In Christ Alone

Very few exclusivists today are as robust in their claims as is Daniel Strange in his essay on the relation of Christianity to the world religions (in Only One Way? Three Christian Responses on the Uniqueness of Christ in a Religiously Plural World, by Gavin D’Costa, Paul Knitter, Daniel Strange). For the robustness alone this study is important reading for anyone interested in this topic – and the dialogue that follows later in the book shows that a Roman Catholic inclusivist and a Roman Catholic pluralist can engage with a conservative evangelical exclusivist on level ground with reason and respect. This does not mean there aren’t some hard-hitting disagreements.

Strange lays his cards on the table: he is Protestant, Reformed, orthodox and evangelical — and he is sola scriptura (supremely) but adheres to the ecumenical creeds and especially the Reformed theological solas and statements. He’s right in laying his cards on the table like this, and he quotes Reformed theologians everywhere, and this approach reveals what is best called “confessional evangelicalism” which is every bit as tied to tradition as is Catholicism or Orthodoxy. It is, in my view, the future of Reformed evangelicals, what I now call the NeoPuritans.

Would you call this view by Strange the “traditional” view? Are the religions an idolatrous refashioning of revelation? How can one believe in Christ and not be an exclusivist?

His argument: “non-Christian religions are essentially an idolatrous refashioning of divine revelation, which are antithetical and yet parasitic on Christian truth, and of which the gospel of Jesus Christ is this ‘subversive fulfilment'” (93). These are strong claims about other religions.

Yet dialogue can occur here because he states his views so clearly; there’s no politicking and softening of edges or blending ideas to have it both ways. His posture won’t lead to compromise or “progress” but it is honest communication.

His emphasis in method is Bible — a theology shaped by the Bible. His theology proper is that YHWH is transcendently unique, which leads to an exposition of “no other.” There is no one like YHWH in who God is, in what God says, and in what God does. This God is jealous of his name, and that means also that Israel and Church is unlike no other.

In light of the fall, all non-Christian religions are “an idolatrous refashioning of divine revelation” (109). Idolatry is a false faith and is anchored in the human perversity of suppressing general revelation. All of this leads him to see that there are two options: religions rooted in Christ and religions not rooted in Christ. Those who worship YHWH and those who worship idols. So he finds great discontinuities between religions.

But he sees some continuity due to complexities in human nature, historical complexities in relationship between biblical faith and the religions, and personal complexity. [This element of his study is not spelled out but his exclusivist stance implies he’s not giving in in these complexities.]

The essence of the good news is christology – Jesus is equated with YHWH. Sin is ethically unjustifiable false faith so that not recognizing Christ is idolatry provoking divine wrath, and the essence of Christ’s death therefore is propitiatory. Scripture is necessary in order to comprehend this. General revelation is inadequate for salvation, so there is a bleak pessimism lingering over his presentation — though these elements are not brought to the fore as much here as in his book.

He doesn’t see any hope postmortem (nothing here on Apostles’ Creed though he says he affirms it); he is about the same as proto-word revelation (prior to hearing the gospel) so that he’s less than optimistic about other religions being praeperatio evangelic (preparation for gospel). In other words, Strange almost requires a missionary or a gospeler for anyone to be saved. He doesn’t spell things out, but my reading of him is that most North Koreans — and anyone who has not heard the gospel — are damned because of original sin. He argues no one deserves anything but hell.

Strange is big on seeing the gospel as subversive fulfillment. It subverts those idolatries and fulfills all they want to be.

Mission then is about a desire for the glory of Christ, the gospel transforms everything but he is not encouraging of co-belligerency in the public sector, the kingdom is mostly ecclesial, accommodation is the right word but “possessio” or colonizing all into the imperial reign of Christ, and he prefers elenctics over dialogue (that is, missionary apologetics).

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  • “Strange almost requires a missionary or a gospeler for anyone to be saved.” Doesn’t Paul do the same (Rom 10:8-15)?

  • scotmcknight

    Andrew, Thanks for the comment. Paul clearly believes in that as some of normality for him, but does Strange’s view adequately deal with people like Cornelius or the “righteous Gentiles” of the Old Testament?

  • Greg M

    So, to what extent is this discussion essentially about method? (“His emphasis in method is Bible — a theology shaped by the Bible”). Strange adopts a Bible-shaped theology (with confessional support) and arrives at an exclusivist position. Are the other views driven by the Bible and biblical theology? If they are, what brings about the different conclusions? If they are not (shaped by the Bible), why not?

  • Sorry, that sounded a bit curmudgeonly: I meant to ask it as a genuine question! Is Strange saying more than Paul does in Romans 10? I haven’t read him yet, so I’m genuinely interested to know.

  • And now I’ve double posted. Please ignore comment 4, and thanks for the quick response!

