The Collegian
Monday, October 02, 2023

The Walk: Discussing Inclusivism and Exclusivism

<p>Graphic by Jackie Llanos</p>

Graphic by Jackie Llanos

Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.

This week, we’ll be picking up on the discussion we began last week about inclusivism and exclusivism. Inclusivism and exclusivism are conflicting theories about the nature of salvation. Exclusivists believe that affirmation of religious facts (recognizing and proclaiming that Jesus Christ was the son of God, that He lived, died and was resurrected, etc.) is necessary for salvation. In contrast, inclusivists believe that the criteria for salvation do not include affirmation of religious facts. 

To summarize, here are the premises for Exclusivism presented in the last article:

  1. The Bible is authoritative and infallible, as stated in the introduction. 
  2. Human perceptions of right and wrong have been distorted by sin. We cannot recognize the truth on our own.
  3. Salvation is determined by God, who grants it, and not by humans, who receive it. 
  4. No human is deserving of salvation. 
  5. Salvation is a gift of grace, complete through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Joining me is Esther, a sophomore here at the University of Richmond. She’ll be taking up the Exclusivist viewpoint while I take up the Inclusivist. 

Cal: Hi Esther! One issue that I wanted to take up that I think presents a problem for exclusivist thought is what to think of people who are excluded from salvation because they never hear the Word. 

Esther: That’s a good question, and one that many people have about exclusivism.  Romans 4:3 explains how Abraham, one of the Old Testament prophets, was saved even though he did not specifically call on the name of Jesus: “What does Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” 

However, since we live in New Covenant times -- after God has come to Earth in bodily form -- we can only know for certain the way to salvation revealed to us in the New Testament: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9-10). 

As humans, we cannot determine the justice of salvation. Only God determines salvation, and we must accept it as He offers it through his Son, Jesus.

Cal: Could you expand on what you mean by God crediting faith in him as righteousness? What would that look like in someone who does not have the same kind of direct communication with God as Abraham had? 

Esther: My intention in mentioning Abraham, even though he is from the Old Testament, is that God can be consistent and unchanging in his attributes of justice and salvation despite our understanding of time and reason. God operates outside of linear time, so he could apply Jesus’ sacrifice to Abraham even though it had not yet occurred on earth.

God is omniscient and omnipresent, so Jesus’ sacrifice bears the just punishment for all sins — past, present and future. We have no reason to believe God would credit righteousness to those without faith in him, since that is not how he has revealed himself or his actions in the Bible. Moreover, Abraham lived under the Old Covenant1. After being given the New Covenant through Jesus, only one means of salvation has been made known to us, and that is faith in the name of Christ. 

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Cal: So because God does not exclude anyone from salvation unjustly, anybody who is not saved is justly not saved. What determines the justice of someone not being saved? Is it that they lacked something which made them unworthy of salvation, or is it something else?

Esther: As I stated in my opening premises last week, exclusivists believe that no one is deserving of salvation. Everyone has sinned, and the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Anyone who is saved is saved despite themselves, and entirely because of undeserved grace. Ephesians 2:4-5 also makes this clear: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved.”

Cal: If people are saved despite their unworthiness, why are some people saved and others not?

Esther: Here, exclusivists diverge: Calvinists believe that some are saved and others are not as a matter of God's sovereign perfect choice. Ultimately, it is not our place to understand why God would bring some to repentance and faith but not others.

Arminian Christians believe that each human has free will, through which they can either sin and rebel against God, or be reconciled to him through Jesus. In this case, automatically saving everyone would mean forcing salvation on those who did not choose it. They believe that the submission to Christ which leads to salvation cannot be forced or imposed. 

Ultimately, both schools accept that God is sovereign and that only he has the authority to define and offer salvation: “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:14-16).

Cal: Is submission something you will (understanding that you only do so because God enables you to) or something that God wills for you?

Esther: Again, Calvinists and Arminians differ, although they are both exclusivists. Calvinists say that God is completely responsible for salvation, and those who are saved play no role in their own salvation, not even to will it. Arminians still credit God with the act of salvation, but they retain a role of acceptance (will) on the part of the one being saved. In either case, salvation is completely underserved by the one who receives it.  

Cal: I have different objections to Calvinists and Arminians. To Calvinists: I have yet to hear a plausible account of how a good God could exclude people from salvation when the decision is wholly up to Him. If free will does not enter into the equation, I do not see how a good God saves some but not all. 

To Arminians: I have yet to hear a compelling account of how a good God could determine salvation through an act of will (submission to Him), but not make that act of will the sort of thing that all people will necessarily have the opportunity to execute. 

If you have been convinced by an account of how a good God could behave as Calvinists or Arminians postulate, you might be an exclusivist. If you haven’t, you might be an inclusivist. 

Esther: I am an exclusivist because I believe the Bible is authoritative and infallible and that this is the means of salvation God has revealed in scripture. In theology, we can’t trust our own logic and reasoning above God’s revelation, because we are flawed through sin. We can’t depend on philosophy to reason about God or determine how He must act, because that would mean valuing our own authority and judgments over the revealed truth of the Bible and the revealed character of God.

Romans 9:19-20 explains: “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?’ But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” I do not believe in exclusive Christianity because I think it is just or right through an outside measure of fairness, but because I have no grounds to reject God’s plan for salvation. 

To contribute to The Walk, email opinions and columns editor Conner Evans at

Contact columnist Cal Pringle at

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