Can people be saved without conscious faith in Christ?

(c) Jon Hobbs, 2003

An outline and evaluation of John Sander's "inclusivism" as propounded in his book No other name.

The structure of Sanders' argument comprises a definition of inclusivism,[1] an outline of how both testaments affirm God's salvific activity outside the covenant with Israel,[2] followed by five supporting theological considerations,[3] a consideration of inclusivism’s key defenders,[4] and an historical bibliography.[5] For the purposes of this essay, the main arguments gleaned from the chapter are outlined and evaluated, rather than the validity of Sanders’ historical assessments.

Inclusivism is defined by Sanders as the conviction "that some of those who never hear the gospel of Christ may nevertheless attain salvation before they die if they respond in faith to the revelation they do have." Thus although inclusivists "affirm the particularity and finality of salvation only in Christ," they "deny that knowledge of his work is necessary for salvation" - a distinction between ontological and epistemological necessity.[6]
God’s attitude to Gentiles in salvation history

In arguing his case, Sanders suggests that God’s “benevolence” towards those outside the covenant in the Old Testament is proved by the fact that God provided land for other nations[7][8] Indeed, Amos 9:7 is particularly appealed to as evidence that “God does not show favouritism.” Furthermore, God’s judgement on the nations “primarily for moral failures rather than religious failures,” is seen as testimony that they “did have a genuine knowledge of God and obligations to him.”[9] It is therefore concluded that God was graciously and salvifically active outside of Israel on the basis of the Genesis covenants,[10] as “the universal is made manifest through the particular.”[11] The context of the whole chapter[12]Israel and then particularly through Christ universal atonement was eventually made as the basis for this salvation, even though those benefiting would have known nothing of this. and performed exodus-like events for them. suggests that what is probably meant by this phrase is that through

Abel, Enoch, Lot, Job, Balaam, the Queen of Sheba, Ruth, and especially Melchizedek, Jethro, Rahab, Naaman, Cyrus, Nebuchadnezzar, and Jonah’s pagan sailors are appealed to as further evidence of God’s favour. Sanders sees as particularly important, the fact that Rahab’s and the sailor’s faith was not “theologically well informed,”[13] and that Naaman maintained “a serious theological misconception,” showing that God is more inclined to grant salvation to those of faith than those merely adhering to a “set of doctrines or liturgical practices.”[14]

Finally, further support is taken from the New Testament’s assertions about God being the God of the Gentiles, Jesus’ “softer tone” with Gentiles, the importance of the magi, the faith of the Canaanite woman and the centurion - without acknowledgement of Jesus’ divinity or of “the Apostles’ creed.”[15] Most space is given to Cornelius however. Sanders contends that Cornelius was saved before hearing the gospel, and therefore the archetype of those who are “saved by Christ without knowing about Christ.”[16] Indeed, the revolution in Peter’s thinking at the time is exactly that which Sanders’ wants his readers to accept.”[17]

In this opening section, Sanders therefore argues (a) that God has always been salvifically active outside of his covenant with Israel, and (b) that the important factor of saving faith is not therefore its theological content, but its “existential quality.”[18] The rest of his chapter is given to developing and unpacking these two key conclusions as outlined below.[19]

(A) The nature of faith

“Believers vs. Christians”

Consistent with the above, Sanders defines saving faith as "the process of moving from some truths about God's character to a degree of trust in the person of God that results in obedience to his will."[20] Here it is important to recognise how his wider considerations govern his meaning. When speaking about faith in God, Sanders is not exclusively speaking of a conscious acknowledgement of Yahweh, but faith in a higher being that Yahweh considers as directed to him despite the ignorance of this fact in the individual concerned.[21] He therefore affirms that "some degree of cognitive information is essential," but quotes with approval Strong's assertion that it is belief on the basis of light received, or "dimly shadowed forth in nature and providence."[22]

This gets to the heart of the inclusivist argument. Believers and Christians can be seen as two distinct sets. Although all Christians are believers, not all believers are Christians; the former having responded to the light they have been given, and the latter to the gospel. As has been seen, the key question is therefore over the necessary content of faith. As Sander's puts it: "Is cognitive information the most important element in saving faith, or is a person's attitude the decisive factor?"[23] By way of response, he asserts as "essential" a humility that stems from "the faintest stirring of guilt,"[24] yet affirms that God's acceptance of an individual does depend less on their "specific behaviour" or "concrete knowledge," than "the direction in which they are heading."[25]