  • scotmcknight

    Andrew, it seems to me he is holding that line or holding Paul to his word! But I wonder if it does justice to the biblical evidence. By all means, missionaries. But what would Paul say about those who have not heard in the meantime or who are not even in the scope? That’s the question that this whole debate seeks to resolve. One of my students once put it to me in a way that will never leave me: What about the North Koreans — real North Korean kids right now — who have no chance of hearing?

  • I don’t know how Daniel Strange deals with these things, but I think an adequate view must address the fate of those who die in infancy and never have an opportunity to hear the gospel preached.

    And how does he address the fate of Jews in the OT who would not have had opportunity to hear the NT preaching about Jesus of Nazareth?

    Also, there is an interesting thing that has been happening for years in Muslims countries and communities. I have heard many testimonies from former Muslims who had dreams and visions of Jesus — they knew it was Jesus and not Mohammed — and came to faith in Him. I think that sometimes it might be Jesus or the Holy Spirit who is the preacher.

    I believe that Jesus is the True Light who gives light to every person who comes into the world, so that no one is without a witness that is adequate to lead them to Jesus. To me, then, the real question becomes how are they responding to that witness. I do not believe God will hold anyone accountable for more light, or less light, than He has given them.

  • Kurt Peterson

    We have light and life through Christ alone. Anyone whose hubris allows them to over-confidently believe that they have it all figured out is to be pitied. Strange ignores the idolatry present in his own religious expression of Christianity. “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”

  • Ann

    North Korea gets brought up a lot…. are there no Christians or Christian communities in N. Korea? Are they completely cut off from the rest of the world? No internet at all? I ask b/c I genuinely don’t know.

  • Susan N.

    A couple of thoughts…

    “non-Christian religions are essentially an idolatrous refashioning of divine revelation, which are antithetical and yet parasitic on Christian truth, and of which the gospel of Jesus Christ is this ‘subversive fulfilment’”

    My re-phrasing of that statement: All religions (including Christianity) are, to varying degrees, an idolatrous, human expression of divine revelation, which are antithetical and yet parasitic on divine Truth, and of which the gospel of Jesus Christ is this ‘subversive fulfillment.’

    I was reflecting the other day on the Road to Emmaus encounter. The Risen Christ in disguise/unrecognizable to those who had known Him. Just a-walkin’ along, lamenting the sad and sorry state of affairs, and suddenly appearing a stranger who strikes up a conversation (dialogue). Only at the table of fellowship, in the breaking of bread together, was Jesus revealed to the men as their Lord.

    Not elenctic (I had to look up that big, fancy word’s meaning!) — good God, no. Greek philosophical, rational debate / soul-winning apologetics doesn’t cut it, in my very humble opinion and experience.

    Heart-to-heart, loving, along-side fellowship is where we meet Jesus, face-to-face, here on earth (as He is in heaven).

    And that, at its core, is perhaps the objection that I raise with neo-Reformed/Puritanical thought and methods.

    Know what you know, to be sure, in your deepest heart and soul. Stay loose and keep it humble in the intellectual realm — both with God and with others. Intellectual superiority is as obnoxious in theological matters as it is in worldly affairs.

    God stepped down, all the way down to our lowest, baser human existence to reach and save us — *all* of us, to be *with* us in every way. Are we now to stand our high and mighty ground and refuse to lower ourselves in order to meet others where they are in their faith? Some Christians are so set on defending the religious traditions and the one true Church that they inadvertently make themselves enemies to God’s “other” children…

    God of grace and truth, have mercy on us, poor sinners all…

  • T

    I’m not as “sola scriptura” as Strange (fine with the pun), but I agree that scripture is the source for me on this. But on that point, I don’t think Paul’s statement in Romans 10:8-15 is the only passage to “hear.” Indeed, it’s not even the only passage on point in that chapter. Paul continues in verses 16, 17 & 18:

    “But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:

    “Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.”

    The “voice” that Paul points to here is not the Torah, but the creation. So Paul is pointing to creation’s “voice” which has gone out to all the earth in answer to his own question if all Israel heard the message. He also implies that this is the same “message” that can produce faith.

    So I’m all for framing the question through the biblical lens, I’m just anything but convinced that doing so seals the deal for the exclusivist position. To be plain, Paul is ambiguous on this point. One can only be convinced one way or the other if one is careful when to stop reading him.

  • Amos Paul


    It’s what it is. That unless we give the ‘lost’ some words from our mouth, they can’t know Jesus. And when they hear those words–then they’ve encountered Jesus. Because our words are what define Jesus, right?


    Jesus is the mark which our words are aiming for. He is the embodiment of THE WORD. Inherent within all Creation. And we Christians, yes even we Evangelists, can severely miss the mark when we ‘tell’ people about Jesus.

