December 18, 2017

The Error of Inclusivism

Scott Williquette

A person can be saved even if he has no knowledge of Christ. Faith in God saves regardless of how much of the Biblical gospel one understands. It matters little what a person believes as long as he believes in a god.

Is that the message of the New Testament? Is that what Jesus taught? Is that what John, Paul, and Peter teach in their epistles?

In his book A Wideness in God’s Mercy, Clark Pinnock writes,

If God really loves the whole world and desires everyone to be saved, it follows logically that everyone must have access to salvation. There would have to be an opportunity for all people to participate in the salvation of God. If Christ died for all, while yet sinners, the opportunity must be given for all to register a decision about what was done for them (Rom. 5:8). They cannot lack the opportunity merely because someone failed to bring the Gospel of Christ to them. God’s universal salvific will implies the equally universal accessibility of salvation for all people. … In my judgment, the faith principle is the basis of universal accessibility. According to the Bible, people are saved by faith, not by the content of their theology. Since God has not left anyone without witness, people are judged on the basis of the light they have received and how they have responded to that light. Faith in God is what saves, not possessing certain minimum information. … A person is saved by faith, even if the content of belief is deficient (and whose is not?). The Bible does not teach that one must confess the name of Jesus to be saved. Job did not know it. David did not know it. … It is not so much a question whether the unevangelized know Jesus as whether Jesus knows them (Matt. 7:23). One does not have to be conscious of the work of Christ done on one’s behalf in order to benefit from that work. The issue God cares about is the direction of the heart, not the content of theology.[1]

Pinnock and many others in evangelicalism are preaching a damning message known as inclusivism. Inclusivism teaches that “God’s forgiveness and acceptance of humanity have been made possible by Christ’s death, but … the benefits of this sacrifice are not confined to those who respond to it [Christ’s death] with an explicit act of faith.”[2] “Inclusivists affirm the particularity and finality of salvation only in Christ but deny that knowledge of his work is necessary for salvation.”[3] In other words, man’s salvation and forgiveness of sin are based upon Christ’s death, but you do not have to believe in Christ in order to possess that salvation. That is why it is called inclusivism—people who believe in religious teachings other than that of Christianity are included in the salvation that Christ provides even though they do not believe in Christ.

Christian publishers are printing books by inclusivists, and Christian bookstores are making them available to unwary Christians. According to inclusivist John Sanders, a survey conducted at the 1975 Urbana missions conference indicated that of the 5000 evangelicals who responded, 25 percent could be classified as inclusivists. Sanders believes that number to be much higher today.[4]

The Bible clearly teaches, however, that in this dispensation there is no salvation apart from a conscious, repentant faith in the person and work Jesus Christ. The message of inclusivism will damn the soul.

Salvation Has Always Been Secured by Faith in Christ

The main argument used by inclusivists is that in the Old Testament people received forgiveness of sins apart from faith in Jesus Christ. According to them, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not have to repent and believe in Christ, and we don’t either. Therefore, as long as someone has faith in a god, his sins are forgiven. It makes no difference which so-called god their faith is in, as long as they have faith. Pinnock writes,

When Jews and Muslims, for example, praise God as Creator of the world, it is obvious that they are referring to the same Being. There are not two almighty creators of heaven and earth, but only one. We may assume that they are intending to worship the one Creator God that we also serve. The same rule would apply to Africans who recognize a high God, a God who sees all, gives gifts to all, who is unchangeable and wise. If people in Ghana speak of a transcendent God as the shining one, as unchangeable as rock, as all-wise and all-loving, how can anyone conclude otherwise than that they intend to acknowledge the true God as we do? … People fear God all over the world, and God accepts them, even where the gospel of Jesus Christ has not yet been proclaimed.[5]

In order to hold their position, inclusivists teach that there is a difference between believers and Christians. “Believers can be defined as all those who are saved because they have faith in God. Inclusivists contend that all Christians are believers but not all believers are Christians. They define a Christian as a believer who knows about and participates in the work of Jesus Christ.”[6] So heaven will be populated by both Christian and non-Christian believers.

Is their contention true? Were people in the Old Testament saved by just believing in God? No! Those in the Old Testament did not secure salvation and the forgiveness of sins simply by believing in any god. They were required to trust in the Creator God and the message of salvation He had ordained for that period of time. There were many other religions and gods worshiped in the Ancient Near East during the Old Testament period, but we are told over and over that forgiveness came only through faith in Israel’s God and His message.

What message did the Old Testament saint believe in order to have his sins forgiven? He believed in the God of Israel who created all things and who promised that He would send a Messiah someday. Jesus said, “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me” (John 5:46). In John 8:56 Jesus says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it and was glad.” The point is that Abraham did not simply believe in any god. He believed in the Creator God who had revealed Himself to Israel and who promised to send a Messiah. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob believed in God and the message of a coming Messiah that God proclaimed. One of the biggest differences between the Old Testament saint and the Christian today is their perspective regarding the Messiah. The Old Testament saint trusted in God and His message of a coming Messiah. We trust in God and His message of a Messiah who has already come. Either way this is different from just trusting any god that man worships.

Is belief in any god enough to bring about forgiveness of sin? Does the true God forgive no matter what you believe?

In Isaiah 43:11, God said, “I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no saviour.” And again, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am GOD, and there is none else” (Isa. 45:22).

Salvation Is Only Through Faith in Christ

Salvation is secured by a committed, repentant faith, not good works or religious activity. According to Galatians 2:16, it is faith in Christ alone that saves from eternal punishment. The religious activities associated with the Law of Moses do not, never have, and never will justify a sinner. All religious activity, regardless of its value to society, has no merit before God.

There is a common misconception that the Old Testament believer was saved by keeping the Law, and the New Testament believer is saved by faith. This is clearly wrong. Salvation in every dispensation is by faith. “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3), which is a quote from Genesis 15:6. Old Testament saints had to believe in and commit themselves to the only true God who would someday send a Messiah. In the present dispensation we must place our faith in God as the one who sent His Son as our Sin-bearer and Master.

According to Sanders, “Saving faith … does not necessitate knowledge of Christ in this life. God’s gracious activity is wider than the arena of special revelation. God will accept into his kingdom those who repent and trust him even if they know nothing of Jesus.”[7] “Inclusivists claim that it is not necessary to understand the work of Christ in order to be saved.”[8] The message of the New Testament, however, is just the opposite (John 14:6; Acts 4:10–12; Gal. 2:16; 1 Cor. 15:1–4; Rom. 10:9–13).


Fundamental Christian doctrine is being attacked from many sides. Secularists, evolutionists, and feminists—to name a few—are taking every opportunity to assault Biblical Christianity. Inclusivism is in our bookstores and in our schools. If we do not stand and fight for God’s truth, it will not be long before it is in our pulpits and our pews. If God is to be glorified in our lives, ministries, and churches, we must heed the words of Jude 3, 4:

Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Scott Williquette is pastor of First Baptist Church in Rockford, Illinois.

(Originally published in FrontLine • January/February 2002. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. Clark Pinnock, A Wideness in God’s Mercy (Zondervan Publishing House), pp. 157-58. []
  2. John Hick, “The Philosophy of Religious Pluralism,” in The World’s Religious Traditions: Current Perspectives in Religious Studies. Essays in Honour of Wilfred Cantwell Smith. Quoted by Ronald Nash, Is Jesus the Only Savior? (Zondervan Publishing House), p. 103. []
  3. John Sanders, No Other Name (Eerdman’s Publishing Co.), p. 215. []
  4. Sanders, No Other Name, footnote #1, p. 216. []
  5. Pinnock, pp. 96-97. []
  6. Sanders, No Other Name, pp. 224-25. []
  7. John Sanders, “Is Belief in Christ Necessary for Salvation?” Evangelical Quarterly 60 (1988) 252-3; Quoted in Nash, Is Jesus the Only Savior? p. 123. []
  8. John Sanders, No Other Name, p. 223. []

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