The Cruelty of Inclusivism: a UK Perspective
By Michael Reeves –
What does it look like when a church starts to assume that people can be saved without faith in Christ? If I had been left to guess, I might have said it would look much the same, only a bit flabbier: comforted by the thought that good Buddhists and religious Hindus will be saved, the church would lose its evangelistic zeal, of course – but otherwise, life would go on.
However, the situation in Britain today proves that guess wildly over-optimistic. In the last few decades, the belief that people can be saved without trusting Christ has come to be the standard assumption here, even in relatively conservative Christian circles. And wherever that idea reigns, I am seeing a sickness that goes much deeper than apathy. More than no evangelism, it means no real evangel. Quite simply, that is because if ‘salvation’ is thought of as something other than being brought to know Christ, then that ‘salvation’ is something quite different to what Christ himself offers.
Let me back up a bit to tease that out. Jesus Christ does not reveal some ‘God-in-general’, nor does he offer some abstract ‘salvation’. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, reveals a God who is, eternally, a Father. And that affects everything. If, for example, God was not a Father, he could never give us the right to be his children. If he did not enjoy eternal fellowship with his Son, one has to wonder if he has any fellowship to share with us, or if he even knows what fellowship looks like. But given that the God revealed in Christ is a Father, the salvation he offers is all about fellowship – knowing him. Thus to say that it is not important to know Christ explicitly is to say that salvation is something else.
This was exactly the sort of thing the early post-apostolic Church fought so hard to get right. Take, for instance, the fourth-century debate between Arius and Athanasius. Arius’ prime error was that, ignoring the way, the truth and life, he defined God without the Son. He did not think he needed to know the Son in order to know God. Now Athanasius would be wonderfully relentless in detailing how catastrophic that idea was. If you do not know the Son, you cannot know that God is a Father, that he is, eternally, loving and life-giving. You cannot know that he is inherently gracious. Thus you will be left with a very thin gruel of religion: a life of self-dependent effort under the all-seeing eye of a distant and loveless God who is not a Father and not like Christ.
And this is just what I see in Britain today: where faith in Christ is considered inessential for salvation, there people are left with little more than a boiled-down religiosity – a tedious God and a meagre salvation. It may wear Christian clothing – as Arius did – but anyone who thinks that knowing Christ is superfluous simply cannot have grasped how different the God he reveals is, the nature of his salvation, how great the assurance to be found in him. In which case, no wonder their Christianity seems lifeless and dreary.
At first glance, of course it seems more generous and attractive to ‘lower the bar’ of salvation and make knowledge of Christ unnecessary. But the joyless, unassured lives of so many Christians in Britain testifies to the fact that when knowing Christ is considered insignificant, there is no truly good news left.
Michael Reeves is Head of Theology, UCCF, and the author of The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation.
This column was taken from the January issue of Credo Magazine, “In Christ Alone.” Read others like it today!
The January issue argues for the exclusivity of the gospel, especially in light of the movement known as inclusivism. This issue will seek to answer questions like: Can those who have never heard the gospel of Christ be saved? Will everyone be saved in the end or will some spend an eternity in hell? Must someone have explicit faith in Christ to be saved? Contributors include David Wells, Robert Peterson, Michael Horton, Gerald Bray, Todd Miles, Todd Borger, Ardel Caneday, Nathan Finn, Trevin Wax, Michael Reeves, and many others.
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