    For it’s only by the Word that faith is delivered a la Romans 10:17. And Paul asks, is there anyone who hasn’t heard the Word of Jesus in 10:18? No! He quotes Psalm 19 that their voice has gone out to all the Earth. Whose voice? According to Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands… There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.”

    It is then *that* Word which we are attempting to point to when we preach Jesus Christ. When we connect this person with that identity. There is an *objective* identity of Jesus out there. And our words are attempting to point in that direction.

    But let us not give ourselves too much credit here. That’s our mission to participate in God’s will for people. But it is not actually *our* words or *our* work that has any power. It’s holy Spirit which convicts (turns people’s hearts) and renews. For it is HE (Psalm 25) which teaches sinners in ‘the way’.

    And I, further, rely upon the words of Jesus when speaking of the Holy Spirit. When he says Mark 3:28-29:

    “I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”

    I’m not a nominalist. Blaspheming the objective identity of the Holy Spirit does not mean saying mean words about Him. It means actually pushing against the work of the Holy Spirit in oneself–picking out his objective identity meaningfully and going going against it. Ultimately. And that’s the *only* way that people are ever not ‘saved’. Because Jesus died for the sins of *all* and not merely those who’ve heard some human words about Him which may or may not have even hit the mark in actually pointing to Him.

    Preaching is good and right. We get to ‘spread the Word’ by pointing to the Word. Of course, we must trust God’s sovreignty to understand how people will ultimately be able to come to Him if they never hear us–and we even must trust God’s sovreignty in the here and now by trusting that the people we talk to actually get hooked up with the objective identity of Jesus by the Spirit! Thinking that our words are the power that define Jesus and save people is nominalist, anti-Holy Spirit, and actually un-faithful in how it does not trust God.

  • Luke Allison

    If we really think through the implications of this “Strange” position (ahem), then the 151 people who died last second, and this second, etc., the 16,000 children who died of starvation yesterday, the 5 children who died yesterday in America from abuse or neglect….all of them are potentially experiencing terror and eternal torment that makes their abuse or their life experience seem like a cake walk. And why??? Well, potentially because I was writing a paper last night instead of in Africa preaching to them. Also, because Strange wrote this essay instead of preaching to them!

    I don’t understand this viewpoint, and I’m not sure that the people who espouse it really believe it fully. They may lay it out logically and coldly express their “unswerving” devotion to Scripture, but I wonder what really goes through their hearts and their head.

    It’s interesting to see the brou-ha-ha (sp?) that erupts every time Tim Keller states anything resembling an inclusivist position or says “I don’t know” about other religions in a public debate. The Gospel Coalition lights up with indignation: “He knows the right answer, why doesn’t he just say it??? Tim Keller is denying the Gospel! And our Coalition!” And people like me respect Keller all the more.

  • phil_style

    @Luke, #13,

    As you identify, the implications of explicit exclusivism make a mockery of the love and goodness of God. I don’t care how many times people claim that God is good; if the God they describe is powerless to do good and seems to have created a universe where punishment and suffering are handed out to all but a select few, for eternity – then that God is evil.

  • Amos Paul


    While I don’t disagree with the gist of your message, I must also include that the eternal conscious torment bit only applies if one actually believes in ECT as well.

  • Poking around to see if this guy can be called Dr. Strange, I discover that he is teaching in England and apparently a Brit. Difficult to fit him and Tom Wright into the same country, but after all this is where the Puritans came from.

    It is unfortunate that this rigid perspective is assumed by many to be in fact the “traditional” view. Mebbe so if you think the world is 500 years old. I like to go back at least 1750 years looking around for traditions.

    Did Paul require a missionary or a Philadelphia lawyer to turn him around? My fervent hope is that neo-Pharisees will be sequestered or quarantined on the other side until they are given a box of handcuffs and orders to head out to Damascus.

    Oh, and yes, he is Dr. Strange. I have this pressing urge to write that as Dr. Strangelove.

  • Scott Eaton

    Scot, you asked in #6, “But what would Paul say about those who have not heard in the meantime or who are not even in the scope?…What about the North Koreans — real North Korean kids right now — who have no chance of hearing?”

    I don’t know what Paul would have said, but wasn’t Jesus clear when he said, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:17-18).

  • Amos Paul

    Scott Eaton,

    That verse has nothing to do with ultimate salvation being totally contingent upon the transmission of human words about Jesus.

    You may see my (and others’) posts above if you would like to respond to our actual views.

  • Rick

    It’s interesting how many are attacking the author, amd questioning his concern for the lost.

  • phil_style

    #’ Rick,

    I think you’ll find that people are generally (minus maybe two little quips) attacking the author’s opinion, not the author himself.

    In addition, where a people questioning his “concern for the lost”? I cannot find a single comment which does this..

  • Scott Eaton

    Amos Paul #18,

    First, I was simply responding to Scot’s questions in #6. Nothing more.

    Secondly, I don’t understand the hostility and attack. This is why I don’t comment here much anymore.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    Here we go again . . .

