Jeremy has an interesting discussion of soteriological inclusivism up on his blog. He argues, without necessarily endorsing inclusivism, that this view can be best accommodated by a Calvinist understanding of salvation. I want here to first clarify how we should understand inclusivism and why we should take it seriously, and then challenge the assumption that Calvinism is the best way to accommodate the view within a Christian framework.
Soteriological inclusivism, as I understand it, is an attempt to endorse both of the following claims:
(1) There is only one way of salvation.
(2) Some who do not explicitly/consciously/intentionally follow this way are saved.
This is a very generic and therefore somewhat unclear formulation. What it amounts to will be clearer if we give it a specifically Christian formulation:
(1') No one is saved apart from faith in Christ.
(2') Some who do not have explicit/conscious/intentional faith in Christ are saved.
A couple things to note about this: first, in order to maintain logical consistency, all you need to do is acknowledge the possibility of implicit/unconscious/unintentional faith, so there is not a logical problem here. Second, although Jeremy (following James Sennett) classifies this view as an alternative to universalism (the view that everyone will be saved), not only is inclusivism compatible with universalism but many Christian universalists, past and present, are probably best classified as inclusivists: they think that everyone gets saved by some sort of implicit reliance on Christ. (Others think that those who do not come to explicit faith in Christ in this life will come to such explicit faith after death.)
Now, there are two good reasons to take this view seriously. First, even if you think it makes sense for God to condemn people who hear about Christianity and reject it, there seems to be a problem for people who have never heard the message (especially people who lived before Jesus!). Second, Romans 2:12-16 might reasonably be taken to imply that there is some kind of difference in judgment between those who are and aren't directly familiar with the Law. This passage is far from clear, but its very unclarity counsels us to keep an open mind.
Now, as I said, what we need in order to make the inclusivist position consistent is the possibility of implicit, unconscious, or unintentional faith in Christ. Jeremy writes:
Finally, it occurs to me that inclusivism fits best with a Calvinist model of divine sovereignty. Sennett's way of describing who among other religions is genuinely on the path to salvation is that they're the ones God is working in to move them toward the right attitudes and practices, despite not having the right information to know what the gospel even is. Without that, and without the evidence of explicit faith in Jesus Christ, it's very hard for there to be objective criteria for someone to be saved. The easiest way around that is for the criteria to be simply whoever God is genuinely working in, a work that will always be brought to completion, but that requires Calvinist views of divine sovereignty over human salvation.
It is unclear to me what's going on here. First, the reference to evidence is spurious because God is the only one who has to judge who is or isn't saved, and he knows all the facts directly in virtue of his omniscience, without need of evidence. We should rather latch on to the claim that "it's very hard for there to be objective criteria for someone to be saved." I suppose the idea is that, according to the Calvinist view, people are saved in virtue of God's sovereign decree and God intervenes to bring about
faith in those he chooses. Calvinists, like other traditional Protestants, believe that all and only those who have faith are saved; Calvinists are distinguished by denying that it is because of
faith that God chooses to save those he chooses to save. Rather, on the Calvinist view, God brings about faith in the elect because he has already chosen to save them on some other basis which is (a) external to the individuals involved, and (b) unknowable to us. (As Leibniz insists
, Calvinists should not claim that God does this for no reason at all.)
Now non-Calvinist Protestants claim that faith is a criterion for salvation. (See some of my previous reflections on this idea here.) If I interpret him correctly, Jeremy seems to be suggesting that once we allow implicit faith to count, it becomes a vague matter whether someone does or does not have faith, yet everyone must be either determinately saved or determinately condemned. The Calvinist picture escapes this because God's decree is not based on whether the individual has faith. So Calvinism has less of a problem with inclusivism than non-Calvinist views.
Here are some reasons for thinking Jeremy is mistaken about this:
- Calvinists agree that it is a truth of revealed theology that all and only the faithful are saved. Thus the vagueness worry comes up anyway. If God's intention is to bring about faith in all and only those he elects for salvation, why would he allow people to die who are neither determinately faithful nor determinately unfaithful?
- It's not clear to me that explicit faith is any less vague than implicit faith. What do you have to believe? How well do you have to understand the things you have to believe? How deeply internalized do these beliefs have to be? How much do they have to affect your actions? Perhaps this is a general problem for non-Calvinist views, but if that's so then Jeremy hasn't shown that combining a non-Calvinist view with inclusivism makes the view any less plausible than it was to begin with (and Calvinism has its own problems).
- All Christians ought to agree that God, by sovereign decree, chooses to save the faithful. It seems that any answer to the difficulty in (1) above will lead to an answer to the question of why God selected the cut-off point he did. (Or we could just plead ignorance.)
All this to say, whatever problems there are with inclusivism, I don't see why they should be either mitigated or exacerbated by detailed views about the individual's role in his or her salvation.
Posted by Kenny at February 3, 2010 4:30 PM