Although I concluded the series on the book “Salvation in a Pluralistic World”, I felt the need to clarify a few things. I received a very thoughtful response from an inclusivist. See the comment from unkleE after the inclusivist post. He makes some good points, and although I am not an inclusivist, I do agree some/partly with his points.
I am not aware of any exclusivists who think Old Testament believers or babies/young children are condemned to hell and not saved. Even the more restrictive exclusivists Geivett and Phillips (in the book) would not see Old Testament believers and babies outside of salvation. To say that all the Old Testament heroes of faith from Hebrews 11 are condemned to hell would be rather silly. God has revealed himself progressively throughout time. While Jesus had not yet come in the Old Testament, those believers placed their faith in God as he had then revealed himself, trusting in the future promises of a coming Savior.
RBC ministries has this thoughtful article: Are all who haven’t heard of Christ damned? They are exclusivists, but that doesn’t mean God’s grace doesn’t extend to some such as Old Testament believers. They also share a missionary story, and leave open the possibility of salvation for people like Dayuma’s father.
A couple years ago I read a book by the famous missionary to India Amy Carmichael. She told the story of a teenage Indian woman named Mimosa who came by their home. They began to tell her the story of Christianity but they did not get past the Old Testament when her parents came for her. They never even got to Christ! But Mimosa believed with all her heart in the God they told her about, and stopped practicing Hinduism. She was ostracized and had a very difficult life for no longer being Hindu. Many years later she ended up at Amy’s home again, and they told her “the rest of the story” – about Jesus – and her beliefs became complete. I believe if Mimosa had never heard “the rest of the story” that she still would have had eternal life with Christ.
Various Scriptures seem to teach that God will judge people by the light that they had, and by their response to the light that they had (Luke 8:18;12:47-48). I also think Scripture teaches a “willingness principle” – If someone is earnestly seeking the true God, God will reveal the truth to them somehow (John 7:17). I’m reminded of people like Melchizedek in the Old Testament who was not with Abraham, yet Melchizedek was worshiping the true God. God had revealed himself to Melchizedek somehow. Or I think of people like the Ethiopian eunuch and the Roman centurion in Acts. These men responded to the light they had, and God sent them more light – people (Philip and Peter) who told them about Christ.
I hope these thoughts might bring a little clarity. Being exclusivist does not mean a staunch, wooden interpretation that there is literally no salvation outside of direct knowledge of and faith in Christ – as that would indeed rule out salvation for Old Testament believers.
Being exclusivist also does not mean that we blithely or arrogantly see Jesus as the only way. Yes, Jesus is the only way and we should be seeking to share Christ with the world. Yet, humility should be part of the picture and trust in God’s sovereignty. We can trust that God will bring sufficient light for salvation to those who are honestly seeking it, and that God may work in other supernatural ways that we are not aware of to bring people to faith in Christ.
God wants all people to receive salvation (2 Peter 3:9), yet that doesn’t mean all people will receive it. Human response must be a part of the picture too. The Bible clearly teaches two eternal destinies for those who accept or reject Christ. But…what about people who have not heard and therefore could not accept or reject Christ? Let us act on what we do know (John 14:6) and leave the uncertain in God’s good hands.