    1. I don’t know any exclusivists that suggest than when infants or young children die, they go to hell. Can we stick with the issues and not straw men that can easily be knocked down.

    2. I believe it was Leslie Newbigin who spoke about exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism within various strands of the gospel messege. If there is truth to that, then here we go again on turning both/and issues into either/or polarized scenarios.

  • Scot McKnight

    CGC, I like your comment about polarities, in part because Strange would like to get out of these categories, but also because the book itself sets up these three orientations … and that is all that is represented here. Strange clearly disagrees with the other two.

  • Amos Paul

    Scott Eaton,

    Please direct to where you felt attacked. You said that Jesus was clear in contrast to when Scot asked, “What about North Koreans?”

    I merely commented upon the fact that the message within the verse is not relevant to the question about evangelism and ‘what about those who haven’t heard?’ and so forth.

    I’m sorry if you felt that my comment was intrusive. Though that is the nature of public discourse. For there have been several arguments and much Scripture already discussed upon the issue within this thread–so it *appeared* that you were still participating in the conversation at large.

  • Percival

    Ann #9,

    No, North Koreans have no access to the internet. Radios and TVs are made to only receive government stations. There are scattered Christians but living under unimaginable persecution. North Koreans are sent to work around the world under slave camp conditions to earn foreign currency for one of the worst regimes in history. North Koreans already live in a kind of hell. May God have mercy.

    About 100 years ago Pyongyang was the site of a huge evangelical revival. Strangely enough many of the early communist leaders were also products of mission schools. How things change!

  • T


    I think I see two comments that attack the author (I refered to myself as “Strange” via a pun I only saw after typing). Rather than focus there, let’s talk about the issues raised.

    I’ve said that I agree that scripture is the source that most matters to me (on this or other issues), but I don’t see scripture making an unambiguous case for exclusivism. If we look at all of Romans 10 (let alone 9, 10 and 11, or even all of Romans), we get statements that both support and work against the kind of exclusivism that Strange argues for. Do you see ambiguity here, or do you see scripture as obviously and only supportive of the exclusivist position?

  • Scott Eaton

    Amos Paul #24,

    The question asked was what about those who have not heard. Jesus simply says that all who do not believe are condemned ALREADY. This is the unfortunate state of humanity – condemned under the wrath of God. So those who do not hear are condemened already. Sad, but simple. This is why we must urgently send missionaries to them.

  • DRT

    Rick, phil_style is right, the folks have been well behaved by and large.

    And reading all of these great responses has made me smile and feel like there is hope after all.

    I still feel that individual personalities and the way people process information is radically different from person to person. Dr. Strange and the like seem to me to be very sensing oriented people vs. intuitives. We need the message in all forms.

    Sensing or Intuition

    The second pair of psychological preferences is Sensing and Intuition. Do you pay more attention to information that comes in through your five senses (Sensing), or do you pay more attention to the patterns and possibilities that you see in the information you receive (Intuition)?

    Everyone spends some time Sensing and some time using Intuition. Don’t confuse Sensing with sensual. They aren’t related.

    Take a minute to ask yourself which of the following descriptions seems more natural, effortless, and comfortable for you?

    Sensing (S)
    Paying attention to physical reality, what I see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. I’m concerned with what is actual, present, current, and real. I notice facts and I remember details that are important to me. I like to see the practical use of things and learn best when I see how to use what I’m learning. Experience speaks to me louder than words.

    The following statements generally apply to me:

    I remember events as snapshots of what actually happened.
    I solve problems by working through facts until I understand the problem.
    I am pragmatic and look to the “bottom line.”
    I start with facts and then form a big picture.
    I trust experience first and trust words and symbols less.
    Sometimes I pay so much attention to facts, either present or past, that I miss new possibilities.

    Intuition (N)
    Paying the most attention to impressions or the meaning and patterns of the information I get. I would rather learn by thinking a problem through than by hands-on experience. I’m interested in new things and what might be possible, so that I think more about the future than the past. I like to work with symbols or abstract theories, even if I don’t know how I will use them. I remember events more as an impression of what it was like than as actual facts or details of what happened.

    The following statements generally apply to me:

    I remember events by what I read “between the lines” about their meaning.
    I solve problems by leaping between different ideas and possibilities.
    I am interested in doing things that are new and different.
    I like to see the big picture, then to find out the facts.
    I trust impressions, symbols, and metaphors more than what I actually experienced
    Sometimes I think so much about new possibilities that I never look at how to make them a reality.

    Adapted from Looking at Type: The Fundamentals
    by Charles R. Martin (CAPT 1997)

  • Amos Paul

    Scott Eaton,

    You can’t automatically connect a need for salvation with a contingency upon human transmission of words about Jesus. That’s an argumentative leap.