In addition to his discussion of Gentile "believers" three further grounds for this position are posited. First, Sander's rejects passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 as defining the content of faith, by saying that Paul is not talking of requirement here, but of what he preached.[26][27] Citing Abraham, Gideon, and Samson as examples, he points out that what was common to them was God as the object of their faith, yet the specific content of their faith varied - they trusted God for a son, for victory, and for strength respectively.[28] Sanders sees Romans 4 and Hebrews 11:6 as key in supporting this view. Romans 4 portrays Abraham as believing in "the God who kept his word," and Christians as believing in "the God who raised Jesus from the dead." Therefore justification depends on faith having the same object (God) and action (trust), but not the same content.[29] Moreover, Hebrews 11:6 teaches that - "Anyone who believes that God will respond benevolently to those who seek him thereby gives evidence of trusting God and thus possesses saving faith;"[30] a faith which is "compatible with ignorance of any historical revelation through Moses or through Christ."[31] Third, Sanders also mentions the doctrine of infant salvation as proof that even restrictivists hold that God can and does save those who have no knowledge.[32] Second, he asserts that Old Testament Hebrew believers had a "limited" knowledge concerning Christ, especially with respect to his death and resurrection, but "were justified by faith in God's word.”

(B) God’s universal salvific activity

“The work of God in effecting salvation”

Although this consideration is placed after that on general revelation, theologically it precedes it by providing the justification for how and why God reaches out in the manner the inclusivist holds:

“God the Father loves all and desires the salvation of all, God the Son made this salvation possible through his redemptive work, and God the Holy Spirit has a universal outreach in seeking the lost and sinful humanity.”[33]

Three particular arguments stem from this Trinitarian assertion that reveal Sanders' systematic presuppositions.[34] The first relates to the character of God. As Sanders' states elsewhere:

"If God is indeed not willing that any should perish but wishes all to come to it credible that he would create billions of people without any hope for salvation?"[35]

The second relates to the atonement: Christ’s universal redemptive work is mentioned in the section on general revelation, where Romans 5 is said to “emphatically” state that Jesus died for all sinners.[36] Thus Sanders' has concluded that:

"If the redemption procured by Jesus objectively provides for the salvation of every human being, and if God intends this salvation to be genuinely universal, then it must be possible for every individual who has ever lived personally to receive that salvation regardless of the historical era, geographic region, or cultural setting in which these people have lived."[37]

Third, the universal outreach of the Spirit is argued on the basis of two particular texts. John 3:8 is seen to show that “the work of the Spirit must not be confined to the church,” and so "the Holy Spirit is working to convict all people of their sin and turn them back to God (John 16:8)." Nevertheless, Sanders affirms that the gospel is needed to grant “salvation in its fullness,”[38] and that the revelation of Christ provides criteria for judging the validity of any spiritual presence outside the church.[39]

“The role of general revelation”

The above assertions perhaps explain Sanders logic in stating that “general revelation [God's revelation of himself in nature] is salvific because its source is the saving God.”[40] If God is a saving God in the three-fold way he describes, then it would seem that general revelation would have to be salvific. Scriptural texts about the witness of creation are brought to support this view;[41] especially that of Romans 10:18 which “appears to say” that what is heard by this means is sufficient for salvation.[42] Three further arguments are then made. First, that the incarnation can “only” be fully understood within the context of general revelation’s assertion “that God is real.”[43] Second, that Romans 1-3 is “quite unintelligible” unless it implies that general revelation can be salvific.[44] Third, that the scriptural promises teaching that those who seek God will find him, find hope in the passages about God’s concern for and work among the Gentiles.[45]

“The cosmic work of Christ”

On the basis of John 1:9, the “logos Christology” of the church fathers is adopted as a sub-set of general revelation.[46] By it, the “best” and “true” within other religions can be ascribed to a non-incarnational revelation of the Son. Thus, “all people have some degree of divine revelation," and so it can be claimed that “the god of the pagan was the same God the Christians worshipped,” even though pagan worship may need to be critiqued.[47]

“The implications of the presence of other religions”

Three particular assertions are made to provide evidence of this “cosmic” work in real-life. First, the fact that the LORD appropriated names and attributes of other deities within the Old Testament, showing that comparison between Yahweh and other gods was possible. Sanders see the parallels between Psalm 104 and the Egyptian “Hymn to Aton” as a particular appreciation of revelation outside Israel.[48] Second, the use of indigenous names for God and pagan “ideas, values, and practices” as “compatible.” Here Paul’s affirmation of common truths in the sermon of Acts 17 is in mind as evidence that the Athenians had “experienced to some degree God’s revelation and grace.”[49] Therefore it is concluded third, that the Athenians imperfectly but genuinely worshipped the true God.[50] In the terms established under his first consideration Sanders therefore explains the Athenian response to Paul’s preaching as “believers became Christians.”[51]

