from faith in Christ. Inclusivism contrasts with exclusivism and pluralism [emphasis mine].”[1]

Dr. Craig’s Demarcation

In a recent Soteriology 101 Google Hangout session, Dr. Leighton Flowers, Director of Personal Evangelism and Apologetics for Texas Baptists, and host of Soteriology 101 podcast, addressed issues and questions surrounding the late Reverend Billy Graham’s controversial statements regarding salvation and those who have never heard.[2] This author agrees with Dr. Flowers’ conclusion that Reverend Graham was NOT an inclusivist. However, the statements of Dr. William Lane Craig shown from a video clip during the Soteriology 101 Google Hangout do seem to betray an inclusivist perspective.

To support his idea of what Graham probably believed about the situation of those who’ve never heard the gospel, Dr. Flowers adduces a clip of a response given by William Lane Craig during a Q&A session at an apologetics conference. Dr. William Lane Craig, a renowned apologist, articulates the necessity of the atonement of Christ for salvation in the first half of the video. Having settled that, Craig turns to address the issue of those who have never heard the gospel. Craig posits that God will judge persons according to the measure of light that he or she has received. Dr. Craig goes on to explain that this means that “A person can be a beneficiary of Christ’s atoning death without having a conscious knowledge of Christ.” In response to a final question regarding Romans 10:9, Craig remarks that to believe and confess the Lordship and resurrection of Christ is a “sufficient condition of salvation, not a necessary condition.” Thus, William Lane Craig minimizes the necessity of conscious personal faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.

To be sure, Dr. Craig grounds the means of salvation in the work of Christ’s atonement for those who haven’t heard, but he denies that explicit faith in Christ’s person and work on their behalf is necessary for their salvation. Craig’s explanation bears a striking resemblance with inclusivism as defined above which states, “Like exclusivism, inclusivism affirms that the person and work of Christ is the ground of salvation; through the life, death, and resurrection, Christ accomplished redemption. Unlike exclusivism, inclusivism denies that faith in his person and work is necessary to experience salvation.”

What About Job and Moses?

In the video, Dr. Craig initially cites Job as an example of someone who lacked the knowledge of Christ but was saved. Craig asserts that Job was not a part of Israel and not a part of the covenant of Abraham. Thus, according to this rationale, it is impossible for Job to have possessed anything but a general faith in God. Was Job truly without knowledge of a Redeemer? Clearly not.
“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God; Whom I myself shall behold, And whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27 NASB)

In his work, Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament, Eugene Merrill, distinguished professor of Old Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, states, “Job 19 is one of the clearest presentations of hope of life beyond the grave in the Old Testament and not merely in respect to immortality but full-blown resurrection.”[3]
A certainty of future resurrection is not a kind of knowledge gleaned by general revelation. Apart from special revelation, in what conceivable manner could Job gain assurance that he would be physically raised from the dead in order to behold God as his Redeemer?

Craig also names Moses as another Old Testament saint lacking such information. But was Moses truly devoid of Messianic knowledge?

Consider the indicting words of Jesus to the Pharisees:

“Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. “But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:45-47)

Jesus’ indictment of the Pharisees forthrightly grounds itself in the Torah’s apparent Messianic witness, of which its author, Moses, was well aware. In his book, The Messianic Hope, Michael Rydelnik, Professor of Jewish Studies at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, confirms this notion.

He argues:

“The significance of John 5:45-47 with regard to messianic prophecy is that Jesus indicated that Moses knew that he was writing about the Messiah. If Moses had not known of whom he was speaking, how could he accuse those who did not believe him? Imagine how illogical that would be Moses accusing others for failing to understand what he himself did not comprehend. Moses had to understand that he wrote of Messiah in the Torah or he would not be qualified to accuse those who did not correctly interpret the messianic hope in the Torah.”[4]

Furthermore, R. Douglas Geivett and W. Gary Phillips contend against the inclusivistic faith principle that general faith in God is sufficient for salvation in their defense of a particularist view of salvation in Four Views On Salvation In a Pluralistic World. 

They argue:

“According to this principle, saving faith has a theocentric focus rather than a Christocentric object. Inclusivists see this principle operating in the Old Testament on the part of those who were redeemed apart from special revelation for example, Melchizedek, Job, Jethro, and others. The inference is that the same principle operates today in connection with the unevangelized.