    In your verses, Jesus never defines when or in what ways people need to ‘believe’. It says the world is saved through Him–but not define in what ways and to what extent.

    I, again, point you towards my own earlier post if you want to respond to my arguments concerning what salvation is ultimately contingent upon and what appropriate limits faithful evangelism respects.

  • Scott Eaton

    Amos Paul,

    How can you say this? Jesus makes it very clear in what way people must be saved – by believing in Him. Simple. Look at John 3:16. For that matter look at Jesus example in the same chapter about the serpent on the pole. If we look to Jesus we are saved, if we don’t we aren’t. This is true even for those who do not hear because they are already condemned. The must believe and need a preacher to tell them (Romans 10). Why do evangelicals today want to make it more complicated than it is?

  • phil_style

    Scott, #30, what do you think the minimum content of the “message” that one must hear and believe is?

    How does one know if what is believing is the right quantity of belief details?

  • MattR

    To fully embrace this version of exclusiveism, it seems to me one has to believe either:

    A. God has meticulously chosen some to be saved and some for eternal separation. (which I would guess is part of Strange’s argument)

    B: We must ‘do’ something to earn salvation (either someone must tell us the right things, and/or we must be in the right place and time to hear them).

    I personally don’t find either compelling. My question is the same as others… What of those who have not, or can’t ever hear? But also, what of God’s grace? How is grace really active in the world?

  • Luke Allison

    Scott Eaton,

    If it’s so cut and dried, why are there three perspectives written by three different scholars in a scholarly book?

    You’ve stated that it’s “unfortunate” that all the people who die daily are condemned under the wrath of God. Is there no other word for this position than that?

  • Sherman Nobles

    “Would you call this view by Strange the “traditional” view?” – Yes

    “Are the religions an idolatrous refashioning of revelation?” – I think most religions are man trying to comprehend the spiritual eternal realm and trying to connect with God.

    How can one believe in Christ and not be an exclusivist? If one believes that Jesus really is the savior of all, especially we who believe (Universal Reconciliation, 1 Tim. 4:10, Rom.5:18, etc.) then one can view others as brothers in Christ though they might not know it yet, thus being very open and inclusive having faith in Christ to save others, not just to save me. Faith in Christ for the salvation of others, that’s pretty inclusive.

  • CGC @22

    “I don’t know any exclusivists that suggest than when infants or young children die, they go to hell. Can we stick with the issues and not straw men that can easily be knocked down.”

    I don’t know any exclusivists like that either, and I went to Exclusivist Bible College. But we allowed that infants and children who had not reached the “age of accountability,” and people who were mentally incapacitated so that they could not understand the gospel were not held accountable to the gospel and therefore did not go to hell.

    To that extent, then, we were actually inclusivist. My earlier point in #7, about infants who die, goes to whether exclusivists can hold their exclusivism consistently. Thankfully, the great majority of them do not.

  • Luke Allison

    Jeff #35 –

    That would be my contention as well. We’re extremely “sola scriptura”, but then we make concessions for infants and other innocents. So how sola scriptura are we? How far does it go?

    If the message is so plain in Scripture that it’s ridiculous to even talk about it, why are there so many inclusivists throughout church history, and why do we need books highlighting different well-researched viewpoints?

    Even my fundamentalist relatives in the Oklahoma are sort of inclusivists. It’s a common-sense thing to them.

  • CGC

    Good thoughts Jeff,
    Maybe the problem is not exclusive/ivity but exclusive/ism?
    Don’t all ism’s have a tendency towards idolatry? It seems to me that Susan’s words about being self-critical about all religions capasity to distort, even the Christian religion should be a part of the equation in all this (If I was reading her right?).

    “homo unius libri”

  • TJJ

    I Like CGC #22 comments. I think this issue in scripture os more “both/and” not either/or, as are so many other theological issues.

    The one should be a caution to us not to be lazy, self focused, self assured, or complacent about the salvation of others worldwide, and see the urgency of the the field ripe for harvest, but with far too few workers.

    On the other hand, the and/or statements of scriputre caution us as well to not underestimate the love, grace, mercy, efficacy, efficiency of of God and the Gospel and keep us humble about how little we really know and understand about god and salvation and how god works in the world. It is a tension, to me that is built right into the scriptures, and we do well to live in the tension and respect both sides of the issue and not get caught up in only what we prefer or want to be true. IMHO

  • Isaac

    The difficulty with discussions about inclusive/exclusive soteriology is that most people who discuss it don’t address the limits of knowledge — it is assumed that we either know as revealed truth that some or all followers of non-Xian religions are saved or that we know as revealed truth that none are. Evangelicals also tend to leave out the unstated assumption that nothing relevant happens between death and the final judgment. I would identify four overlapping but quite distinct understandings when we add these components.
    A. We know that YHWH will save all who confess Jesus as Lord before death, and some (or even all) who don’t ever confess Jesus as Lord.
    B. We know that YHWH will save all who confess Jesus as Lord before death, and some (or all) who confess Jesus as Lord after death.
    C. We know that YHWH will save all who confess Jesus as Lord before death, we don’t know whether some who don’t confess Jesus before death will also be saved (we can hope that they are, but we can’t confidently state that they will be).
    D. We know that YHWH will save all who confess Jesus as Lord before death, and we know that he will save none who don’t.

