The Central Claims of Inclusionism
(or Am I Fairly Representing this Dubious Doctrine?)
Whenever I warn people of the dangers of inclusionism, someone will usually say I am misrepresenting the doctrine. “Paul, I’m an inclusionist, but I have never heard inclusionism described in that way.”
This response tells me that the some of those who identify themselves as inclusionist, don’t really know what they have bought into. Perhaps they’ve heard a few sound bites or read a few quotes, but they haven’t gone deeper than that. Which is fine – except that what you don’t know can hurt you.
So that you might be better informed, I want to list five core claims of inclusionism. None of these claims is my own invention; they all come from an inclusionist source which is the Grace Communion website.
Why this source? Because those who preach inclusionism typically recommend it. I can’t tell you the number of people have said to me, “Paul, you don’t really know what inclusionism is. You should check out GCI.org.” Well, I did. I am also familiar with the teachings this website draws on and can confirm that it offers an accurate summary of inclusionist thinking.
To be fair, the GCI website makes many wonderful claims that I wholeheartedly agree with (eg: unconditional love, universal forgiveness, the need for faith to walk in what Christ has provided). But these are the claims of the gospel of grace and not the special claims of inclusionism. There is a difference. As I have written elsewhere, grace is inclusive, but inclusionism is not grace.
Below I list five claims which make inclusionism unique. For each claim I provide supporting evidence lifted straight from the GCI website. Whether these claims are valid or not, I leave for you to decide. My personal view is that these claims are contrary to the gospel that Jesus revealed and the apostles taught.
Five claims of inclusionism
1. Humanity has been raised, has ascended, and is now seated with Christ
“When Jesus rose, all humanity rose to new life with him; when Jesus ascended, all humanity ascended and became seated with him at the Father’s side.”
2. Humanity is righteous/justified
“Through Jesus, all humans are justified through the faith of Christ… Objectively, all people, past, present and future, are justified already …”
3. Humanity is sanctified
“All are sanctified.”
4. Humanity is reconciled/in union with Christ
“All humans—believers and non-believers—are united to God in and through Jesus… Through union with Jesus, all humanity is… reconciled to the Father…
5. Humanity is not lost but saved
“Through Jesus, all humans are… at peace with God, standing in his grace… (and) saved through Jesus’ life.”
This last claim is perhaps the most contentious which may explain why it doesn’t get much coverage on the GCI website. But it is fair to say that inclusionism teaches that since all are now in Christ, and Christ is saved, then all are saved.
Two contentious claims
The claims above are the core claims of inclusionism. However, two additional claims are worth mentioning because they are diametrically opposed and thus cannot both be true. If you wish to be an inclusionist, you must choose one or the other.
6. Inclusionism is universalism in disguise
The GCI website is agnostic on this point: “We cannot profess to know whether every person will finally come to faith.” However, it is accurate to say that some inclusionists are universalists, that is, they believe in the ultimate reconciliation of humanity. It is also accurate to say that many inclusionists (the majority?) are not universalists. That is, they subscribe to historical reconciliation but not ultimate reconciliation. This leads to the following claim.
7. Inclusionism says you’re in until you’re out
You won’t find this on the GCI website but this is the inescapable conclusion of inclusionism. If everyone is now saved (see claim #5 above), but faith is still needed to make what is objectively true become subjectively true, then it is inevitable that some will not be saved in the end. In other words, you’re in until you’re out.
Many inclusionists are horrified when they hear this and think I am misrepresenting their beliefs. I sincerely hope I am! But I am not misrepresenting inclusionism.
Two plus two is four. Either inclusionism is universalism in disguise, or it preaches insecurity to those who are in Christ. If inclusionism says all are now saved (and righteous, holy, and in union with Christ), but all won’t end up saved (and righteous, holy, and in union with Christ), then what God has joined together, man can tear apart.
This is just one of many reasons why the doctrine of inclusionism is not good news.
Do any of your writings refer to the Baptism in the Holy Spirit?
Not directly, but I have written a few posts on the Holy Spirit.
Paul, you have done a very thorough study. This is a discussion I had anticipated and hoped for. I am not sure where the dust will settle for me around some of the ideas of Trinitarian Theology.
