I love the gospel. It’s the best message I’ve ever heard. But to appreciate the positive, sometimes you have to highlight the negative. To help people understand the good news, sometimes you have to tell them what the good news is not. And inclusionism is not the good news.
If you’ve just joined us, inclusionism is the idea that all humanity rose and is now seated with Jesus. As I have explained elsewhere, this is not the gospel that Jesus revealed and Paul preached. Although grace is inclusive, inclusionism is not grace.
You may think I am opposed to inclusionism because it’s bad theology. That’s not why I am against it. I’m opposed to inclusionism because of the harm it does to people.
I recently heard from a man who got caught up in inclusionism. He said, “It ruined me and destroyed my faith.” When he couldn’t reconcile inclusionism with the words of Jesus, it filled him with anxiety and caused him to doubt God. This is what inclusionism does to people. Like every other -ism, it undermines faith by distorting the truth. This is just one reason why inclusionism is not good news. Here are ten more:
1. Inclusionism is complicated. It says everyone is saved but then says they’re not. It dismisses faith as a work but then says you have to believe. It contradicts the New Testament and draws on early church teachings you’ve never heard of. It puts question marks where Christ puts exclamation marks and turns a simple gospel into a big mystery. Inclusionism promotes elitism. It’s for smart people who read a lot. It’s not for ordinary folk who ask questions.
2. Inclusionism is unreal. It tells the lost, “You are saved, righteous, and seated with Christ in heavenly places.” I understand the motivation is to get the unbeliever to believe what is already true, but since (a) it’s not true and (b) the unbeliever knows it’s not true, this just sounds foolish. Show me one place in the Bible where Jesus or the apostles spoke like that? Paul never told unbelievers they were saved. Instead he challenged them to believe and be saved (Acts 16:31, Rom 10:9). So should we. I have met many thousands of people who have been saved through hearing the gospel. I’ve yet to meet one who got saved after being told they already were.
3. Inclusionism robs you of your freedom to choose. “Just as you had no say in Adam’s fall, you have no say in Christ’s redemption. Isn’t that good news?” No, as I explain elsewhere, it’s the most awful news ever. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Jesus said the Father is eager to give the Holy Spirit to all who ask him (Lk 11:13) but inclusionism says you don’t get to ask. “You were secretly filled with the Holy Spirit against your wishes.” So what was he doing inside you while you were walking in unbelief? Napping, I guess.
4. Inclusionism says you weren’t born again. “You never had a born again experience when you came to Christ. That’s a fiction barely mentioned in the Bible. Humanity was born again 2000 years ago.” So much for the miracle of new birth. Sure, not everyone has a Damascus Road conversion experience. But if you have seen what the supernatural grace of God does to a person, you will be acquainted with the power of salvation that Paul mentions in Romans 1:17. This power is not experienced by all, said Paul. Only “everyone who believes.”
5. Inclusionism preaches pretend salvations. “The believer is sealed and safe but the unbeliever, who was saved 2000 years ago, isn’t safe at all.” In other words, the unbeliever’s salvation is no salvation at all. He still needs to believe. So why tell him he’s safe when he isn’t? This is misleading and confusing. It sounds nothing like Jesus who is simple and clear: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:9).
6. Inclusionism requires you to add bits to the Bible. The Mirror Bible is a paraphrase that I sometimes quote on GraceQuotes, but it leans towards inclusionist thinking. There are passages in the Mirror that say humanity is righteous (see Rom 5:19), even though no such meaning is conveyed in the original text. More here.
7. Inclusionism requires you to remove bits of the Bible. It’s rare to find an inclusionist who has anything good to say about James and his epistle. Many don’t see James as an apostle of grace, but a misguided soul. “The book of James was put in the Bible to show us what a confused apostle looks like.” Uh-huh. Perhaps the real reason inclusionists dislike James is because he spoke of hell (as Jesus did) and warned sinners to turn to God (as Jesus did). “Since there are no such things as unsaved sinners,” says the inclusionist, “James must be wrong.” Time to cut up the Bible.
8. Inclusionism promotes passivity bordering on unbelief. “It’s not about your faith but the faith of Jesus. He took care of everything.” I agree that many Christians worry too much about their faith and I like the way inclusionists point us to the perfect faith of Jesus. But we part company when they say what we believe matters little. It matters much. If you don’t believe in the grace of God you’ll never benefit from it. If you’re not resting in Jesus’ finished work, you’ll be restless. The gospel-preachers of the New Testament actively encouraged people to trust in God – to ask, receive, lean on and rely. They understood that our beliefs, while subjective, have real and lasting consequences. While inclusionism promotes a “meh” response, there are 200+ imperatives found in the New Testament. I list them all at the end of this note.
9. Inclusionism puts the brakes on the great commission. Inclusionism says, “Everyone is saved. Maybe they don’t know it but the job is done.” Yet Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, so go and preach the good news” (see Mk 16:15-16). The gospel Jesus revealed prompts a response. “Repent and believe.” Any response implied in the inclusionist message is lost in their confusing message. “You’re saved, but you still need to get saved.” Huh?
10. Inclusionism promotes insecurity. The inclusionist does not show the unbeliever the door into the kingdom because he thinks there isn’t one. “You’re already in!” However, there is a door leading out of the kingdom. “You were saved 2000 years ago, but you might not stay saved. You’re in until you’re out.” This is scary stuff. It’s not good news, and it’s completely contrary to the unshakeable promises of a gracious God.
In this series I have briefly highlighted the dangers of inclusionism. I’m done with it for now and in my next post I expect to get back to preaching the undiluted gospel of grace. Hooray!
Before we go, I want to thank the many hundreds of you who have indicated to me that this series has been helpful. Eighteen months ago when I started writing about inclusionism, the silence was deafening. Now many of you are alert to the dangers of this stuff and I’m encouraged. And my thanks to those who sent me testimonies and messages of support.
Relevant study notes:
– The doctrine of inclusion: Why it appeals & misleads
– Was humanity raised with Christ?
– Last Adam’s greater work