One Savior, Many Paths?

Article ID: JAR7316 | By: Robert Velarde

Does Jesus offer the only way of salvation? What about those who have never heard about Christ? Can someone be saved without directly hearing the gospel?

“Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ,” reads Romans 10:17 (NIV), from which the title to Faith Comes by Hearing is taken. From the editors of Hell under Fire (Zondervan, 2004), this recent volume consists primarily of a series of essays contributed by nine scholars, including the editors. Throughout the book, the contributors seek to answer the above questions, as well as many others, in relation to inclusivism.

Not to be confused with universalism or religious pluralism, which posit ultimate “salvation” for all, inclusivism “is the view that, although Jesus is the only Savior of the world, one does not have to believe the gospel to be saved” (p. 12). It is in contrast to exclusivism, “the view that Jesus Christ is the only Savior of the world and that one must believe God’s special revelation that culminates in the gospel of Christ in order to be saved” (ibid.).

While some may think a simple quotation of John 14:6 is enough to rebut inclusivism, noting that Christ Himself claimed to be the only way to the Father, the book demonstrates that contemporary inclusivism is too intricate a theological system for such tactics. Fortunately, the editors have compiled excellent essays that will aid readers in understanding and responding to the inclusivism of such figures as Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, and Terrance Tiessen. Notable essays include, “General Revelation: Sufficient or Insufficient?” by Daniel Strange; “Other Religions: Saving or Secular?” by Eckhard J. Schnabel; and “Holy Pagans: Reality or Myth?” by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

A great place to begin to gain a better understanding of inclusivism is Chapter 11, “Answers to Notable Questions,” wherein the editors offer concise but cogent answers to important questions such as, “Is it just for God to send people to hell who never heard the gospel?”; “How are we to view non-Christian religions?”; “What are the purposes of general revelation?”; and “What is saving faith?” The chapter is particularly helpful because footnotes refer the reader to relevant essays in the book that address the questions in more depth. One response, though, came across as weak. This is in the section responding to, “What do we say to people who are troubled by exclusivism?” (251–52). The answer is too broad to be of much practical help. In short, they reply, “Our response will be shaped by multiple contextual factors” (252).

Nevertheless, Morgan and Peterson have compiled a fine work addressing contemporary inclusivism and offering a robust defense of exclusivism useful for apologists, theologians, and the layperson.

—Robert Velarde