    To the earlier discussion about what the “traditional” Xian interpretation is: The vast majority of Xians throughout history have held to either C. or D., thus both of these positions are traditional although I personally would be more inclined to describe C. as the “more traditional” of the two. (I haven’t read the book yet, but from the review I’m guessing Strange is arguing D.). A minority of Xians throughout history have held to B. (as articulated by Sherman above), but this has never been a majority viewpoint. Many modern people hold to A., but I would argue that this takes us outside the definition of Xianity proper.
    An important starting point for conversation is that all hold to the efficacy of faith in Jesus, and three of the four (B., C., and D.) agree on the necessity of faith in Jesus. The two critical issues are what Scripture and tradition specifically tell us about the fate of those who don’t believe, and what they tell us (and don’t tell us) about the possibility of postmortem conversion.

  • Rick

    T, Phil, and DRT-

    Perhaps I spoke too soon. I started to see a pattern in some of the comments(that I have seen too often here) and jumped to the conclusion that it was just going to go downhill. I stand corrected and appreciate the pushback.

    For the record, I agree with what T, in #26, stated:

    “I don’t see scripture making an unambiguous case for exclusivism”

  • I think strictly equating Jesus with YHWH is a mistake. The Trinity is more nuanced… Jesus is YHWH’s messiah in the record (we extrapolate his divnity but it isn’t the emphasis… The “God of Israel” is how God wants to be known…

    And it seems in Rom 1 that we are without excuse for having revelation. A material heretic may not be damned as a formal heretic. Do the NeoPuritans have any room for this?

    Also, Rom 10 isn’t as clear as I once thought. Paul’s argument with his invisible opponent isn’t saying that missionaries to unreached people groups are necessary for any hope of North Koreans. His opponent is saying this, not Paul. Paul argument is that people HAVE heard, says the prophets! And that this hearing has already gone out to the world! David Stern has an interesting discussion on this in his Jewish NT Commentary. I could not base any exclusive case on that passage.

    The subversive gospel language sounds a little odd to me. It sounds sexy and provacative but I don’t really see it in that way.

  • Amos Paul

    @ 31 Phil,

    Exactly. Looking to Jesus for salvation is not and never was assenting to bulleted list of ‘correct’ assertions making you ‘in’ or ‘out’. That makes faith entirely about the power of the human’s cognitive ability!

    Ultimately speaking, salvation is and always was about one’s relationship and spiritual orientation towards Jesus. Of course we should attempt to point to Him in evangelism and all sorts of other good things. There is a unique and dynamic relatonship between that mission and actual salvation…

    But to say that salvation is *entirely* dependent upon our temporal decisions to tell others about Jesus and/or assert the correct statements about Him. Well. That puts people so far above the Holy Spirit and our words above the objective identity of Jesus that I find it to be the exact opposite (logically speaking) of a position of faith (trust and reliance upon God).

  • CGC

    One last thought, maybe the categories of exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism cause more problems than solutions? For example, if all children who die invetro, or by abortion, or as small children, are going to heaven from the exclusivist’s viewpoint, isn’t this really now more an inclusivist position than an exclusivist one? Maybe the deeper issue that should be discussed is between confessional christianity versus and unconfessional one? Wouldn’t the whole conversation take a totally different turn?

    Somebody asked Scot about a good book on this topic. One book that was ‘out of the box’ thinking for me at least was S. Mark Heim “The Depth of Riches: A Trinitarian Theology of Religous Ends.” He changed the conversation from ways of salvation to evaluating different religious ends. Whether or not people even agree with Heim is not the point. I just believe it is helpful when we learn to think outside our little theological boxes and ask different questions and have new starting points or examine issues from a different paradigm altogether.

    Maybe these kinds of explorations will help us ask better or more faithful questions and understand the issues in a better and more wholistic way?

    “homo unius libri”

  • Scot,

    I have never really understood the ‘objection’ regarding Cornelius, in light of the fact that Peter, in re-telling what happens, recounts that an angel told Cornelius to “Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter…” And then, significantly, the angel continues, “He [Peter] will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.” (Acts 11:13-14)

    In other words, prior to Peter’s coming to ‘gospelize’ Cornelius and his household, they were not saved. Upon hearing the message (and “believing” — v. 17), they were “saved.”

    It seems to me that such a passage supports Strange’s ideas.

