The main appeal of Arminianism is its attempt to solve the problem of evil (specifically, the soteriological problem of evil). The argument is made that if God is determining in any way the eternal destiny of men, then God is unjust to punish them. I am not concerned to answer this charge at the present, but to wonder if this argument does not necessarily lead to an inclusivist position on the state of the unevangelized.
Inclusivism is the belief that it is presently possible for mentally able adults who have never heard the gospel to be saved. I would include those who hope in post-mortem salvation with “inclusivists” (and there are many other varieties of inclusivists). Exclusivism (or Ecclesiocentrism or Restrictivism) believes that only those mentally able adults who have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and believed on it can be saved. There are, of course, “monergists” (or Calvinists) who embrace inclusivism. But I want to argue that the logic of Arminianism nearly necessitates an inclusivist position.1
If one believes that God is unfair or unjust when he condemns someone is unable to believe, it follows that someone who has never been given the opportunity to believe “through no fault of their own” should not be condemned. The hinge of this argument falls on the similarity of the two categories: the person who cannot believe the gospel because he is unwilling in himself to believe (as the Calvinist argue) is in very much on similar ground with the one who cannot believe the gospel because he has never heard it. God, they reason, is unfair to condemn someone who cannot believe. The question is in the culpability of those wherein mitigating circumstances have made it “impossible” for them to believe the gospel. Whose fault is it that the unevangelized do not believe? Why should they be condemned to eternal perdition because of the disobedience of Christians? What good would it be for God graciously to enable all men to exercise their freewill to believe, if some of those persons did not have the necessary content in which to believe?
Some Arminians have argued along similar grounds, that since God loves everyone and wants all men to be saved, it follows that all, even the unevangelized, are given an opportunity to be saved.2 Others argue that fact that the provision of the atonement is universal means that all have an opportunity to share in that atonement.3 Terrance Tiessen (a monergist) finds this line of reasoning compelling and states the problem well:
If one believes that God wants everyone to be saved, that Christ died for everyone and that the Spirit enables all to respond properly to God’s self-revelation, it is difficult, if not impossible, that God does not make himself known to everyone in a potentially saving manner.4
Inclusivism, as appealing as it is for some, carries with it several problems that its advocates must reconcile. Why is missions so important to the New Testament if men may be saved without hearing the gospel? What about other world religions? What texts even hint that the unevangelized, particularly the unevangelized after Christ’s incarnation, have any hope outside responding to the gospel? Has God revealed himself in ways adequate for salvation through men outside the Christian religion? Several texts also make plain the importance of believing in Jesus Christ as the sole means of salvation:
- Acts 4:10-12 Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead–by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
- Romans 10:9-15 if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
I believe that there are many other problems with inclusivism. But my main point here is that I wonder how someone who leans toward synergist/Arminian theology can avoid the subsequent step to inclusivism.
1Terrance Tiessen first showed me this possible connection in his book Who Can Be Saved: Reassessing Salvation in Christ and the World Religions (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2004).
2Clark Pinnock, Wideness in God’s Mercy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 157; quoted in Terrance Tiessen, Who Can Be Saved, 66.
3Stuart Hackert, The Reconstruction of the Christian Revelation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984) 244; quoted in Pinnock, Wideness, 159; quoted in Ibid., 66.
4Terrance Tiessen, Who Can Be Saved, 67.