Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.
This week Esther and I will be finishing up our discussion of inclusivism and exclusivism.
Esther: To continue our discussion from last week, if “an authoritative account of the nature of God and good lies outside our reach,” then people will inevitably fail at both knowing what is good and doing what is good. How do you think God discriminates amongst imperfect people in order to determine who should get forgiveness and salvation?
Cal: There are degrees to imperfection. So although we are all imperfect, we are still morally different. I think that people who are morally good enough get forgiven for their shortcomings.
Each person is faced with different challenges, capacities and opportunities, and their character is judged within that context.
In “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis says: “God judges them by their moral choices. When a neurotic who has a pathological horror of cats forces himself to pick up a cat for some good reason, it is quite possible that in God’s eyes he has shown more courage than a healthy man may have shown in winning the [British equivalent of the congressional medal of honor].”
Esther: In the quote you use, it sounds like the actual content of the action is not as important as the intention of the person doing it. If picking up a cat is valuable because that individual faced their pathological fear to do something “for some good,” and God credits that as courage, then couldn’t we again extend this to any person who does any act they find personally challenging in order to achieve some higher good, whether or not that thing is actually good?
Moreover, I’m puzzled by your claim of “degrees to imperfection.” Compared to a perfect and faultless God, are we really “morally different” from each other? In other words, doesn’t committing any sin create a fundamental barrier between us and God? How can a God with an absolute standard of goodness be concerned with relative badness or create arbitrary levels of imperfection?
Cal: Unless one is to argue that everybody is saved, God must use some sort of standard to separate those who are saved from those who are not saved. My difference is moral and your difference is not moral but rather is based on receiving God’s undeserved grace through faith. Both cases require that an infinite God have a standard that differentiates us from one another.
On the point of whether God judges our imperfect acts as good, I would say instead that God forgives us for some things that we do wrong. I think that it’s generally accepted that people who have done imperfect acts can still be saved. It is up to God to determine what He will forgive us for.
In your view, God forgives us for the ways in which our character and actions are imperfect if we have faith in him. In my view, God forgives us for the ways in which our character, actions and knowledge of religious facts are imperfect as long as we have done enough work to get as close as we can to knowledge and action on the good.
As for intention versus content, the goodness of our actions and character is judged against the objective moral facts. God forgives us for falling short of fully knowing and acting upon those moral facts when that falling short is forgivable.
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Esther: So it sounds like you’re saying that leading people to God is essentially helping them be the most moral versions of themselves they can be. It is an attempt to be “good enough” to deserve forgiveness but does not necessitate us always doing what we know is good.
God has an absolute standard, but He may overlook our evil acts when considering our worthiness for forgiveness if our circumstances made refraining from evil too difficult.
Do you believe that God counts us as worthy when we try our best to determine what is good and then try our best to act on that good, despite the fact that moral truth is undiscoverable, so we would inevitably be mistaken in our understanding of good and would thus be actively pursuing what is wrong?
Cal: God only credits us for our efforts, actions and character when they are actually good. We are credited for the things about us that are good, and when we are saved, we are forgiven for the things about us that fall short.
Esther: Ultimately, I am not an inclusivist, because I do not believe its premises are consistent with the truth as revealed in the Bible. I believe people are sinful by nature and justly deserve the wrath of God as a punishment for sin. We are in utter need of salvation from a source outside ourselves because we have no way to achieve the perfection needed for salvation on our own.
Out of his mercy, God offers us salvation as a gift of grace. Through his death on the cross, Jesus bore God’s wrath in our place. Therefore, we are given an eternal hope of reconciliation to God solely on the basis of Jesus’s righteousness.
Moreover, I believe that the inclusivist premises described here lead to two fundamental problems: If “we don’t have access to an authoritative knowledge of good,” as you have often repeated, then what we think is good will inevitably be wrong sometimes.
This leaves us two options: (1) God counts acts which are evil according to his absolute standard of morality as actually being good, and good enough to merit salvation, or (2) God does require us to abide by his absolute standards to be saved, even though we can neither know these standards nor follow them. In this case, He is highly deceptive and cruel.
1 Timothy 2:3-6 tells us that “[Living in godliness and holiness] is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”
Cal: I am an inclusivist because I believe that there is evidence in scripture, tradition, reason and direct experience that lead me to be one. I have a mystical, anti-ceremonial reading of the Bible.
This leads me to believe in a gospel proclaimed in every person. The gospel proclaimed in every person cannot have particulars about who Jesus was or what the God who rules the universe is like. Instead, this gospel includes the subset of our moral judgments that are revealed to us by the Inward Christ.
I also believe in a third alternative to Esther’s problem stemming from the unknowability of moral facts: God forgives our shortcomings in knowing moral facts when we have tried hard enough to find the truth and act on it.
I also think that your application of 1 Timothy 2:3-6 is flawed. Your critique of my assertion that authoritative knowledge of moral facts is unknowable should instead be applied to your assertion that access to the word is required for salvation. I do not believe that the God described in 1 Timothy 2:3-6 would make access to the word a prerequisite for salvation while some people cannot hope to have access to the word.
In my account, God gives us all we need to be saved. In His grace, he bestowed us with the Indwelling Christ, which gives us the capacity to be good. He proclaimed a gospel in each of us which gives us the ability to approach the moral facts. The God that gives us those things is the God described in 1 Timothy 2:3-6.
Contact The Walk columnist Cal Pringle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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