  • John Mc

    Scott Eaton @ 27,

    You discern that according to Scripture the lost are already condemned and under the wrath of God, acknowledging this unfortunate perception as sad but true. Our missionary efforts cannot save the doomed, can they? Is that not working against the will of God?

    On a more emotional, level, and that after all is the source and well of genuine love, if your tragic discernment were true, in all of its awful ramifications, then I would be compelled to reject God. If 95% of all humanity is doomed, dismissed and outside of God’s plan of salvation, for reasons and circumstances beyond their control, then what is there about such a condemning God which merits my worship? Raw power, exercised arbitrarily agaisnt the powerless masses? And how can such an utterly devastating dismissal of billions, of most of humanity, comport with Jesus claim to incarnate the Love which is allegedly God’s principal characteristic?

    If your discernment proved to be true, then I would choose to stand with the condemned, not only visiting them in their eternal prison, but choosing to live with them as one of them. My heart would be eternally broken if had to spend eternity in heaven contemplating the eternal punishment and torture of so many whom I have loved, and of so many who knew no better, or as God said to Jonah, who do not know their right hand from their left.

    However, since I choose to pay most of my attention to Scripture’s language and message of love and inclusion, I have no choice but to seek ways to distance myself from Scripture’s words of condemnation, and to seek ways to interpret Scripture in it’s wholeness as presenting a message of love and not condemnation, of healing and not death, of freedom and not eternal punishment, of inclusion and openness and not exclusion.

    But if you are right, then let me have the courage to follow the teaching of Jesus and stand with the condemned.

  • T


    You da man.

    Scott (Eaton),

    “The[y] must believe and need a preacher to tell them (Romans 10). Why do evangelicals today want to make it more complicated than it is?” It’s not evangelicals making it more complicated than it is. If anything, you’re glossing over genuine mystery created by the scriptures themselves.

    Paul asks in reference to the Jews: “But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: ‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.'”

    In asking if all the Jews heard “the message,” he does not refer to his gospel or to the scriptures at all, but quotes from the psalmist speaking of *creation’s* voice that is heard by all. His use of that quote in the way he uses it creates a strong presumption that one somehow can hear “the word about Christ” from nature’s nonverbal voice, in the way the psalmist describes about God’s glory. Nature “reveals knowledge” according to the psalmist and Paul quotes this psalm in a way that connects it to the Jews hearing the gospel. In a nutshell, some evangelicals are making this “complicated” because Paul made it complicated. Romans 9-11 is complicated, to put it mildly.

  • Luke Allison

    I guess I’m just not even interested in trying to get in a prooftext battle over this one. John Wesley, John Stott, J.I. Packer, C.S. Lewis, Justin Martyr, Billy freakin’ Graham, and numerous others have put forth basically inclusivist views. That’s fine company.

    My annoyance is when this is painted as a “cut-and-dried” clear teaching of Scripture. Especially by those who claim Sola Scriptura, and then make allowance for infants, mentally disabled, and anyone else normal human beings would make allowance for.

    Sola Scriptura is a nice idea, but I don’t think anybody abides by it in truth. And that’s okay with me.

  • Luke Allison #47,

    I don’t think allowing for the salvation of those who die in infancy violates the principle of Sola Scriptura. It is usually grounded in the account of David and the child born of his adultery with Bathsheba. The child died soon after birth. On hearing the news, David said, “He cannot come to me but I shall go to him.” He did not think of the child as in the place of the cursed dead but in the place of the blessed. So the allowance is not inconsistent with the principle of Sola Scriptura.

    What remains, though, is that those who hold to exclusivism yet make allowance that those who die in infancy are in heaven are being somewhat inconsistent.

    So, I would like to ask:

    Scott Easton #30,

    If the only ones who have any hope of heaven are those who have had the gospel preached to them and believe, then would you say that infants who die have no hope because they have not believed? Or would you make exception for them?

    If you believe there is an exception for them, would you say that your exclusivism is hard and fast?

  • AT

    One thing that I have noticed in these discussions is that people open up a whole bunch of questions, then say we need to view scripture in an open way…but then there is a completely antagonistic view to anyone that holds the ‘traditional’ view.

    I saw this in the Love Wins debates as well. Rob Bell would act as though he wasn’t pushing any particular view -just asking questions – but then he’d completely slam the ‘traditional’ view. If we are going to be open about this we also need to be completely open to the ‘tradtional’ view.
    Let’s be honest – there is a lot of scripture that leans towards an exclusivist view…
    Whilst the scriptures that challenge this view exist- they always seem slightly fuzzy…
    I am an exclusivist that holds inclusivist hope…

  • Kenny Johnson


    I tend to lean towards inclusivism, but I appreciate the push back and the caution. I think its good advice.

  • Luke Allison

    Jeff Doles,

    “I don’t think allowing for the salvation of those who die in infancy violates the principle of Sola Scriptura.”

