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{See the first post for an overview. I am interacting with a book called: Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World.}

Finally, we reach the two exclusivism views! Exclusivism is the view that salvation is only through Christ, and only available to those who have both heard and had a faith response to the gospel. This is the traditional view of orthodox believers, and my view as well.

The first view is by Alister McGrath who is a nonrestrictive exclusivist. He gives considerable space in his essay to refuting pluralism. He emphasizes that the religions of the world are really very different, and it is not correct to “homogenize” them like the pluralists. He says it is intellectually dishonest to suppress or evade differences in order to construct some artificial theory to account for commonalities. The religions are not “putty to be molded by pluralist ideologues” but living realities that demand respect. If religious believers actually believe something, then disagreement is inevitable and proper! (McGrath is responding to a common claim that the religions of the world are very similar. Indeed, John Hick in his essay does claim that all religions are basically teaching the same thing.)

McGrath also makes the significant observation that the pluralist agenda forces its advocates to adopt heretical views of Christ.  Jesus Christ must be reduced to nothing more than a great religious teacher in order to conform to pluralist political correctness. Only the lowest possible Christology is considered acceptable by pluralists. Yet, it is precisely a high Christology that makes Christianity to be Christianity!

Although McGrath is an exclusivist, he takes a general agnostic view towards those who have never heard the gospel. (This viewpoint can also be called agnostic exclusivism.) He places a lot of weight on God’s sovereignty and on God’s ability to achieve His divine purposes in the world. The Creator is not dependent on His creation, and we do not want to limit God’s ways of bringing people to salvation. We must ultimately place our faith in the wisdom, righteousness, and goodness of God and that the “judge of all the earth will do right” (Genesis 18:25).  His perspective is optimistic. Basically, he is willing to speculate a bit that God has ways of bringing people to Christ that we are not aware of or can work in supernatural ways such as through dreams/visions. At times, I felt like McGrath was inching towards inclusivism, however he does not take things as far as the inclusivists.

Geivett and Phillips present the second exclusivist view which is more restrictive. They begin with extra-biblical reasons to believe in a personal Creator of the universe who takes an interest in human beings, and then they proceed to the biblical data regarding the conditions God has set for salvation. Their biblical exegesis is detailed and well done. In fact, of the four views presented in the book, they are the only ones to devote such significant space to biblical exegesis, covering many, if not all, of the critical biblical texts in regards to this issue. They prefer to call their view particularist. Other views may primarily emphasize God’s role in saving humanity, but the particularist view further emphasizes the appropriate human response. That is, except for perhaps very special circumstances, people are not saved apart from explicit faith in Jesus Christ. They argue that the Bible presents a consistent pattern of “fewness” in redemption and “wideness” in judgment. They are pessimistic towards the fate of the unevangelized, and not willing to speculate like McGrath.

With these two exclusivism views, I think the issue it comes down to is the tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. It is important to maintain the tension or balance between these two aspects. Yet, we all tend to lean in one direction or the other. Indeed, church history and modern day evangelicalism is split between those who look more to God’s sovereignty and those who place more emphasis on the free will of man. Although Geivett and Phillips did not clearly address this issue (I wish they had), I really appreciate how McGrath does not want to limit God or make God dependent on us for his salvific purposes. (My personal viewpoint is similar to McGrath’s.)

RBC Ministries has a thoughtful article on this issue: Are All Who Haven’t Heard of Christ Damned?  Their perspective is perhaps closer to McGrath’s exclusivism, although they take a different approach.

** Please see this post with further thoughts on an exclusivist viewpoint. I clarify some concepts with statements that begin with “being exclusivist does not mean….”

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