Part Two of Ronald Nash's book Is Jesus the Only Savior? deals with the topic of religious inclusivism. Inclusivists "insist that all people must have a chance to be saved," regardless of their belief in Christ.[footnoteRef:1] Not quite the opposite of exclusivism, inclusivism does allow for the potential ability of non-believers to be saved, but just emphasizes the unlikeliness of that actually occurring.[footnoteRef:2] Kanno presents inclusivism as a view that tacitly approves religions other than one's own but " as a preparatory stage to one's own religion."[footnoteRef:3] Hick's stance on inclusivism is that it is just a "soft form of exclusivism."[footnoteRef:4] Because Nash is a hard exclusivist, the author finds certain problems with the inclusivism stance. [1: Nash, Ronald H, 1994. Is Jesus the Only Savior? p. 104.] [2: Robinson, B.A, 2011. "How People View the Status of Religions Other than Their Own." Retrieved: http://www.religioustolerance.org/rel_plur.htm] [3: Kanno, Hiroshi, n.d. "Inclusivism and Religious Tolerance in the Lotus Sutra," p. 94 ] [4: Kanno, Hiroshi, n.d. p. 104]
Inclusivism is predicated on two main axioms, according to Nash. One of those axioms is the particularity axiom. Particularity implies that Jesus Christ is the one and only savior. Thus, inclusivism shares particularity with exclusivism. What makes inclusivism different from exclusivism is the second main axiom: the universality axiom. Universality suggests that God loves all persons equally. Thus, even persons who do not accept the Lord Jesus Christ are still capable of being saved through the grace of God. Although not identified by Nash as a formal axiom, the principle of similarity is also part of the inclusivism worldview. Similarity suggests that religions all contain the same kernels of truth, which makes it possible for a non-Christian to eventually come to believe in Christ.
According to Nash, inclusivism does not necessarily embrace universalism. Universalism is not Biblically tenable; meaning, that universalism is not supported by scripture. Scripture clearly states that only believers can relish the joy of salvation. Belief and faith in Christ are prerequisites to salvation. A universalist would claim that God can and will bestow grace even on those who do not believe in any God, an idea that is categorically false in Nash's eyes.
Moreover, it is possible to be both an evangelical Christian and an inclusivist. Not all evangelical Christians are exclusivist, and many see validity in the multiplicity of the world's faiths. Even while remaining true to the core beliefs of Christianity and to scripture as fact, inclusivist evangelical Christians allow themselves to embrace religions other than their own. Nash finds this stance untenable from both a logical and a scriptural standpoint. It is impossible to believe in the fundamental truth of the Bible and also believe that all religions are equally as valid.
Nash uses the example of hell and divine judgment to prove that the Bible cannot and does not support universalism or inclusivism. However, Nash clearly presents universalism as distinctly different from inclusivism. An inclusivist allows non-believers in Christ who have yet to hear the Gospel eligible for salvation due to the immutable grace of God. A universalist believes that all human beings are eligible for salvation, even sinners. Essentially, the universalist claims that salvation does not depend on a belief in Christ, or that a belief in Christ does not precipitate salvation. The Bible does permit a certain degree of universalism. For example, 1 Timothy 2:4 states that God "wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." The key is that it is the will of God that determines the progress of the soul towards salvation; and such salvation does not depend on prior knowledge of Christ.
Inclusivism is also not pluralism, which is the most liberal stance on comparative religions. Pluralism treats all religions equally, promoting the belief that each religion is as valid as the next. The "all paths lead to the same goal" philosophy common in New Age circles represents religious pluralism. As it can be presented as the categorical opposite of exclusivism, pluralism denies the truth of the gospel. A pluralist recognizes the Quran or the Bhagavad-Gita as being equally as valid as the New Testament. Only the words are different; when means that the pluralist does not believe that the Christian Bible is the Word of God at all. If the pluralist did believe that the Bible were the Word of God, then it would be impossible to hold two truths equal. The Bible teaches that there is only one path to salvation and that path includes Jesus Christ. It is impossible for any other scripture to present the truth, because no other religion avows Christ as the one and only Savior. Unlike evangelical inclusivists, the pluralist does not even believe that a person needs to find Christ in order to be saved. Therefore, Nash does not believe that religious inclusivism is as distasteful as religious pluralism.
Many, possibly most, evangelical Christians in America are inclusivists, according to Nash. Catholics are also inclusivists, as the Catholic Church has issued statements to the effect that a person cannot help it if he or she has never heard of the gospel or of Christ. The belief in inclusivity can even be taken to another level, whereby God "works through other religions to save people" known as "anonymous Christians."[footnoteRef:5] Nash finds this belief ridiculous, and also finds no scriptural basis for the existence of "anonymous Christians." The belief in other gods, or other faiths, precludes a person from attaining salvation in Christ. Nash might point out that the Buddhist or Jew can attain a different type of salvation that would be qualitatively different from that experienced by the Christian. Unlike pluralism, this view suggests that there are many paths to religious feeling but there is only one true path to God and Christ in the Kingdom Heaven. All others will perish in Hell, even if their religion sets forth for them some kind of peace of mind. [5: Thalos, Adel, 2009. "The Middle Way."]
With regards to 1 Timothy 2:4, Nash points out that the text states God's desire for all people to be saved. God wants all people to be saved and to "come to a knowledge of the truth" but that does not mean that God will necessarily save all people. The desire of God is for all people to recognize that Christ is the only Son of God.
One of the faults that Nash finds with inclusivism is the broad interpretation of the gospel and the nature of revelation. God reveals Himself through the Gospel as the Word of God, Nash notes. The inclusivist tries to stretch this truth by claiming that God is revealed through all things, which is why it becomes possible for the Buddhist or Muslim to be saved. Nash challenges any inclusivist to find scriptural evidence that supports the claim that God's revelation occurs in any other way than the way it is outlined in the Gospel. That is, God has revealed Himself only through his Son and will reveal himself only on Judgment Day via the Second Coming of Christ.
Nash also notes, as Thalos does, that it is impossible to compare modern-day nonbelievers who have never heard of Christ to Jews before the time of Christ. Before the time of Christ, Jews who would become Christians were engaged fully in their covenantal relationship with God. Their relationship with God allowed those believers to accept Jesus as the Jewish messiah. From the time of Christ onward, it became impossible to simultaneously hold two truths equally. Either Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies about the messiah, or not. According to Nash, it would have been impossible for a Jew to have faith in God without believing that Christ is God's only son because the Word of God was made visible before them.
John 14:17 outlines the proof for particularism: "The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be." Jesus states that the world cannot accept God because it neither "sees him nor knows him," and does not provide for the salvation of non-believers. By far the strongest scriptural evidence for particularlism is in John 3:16-18. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life," (John 3:16). This sentence is unequivocal in that "whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." This passage in no way states that whoever is sincere enough to believe in any God is capable of salvation. Likewise, John 3:17 reads, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." The last two words of John 3:17 read, "through him;" they do not read "through anyone or anything" else but Christ. Finally, John 3:18 offers clarity: "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever…