Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism

Christopher W. Morgan, Robert A. Peterson IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL March 7, 2008

Evangelical Christians agree that salvation can be found only through the substitutionary atoning work of Christ, that His death and resurrection are the sole ground of redemption. Pluralism, the view that there are many ways to God, is generally recognized as a denial of the gospel message. Universalism, that all will ultimately be saved, likewise is outside orthodoxy. Within evangelicalism, however, there are a diversity of answers to the question, “Must one believe the gospel of Christ to be saved? . . . And this disagreement is the subject of this book, which respectfully takes issue with inclusivism and promotes exclusivism” (p. 12).

In the “Introduction,” Robert Peterson defines exclusivism as “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” (p. 12). On the other hand, 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). Both agree that there is no salvation apart from Christ but they differ on the necessity of faith in Him for salvation. In short, “inclusivism agrees with exclusivism that in terms of ontology (the order of being) only Jesus saves. But inclusivism parts ways with exclusivism in terms of epistemology (the order of knowing) when it maintains that unsaved persons can be saved by Jesus without knowing his name in this life” (p. 13).

In “Inclusivisms and Exclusivisms” Morgan surveys recent evangelical writers on the necessity of knowing the gospel and exercising faith in order to be saved. Morgan discusses nine positions on the need for faith in Christ for salvation. Although inclusivists allow for salvation apart from faith in Christ, a variety of proposals delineate the situations where such exceptions occur. Thus he concludes that “exclusivism-inclusivism-pluralism is insufficient” (p. 39). This chapter helps orient the reader to the complexity of the subject and introduces the need for precision and clarity in the discussion.

In additional chapters Daniel Strange argues that general revelation is insufficient for salvation; William Edgar defends the justice of God requiring faith in the gospel when so many have not heard its message; Eckhard Schnabel demonstrates that the New Testament rejects the view that there is salvation in non-Christian religions; Walter Kaiser asserts that there is no evidence in the Old Testament of salvation apart from special revelation; Stephen Wellum presents scriptural evidence that saving faith requires knowledge of God’s covenantal plan of redemption in the work of His Son; and Peterson examines key debated passages and argues that exclusivism handles those texts better than inclusivism. Several chapters also present a positive defense of exclusivism. Andreas Köstenberger “traces the ‘gospel’ trajectory through the Gospels, the book of Acts, Paul’s writings, and the rest of the New Testament . . . showing that the gospel is Christocentric in orientation and universal in application” (p. 202). J. Nelson Jennings argues that “God’s zealous mission for his world is the central burden of the Scriptures” (p. 221). He concludes that exclusivism “makes good biblical, missiological and pastoral sense” within God’s plan to recreate the world through the gospel of Jesus Christ (p. 221). In a final chapter the editors answer eight important questions that have been raised throughout the book.

This book addresses one of the most significant soteriological questions of the current age. In recent years evangelicals across the theological spectrum have been increasingly sympathetic to inclusivism. The editors correctly note the importance of the subject and the need for clarity on the nature and necessity of the gospel. As the essays make clear, the necessity of faith in the gospel has profound ministerial and theological implications. The essays are exegetically grounded, theologically nuanced, historically informed, and pastorally appropriate. The writers have adopted an irenic tone, a missionary perspective, and a worshipful style. Their conviction that the proclamation of the gospel is epistemologically necessary is clear and their treatment of alternative positions is careful and respectful. This book is an excellent introduction to the subject and repays repeated careful reading. It is highly recommended for pastors, teachers, and students.

—Glenn R. Kreider

July 1, 2010

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2010 vol. 167 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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