Paul, thank you for continuing to provide great teaching. You bring grea clarity to the “hiccups” I encounter when sharing the Gospel of Grace. The greatest challenges come when talking with the religious, the churched, the “seminary trained” folks!
Thanks Paul for sharing your study notes, great teaching!
Paul, this article (study notes) is just excellent! There is so much more to gain from it than simply a counter to ‘inclusion-ism’; it tends to set out some of the very fundamental tenets of our beliefs within the Gospel of Grace. It brings forward the truths of the Gospel tying faith to grace and grace to faith in a manner I have not seen before. Sadly, it takes a “challenge” to the false to bring forward the truth; yet, outshining from this document is the strength of the true Gospel that we hold dear. Everyone should read this!
Now, if we could say the same truths in a document that is not based on a ‘counter’ to the false… wow!
Paul-are you working on anything about knowing God’s will.
I talk a bit about the will of God in my book. For a deeper study, though, I recommmend Steve McVey’s Walking in the Will of God.
i have just finished reading these study notes again… and i am curious to know how an inclusionist can dismiss the unforgiveable sin…
An inclusionist is not necessarily a universalist. A universalist says “all will be saved”; an inclusionist says “all were saved – but unless they can to realize this, some will yet be lost (although hell is only temporary anyway).”
ok. so they believe that some will be lost and will go to a temporary hell…. but then they are forgiven of the one thing that Jesus Himself says will not be forgiven in this age… or the one to come…?
I absolutely love what you share Paul! But I am confused by your comment that hell is just temporary…. Can you explain please? Thanks and God Bless.
That doesn’t sound like something I would say.
Thank you Paul for your inspiration, We have exchangedcorrespondence onsite in my search for salvation and found what you write about makes sense to me in understanding clearly what God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit mean to me. Your encouragement is spread to my family and they are looking at it and I am forward to have some dialouge with my sisters, neices and friends. At this point I am looking into baptism, I know Jesus was baptized by John, and I heard on a sermon this morning it was a covenant between God and man. Who do I ask to receive baptism and where would I go to get it done. My understanding so far is baptizm can be or should be done by someone who has been baptized, and acceptence and belief in Jesus Christ is a pre-requisit to the ritual. I’ve asked the catholic church, were study and a partner is involved and another new church Chang Point were I was asked questions on why I chose their church, Your input would be greatly appreciate.
Thank you, I sent another question regarding this because I didnot see the response, I did find it THANK YOU, I am blessed,
Have just read Part 1. Thanks Paul. I’m on the same page as you and have grave concerns about the teaching of inclusion. Just a question. Not sure how you can say everyone is forgiven. The way I see it, it’s one thing to say Jesus died for all mankind, but another to say all are forgiven. The Scriptures seem to teach that until a person believes, they are still in Adam and still in their sins. For example, Jesus said: “If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (Jn.8:24). I am currently teaching my way through the Book of Acts, and see that the apostles taught that only when people believe upon Jesus will they be granted forgiveness of sins. E.g. “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:38) and, Jesus sent Paul to preach “…to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins…” (Acts 26:18). See also Acts 2:38; 3:19; 13:38&39. As I understand it, whilst Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, anyone who is in Adam is still in their sins. Only by believing in Christ are they baptized into Him, receive forgiveness of their sins and are made righteous. Would appreciate your thoughts on this Paul. Many thanks.
I see two issues: When did God forgive us and when did we receive the gift of his forgiveness? I believe God forgave us before we were even made for he knew we would sin, he knew what it would cost him, and yet he went ahead and made us anyway. But only on the cross did his gracious gift of forgiveness become apparent. Forgiveness is an expression of grace; you have to believe it to receive it. If you don’t believe God has taken away all your sins then you’ll cling to them and die with them – that’s John 8:24. But he won’t hang you for it because then he would have to remember what he’s forgotten.
On the cross the Lamb of God carried the sins of the whole world. It would be unjust of just God to subsequently judge us for sins he’s already condemned in Jesus. I’ve written more about this here and here.
God won’t condemn unbelievers for their sins; they condemn themselves on account of their unbelief.