His final argument is an anthropological one: "The similarities between the biblical revelation and beliefs, values, and practices found in other religions" testify that "god is at work redemptively with these people" through general revelation, dreams, and reasoning. Here, Sanders refers to Richardson's idea that these similarities are "redemptive analogies" that make the gospel accessible to those who haven’t heard it.[52]

By way of evaluation, we shall look at sections A and B in turn, considering Sanders' initial arguments regarding non-covenanted Gentiles under these. As Sanders' understanding of faith is the cornerstone to his thesis, its consideration is given most space.

(A) Faith in salvation-history.

There is perhaps a tendency amongst many evangelicals to require too great a theological understanding for salvation. Here Sanders' critique may be justified. Nevertheless, his general understanding of faith is groundless, failing to account for the related ideas of covenant and idolatry within biblical theology.

The pattern of salvation portrayed throughout scripture is of God specially[53] calling individuals, and indeed a whole nation, to turn from idols and enter into a relationship with him as the true God by trusting in his covenant promises. Adam's original righteousness was certainly instinctive to his nature and perhaps to the wider testimony of general revelation. Yet God spoke to him to establish a covenant with its promises of life or death.[54] Likewise, the Abrahamic covenant encompassed the promise that Abraham's descendants would be the means by which God would bless "all the families of the earth."[55] It is in this context that Abraham's faith is commended. It was not simply faith in God's promise to give him a son, but in God's covenant promise being fulfilled through that son.[56] Abraham did not necessarily need to know the Christological details of that fulfilment, but his faith was certainly Christological in the sense that it trusted the God of that covenant to fulfil his promise, and the way he later did so was through Christ.[57] Similarly, after the administration of this covenant was developed through Moses, Israel were required to continue to trust God's fuller covenant promises of blessings and curses, life and death.[58] Their unfaithfulness was therefore synonymous with an idolatrous trust in false gods.[59] Thus the calls to "seek the LORD" did not commend the sincere worship of any god, but were explicit calls to Israelites and pagans to turn from false gods to the true God - Yahweh.[60] Indeed the use of this name itself "entails distinctiveness; it sets God off from others who have names, incl. gods."[61] When the prophets spoke of a new covenant, they therefore spoke of God instilling a faithfulness to himself in human hearts, that they will "know the LORD;"[62] a promise that would specifically include Gentiles too.[63]

Hebrews 11:6 confirms this understanding of faith.[64] Believing that God "exists" here should not be interpreted under the modern pluralist assumption that it must mean any undefined god. Rather, it calls for an acknowledgement of the one God who exists and who created the universe with a word;[65] an acknowledgment of him over others.[66] Interestingly, the writer seems to want to explicitly relate the faith of those prior to Abraham to their having seen and greeted "the things promised."[67] He then outlines the faith of those after Abraham, who as his offspring all believed within the context of the Abrahamic covenant community. Israelites cannot therefore be used to suggest that some may be saved through a vague God-ward faith. The particular faith-acts they were commended for were certainly varied, but they were always expressions of faith in the LORD, the covenant God, who had made a promise to them that would be fulfilled through Christ. It is arguable that Abel and Enoch should be seen in this same context. Abel was only one generation from those who had received the first covenant with its promise of a serpent-crusher, and the name Yahweh is used with respect to both Abel's offering and the godly line of Seth of which Enoch was a part.[68] Indeed, there is no reason to assume that there were not a number of people who on the basis of God's special revelation to Adam and then Noah, worshipped the true God over the false gods the rest of humanity had turned to. Melchizedeck might be just such an example.[69]

