Are all people who do not make an explicit profession of the Christian faith eternally lost? This is arguably the most crucial soteriological question currently debated in books and articles. Dismissing the pluralist option (namely, all religions are a saving way to the one God) as outside the camp, two vying evangelical paradigms have emerged that seem to cross theological traditions, exclusivism and inclusivism. Both agree that Christ is the only salvific way to God, but they disagree as to the specific applicability of the normative standards of salvation. Exclusivism maintains the historical claim of Cyprian and Augustine that outside the Church there is no salvation. The few that are saved out of a condemned world are saved by the one and only method of accepting, by biblical faith, Christ's redemptive work. The hard form of this position would exclude all others from the kingdom of Godpagans, unconverted Jews, children shy of the age of accountability, infants, the mentally challenged, abortions, stillbirths, etc., are all condemned.
A soft form of exclusivism is willing to contend for an exception or exceptions to this normative, one-and-only method. The exception most defended by far is the salvation of the infants of believers. The Roman Catholic Church did it by the sacramental effectiveness of infant baptism. Luther did it by positing a “baby faith” that God received but that men could not outwardly detect. The Reformed tradition has done it by binding the covenantal blessing of salvation to infants through the faith and sacrament of the community of faith, the Church. So while retaining the position of faith in Christ as the only salvific way for adults, the application of this standard to the infants of believers was adapted to their unique circumstances.
Further adaptation to the circumstances of all those who have not or could not hear the gospel of faith in Christ leads some to the position of inclusivism. At the outer end of its argumentation, this position allows that a sincere “implicit faith” on the part of pagans (who have never heard the gospel through no fault of their own) is accepted by God as embracive of Christ. (For a detailed critique of implicit faith, see the last article in this issue.) Thus a few pagans who clung by faithhowever minimal by the normative standardsto such a sliver of the true knowledge of God as they had from general revelation are also included in, it is suggested, Christ's salvation.
Inclusivism takes the historical avenue of soft exclusivism to its logical extreme with alarming results. If all the exceptions from the history of mankind are numbered, they would easily make up more than the number of adults that have ever been saved. Now the normative has become the exceptional and the exceptional the normative! This I cannot and will not believe. If the exceptional is more important than the normative, then God's trust to preach the gospel has only vouchsafed to us a minor route to God's heaven. I cannot construe the tenor of Scripture allowing for this.
Clearly the mainline position of the Church has been a conservative soft exclusivism. But given the continuity between this paradigm and inclusivism, how can it persuasively argue against inclusivism's greater willingness to adapt the one-and-only means of salvation to the varied conditions of all humanity? The best it can hope for is a negotiated settlement that somehow would allow the normative way of salvation to retain its ascendancy. To my conscience, this is not good enough.
Perhaps we need to revisit the salvation of the infants of believers. Notice that there are as many explanations for the way of infant salvation as there are theological traditions. For all the extrapolations for the inclusion of our infants (not children) to whom we are emotionally bound, the Scripture teaches that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). Certain relevant affirmations have helped me to sift the truth here. God is under no obligation to save anyone or else the fallen angels would also have a chance for salvation (2 Peter 2:4). The unfortunate condition in which mankind finds itself is also a part of the judgement of God against fallen humanity. The gospel is not a panacea for all of mankind; it is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
The more that I read about this issue, the more conclusively I am driven to the position of hard exclusivism. This position alone stands only on what can be clearly affirmed by Scripture about God's way of salvation. To answer the question posed at the beginning: as far as the way of God's salvation is committed unto men, we affirm that only those who explicitly believe in the gospel of Christ are saved.
Perhaps, given the current climate of religious pluralism and the uncritical acceptance of every kind of claim regarding religious truth, this paradigm risks making the gospel unduly scandalous to our generation. Inclusivism is so much more in keeping with the spirit of our age, it may be argued. The lesson of history is that the potential for over-accommodation to the cultural expectations of society is a constant threat to the purity of the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Because the application of the very gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake, I want to remain on the safe side of this debate.
God has committed to us the words of life. We can only speak what we know. May God give us the courage not to add or subtract from the one-and-only way of life that He has provided for us in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
The Alliance Academic Review, first issued at Council '95, is an anthology dedicated to and composed mostly by Alliance academics around the world. Comparable writing by other Alliance members is welcomed. The common virtue of all writing shall be that it is consistent with and promotive of the biblical message, the ministry and the mission of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. The Review intends to publish, disseminate and keep in print the best work of our academic research.