    You’re right. But think of all the other exceptions that are frequently made. That text in 2 Samuel seems to be referring to the covenant faithfulness of God: David doesn’t even question whether or not the child has been “saved”, probably because “salvation” in terms of eternal life wasn’t really on his radar.

    What is on his radar is the very real death of the infant, and the apparent love of God.

    Dr. McKnight has spoken about the distinction between “sola Scriptura” as it’s historically understood, and “Solo Scriptura”, which seems to be the viewpoint many currently espouse.

  • Luke Allison

    AT #49

    I am most likely very similar to you: exclusivist who hopes, or rather, who trusts in the covenant love of God in Jesus Christ.

    I have no problem with the traditional view’s adherents, except for the fact that they often have a problem with me.

    I have an allergy to the phrase: “It’s plain from Scripture”. Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy wrote a great book called “Across the Spectrum” in which they lay out the common “hot button” evangelical issues. Anything that finds its way into that book is not “plain from Scripture”, in my opinion. And the whole “destiny of the unevangelized” debate is one of them.

  • PaulE


    If your exegesis of Romans 10:18 is correct – that the word of Christ was “preached” by nature to Israel – then doesn’t that commit us to a pretty exclusivist position? After all, Paul uses this passage to show that most of Israel, though having heard the message (which he defines in verses 8-9), is not saved because of unbelief.

    Wouldn’t the North Koreans be in the same position? By your interpretation, they’ve heard the same message proclaimed to them by nature also; yet they too have not obeyed the message, confessing with their tongue that Jesus is Lord and believing with their heart that God raised him from the dead.

  • T


    Well, it wouldn’t lead to an exclusivist position the way that Strange and many others talk about it, at least if you trust Scot’s summary above. The issue is whether someone *could* hear enough from nature to trust “the message” and be saved. Exclusivists like Strange tend to say “no.” I’d say Paul makes that a real possibility.

  • Brian C

    Paul address the issue of those who have never heard the Gospel this way:

    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. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares Romans 2:12-16

    It seems to me that Paul is saying that those North Koreans will not be judged by what they didn’t know but by what they did know. Did they reject that truth or embrace it? (Romans 1:17-20). This then opens up another challenge to our understanding and the missionary enterprise. Is it better to go and tell them something they might reject or leave them in darkness? Jesus gives us a clear mandate in Matthew 24:14 and Matthew 28:19-20.

    The simple solution is that the matter is in God’s hands and our God will do rightly. We are only to live in obedience to what we do know and the mandate is binding on those who do name Christ. We then don’t need to worry about being an inclusivist or an exclusivist if we understand that God is a righteous judge and will save all whom He in His soveriegn will decides to save. But salvation is only one part, though perhaps the most important part, of the Gospel which is why we go to lead people out of darkness and into His marvelous Light.

  • DRT

    I find myself now on both sides of the fence…to wit

    I am a hopeful inclusivist, but not a universalist, but the more we discuss this and I read things like Isaac#39 and the original post, I start to think the the debate is also about those who cry Lord Lord, and whether they are saved. In many respects I find more ability to let the North Korean in than the fundie Calvinist….. I am sorry of how harsh that is, but I think it is, maybe, true. After all, Jesus was often quite critical of those who should have got the real message.

  • DRT

    Brian C#55 said

    It seems to me that Paul is saying that those North Koreans will not be judged by what they didn’t know but by what they did know. Did they reject that truth or embrace it? (Romans 1:17-20). This then opens up another challenge to our understanding and the missionary enterprise. Is it better to go and tell them something they might reject or leave them in darkness? Jesus gives us a clear mandate in Matthew 24:14 and Matthew 28:19-20.

    I often wonder if the message that some get from the natural revelation is polluted by the message some christians give. If I looked at the world and understood that there must be a caring and inclusive god and that it is obvious that I should love others to be in tune with it all, wouldn’t that get all screwed up if someone came and preached Calvinism to me?

  • Susan N.

    CGC @ #37 – Yes, you were reading me correctly… All religions, including Christianity, need to be self-critical.

    John Mc @ 45 – Well-said. I have come to the same conclusion.

  • Amos Paul


    >I often wonder if the message that some get from the natural revelation is polluted by the message some christians give.

    I entirely agree. C.S. Lewis wrote on this (somewhere, sorry for the lack for citation). That just because someone *says* they reject ‘Jesus’ doesn’t mean they *actually* reject *the real* Jesus. Just the impression they have of that name from culture or whatever.

    IMO, there’s a whole philosophical debate about words and their meaning behind even being able to have that conversation. Nominalism asserts that we load that we create and agree upon the concepts our words pick our ourselves–older views assert that there are at least *some* objective truths that words are aiming at.

    When it comes to Jesus, I think that most Christians ought to agree that *He* is objective and that our words may or may not actually point to Him…