The Collegian
Monday, October 02, 2023

The Walk: Inclusivism vs Exclusivism Introduction

<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.

In last week’s column, I wrote, “C.S. Lewis gives us wisdom on [the source of salvation]. He wrote in the voice of Aslan at the end of The Last Battle, ‘No service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to [the evil god from the book].’ If we agree with the principle Lewis is expressing here, helping others to live well is far more important than convincing them to call themselves Christian or Quaker.” Lewis in this passage is expressing an inclusivist view of salvation. Inclusivists argue that salvation does not depend on one affirming Jesus Christ as the son of God or even the existence of the Christian God. In opposition, exclusivists argue that the affirmation of these facts and internalization of them through repentance and submission are necessary for salvation. 

My aim this week will be to present some reasons why someone would adopt each of these positions. I am very fortunate to be joined by Esther Helm. Esther is a second-year here at UR and over the next couple of weeks we will be discussing the relative merits of inclusivism and exclusivism. We will aim to answer the questions: “Why should I be an inclusivist or an exclusivist?” and “If I am committed to exclusivism or inclusivism, what else am I committed to?” 

This week, we’ll each provide a primer on our viewpoint. In subsequent weeks we’ll put our viewpoints in dialogue with each other and lay out some critiques and defenses of each view. 

We’ve agreed to some presuppositions to ground our discussion. First, we are assuming that what is professed in the Bible is fact. This means that we are assuming that Jesus Christ is the son of God, that the Christian God is the one true God, etc. Because of this assumption, we will be using Christian-specific language, but the discussion should hold for any other religion or worldview if you were to shift the Christian-specific language to the corresponding Jewish-specific language or Hindu-specific language and so on. 

We will also only be speaking for each of our own personal brand of inclusivist and exclusivist thought and not for the holders of our viewpoint in general. We’ll use “inclusivists/exclusivists believe” as shorthand for “my particular brand of inclusivist/exclusivist thought holds.” 

As we get into more abstract discussions of the nature of salvation — which is by definition cloaked in uncertainty — remaining grounded in the purpose of the conversation is important. The inclusivist/exclusivist disagreement is of monumental importance because it, among other things, determines how Christians should conduct evangelism. Evangelism is aimed at helping others to be saved, so knowledge about the manner in which people are saved is important to conducting evangelism.

I argued last week that evangelism should be primarily aimed at helping people to live good lives, rather than convincing them to accept religious facts. If an inclusivist view is correct, I think my column last week is a reasonable outline of what evangelism should be. However, if exclusivists are correct and the only way to salvation is through acceptance of religious facts, one would do a horrible disservice to others by not trying to convince them to accept religious facts. Each view aims at compassion for and service to others through evangelism, the disagreement lies in what constitutes compassion. 

Cal: The disagreement between inclusivists and exclusivists is a disagreement about what determines salvation. Inclusivists believe that the acceptance of religious facts, such as the identity of Jesus Christ as the son of God and his death on the cross and resurrection, is neither necessary nor sufficient in determining salvation. Rather, inclusivists believe that salvation is based on good acts. Inclusivists arrive at this conclusion thusly:

Premise 1: What determines salvation needs to universally have moral weight.

P2: For something to universally have moral weight, access to it cannot be determined for some people regardless of their choices. 

Conclusion 1: Access to what determines salvation cannot be determined for some people regardless of their choices.

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P3: Some people’s access to the word is determined regardless of their choices.

C2: Anything that depends on access to the word cannot determine salvation. 

P4: Affirming religious facts is dependent on access to the word.

C3: Salvation cannot be determined by affirming religious facts because the determinants of one’s affirming religious facts is morally arbitrary. 

In contrast with affirming religious facts, living a good life relative to the factors outside your control that affect you is not dependent on hearing the word. Instead, inclusivist Quakers believe that the ability to live a good life is only dependent on the presence of the Inner Light and whether one chooses to exercise the capacities it gives us. Notably, one does not need to know about the Inner Light to exercise the capacities it gives us, whenever someone does something good, they are exercising those capacities, whether they know it or not. 

Esther: The exclusivist position is also based on important premises. We must submit to the truth as explicitly presented in the Bible, regardless of how it feels to us. 

  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. 

“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

  1. No human is deserving of salvation. 

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” -- Romans 3:23

  1. Salvation is a gift of grace, complete through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” -- Ephesians 2:8-9

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

Contact columnist Cal Pringle at

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