Hmm. I see what you are saying Paul. But it seems that this is creating the kind of objective/subjective dichotomy you refuted regarding reconciliation and justification etc. “Everyone is forgiven, they just don’t know it…” To me it seems that whilst Christ has paid for our sins this forgiveness is to be found only in Him. While a person remains in Adam they remain in their sins. Thus, the apostles offered forgiveness in their presentation of the gospel, as in the verses I quoted from Acts. When a person believes the gospel they opt into Christ and receive all the riches of His grace, beginning with forgiveness. As Paul says, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins…” (Eph.1:7). Anyway, just my thoughts… God bless you Paul, and the important ministry you have.
I think we’re saying the same thing. Christ is the gift. When you receive Christ you get the whole grace package – his forgiveness, righteousness, and holiness. Everything is in Him. But the fact is Jesus has carried our sins away (Heb 9:26) which is the literal meaning of forgiveness – to carry away. We may hold onto them but God doesn’t.
you pose a very good question to answer it I have to ask you to see things like God see,s them He sees out of time. Everyone,s sins are forgiven and we have to accept it to receive it yes, but God knows who is going to accept and who won,t. Your name is already written in the book of Life.This in no way affects free will, but testifies to the awesome greatness of our God.There are many dimensions and many times.We are VERY limited in our perspective.
Hi Chris. I fully understand that God sees things outside of time. But the fact is that we live in time and that’s when the gospel is presented to us. When the apostles offered the gospel they also offered forgiveness (see references above). They were not offering something their hearers already had. I think it is better to say that everyone’s sins have been paid for at the cross, and we receive forgiveness when we believe that. Which is what you said. “Everyone’s sins are forgiven and we have to accept it to receive it.” I think it is important to keep a clear distinction between sins paid for and a person forgiven. Jesus said that those who do not believe in Him would die in their sins. Blessings.
“And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”Mark 11:25, NKJV”. Since we have been forgiven at the cross, why does Mark preach forgiveness to be forgiven. This writing seems contradictory to what has already been done, very confusing.
It’s a good question which you will find covered in some of the early forgiveness posts. You can find them all by inserting “forgiveness” in the search box at the top of this page. Or you can just read this post.
It is not conditional at all once you have fully accepted all that Jesus has achieved for you , you will be unable to keep record of wrong. I think Jesus knew this.
Thank you Chris, the more I read, the more I study I receive more clarity, my search for the truth is resilient and continuous.
I love the gospel of God’s grace. But I have heard believers can loose their faith, if they choose to. Does that mean that their salvation is in jeopardy?
You can find all my posts on eternal security here.
Paul, I have a question for you. I want to make sure I understand what you are saying here.
There is a grace preacher in the U.S. who asks the question: How many sins does it take to be a sinner? Most common answer is ONE. However, he points out that the correct answer is NONE, you are born a sinner. In light of your notes, and the fact that you stated that the cross covered Adam’s sin (I agree), are you saying you see this differently?
And if so, would you also conclude that its a “dead” or “born of the spirit” problem more than a sin problem?
I don’t believe there is a sin gene. I wrote a long chapter about this two years ago, but figured it was too controversial to publish. Maybe one day.
I understand what you mean about controversial because some will discount everything else you’ve written just based on one piece. BUT it is nice to hear that there is someone else on the planet who doesn’t think scripture supports “born into sin”. Rom 5:12-14 simply tells us: Sin entered, death reigned, and all “have” sinned. I hope one day you do write your piece on that subject. Thanks for the reply. Grace & Peace.
ty i knew that about the mirror translation bible . this was a great article!
Paul, do you believe the Bible, not the English translations, but the original Greek words, written by the apostles, is the Word Of God… as understood by most of the evangelical community?
That seems like a question for the evangelical community.
Well, I Am Asking You. Do U Believe Scripture Is inspired?
Yes, most definitely. I would not have devoted a blog to unpackaging it nor quoted 1000+ scriptures in my books if I thought otherwise.
Thank You Paul, Your Website Is A Blessing.
I have just started looking into Jesus as The Last Adam and The Second Man. What is the significance? He took us with Him onto the cross, was that the whole of humanity? And was that the end of the Adamic line spiritually? Any help would be greatly appreciated.
A post entitled “First Adam vs Last Adam” may help.
thank you. will read it. reading Malcolm smith at the moment on the covenant – amazing! Never heard of it until I found your site. Answering loads of questions, but more than that opening my heart to the wonder of God and his love.
It seems to me that one of your main criticisms of inclusions is the whole “you’re in until you’re out” thing. From my understanding that is a misrepresentation of inclusion as I’ve understood it so far.
It would be true if only the first half of the gospel (heaven or hell, afterlife destination) was the full meaning of salvation. Inclusion doesn’t really inherently say anything about our destination, though that’s what people tend to focus on. Inclusion is about our origin – hence, why it springs from Trinitarian theology. It’s not about being saved or unsaved in the sense of heaven or hell as a final destination, but about being made whole (which is the meaning of “sozo,” “saved”), being reconciled here and now or not.
More accurately, inclusion differs from exclusion in saying that all are included in the first half of the gospel (being forgiven, having died and been raised with Christ and being holy and blameless before the foundations of the world) but not all have been reconciled and made whole by putting their faith in it in this life. As far as questions about the afterlife, I think that goes outside of what inclusion inherently states. Though, perhaps generally, it would follow from inclusion that all will be in heaven perhaps, but not all may enjoy it or experience it as heaven if they haven’t been reconciled, received or put their faith in the gospel (C.S. Lewis illustrated this kind of picture in several of his writings).
Hi Steffan, your response is the one I have often heard from inclusionists. Since it is difficult to have a meaningful dialogue if both sides cannot agree on the basics of inclusionism, I have prepared a short page outlining the central claims of inclusionism with supporting sources. I’m not sure if you’ve seen this page as it’s only been up a day or two.
Awesome, thanks for linking me to that. I think I’d still hold to what I said before about the first and second half of the gospel as they relate to inclusion. Your “you’re in until you’re out” point hinges completely on there being only one definition of being saved – the first half of the gospel definition of heaven or hell rather than the second half of the gospel regarding the here and now experience of eternal (“zoe”) life by faith.
Faith is not needed to make what is objectively true become subjectively true. Inclusionists do not believe this. They believe that faith is the means through which we personally (subjectively) experience what is already (objectively) true. Faith helps us escape to reality. That’s why your dichotomy of you’re in until you’re out is inaccurate. A person can be forgiven by someone else, but not believe it and being experiencing and living in a (false) reality of unforgiveness and condemnation.
To incorporate the language of marriage in this instance of describing salvation and inclusion, a person may be married to someone but be living in a completely different country or perceive their spouse completely differently than they actually are. It wouldn’t change the fact that they are married, it would only dramatically change their experience of it.
So if you do sincerely hope you are misrepresenting inclusion, I feel like and hope my explanation here could possibly help you see how and why, if you are.
All the best,
Hi Paul. My name’s Nathan. Great to meet you and dialogue with you 😉
Paul, as an inclusionist (as its been labeled- which i hate because labelling someone sucks -period), as other inclusionists have stated, i am concerned with a few points that i think are unfair:
1) To have a blog site set up to dialogue with people (seriously) in order to accurately understand a persons position of understanding, (which id hope you’d genuinely want to achieve), don’t you think it a bit unfair to limit a post to 250 words ? And don’t you think that you should refrain from theological questions if this is not one of the purposes of the blog ?
2) The Trinitarian (what you call inclusionist) framework of thinking and believing IS as scripturely based as other understandings such as calvinism and arminianism, (although admittedly, decidedly more dialectical than others), but in order to substantiate that claim takes a lot more than 250 words and some explanations on the biblical greek. That is why the book “How to read TF Torrance” is so detailed. Why would you set up a blog and invite people to contribute, when its actually not set up for meaningful and healthy theological dialogue in the first place ? Don’t you think it’s unfair that you make claims of “inclusionism” without giving theologians a fair opportunity to elaborate on their understanding in detail ?