To be inclusive of all theologically related disciplines, a sincere effort has been made to accept an equal number of papers from the following five academic divisions:
1. Alliance Heritage/Church History
2. Biblical/Theological Studies
3. Church Ministries
5. Religion and Society/Integration of Faith and Learning
Articles submitted may have been recently published elsewhere, recently delivered orally or specifically written for the Review. Each is expected to be well-researched, presented and documented. The esoteric and technical should be avoided or, at least, relegated to the endnotes. The Chicago Manual of Style, Fourteenth Edition, is the writing style standard. It shall be the responsibility of the writer to secure copyright permission for prepublished material submitted.
Articles and correspondence should be directed to the editor:
Dr. Elio Cuccaro, Senior Editor, CPI
c/o Nyack College, Nyack, NY 10960
Fax: (914) 268-5499
The authors of accepted articles will be rewarded with a modest stipend. Articles not chosen will be retained on file for possible future use, unless their return is requested.
As long as the Review elicits a favorable response, it will be continued as an annual series.
In This Issue
We lead off with two missions articles. The first by Doug Haskins reviews the history of The Christian and Missionary Alliance work with Native Americans in the United States. He suggests that our meager results are attributable to the failure to establish a truly indigenous Church. The second article by Tim Tennent is concerned with the education of would-be missionaries. He shares the approach of the Toccoa Falls missions program in preparing future missionaries to minister to resistant peoples around the world.
The next two articles draw attention to one of the distinctives of our Statement of Faith: premillennialism. First, Joel Van Hoogen justifies the premillennial stance as the best millennial option. He shows, moreover, that premillennialism is intricately bound to the development and success of our society as well as to our other distinctives and emphases. Second, Doug Matthews makes the case that “commitment to a properly conceptualized earthly utopia negates otherworldliness and . . . affirms that racial reconciliation is the future now.”
The penultimate paper by Paul King reprises the authenticity of holiness revival phenomena, such as holy laughter. Renewed interest in this subject has been spurred by the recent manifestations characteristically observed in the “Toronto Blessing.” He concludes that the middle ground Alliance position should still be our guide: these phenomena include elements of the genuine and the counterfeit mingled together; therefore, we should steer clear of condemning them altogether or considering them essential to revival.
Lastly, CPI Publisher K. Neill Foster engages a watershed issue that I also comment on in my editorial: whether salvation is limited to those who place an explicit faith in the preached Christ. An implicit faith in an unpreached, therefore not salvifically known Christ, is found to be “another gospel” that is making serious inroads into Christ's Church.
A final note observes that half of the authors of this issue are pastors, not academicians. May their tribe multiply.
About the Authors
Elio Cuccaro, Ph.D. is Professor of Theology and Ministry at Nyack College, Nyack, NY and Senior Editor at Christian Publications, Camp Hill, PA.
K. Neill Foster, Ph.D. is Executive Vice President and Publisher of Christian Publications, the publishing house of The Christian and Missionary Alliance.
Doug Haskins is a licensed minister of The Christian and Missionary Alliance ministering in the Native American District in Flagstaff, AZ.
Rev. Paul L. King is pastor of the Tulsa Alliance Church, Tulsa, OK.
Douglas Matthews, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Toccoa Falls College, Toccoa Falls, GA.
Timothy C. Tennent, Th.M. was until recently Assistant Professor of World Missions at Toccoa Falls College, Toccoa Falls, GA.
Joel Van Hoogen is a licensed minister of The Christian and Missionary Alliance now based in Boise, ID, presently serving as Director of Church Partnership Evangelism, a short-term ministry application for Alliance missions.
Training Missionaries to Resistant Peoples, Timothy C. Tennent
Premillennialism and the Alliance Distinctives, Joel Van Hoogen
Approximating the Millennium: Premillennial Evangelism and Racial Reconcilliation, Douglas Matthews
Implicit Christians: An Evangelical Appraisal, K. Neill Foster
Elio Cuccaro, Ph. D., Editor
©2006 by K. Neill Foster