Sanders is therefore right in seeing that Old Testament believers were “justified by faith in God’s word,”[70] but fails to see how this is still a faith in Christ and how it is exclusive to those who have contact with God’s covenant community. If any salvific blessing were to come to pagan humanity before Christ, this was to be not through the covenant of creation per se,[71] but through the Abrahamic promise, by hearing of and coming to know Abraham's covenant God. One intent in the exodus itself, was that non-Israelites might see the impotence of their gods, and "know the LORD" - the God of Israel.[72] Similarly, this seems to have been a purpose behind the law,[73] explaining why Israel's unfaithfulness served to "profane" God's name before the nations.[74] Significantly, Paul explicitly describes Gentiles as "separated from Christ...strangers to the covenants of promise" and so "without God."[75] How could he be more frank? Any commonality between Yahweh and pagan deities, whether in Old Testament literature or Paul's sermon in Athens cannot therefore be interpreted as evidence of valid worship of God through other religions. Rather, a response to special revelation, whether of God’s character and deeds displayed in history and/or his spoken promise, would seem to be necessary for salvation. It is no surprise then that almost all the pagans Sanders lists did in fact have contact with God's covenant people, through whom they learnt about the LORD. Of those that didn't, Job did nevertheless receive special verbal revelation, and Cyrus is presented as God's tool, not as a believer. It is not clear that the Magi should be read as believers either, although they were seeking the Jewish Messiah-king.[76]

Sanders is surely right however, in concluding that Cornelius was a believer. But we must note that his faith was still in the God of Israel,[77] not the Roman pantheon or any other god. The point of Acts 10-11 is that the issue of cleanliness that separated even God-fearers [converts to Judaism who hadn't been circumcised] from the true Israelites was now obsolete. Yet, interestingly, Cornelius still needed to hear the gospel of Christ to receive the new covenant fullness of salvation through the Holy Spirit;[78] a fact which gives insight into how the content of faith required, may differ depending on its place within salvation-history. After Abraham, his offspring should have believed the promise,[79] after Sinai, the promise and Moses' development of it - both then contained in the books of the Law, after the exile, both the Law and prophets. Why? Because they all looked towards Christ.[80] Once the Abrahamic promise was fulfilled, faith then needed to encompass that fulfilment rather than merely its foreshadowing.[81] Thus as Bultmann writes, within the New Testament "kerygma [preaching] and faith always go together."[82] Indeed, he explicitly rejects the distinctions that Sanders seeks to make, stating that there is no "distinction into two kinds of Christians, the pistics [those of faith] and the gnostics [those of knowledge]."[83] Rather, saving faith is consistently portrayed as being faith "in" Christ.

There is not enough space to consider the key New Testament texts in detail,[84] but two stand out. First, in the context of Christians being in continuity with the nation of Israel, 1 Peter 1:23-25 explicitly states regeneration and purification come through the word of the gospel. Second, Romans 10:1-21 makes clear that zeal with little content is not enough as Israel's zeal was "not according to knowledge."[85] Rather, belief in the Lord with respect to the Law and prophets can now be equated with confessing Jesus is Lord and believing "that God raised him from the dead."[86] Furthermore, the logic of verses 14-17 imply that faith comes only through "the word of Christ," which is the gospel;[87] for without it being both preached and heard, "how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed?"[88] Sanders' suggestion that verse 18 is evidence that this word is actually heard through general revelation could not be more clearly refuted by the context. More likely, the psalm is being used as an analogy of the gospel having been preached to both Jews and Gentiles, or as hyperbole for it already having being preached throughout the known world.[89]

(B) Distinctions in understanding God's universal activity.

As already mentioned, this biblical understanding of faith undermines Sanders' entire thesis. Nevertheless, his other considerations can be questioned also.

The trinity

First, in his comments on God's triune salvific work, Sanders’ emotive language of "what must be possible" and what is "credible" effectively bullies the reader towards his view. Elsewhere he writes: “what kind of God is he who gives man enough knowledge to damn him but not enough to save him?"[90] At times Sanders suggests that humanity is in some sense innocent and God is obliged to save. Rather, the bible should define a right understanding and expectation of God’s action and human deservedness.

Here particularly Carson has shown the importance of considering the different ways the bible speaks of God's love.[91] His love is certainly universal providentially,[92] and in terms of his "salvific stance towards his fallen world" in taking "no pleasure in the death of the wicked."[93][94] God's love cannot be considered apart from his other attributes and concerns. All deserve condemnation, and any expression of love whether providential or salvific is down to God's great mercy and is distributed according to his sovereign will. Yet for the highest purpose of his own glory, his electing love chooses to save only some.

In terms of redemption there is also therefore a particularity.[95] Sanders' use of Romans 5 to show otherwise is problematic: If Paul meant that the atonement "leads to justification" for all without exception, then all must be justified and therefore saved. Yet Sanders is not a Universalist. In a letter addressing Jew Gentile divisions, it is much more likely that the "all" here refers to all types without distinction, or possibly to all who are in Christ - paralleling all who are in Adam.[96] It is the former difference between exception and distinction that explains the other passages Sanders brings as evidence of God's universal salvific intent. In describing a gospel that promises Gentiles a share in the promises to Israel, it is the inclusivism of Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, that is at the forefront of the apostles’ minds.[97] This is particularly apparent in the usage of "world" in John 12:19-20. Here Jesus statement about drawing "all people" to himself clearly refers to all types of people not every actual individual;[98][99] a meaning that probably also explains John's use elsewhere.