I did not set up this blog to dialogue with inclusionists but to proclaim the gospel. I am often accused of misrepresenting inclusionism by those who claim to hold to it. Having spent 15 years as a university professor, I am aware of the need of doing research and learning from those who have gone before you. Consequently, before I published these notes I circulated them among several inclusionist thinkers with an open mind and an invitation to “correct me where I’m wrong.” In my academic life I would routinely cite sources but have not done so here for several reasons. However, inclusionism can be reduced to a set of core claims for which I do cite sources. Feel free to check that link out and correct me where I’m wrong.
Pastor Paul,im from the island of Bohol,Philippines we really needs your study notes if you have some used notes which is complete for reading really we need it so much,were hungry of Grace and Truth,actually He Fiiled us already but we need your materils were sorrounded of synergism in the island
You are welcome to download all these notes for free.
How do we have grace for the moment (all grace) and yet need more grace (can never have enough)? The only way I can sort is by responding to His love and beauty. Or at least not killing ourselves (Romans 7 Flesh Test) on the altar of service or expectation. I find that I want to trust grace for all, but I don’t want to be a grace preacher if I can’t let go of my selfish hope for a second marriage.
Paul, I don’t think that Francois Du Toit intends to promote Universalism, as you suppose. I cannot speak for him but have found his message worhtwhile. I’m sure he would welcome your questions / comments if you contacted him directly (if you haven’t already done so – it’s only fair if you are critiquing his work). You can find him on Facebook.
I have never said that he does promote universalism. Not sure why you think I did.
I don’t want to name names so lets just say I am asking this about a friend who would “have much to say about this”…
Would you consider someone an inclusionist who believes some of the things you stated with what I think is one HUGE difference…
They believe that can not have access to ANYTHING you don’t believe in. And additionally that we do not believe FOR things (a phrase many people like to use) but rather we believe IN things that are true (hence some of the things you listed).
Regardless if its true or not if you don’t believe in it, you have no access to it.
John, you are talking about faith and everything you said most grace-folk would agree with. Faith doesn’t make things real; but it makes them real to you. As I have long said, you are forgiven but if you don’t believe you are forgiven then that forgiveness won’t benefit you. Inclusionism is something different. It is a message that is presented, by some, as the gospel and by me as an alternative to the gospel.
my name is kayode, am from nigeria. the truth is that your books are hard to find here, infact am tired of searching through bookshops. i dont know how you can help. also give us the link to download these notes
My books are available from a number of online booksellers. See the full list here.
Brother Paul, many thanks for educating many on the true message of God’s Grace.
Ref your reply to @kayode, online selling of books is not active in Nigeria at this time:)
May the Lord continue to bless you, your family and your service in Him.
Thanks for the notes Paul! I have downloaded. 🙂
I agree, Paul, this Inclusionism sounds like Universalism in disguise. I think -Inclusivist-theology might be correct, however. It is far different. My Inclusivism would reject all of the above statements, as you do. Inclusivism merely says that all who seek God will find Him; all who cry to God for forgiveness and salvation will be saved. That people are always and only saved by Christ, but all who are saved do not necessarily know the name Jesus, nor do they all necessarily all know all of the specifics of the Gospel. For example, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Isaiah did not know the name “Jesus Christ,” nor did they know the details of the full Gospel message (although Isaiah came very close, and they all had strong types of Christ.)
Hey Paul, I noticed you had put forth quite a bit of effort in revealing the error of inclusionism. I’m not a pastor but I haven’t heard too much attention given to this topic. Is that a growing concern in New Zealand or other parts of the world?
In my experience it is predominantly a US-export. It has a toehold in NZ (and South Africa and other places), but most of my exposure is through the countless grace groups I connect with on Facebook. I regularly hear from people thanking me for identifying something harmful they have encountered on social media, YouTube, or at a conference.
Just this morning I saw an ad for a conference that was being promoted as a grace conference even though all the speakers are known for promoting an inclusionist message. If one was not aware of the massive differences between the two messages, or if one simply did not know what the Bible says about the subject, one might incorrectly conclude that the gospel of grace was synonymous with inclusionism.
I have a question: How am i suppose to pray for unbelievers i.e I have an atheist relative but because he is my relative I still want him to live a good life. So I speak blessings to his life financial blessings and favor.