This line of reasoning faces certain difficulties. First, those saved prior to the Incarnation were always the recipients of special revelation to which they had responded in faith. Clearly, the individuals identified by inclusivists in defense of their proposal had received special revelation: Enoch (Gen. 5:22); Job (Job 39-42);  Noah, “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5); Melchizedek, the king of righteousness; Jethro, father-in-law of the one to whom Yahweh was revealed (see Ex. 18:11); Naaman (2 Kings 5:15); the Queen of Sheba (2 Chron. 9:8); Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4:34-37); even the inhabitants of Nineveh (Jonah 3:5). Thus, these figures are not among the untold, strictly speaking. Again, anyone who believes otherwise owns a weighty burden of proof.”[5]

Salvation has always entailed faith in the special revelation of God. To be sure, faith cannot be reduced to knowledge. Yet, the act of faith presupposes an object in which to place trust. Faith has knowledge, but knowledge does not have faith. Thus, the biblical testimony is that faith accepts and trusts the Word of God.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.” (Heb. 11:1-2 NASB)

“Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6 NIV)

To trust the message of the gospel for one’s salvation is, in essence, to know and have fellowship with the God of the gospel.

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3 NASB)

What’s the Big Deal?

It is unclear precisely whether Leighton Flowers is merely speculating or if he actually shares the same inclusivistic tendencies as enunciated by William Lane Craig. <Note: In a recent video, Dr. Flowers differentiated his view from Dr. Craig’s view. Added 2/27/18> What is clear is that inclusivism poses perplexing challenges to a consistent understanding of evangelism. What’s more, inclusivism is inconsistent with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and the Traditionalist Statement. At multiple points, the TS explicitly excludes the notion of salvation apart from faith in Christ in unison with BFM. Below excerpts are taken from both the BFM and the TS. The bold print is added to highlight the points of inconsistency that face inclusivism.

From the Baptist Faith and Message 2000:

IV. Salvation
Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.”

From A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation (TS):

Article Three: The Atonement of Christ

We affirm that the penal substitution of Christ is the only available and effective sacrifice for the sins of every person. We deny that this atonement results in salvation without a person’s free response of repentance and faith. We deny that God imposes or withholds this atonement without respect to an act of the person’s free will. We deny that Christ died only for the sins of those who will be saved.”

Article Five: The Regeneration of the Sinner

We affirm that any person who responds to the Gospel with repentance and faith is born again through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is a new creation in Christ and enters, at the moment he believes, into eternal life. We deny that any person is regenerated prior to or apart from hearing and responding to the Gospel.

Article Ten: The Great Commission

We affirm that the Lord Jesus Christ commissioned His church to preach the good news of salvation to all people to the ends of the earth. We affirm that the proclamation of the Gospel is God’s means of bringing any person to salvation. We deny that salvation is possible outside of a faith response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the end, my intent is not to foster an atmosphere of dogmatic creedalism. However, the BFM and the TS are representative of typical Southern Baptist beliefs. That being so, it must be admitted that a salvation of the unevangelized apart from personal faith in Christ is not only alien to the present doctrinal statements common among Southern Baptists, but denied. Also, as Southern Baptists attach their names to certain confessions and theological statements, it is reasonable to expect their having confessional fidelity to these very statements.

Theology matters, theological consistency matters, and above all the proclamation of the gospel matters. If faith in Christ is a sufficient condition of faith, but not a necessary condition of faith as William Lane Craig posits, then what sort of necessary logical conclusions will be drawn from this reasoning? If God judges the heart and salvation is not concerned with what one knows, then the urgent rhetorical force undergirding Paul’s questions is instantly truncated when he asks, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14-15 NASB).

We go because we’re sent. We’re sent in order to preach. We preach because salvation is through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ alone. As Southern Baptists, we are a preaching people. Let us continue carefully to examine and refine the theology that our methodology presupposes lest we inadvertently adopt ways of thinking that are fraught with errors and that may subtly and insidiously work against our preaching of that triumphant gospel that is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.

[1] Gregg R. Allison, The Baker Compact Dictionary of Theological Terms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2016), 111.

[2] Dr. Leighton Flowers, “In Defense of Billy Graham: Charges of Inclusivism and Pluralism,” YouTube, February 22, 2018, accessed February 25, 2018,

[3] Eugene H. Merrill, Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2006), 214.

[4] Michael Rydelnik, The Messianic Hope: Is The Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010), 86. See also David Murray, Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 69.

[5] Stanley N. Gundry et al., Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, ed. Dennis L. Okholm and Timothy R. Phillips (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 240.