Many have a difficult time with the doctrine of hell. If you claim “No Christ, no hope” you will offend your Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim neighbor. With more influence from other faiths, it’s getting more controversial to have a definitive view of salvation. This is crippling for missions and a major obstacle for many Christians.2 How do we deal with the diversity of the world and the exclusiveness of Christ?
Dealing with Diversity
There are three prominent philosophies one can hold in wrestling with the growing diversity in the world: pluralism, inclusivism, and exclusivism.
Many Paths. Pluralism believes all religions end up in the same place in the afterlife. For Pluralists, Jesus is one of many ways to God. Pluralists will never be missional, because missions is not only irrelevant to them but also disturbing to the other revelations of God. Today, 64 percent of evangelicals and 73 percent of Protestants would classify themselves as pluralistic.5
The problem with pluralism is its view that God is ultimately unknowable, therefore indescribable. Since He has revealed Himself differently in every culture, all must be correct. For the pluralist, truth is everything. When everything becomes truth, nothing is truth. Any religion can prove partial truths about life and nature, because God is revealed in nature, but it is only Christ who has the answer of how a sinner can stand just before a holy God.7
There’s a Way. The next group is inclusivism. The inclusivists affirm Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection as necessary and valuable. The uniqueness of this view is that it was essential for Jesus to die for our salvation, but it’s not essential for anyone to know about the event. They believe Jesus’s death paid for the sins of the world and made a way for all who submit to God. However, inclusivists see the devotion of other religions as enough in itself. Faith in general saves, not specific knowledge and belief in Christ. This is a monumental assumption for the fate of people who have never heard nor have access to the gospel. One I’m not willing to make.
Inclusivists must realize they fall short. Faith is a response to the work of the Holy Spirit by hearing the gospel. It is not enough to simply believe in something. Scripture makes it clear there is a direct link between salvation and knowledge of the work of Jesus on the cross. Mark states, “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15, esv). Paul tells all to “repent and turn to God” (Acts 26:20). Thus, “repent and believe” is precisely what God demands of us in response to the message of Christ.
The Only Way. The third group is called exclusivism. Exclusivists, like inclusivists, believe Jesus is the only way to God. However, exclusivists believe you access this salvation when you hear the Word of God and respond. So what does that mean for untold billions without access? Those without access to the gospel, even through no fault of their own, will spend eternity separated from God. Wow. A sobering and difficult position, but one we must hold.
Scripture is clear. God never punishes someone for a message they’ve never heard. He punishes them for their sin against a holy God—a crime everyone has committed. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). I have realized that though many people—even Christians—may embrace pluralism and inclusivism, the truest interpretation of Scripture supports exclusivism. Though I can’t always comprehend it, I must embrace it.
By Josh Cooper