The two presuppositions on which Sanders argues the likelihood of the Spirit's outreach therefore lack foundation, and the two texts he cites provide little other support. The Spirit blowing where he pleases does not speak of a universal work, but of the fact that it cannot be predicted who will be born again and believe in the Son.[100] Furthermore, the nature of the "world" the Spirit does bring under conviction[101] is that discussed above.

In summary, Strange clarifies the general distinction that needs to be made when he states that "the one word and Spirit have different spheres of activity in creation and re-creation."[102]

General revelation

Turretin helpfully outlines the question here: It is not over whether common elements of religion exist, the existence of general revelation would expect exactly this. The question is over whether such elements are sufficient for salvation.[103] Strange outlines Helm’s (a restrictivist’s) comment that he finds it hard to believe that the LORD would not respond to a humble and repentant prayer that may possibly (though not generally) stem from general revelation.[104] However, the question is whether general revelation is sufficient to truly elicit such a prayer. Here another distinction needs to be made: God presents himself in creation "not as an object of faith" but as "an object of knowledge" - a creator, but not a redeemer.[105] Our discussion of Romans 10 already shows that Paul did not see Romans 1:19-32 salvifically.[106] Indeed, it would seem that the passage's place in Paul's argument would be forfeited if it were. His point is that another revelation is needed, of the righteousness of God, witnessed to by the Law and prophets and now made known in Paul's gospel.[107] It may be granted that ideas of mercy and appeasement might be gleaned from general revelation, but there no promise of certain acceptance is heard that finds fruition in Christ.[108] It may be that this issue of certainty is key to saving faith; not a certainty in the believer as much as a trust in God’s promise as certain rather than merely possible or plausible.[109] The logos Christology may be adopted of course, to suggest that general revelation is ultimately rooted in Christ. However, if John 1:9 does refer to general revelation it doesn't follow that it is salvific. Moreover, its context suggest that it refers to the light that entered the world in the incarnation.[110]

Thus, although we may fall through one sin by ourselves, scripture suggests that our subsequent slavery and particularly its noetic effects are such that we cannot be restored without the greater cause of God's word and Spirit.[111] Here, Sanders’ use of infant salvation as opening the door to inclusivism needs consideration. It is the fact that at every stage scripture suggests that God does not save morally accountable humanity through general revelation but through faith in Christ that counters inclusivism, whether or not there is another category of people who may be saved differently.[112] Such an argument would also counter Edwards’ (another restrictivist) view that there may be a category of morally accountable people who will be saved, who have been given hearts that are disposed to God but haven’t heard of Christ to trust him.[113] Scripture says nothing of such circumstances, yet always speaks of people needing to trust the gospel.

What hope then might one have for those unreached by the gospel? The above evaluation would suggest that scripture gives little grounds for hope. Although the radical and gracious inclusivism of the gospel being offered to all without distinction should not be minimised. Nevertheless, as already seen, restrictivist writers do generally hold back from closing the door on any wider possibilities.[114] Scripture does deal in generalities. One should perhaps therefore refrain from saying that God cannot or does not save through general revelation, only that every suggestion is that he does not do so; although it must be said that the argument of Romans 1-3 suggests that the former statement may well be closer to the truth. Furthermore, it is impossible to discern in modern non-Christian religion what has been gleaned from general revelation, and what may have been borrowed from God’s special revelation through Adam, Noah, Israel and the church. By this means, God may bring sufficient knowledge to some for salvation, whether informationally BC or AD.[115] He might certainly specially reveal himself through a vision or dream. Whatever the case, an urgency in evangelism remains. Despite Sanders’ affirmation of the importance of evangelism for temporal reasons, it is difficult to see how his position doesn’t negate its necessity and trivialise the suffering many have undergone in preaching the gospel, and others in confessing Christ when this may not have actually been required. Having said this, one’s theological framework governs whether our response to these truths outlined above is one of reassurance or despair. Sanders is an Open Theist. As such, he believes that God does not know who will be saved in advance and cannot therefore target them specifically. It is therefore no wonder that he seeks a wider hope for salvation than the preaching of Christ. By contrast, both the Calvinist and the Arminian can be reassured that the LORD is able to ensure that all who will be saved will hear the gospel to that end.