If I pray and this person get blessed and favor is it because I am just appropriating what God did on the Cross for him or is it because I am in the Kingdom of God and I’m imparting to him what I have? Since Grace is received by Faith and he doesn’t have faith and righteousness and inheritance are only to those who receive Christ or Sons of God.
Paul, Thank you so much for sharing your God- given insight into this doctrine of inclusionism. We are searching for a pastor, and one has came and preached this inclusionism doctrine and I recognized it as universalism. We asked him if he was a universalist and he said no. After studying his teachings more I found your articles on the matter and these are the exact things he has been teaching for two weeks. I recognized the error immediately but had no knowledge of the doctrine. This helps a bunch.
Great read, Paul. Thank you so much!!! Even today this is a Hot Topic. Do you mind if I post this to my blog with your name? Be Blessed!
Feel free to share.
I so wld appreciate notes on “Paul’s thorn in the flesh”
Thank you so much for labouring in teaching the true gospel. Personally I appreciate your teachings a lot.
Can you please help me with point 4 “under In what sense did last Adam do a greater work than first Adam?” I thought we, humans, die physically because death came into the world through Adam’s sin. And because we shared in Adam’s carnal nature we also die physically because of his disobedience. But in Christ we receive eternal life in the spirit (1Co 15:22) and for now…we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
Happy to help. What’s your question?
Please cite your source for this claiom:
“Through Jesus, all humans are… at peace with God, standing in his grace… (and) saved through Jesus’ life.”
Doesn’t sound like something I would say, Neil. Many people are NOT at peace with God.
Sorry I wasn’t clear enough. This is an ‘apparent’ quote from GCI website. Your point No 5 in the above article. I don’t think GCI claim ‘all are saved’. Please give me the reference.
Hi Neil, I think you answered your own question. All quotes in quote marks were lifted off that website five or six years ago when I wrote the article. I just went and checked the website now, and it seems they have removed that claim. (Good!) But if you need a source for scholarly purposes, you can find it easily enough using the Wayback Machine.
I’m glad they are keeping up with their growth in understanding and the updating of their pages. May I ask you to revise your article accordingly? The other charges are correct and I’m sure they would stand by them. Like Wm Paul Young, Baxter Kruger and many other Incarnational Trinitarians they are not Universalists. Their theology is not so far removed from yours as you might think and perhaps doesn’t merit quite so much disparagement?
Neil, I’m sorry to see that you have added your voice to two erroneous claims: (1) “Paul, you confuse inclusionists with universalists.” I have never done any such thing. (2) “You misrepresent the central claims of inclusionism.” See my study note.
Inclusionism is a useless and shifty philosophy. If I expose the folly behind its claims and then certain people backpedal and rewrite their inclusionist manifestos, good for them. One might argue that such behavior smells fishy and dishonest, but we’re not here to cast stones. But I certainly do not have the time nor the inclination to rewrite old articles every time someone flip-flops. And the fact remains, many inclusionists continue to teach that all were saved and raised at the cross.
Neil, when I saw your first comment I gave you some benefit of the doubt. Now that I see you are here to defend an inclusionist agenda, I wish to say no more on the matter. I’ve said plenty already. Inclusionism is like a bowl of tasty food seasoned with cyanide. I’ve seen first hand the terrible damage is does to individuals and church communities.
One last thing: I prefer to keep names out of these discussions and would encourage you to do likewise. I name no one in any of my articles. I’m attacking a philosophy, not those who peddle it. True, I did name the GCI website here, but only because I was constantly being told by people that I was ignorant about inclusionism and should go and check it out. I decided to provide a link so readers could view both sides of the story and form their own conclusions.
Hi Paul, I’m new here, and I would like to learn more about inclusionism which in my understanding it denies the holy justice of God and the judgment of the wicked. I don’t know who the promoters of this doctrine are, but I can think of …
Hi Joseph, if you want to learn more about includionism you’ve come to the right page. You may also want to check out this page. Please note I have no interest in naming and shaming people and normally delete comments that do. Thanks.
Thanks for the information. God bless.