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Wednesday
Aug112010

Theological Term of the Week

exclusivism
The teaching that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour and faith in him is necessary for salvation.

  • From scripture:

    That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:9-14 ESV)
  • From the Westminster Larger Catechism:

    Question 60: Can they who have never heard the gospel, and so know not Jesus Christ, nor believe in him, be saved by their living according to the light of nature?

    Answer: They who, having never heard the gospel, know not Jesus Christ, and believe not in him, cannot be saved, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, or the laws of that religion which they profess; neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ alone, who is the Savior only of his body the church.

  • From Christian Exclusivism Explained and Defended by Matt Perman:

    Sometimes the question is phrased like this: “What happens to the innocent native in deepest Africa who never hears the gospel?” If one puts it this way, the answer is easy: the innocent person has nothing to worry about! As R.C. Sproul has said, “The innocent native who never hears of Christ is in excellent shape, and we need not be anxious about his redemption. The innocent person doesn’t need to hear of Christ. He has no need of redemption. God never punishes innocent people. The innocent person needs no Savior; he can save himself by his innocence” (Sproul, p. 49).

    The problem, however, is that there is no such thing as the innocent native in Africa, or anywhere! The Bible teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 6:23) and “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). In fact, the Scriptures go so far as to say that left to ourselves, “there is none who seeks for God” (Romans 3:11).

    This leads us to an important principle: the person who has never heard of Christ is already condemned—not because they haven’t accepted a Savior they’ve never heard about, but because they have sinned against what they do know about God. But one may ask, “What has this native known about God that He could reject?” The answer is in the distinction the Bible makes between general revelation and special revelation. Special revelation is the message that Christ died and rose again for sins, and that salvation comes through trusting in Him. This message is only revealed in the Bible, and therefore the only people who get special revelation are those who either hear it from others or read it for themselves. General revelation is “the mute non-verbal witness of the creation that points men to the existence of God” (Robert Morey, Studies in the Atonement, p. 246). Since general revelation is given through nature, all humans are aware of it. The Bible teaches that everyone, through the general revelation of nature, knows that God the Father exists and is holy (Romans 1:18-21) and that they are sinful (Romans 1:32; 2:14-15) and thus are deserving of death (Romans 1:32). Therefore, all humans to ever live, whether they have heard of Christ or not, are guilty and without excuse before God for rejecting what they do know about God (Romans 1:20, 21; 3:23).

    This should clear up a huge misunderstanding. Often we think that humanity is in the neutral zone, and that “the only damnable offense against God is the rejection of Christ” (Sproul, p. 50). Thus, it would seem unfair for God to condemn those who have never heard, because they never had the chance to respond to the gospel and commit the “damnable offense” of rejecting Christ. However, we have seen that the Scriptures are clear that we are not neutral, and even those who do not have the Bible are willingly and knowingly guilty of sin and rejecting God. We are sinners by nature (Eph 2:3) and by choice (Romans 6:23) even if we have never heard of Christ (Romans 1:18-32), and thus we are all deserving of condemnation. That is why we need Christ. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him” (John 3:17). So the gospel is sent to save those who are already condemned for reasons independent of the message, not to condemn those who are neutral in the sight of God but are in danger of perishing if they are never exposed to special revelation.

    Therefore, “We can rest assured that no one is ever punished for rejecting Christ if they’ve never heard of Him” (Sproul, p. 50). Those who never hear are condemned because they have rejected the general revelation of God the Father in nature that all people without exception receive, not because they have never heard of Christ. Those who never hear are not under condemnation for not knowing about special revelation that they never received, but for rejecting general revelation that they did receive.

Learn more:

  1. GotQuestions.org: Inclusivism vs. exclusivism - what does the Bible say?
  2. GotQuestions.org: Can a person be saved through general revelation?
  3. W. Gary Crampton: Christian Exclusivism
  4. J. I. Packer: Salvation sans Jesus
  5. John Hendryx: Is Jesus Really the Only Way?
  6. Matt PermanChristian Exclusivism Explained and Defended 
  7. Curt Daniel: The Destiny of the Unevangelized (mp3)
  8. Kevin DeYoung: Clarifying Inclusivism and Exclusivism

Related terms:

Filed under Isms.

Do you have a a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it.

I’m also interested in any suggestions you have for tweaking my definitions or for additional (or better) articles or sermons/lectures for linking. I’ll give you credit and a link back to your blog if I use your suggestion.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms organized in alphabetical order or by topic.

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