1. Anderson, J N D. Christianity and comparative religion, (London, Tyndale, 1970)

2. Barrett, C K. The gospel according to John, (london, SPCK, 1978)

3. Bultmann R. "pisteuw ktl" in Theological dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1968)

4. Calvin, J. Institutes of the Christian religion Vol I, ed. John T McNeill, (Philadelphia,Westminster Press, 1960)

5. Caneday, A B. "Evangelical inclusivism" and the exclusivity of the gospel: A review of John Sander's 'No Other name,' SBJT

6. Carson, D A. The gagging of God: Christianity confronts pluralism, (Leicester, Apollos, 1996)

7. Carson, D. The difficult doctrine of the love of God, (Leicester, IVP, 2000)

8. Chhetri, Chitra. "1335: bqs, baqqasa - seek" in New international dictionary of Old Testament theology and exegesis, ed. Willem A VanGemeren, (Carlisle, Paternoster, 1997)

9. Denninger, David. "2011: drs, midras - seek" in New international dictionary of Old Testament theology and exegesis, ed. Willem A VanGemeren, (Carlisle, Paternoster, 1997)

10. Fretheim, Terence. "Yahweh" in New international dictionary of Old Testament theology and exegesis, ed. Willem A VanGemeren, (Carlisle, Paternoster, 1997)

11. Hoffecker, W A. "Manichaeism" in Evangelical dictionary of theology, ed. Walter A Elwell, (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2001)

12. House, Paul R. Biblical theology and the inclusivist challenge,SBJT Vol2(2), pp.2-4, Sum 98

13. Lane, William L. Word biblical commentary: Hebrews 9-13, (Dallas, Word Books, 1991)

14. Nash, Ronald H. "Restrictivism" in What about those who have never heard: Three views on the destiny of the unevangelised, (Downers Grove, IVP, 1995)

15. Moo, D. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1996)

16. Packer J. "Christianity and non-Christian religions" in The J I Packer collection, ed. Alister E McGrath, (Leicester, IVP, 1999)

17. Pinnock, Clark H. "An inclusivist view" in More than one way? Fopur views on salvation in a Pluralistic world, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1995)

18. Richard, Dr Ramesh P. The population of heaven: A biblical response to the inclusivist position on who will be saved, (Chigaco, Moody Press, 1994)

19. Sanders, John. No other name: An investigation into the destiny of the unevangelized, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1992)

20. Strange, Daniel. "Presence, prevenience, or providence? Deciphering the conundrum of Pinnock's pnematological inclusivism," in Reconstructing theology: A critical assessment of the theology of Clark Pinnock, ed. Tony Gray and Christopher Sinkinson, (Carlisle, Paternoster, 2000)

21. Strange, Daniel. The possibility of salvation among the unevangelised: An analysis of inclusivism in recent evangelical theology, (Carlisle, Paternoster, 2001)

22. Turretin, Francis. Institutes of elenctic theology Vol I, ed. James T Dennison Jr, (Phillipsburg, P&R, 1992)
Appendix A : Faith according to Hebrews 11

It would seem from Hebrews 11, that faith must include all the following:

1) As belief (that is trust) that God exists, where God is the Judeo-Christian God of Hebrews 11:1-3 – Yahweh – as opposed to other God’s. This is therefore a belief that he is the true God; a belief that only those who may have had contact with the Jewish, Christian, and possibly Mulsim religions could ascribe to.

2) A belief that he rewards those who seek him; that he will accept and bless the believer by grace and not on the basis of their own merit. A belief therefore that only a Christian may ascribe to, although others may do so having picked up such a possibility through contact with God’s covenant people throughout history, and the Jew may do so by believing the OT rather than the teachings of Judaism. It is certainly not clear that aside from special revelation, it is possible for human beings, corrupt and self-glorifying as they are, to come up with a religious system of total divine grace.

3) A belief that an aspect of this reward is not of this world, that ones home is therefore in the next.

4) A confident assurance of this reward. If general revelation could give an understanding of grace, certain assurance of God being propitious could conceivably exist if such an idea was so engrained in one’s culture that they considered nothing else.

5) This confidence perhaps based on a specific promise of God. This is what definitely separates out any faith in grace that may even have been gleaned from general revelation, from that stemming from scripture. The former, would not have received a promise as gaurantee of it, as general revelation makes no promises; for that, words are necessary. Therefore, if the issue of promise is an essential object of faith, as it seems to be in Hebrews 11 and throughout scripture, then there can be no salvation apart from special revelation.

