In my article “Why inclusivism makes sense” I explained why, er, inclusivism makes sense. I defined “inclusivism” as the view that “cognitive awareness of Christ is not necessary for salvation by Christ.”
Walter replied: “If the unreached are automatically saved, then missionaries are doing people no favors by statistically increasing their chance of experiencing an eternal hell.”
And physicsandwhiskey added: “As Walter points out, the great difficulty with this brand of inclusivism is that missionaries are no longer spreading good news. They’re spreading very, very bad news.”
I pointed out that these responses misunderstood the position. I did not claim that everybody who fails to hear about Christ is saved by Christ. Instead, the position is that it is possible to be saved by Christ without having awareness of Christ.
Is it possible to reformulate the objection while leaving aside that misunderstanding? Perhaps. Let’s try:
Inclusivist’s dilemma (Id): Possibly, if inclusivism is true then some people who are in a saving relationship with Jesus without having heard of Jesus could cease to be in a saving relationship with Jesus upon learning about Jesus.
If this is possible then missionaries could be “spreading very, very bad news.” But why think this is possible? Indeed, I see no reason to think this. If people are in a saving relationship with Jesus prior to having heard of Jesus then there is excellent reason to believe that when those individuals receive a true witness of Jesus they would always accept that true witness. I see no reason for the inclusivist to be obliged to think otherwise. So the missionary would never be spreading “bad news” in terms of proclaiming a gospel that might result in the termination of a saving relationship with Christ.
Let’s try again.
Inclusivist’s dilemma revised (Id-rev): Possibly, if inclusivism is true then people are responsible for the knowledge of Jesus once they’ve learned of Jesus.
This is true. The problem is that this fact has no logical connection to inclusivism per se. Indeed, the exclusivist is also committed to people being responsible for the knowledge they receive by hearing of Jesus. Paul recognizes this kind of graded culpability in Romans 2:12: “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.”
So I don’t see inclusivism presenting any special problem for mission and evangelism. Whether inclusivism or exclusivism is true, people are still responsible for the knowledge they have.
However, there is a problem that all Christians must face, and that is the problem of presenting Christ in an unworthy manner that ends up alienating the very people we are trying to reach. This should be a matter of imminent concern for every Christian, whatever your views on inclusivism and exclusivism.