“Believe and be saved” ~Jesus (Mk 16:16, Luk 8:12)
“Believe and be saved” ~Paul (Acts 16:31, Rom 10:9)
“You are saved. Believe it.” ~the Inclusionist
Do you know the difference between the gospel of grace and the doctrine of inclusion? Do you need to know? Yes, you do because one is good news and the other is not. The gospel of grace is the best news of all time but the doctrine of inclusion is a counterfeit to be wary of.
What is inclusionism?
The idea of universal inclusion comes in several shapes and sizes and it has been around for some time. The Mormons, for instance, hold to a doctrine of inclusion, but not all inclusionists are Mormon. Some inclusionists believe in the resurrection; others do not. But all inclusionists, by definition, agree that…
Jesus died not as one of us but as all of us and as a result everyone is as righteous and holy is he is. Everyone – whether they believe it or not – is included in Christ and is now saved and seated at the right hand of God.
You may ask, “Isn’t this universalism?”
It is not. A universalist preaches everyone will be saved but an inclusionist preaches, “Everyone was saved – they just don’t know it yet.” This is not universalism because the inclusionist doesn’t assume everyone will stay saved. “Persist in unbelief and you could yet lose your salvation.” In other words, you’re in until you’re out. Because of Jesus you were born inside the kingdom but you could yet find yourself ejected from the kingdom.
For my money, this is back to front. When it comes to the kingdom, you’re out until you’re in and then you’re in for good. God doesn’t kick his kids out of the family.
Of course, when I say things like this I am accused of elevating first Adam above last Adam. Since the two-Adam thing comes up a lot, I will address this point separately in a later post. (If you can’t wait, read this post from last year and this study note.)
Junk food at the table of abundance
Forgive me for being blunt, but the doctrine of inclusion is theological candy-floss. It’s insubstantial fluff that looks pretty and tastes good but, as we will see, is not good for you.
Since inclusion has become something of a hot topic you need to be able to recognize it. This is tricky because the language of inclusion is our language – it’s the language of grace. Grace is inclusive. Grace is universal. Grace is offered to everyone.
But while grace is inclusive, inclusionism is not grace. It is ungrace. Allow me to illustrate by comparing the two messages side by side:
|The gospel of grace||The inclusionist message|
|Jesus loves you and wants to share his life with you forever. Receive his love and you will cross over from condemnation to new life. In union with Christ your future is secure because those who come to him will never be cast away.||Jesus married you against your will but that’s okay because once you get to know him you’ll love him. But if you decide you don’t want to spend eternity with him, he’ll kick you out of the kingdom. So get with the program and start smiling.|
I admit, this is an unflattering caricature of the inclusionist message. You’ll find nothing so clearly stated in their writings. That’s because inclusionists tend to be vague when it comes to unpacking the implications of universal inclusion. On the surface inclusionism appears as a river of truth flowing with the language of grace. But drink the water and you will surely taste the ungrace that robs people of their freedom and security.
Big claims, I know. But stick with me because in this short series of posts, I will give you tools to help you to; (a) recognize the doctrine of inclusion, (b) distinguish it from the gospel of grace, and (c) decide what you want to do with it.
Please understand that my heart is not to play doctrinal policeman. This isn’t about getting our doctrinal ducks in a row. We’re all learning and I don’t claim to have it all figured out. But it seems to me that in the market for ideas, you are not being given a fair choice.
Since I started writing about this inclusion stuff, I’ve received messages like this: “I call myself an inclusionist, but what you are saying about inclusionism is horrible. I don’t believe that. I’ve never even heard that before.” That’s probably because you’re getting your theology off Facebook. If you’re only getting sound-bites and video clips you’re not getting the full story.
When I became aware of inclusionism a few years ago, I was intrigued. I went to the original sources. I read the books, heard the preachers, and approached the loudest voices because I wanted the full picture. I asked a lot of questions. And I discovered the trailer is nothing like the movie.
My concern is that when you hear about inclusionism you may not be getting all the facts. My purpose is to present a more complete picture so you can make an informed choice.
The dangers of inclusionism
I’ll be honest – I have strong views on this subject. I consider universal inclusion to be as gracious as a home invasion. I’m sorry if that shocks you, but inclusionism is shocking. Strip away the borrowed grace clothing and what remains is an appalling portrayal of God’s love and our freedom.
I might be wrong about inclusionism and if so, I will apologize. But if I am wrong, the damage will be minimal – the gospel will still be preached. But if I am right about the dangers of inclusionism, the damage could be catastrophic. That’s what we risk when we tell the lost they are safe and sound and when we tell the saint that their salvation is contingent on maintaining their beliefs.
Perhaps you have already bought into this idea of universal inclusion. If so, I hope you kept the receipt! You have been sold a dodgy car. After we take it for a drive through the highways and byways of the new covenant, its shortcomings will become obvious to you. You’ll want to cash in that clunker.
For now I simply want to remind you that the gospel Jesus revealed and Paul preached invites a response to God’s grace. When I’m talking to people who have never met Jesus, I don’t tell them, “You’re already in a relationship with him, you just don’t know it.” Instead, I use the same inviting language Jesus used (Mt 11:28, 19:14, John 5:40, 6:37, 44, 65, 7:37), and the apostles used (Acts 3:19, 20:21, 26:20). I say, “Believe the good news and come to Jesus.”
Faith is not a work, it’s a response and, one way or the other, everybody responds. Some look at Jesus and smile; others frown and turn away. The inclusionist is like the mall photographer saying, “Everybody’s smiling,” but they are not and it’s silly to pretend they are.
As always, the gospel of grace is our standard. It is the only message we have been commissioned to preach (Mark 16:15) and it is the only message that reveals the God’s saving power to a lost and hurting world (Rom 1:16). Any other message – no matter how appealing – ought to be rejected as an inferior alternative.
[Have you encountered inclusionism before? Are you interested in how it relates to grace? If so, would you drop me a brief note below? I’m trying to gauge the level of interest in this subject. I think it's a big deal, but that may be just me.]
- Did all die with Christ? (And what does it matter?)
- Forgive, reconciled, and saved?
- Why do people need to receive the gift of forgiveness if the whole world is already forgiven?