Points 1, 2 and 5 seem to suggest that there is no salvation apart from special revelation.

[1] Sanders J. No other name: An investigation into the destiny of the unevangelized, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1992), pp.215-216

[2] Ibid, pp.218-224

[3] Ibid, pp.224-249 (1) Both testaments distinguish between believers who have faith in God and Christians who have faith in Christ. (2) "God uses general revelation to mediate his salvific grace." (3) The trinity seeks to effect salvation in every individual without exception. (4) Christ has always worked cosmically in enlightening others to the extent that all "truth and goodness" amongst pagans can be seen as the revelation of the divine "logos," and sufficient for salvation. (5) The worship of other religions can at the same time be worship of the true God.

[4] Ibid, p.249-264

[5] Ibid, pp.267-280

[6] Ibid, p.215 It is not therefore essential for someone to hear the gospel to be saved, rather, through "general revelation and God's providential workings" people may come to a sufficient commitment "to the God who saves through the work of Jesus" without actually knowing about Jesus.

[7] Citing Deut 2:5, 9, 19, 21-22, 2 Kgs 5:1

[8] Citing Amos 9:7

[9] Ibid, pp.220-221

[10] Citing Gen 1:26-28, 3:15, Gen 9:8-19, 12:3, 18:18, 22:18, 26:4, 28:14

[11] Ibid, p.219

[12] See below.

[13] The same phrase is repeated: Sanders, Op Cit, p.219, 220

[14] Ibid, p.220

[15] Ibid, p.221

[16] Ibid, p.224

[17] Ibid, pp.223

[18] Ibid, p.221

[19] A different order has been adopted to better clarify the logic of Sanders position.

[20] Ibid, p.228

[21] See point 5 above.

[22] Sanders, Op Cit, p.229

[23] Ibid, p.225

[24] Quoting Carnell, Sanders, Op Cit, p.229

[25] Ibid, p.231

[26] Ibid, p.225

[27] Ibid, pp.225-226

[28] Ibid, p.336

[29] Ibid, p.227

[30] Ibid, p.228

[31] Quoting Plumptre, Ibid, p.228

[32] Ibid, p.231-232

[33] Ibid, p.236

[34] It must be acknowledged that some inclusivists may not share these presuppositions.

[35] Ibid, p.218 Citing John 12:32, Lk 15, 2 Pet 3:9, Lk 23:34

[36] Probably meaning v8 and especially v18. Romans 11:32 is cited in support.

[37] Ibid, p.216 Citing 1 Timothy 4:10, 1 Tim 1:15, John 1:9, 3:16-17, 12:32

[38] “to help free us from the ambiguities and futilities of this present life” – suggests a giving assurance, and clarity on lifestyle. Ibid, p.238

[39] Ibid, p.238

[40] Ibid, p.233

[41] Citing Acts 14:17, Rom1:20, Ps 19:1

[42] Quoting Erickson, Ibid, p.234 Sanders makes four qualifications: That this is not to demean special revelation. That knowledge of God from general revelation is still by God’s instruction. That such salvation is still by grace and through faith, and that this doesn’t deny universal sinfulness.

[43] Ibid, p.234

[44] Ibid, pp.235-236

[45] Ibid, p.236

[46] Ibid, pp.238-239

[47] Ibid, pp.240-241

[48] Ibid, p.242

[49] Ibid, pp.244-245

[50] Ibid, p.246 citing Acts 17:23 and 27.

[51] Ibid, p.247

[52] Ibid, pp.247-248

[53] Stressing the distinction between special and general revelation.

[54] Gen 2:15-17

[55] Gen 12:1ff.

[56] Gen 15:1-6, cf. Rom 4:13-14, 16, 18, 20-22

[57] This seems to be the sense of Gal 3:8, 16, 19

[58] Deut 28

[59] Deut 12:20-28 and 29-32, 2 Kgs 17:7ff.

[60] Deut 4:28-29, Ps 83:16-18. This turning from idolatry is explicit within the NT also, cf. Acts 14:11-16, 1 Thes 1:9

[61] Fretheim, Terence. "Yahweh" in New international dictionary of Old Testament theology and exegesis, ed. Willem A VanGemeren, (Carlisle,Paternoster, 1997), p.1297

[62] Jer 31:34

[63] Isaiah 56:3ff.

[64] Consider also appendix A.

[65] Heb 11:2

[66] Lane cites 4 Macc 5:24, Wis 13:1 in support of this. Lane, William L. Word biblical commentary: Hebrews 9-13, (Dallas, Word Books, 1991), p.338

[67] Heb 11:13-14. Note the theme of promise throughout the chapter v9, 11, 17, 33, 39.

