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Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism Paperback – March 18, 2008
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"An excellent introduction to the subject and repays repeated careful reading. It is highly recommended for pastors, teachers, and students." (Glenn R. Kreider, Bibliotheca Sacra, July-September 2010)
". . .every Bible college student, seminarian, and conscientious Christian should read and seriously consider their thoughts regarding the spiritual condition of the lost and the eternal destiny of those who die apart from personal faith in Christ." (Christopher R. Little, EMQ, October 2008)
"Meticulously crisscrossing the arena of recent evangelical debate, these essays make a compelling case against Christian hypotheses of salvation for some apart from faith in Christ. This is the book against which self-styled inclusivists will henceforth have to argue." (J. I. Packer, Regent College)
"Is personal faith in Jesus Christ the only way of salvation, and what does this mean for this mission of the church in the twenty-first century? No two questions are more urgent on the evangelical agenda today, and this book deals honestly and forthrightly with both of them. A superb collection of essays reflecting biblical wisdom and churchly theology in the service of the gospel." (Timothy George, founding dean, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, and senior editor, Christianity Today)
"Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism is a refreshing voice in an increasingly confusing evangelical literary output on matters pertaining to human religions. This timely book is a very helpful guide to Christians who want to seriously examine the biblical and theological issues for themselves. Useful to specialists and nonspecialists." (Tite Tiénou, Dean and Professor of Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)
"These thoughtful, irenic and informed essays provide an important response to more 'inclusivist' perspectives on the question of the destiny of the unevangelized. This is a helpful contribution to a complex and controversial set of issues." (Harold Netland, Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Intercultural Studies, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)
"For those who are more interested in faithful alignment with what Scripture says than in sentimentality on this extraordinarily challenging subject, this is now the book to read. Courteous in tone yet thoroughly engaged with those who take contrary positions, the contributors lead us with exegetical care, theological poise and pastoral sensitivity through a thicket of common objections. I warmly recommend this book." (D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)
"No greater challenge faces the church of Jesus Christ than religious inclusivism--the belief that sincere people of many religions have enough truth to be saved from spiritual ruin. In an age of tolerance for all that does not seem to hurt or inhibit, no note sounds more discordant than an exclusivistic requirement of faith in Jesus Christ. Yet--with patience, respect and biblical rigor--Morgan, Peterson et al. show such an exclusive claim is in the Bible. Nothing could be more insensitive and arrogant than repeating this claim--unless it is true. Then, nothing could be more gracious and necessary than this book's message." (Bryan Chapell, President, Covenant Theological Seminary)
"A helpful, scholarly critique of inclusivism by various evangelical authors." (Donald G. Bloesch, Professor of Theology Emeritus, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa)
"The fate of those who have never heard the gospel is one of the great mysteries of our faith. Christians have long speculated about whether and how God may have spoken to those who have not been exposed to the church's preaching of salvation through Christ alone. This book deals respectfully with the different views of the subject which are found among evangelical believers while seeking to remain faithful to the teaching of Jesus himself. It is a model of how we should discuss such a delicate matter and come to a decision which upholds the uniqueness of the one and only Savior of mankind." (Gerald Bray, Research Professor, Beeson Divinity School)
About the Author
Christopher W. Morgan (Ph.D., Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary) is associate dean and associate professor of theology at California Baptist University in Riverside, California. He is senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Barstow, California. He is author of Jonathan Edwards and Hell and general editor (with Robert Peterson) of Hell Under Fire.
Robert A. Peterson (Ph.D., Drew University) is professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He was formerly professor of New Testament and theology at Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. His books include Getting to Know John's Gospel: A Fresh Look at Its Main Ideas, Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment, Calvin's Doctrine of the Atonement, Adopted by God: From Wayward Sinners to Cherished Children (all Presbyterian & Reformed) and Hell Under Fire (coedited with Chris Morgan, Zondervan). He has written numerous articles, was a contributor to the second edition of the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker) and edits Covenant Seminary's journal, Presbyterion.
