IVP, 2008. (Available in Australia from Koorong Books.)
It goes without saying that in the secular, pluralistic West, values such as inclusion, tolerance and acceptance are greatly stressed. Conversely, anything which smacks of exclusiveness, intolerance and rejection is strongly deplored. This can make the proclamation of the Christian Gospel especially difficult.
Biblically Christianity is clearly exclusivist in its insistence that Christianity is the one true religion, and that Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation. This is not exactly what a multicultural, pluralistic society wants to hear. But it is what biblical Christians are obligated to proclaim.
While it is obvious that many non-Christians (whether religious or nonreligious) will find the exclusiveness of Christianity’s truth claims to be burdensome and objectionable, there are some Christians who also question the traditional understanding.
Some evangelical Christians, for example, have sought to widen the parameters when it comes to who can be saved and how. It is to these sorts of issues that this book is addressed. Eleven meaty chapters written by nine biblical scholars tackle the many complex issues involved.
Traditionally there have been three main approaches to these issues. The exclusivist camp argues that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour, and salvation only comes in response to the Gospel of Christ. The inclusivist camp argues that Christ is indeed the only Saviour, but people can be saved apart from hearing the Gospel message. Pluralism teaches that there are many religious roads to God.
This volume argues that the consistent Biblical position is that of exclusivism. It mainly interacts with other Christians who seek to argue for the remaining two positions, especially the inclusivists. Many of the leading evangelical inclusivists are those associated with the open theism movement. Thus open theists such as Clark Pinnock and John Sanders receive a great deal of attention in this volume, along with others. Terrance Tiessen, an inclusivist of the Reformed persuasion, also gets a wide hearing.
Morgan does a good job in his opening chapter listing the various details and nuances of the main positions involved. Indeed, he admits that the three traditional camps may be insufficient, and breaks things down into nine specific positions.
Daniel Strange offers a helpful overview of the claim that general revelation (God’s self-disclosure in creation and conscience) is sufficient to condemn sinners, but not sufficient to save them. The special revelation of God (his Word and Jesus Christ) is necessary to make salvation possible to fallen mankind. Key texts such as Psalm 19 and Romans 1-2 are carefully examined, along with inclusivist assessments of them.
Walter Kaiser looks at salvation in the Old Testament, and argues that so-called holy pagans or believing Gentiles were saved just as we are, by response to the specific revelation of God. True, the OT saints did not have a clear understanding of Christ and his work, but they did have Yahweh’s self-disclosure in general, and his specific revelation of a promised Saviour, going back to Genesis 3:15.
Eckhard Schnabel discusses how the Bible understands other religions. He reminds us that both Israel and the early Christians believed that competing religious worldviews were false religions and manmade belief systems. They both also recognised the spiritual dimension to other religions, which includes some elements of the demonic and satanic.
William Edgar examines the charge that exclusivism is unjust. In his discussion he covers a number of major issues such as theodicy, the nature of evil, the sovereignty of God and the entrance of sin into the world. He reminds us that if God saved no one, he would still be absolutely just and fair. But the fact that many are saved speaks to the great mercy and grace of God.
Other chapters examine such topics as the nature of saving faith, the necessity of preaching the Gospel, and the missionary heart of God. The authors here argue that the best thing we can do for those who are worried about the fate of those who have not heard the Gospel is to encourage them to be more active in proclaiming the Gospel to all mankind.
A concluding chapter deals with notable objections to the notion of exclusivism, such as the fairness and justice of hell, and various pastoral concerns.
In sum, there is a wealth of biblical, theological and hermeneutical material covered here, which is presented in a fair and gracious manner. Extensive quotations from, and arguments by, the inclusivists are presented and carefully dealt with. The authors meticulously and graciously interact with the inclusivists, but make it clear that the exclusivist position seems to best do justice to the biblical data.
And they make clear the priority of the Christian Gospel, and the urgency and importance of worldwide evangelisation. While a number of other volumes have covered these topics, this is perhaps the best recent volume to present the biblical and theological case for exclusivism. An important and vital volume.