[68] Gen 4:3-7, 26

[69] Carson, D A. The gagging of God: Christianity confronts pluralism, (Leicester, Apollos, 1996), p.250

[70] Sanders, Op Cit, p.225

[71] Although it must be acknowledged that the Abrahamic covenant is built upon the covenant of creation, as the ultimate means of re-creation of the world, and of those who trust Abraham's God.

[72] Ex 7:5

[73] Deut 4:6-8

[74] Ezek 20:9 The law enshrined both moral commands and blessing as reward. Thus God's name was profaned both by Israel's disobedience, and their lost of the land - portraying God as immoral or impotent.

[75] Eph 2:11-12, cf. 2:1, 4:17-18

[76] Carson, Op Cit, p.299

[77] Acts 10:22

[78] Acts 11:14-18

[79] Gen 50:24-26

[80] Lk 16:31, 24:44-47, Acts 10:43. John 5:39-40

[81] For an interesting discussion of this with dispensational presuppositions, see Richard, Dr Ramesh P. The population of heaven: A biblical response to the inclusivist position on who will be saved, (Chigaco, moody Press, 1994), ch. 5

[82] Bultmann R. "pisteuw ktl" in Theological dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1968), p.215

[83] Ibid, p.227

[84] With respect to John 14:6 as a key text; it can only be interpreted in the context of faith within the book cf. John 3:16. In fact John 20:31 explicitly links belief "in his name" to understanding the gospel, and "belief in the Son" in 1 John 5:10-12 is belief in God's testimony preached by the apostles cf. 1 John 1ff.

[85] Rom 10:2

[86] Rom 10:6-13. The context to this passage is Deut 30 and Joel 2.

[87] As Rom 10:17 follows v16

[88] Rom 10:14

[89] Moo, D. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1996), pp.666-667

[90] Ibid, p.233

[91] Carson, D. The difficult doctrine of the love of God, (Leicester, IVP, 2000), ch 2

[92] Matt 6:26, 10:29

[93] Ezek 33:11

[94] Rom 9, esp v11-12, 19-24 cf. Deut 7:7-8, 4:37, 10:14-15. Eph 5:25

[95] John 10:11, 15, Eph 5:25, Rom 8:32-35, Matt 1:1, 20:28

[96] Moo, Op Cit, p.343

[97] Gal 3:26-28

[98] Any other meaning in John 12 would mean that every human being actually was seen by the Pharisees as going to Christ!

[99] John 3:16, 1 John 2:2

[100] John 3:7-8, 14-16, 36 cf. John 1:12-13

[101] John 16:8

[102] Strange, Daniel. "Presence, prevenience, or providence? Deciphering the conundrum of Pinnock's pnematological inclusivism," in Reconstructing theology: A critical assessment of the theology of Clark Pinnock, ed. Tony Gray and Christopher Sinkinson, (Carlisle, Paternoster, 2000), p.242

[103] Turretin, Francis. Institutes of elenctic theology Vol I, ed. James T Dennison Jr, (Phillipsburg, P&R, 1992), 1:10

[104] Strange, Daniel. The possibility of salvation among the unevangelised: An analysis of inclusivism in recent evangelical theology, (Carlisle, Paternoster, 2001), appendix 1

[105] Ibid, 1:56

[106] Nor therefore 2:14-15

[107] Rom 3:10, 21 cf. 1:1-6, Heb 1:1ff, 2 Tim 3:15

[108] It may be that this issue of certainty is key to saving faith, cf. Heb 11:1-2. The certainty does not negate any possible doubt, but is a certainty in terms of what is trusted in, ie. that God’s promise is certain, not merely possible.

[109] This may be the point of Heb 11:1-2

[110] Barrett, C K. The gospel according to John, (london, SPCK, 1978), pp.16-161

[111] this may be the point Turretin makes in quoting James 2:10: "More things are requisite for the obtainment of salvation than for incurring damnation justly and without excuse. For evil arises from some defect, but the good requires a whole cause." Turrentin, Op Cit, 1:10

[112] Strange, Op Cit, appendix 1

[113] Ibid, appendix 1

[114] See Strange’s discussion of these views in – Ibid, appendix 1

[115] That is, picking up something of that which did promise Christ without knowledge of him, or even, perhaps with Islam or a Christian cult, knowledge of Christ, as an adherent may discern enough by God’s grace to be drawn away from the religion’s erroneous doctrine to a sufficient understanding for salvation.