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Christopher Morgan, Mid-America graduate and associate dean of the School of Christian Ministries at California Baptist University, and Robert Peterson, Drew University grad and professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary, compile a variety of essays that make up a conservative evangelical response in the debate between exclusivists and inclusivists in Faith Comes By Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism (Downers Grove, Ill., InterVarsity Press, 2008). Not so much a dialogue as a rebuttal, the book seeks to be more of an answer to the inclusivist position. The largest questions at play are the fate of the unevangelized and the potentiality of salvific grace within general revelation.
The book exhibits three natural divisions. The first section is introductory with a chapter on the categories and terminology involved in the debate and then a chapter defining the inherent weaknesses of those rigid categories. In this latter chapter, Morgan cites Sanders, Erickson, Strange and Tiessen as opponents of the classic threefold classification. To highlight what most theologians would say are nuances, Morgan presents an alternative spectrum of nine potential responses.
As a continuation of this line of questioning, Morgan and Peterson employ five traditional Reformed evangelical essayists to answer specific issues related to inclusivism. In chapter three Daniel Strange answers the question as to the salvific value of general revelation. He presents three overarching responses to general revelation-namely, totally sufficient, sufficient but not salvific and finally insufficient. For the total sufficiency position, he cites Pinnock and Sanders as the supporters of synergistic inclusivism and Morgan and Tiessen as proponents of monergistic accessibilism. For the non-salvific suffiency position, he interacts heavily with Clark and Tiessen to show that general revelation simply "does not contain the truth content necessary for saving faith" (68-69). He then closes the insufficiency argument with an appeal to reject the inadequacy of revelational categories while yet being positive about the gospel.
In chapter four William Edgar seeks to answer the question of God's fairness by briefly delving into the nature, origin and conquest of evil. After asserting God's sovereignty, Edgar underlines the value of the gospel and the uniqueness of Christ's sacrificial death. He identifies the condemnation of the lost with their refusal of God as opposed to any refusal of the gospel. However, he makes exceptions for believers before Christ and with the mentally handicapped.
Eckhard Schnabel highlights Paul's theological exclusivity in chapter five. Looking at Paul's own interaction with the Isis cult, with the religious debate on Mars Hill in Athens and with Jewish pride, Schnabel draws comparisons that relate to the current debate. According to Schnabel, Paul was critical, condemning and confrontational with other religious views. Instead of an accommodating religionist, Paul is painted as a missionary with exclusivist Christology.
Because inclusivists have argued for non-Christian believers who were seemingly saved by a different kind of faith, Walter Kaiser demands a more correct exegesis of Genesis 15:6. In his essay in chapter six, he claims that the focus of faith must be Jesus and that merely fearing God cannot result in salvation. Kaiser takes each of the biblical personalities cited by inclusivism and redirects the argument by focusing on the object of his or her faith.
Stephen Wellum handles the fifth question in chapter seven. To deal with the issue of implicit faith, Wellum revisits Pinnock's synergistic inclusivism and Tiessen's monergistic accessibilism. Wellum exposes Pinnock's pneumacentrism as the source of his error, as it places the Holy Spirit above the work of Christ. He then interprets Tiessen's theology as one based upon hypothetical situations. Wellum concludes his critique with an admonition to avoid such extra-biblical speculation.
The book then takes a turn from these essayists answering specific questions to more broad implications of exclusivism based on exegetical study. In chapter eight Peterson takes eight specific Scripture texts and presents both the inclusivist and exclusivist hermeneutic in each one. Interestingly, Peterson concludes that the inclusivists reckless handling of Scripture makes it impossible to refute theologically and fruitless to engage with dialogue.
Andreas Kostenberger argues in chapter nine that the gospel is most central to the Bible's message and thus necessary for salvation. In doing so, he places a primacy upon biblical theology and the urgency of Christian missions. In his concluding thoughts related to inclusivism, he highlights the salvific nature of the gospel, the Christocentricity of the gospel and the missions mandate of the church.
Nelson Jennings outlines a similar argument in chapter ten, but he bases his tenets upon God's own passion for mankind. He states that God's zeal to reach lost men is much greater than man's need to believe. He interacts somewhat with Tiessen's monergistic accessibilism, but he concludes that real faith in God can only come through the exclusivity of the gospel.
Almost as an addendum, Morgan and Peterson attach chapter eleven to re-answer questions related to the fate of the unevangelized. They cast blame upon the faulty assumption that condemnation is based on interaction with God through general revelation. They do respond to the question of infants who die and the mentally challenged. They also speak to the issue of other world religions and the purposes of general revelation. However, in the end they reaffirm saving faith as being only actualized as a response to the message of the gospel.
Regardless of your theological palate, I highly recommend this book as a primer on the conservative evangelical stance in the exclusivism/inclusivism debate. I make no apologies for being an exclusivist personally, in that I believe no one can ever be saved apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ. Suffice it to say, this book should be a staple in any library of a serious student of theology.
While it is obvious that many non-Christians (whether religious or nonreligious) will find the exclusiveness of Christianity's truth claims to be burdensome and objectionable, there are some Christians who also question the traditional understanding.
Some evangelical Christians, for example, have sought to widen the parameters when it comes to who can be saved and how. It is to these sorts of issues that this book is addressed. Eleven meaty chapters written by nine biblical scholars tackle the many complex issues involved.
Traditionally there have been three main approaches to these issues. The exclusivist camp argues that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour, and salvation only comes in response to the Gospel of Christ. The inclusivist camp argues that Christ is indeed the only Saviour, but people can be saved apart from hearing the Gospel message. Pluralism teaches that there are many religious roads to God.
This volume argues that the consistent Biblical position is that of exclusivism. It mainly interacts with other Christians who seek to argue for the remaining two positions, especially the inclusivists. Many of the leading evangelical inclusivists are those associated with the open theism movement. Thus open theists such as Clark Pinnock and John Sanders receive a great deal of attention in this volume, along with others. Terrance Tiessen, an inclusivist of the Reformed persuasion, also gets a wide hearing.
Morgan does a good job in his opening chapter listing the various details and nuances of the main positions involved. Indeed, he admits that the three traditional camps may be insufficient, and breaks things down into nine specific positions.
Daniel Strange offers a helpful overview of the claim that general revelation (God's self-disclosure in creation and conscience) is sufficient to condemn sinners, but not sufficient to save them. The special revelation of God (his Word and Jesus Christ) is necessary to make salvation possible to fallen mankind. Key texts such as Psalm 19 and Romans 1-2 are carefully examined, along with inclusivist assessments of them.
Walter Kaiser looks at salvation in the Old Testament, and argues that so-called holy pagans or believing Gentiles were saved just as we are, by response to the specific revelation of God. True, the OT saints did not have a clear understanding of Christ and his work, but they did have Yahweh's self-disclosure in general, and his specific revelation of a promised Saviour, going back to Genesis 3:15.
Eckhard Schnabel discusses how the Bible understands other religions. He reminds us that both Israel and the early Christians believed that competing religious worldviews were false religions and manmade belief systems. They both also recognised the spiritual dimension to other religions, which includes some elements of the demonic and satanic
William Edgar examines the charge that exclusivism is unjust. In his discussion he covers a number of major issues such as theodicy, the nature of evil, the sovereignty of God and the entrance of sin into the world. He reminds us that if God saved no one, he would still be absolutely just and fair. But the fact that many are saved speaks to the great mercy and grace of God.
Other chapters examine such topics as the nature of saving faith, the necessity of preaching the Gospel, and the missionary heart of God. The authors here argue that the best thing we can do for those who are worried about the fate of those who have not heard the Gospel is to encourage them to be more active in proclaiming the Gospel to all mankind.
A concluding chapter deals with notable objections to the notion of exclusivism, such as the fairness and justice of hell, and various pastoral concerns
In sum, there is a wealth of biblical, theological and hermeneutical material covered here, which is presented in a fair and gracious manner. Extensive quotations from, and arguments by, the inclusivists are presented and carefully dealt with. The authors meticulously and graciously interact with the inclusivists, but make it clear that the exclusivist position seems to best do justice to the biblical data.
And they make clear the priority of the Christian Gospel, and the urgency and importance of worldwide evangelisation. While a number of other volumes have covered these topics, this is perhaps the best recent volume to present the biblical and theological case for exclusivism. An important and vital volume.