32 PAGE BOOKLET
Arminians and Calvinists are not one bit closer to resolving their differences even after 400 years of debate. Why? Probably because both schools of thought held to the “exclusive” assumption that: All persons will be finally lost except those who the Bible declares will be saved.
Today most professors at evangelical colleges and seminaries accept the “inclusive” view that; All persons will be finally saved except those who the Bible declares will be finally lost. Drs. F. F. Bruce, Lewis Smedes, Clark Pinnock, Lester DeKoster, Henry Stob, Edward Fudge, Richard Mouw (Pres. of Fuller Theol. Sem.) and many other evangelical theologians have embraced such an “inclusive” perspective.
An easily understood essay of the biblical evidence for this “inclusive” view of the plan of salvation is now available at less than cost. Testamentum Imperium (You can “google” it.) selected this material (See 32 page booklet, below.) for publication in the “International Theological Journal.” Every seminary student and every one interested in the future of evangelical theology must become acquainted with the proffered evidence for Inclusivism.
Should this major change in evangelical theology go unchallenged? A package of ten booklets will enable you, and others with you, to knowledgeably asses this new movement.
One booklet to US $1.00; 10 copies for $4.00. One booklet to Canada $2.00; 10 copies $8.00 (AIR). Cash or Check ONLY US Funds to:
Northland Books, Box 63, Allendale, MI 49401
Evangelical Inclusivism is based upon these four biblical facts:
1. The so-called "universalistic" texts speak of a certain-to-be-realized salvation as Calvinists have consistently maintained, and they do so in terms of all persons as Arminians have always affirmed (see Posting 1).
2. All persons, except Jesus Christ, are liable for and polluted by the imputed sin of Adam (inherited sin). However, the Scriptures neither teach nor imply that anyone is consigned to eternal damnation solely on the basis of their sin in Adam apart from actual, willful, and persistent sin on the part of the person so consigned (see Posting 2).
3. We must accept the so-called “universalistic” texts as written. We may allow only those exceptions that are necessarily imposed upon these passages from the broader context of the Scriptures as a whole (see Posting 3).
4. Jesus “saved” sinners, once for all, by making the supreme sacrifice 2,000 years ago. We speak of this as “objective” salvation. The Bible means something altogether different when it says that Paul set out to “save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). The Holy Spirit “saves” sinners by using human agents to bring the gospel to them. We refer to this as “subjective” salvation. A great amount of confusion results when this distinction is lost sight of (see Posting 4).
By Dr. Richard Mouw (Pres. of Fuller Theol. Sem.)
Several years ago I heard a lecture by the Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama, in which he observed that we all need to make a basic decision in our approach to theological questions. Either we assume, he said, “a stingy God or a generous God.” This was a helpful insight for me. It is not difficult to find passages in both the Bible and the Reformed confessions where it seems like we are being given a picture of a divine stinginess. But there are also many passages where we are provided with wonderful promises of divine generosity. The question for those of us, who take the Scriptures as the infallible Word from God, while also viewing the Reformed confessional documents as reliable guides to the teachings of that Word, is this: how do we square the stingy-sounding passages with the generous-sounding ones?
Neal Punt’s writings have been a marvelous gift to those of us in the Calvinistic tradition who take our stand on the side of divine generosity. And, truth be told, his treatment of the texts has also been a gift of sorts to those who disagree with him. One theologian who has been severely critical of those of us whom he sees as going too far in the direction of generosity once confided to me that he has learned much from wrestling with the challenges posed by Neal Punt. “He helps to keep people like me honest,” he confessed.
In my own case, Neal Punt hasn’t just kept me honest. He has helpfully instructed me in the truth by convincing me that he has the right “take” on the basics of Reformed theology. I have never been able to embrace the kind of universalism that teaches that all human beings will be saved in the end. That sort of theology is simply impossible for me to square with the biblical message. But I do want to leave a lot of theological room for the mysterious ways of a God who has promised that where sin abounds grace much more abounds. Punt has helped me to stay within the bounds of biblical orthodoxy while relying on the promises of an abundant divine generosity.
Reverend Punt has never been one who is content to consign the stinginess-generosity dilemma to the area of “tensions” and “paradoxes.” While pointing us to the grace-abounding strains in the Scriptures, he has also struggled mightily—some would say indefatigably—with all of those texts that might seem on the face of it to be a problem for his view. I will never forget, for example, the sense of profound relief I experienced when I finished reading for the first time his treatment of the Matthew 7: 13-14 passage about the broad road that leads to the destruction versus the narrow path that only a few will find. Not only did his careful exposition convince me that there is a way of fitting this into an overall generosity perspective, but I actually sensed that he had laid out the most plausible interpretation of that passage in its context.
In this important book, Neal Punt puts it all together. He summarizes the work of many decades of formulating his case, and he also gives a fair and careful account of the objections that others have lodged against the perspective that he has developed.
As I write this I have just read a report of a public poll taken of the younger generation’s attitudes toward Christianity. The majority of those questioned view Christianity as a narrow-minded, mean-spirited religion. In this book Neal Punt sets forth the perspective that can correct that perception. I hope that his case for a generous God shapes the minds and hearts of many!
Richard J. Mouw
President and Professor of Christian Philosophy
Fuller Theological Seminary
It has been said that words are like eyeglasses on our soul. By means of words we place people into loosely defined groups. We speak of friends, relatives, Muslims, homeless persons, Christians, convicts, etc. The list is nearly endless. These “eyeglasses" affect our attitude toward and how we relate to the people we place in these groups.
In addition to these narrow categories, the Bible speaks of a final division of mankind—those who will be saved and those who will be lost. The traditional Christian perspective teaches us to place the entire human race among those who will be lost unless we have reason to think differently about some people. This assumption is so basic, so commonly held, so well accepted that it seems insolent to even question it.
How should we view and relate to the people we meet every day and to the masses of humanity? To answer this question we must ask ourselves which of the following two statements reflects the teaching of the Scriptures:
A. All persons will be finally lost except those who the Bible declares will be saved.
B. All persons will be saved except those who the Bible declares will be finally lost.
It is through the Bible that we must see God, ourselves, the reality of sin, the plan of salvation, and all creation. Our sin-damaged vision needs biblical correction. Premises A and B are prescriptions for the "eyeglasses" we choose to wear. To change from A to B is difficult because this turns many of our thought patterns upside down. However, the question is which of these two premises (A or B) is the biblical prescription, and are we willing to use the “eyeglasses” provided in the Scriptures?
To think of adopting premise B in place of A raises so many questions that it seems pointless to even consider whether B has any validity. This book is intended to overcome the problem of having never-ending questions blot out the evidence there may be for adopting premise B.
To accomplish this purpose, most of the significant material found in my previous books, on my website and in my postings has been incorporated into this single volume. This book’s extensive textual and topical index can help the reader quickly locate the answer to nearly every question that may arise when considering premise B.
Here I must ask for the indulgence of the reader. Please hold your questions in abeyance until after the first four chapters of this book have been read and seriously considered. Do this even though your questions may be pressing for immediate answers! The reward for doing so will be that all the remaining chapters of the book need not be read in sequence. View the remaining chapters as a buffet waiting to be tasted at your leisure. They are a smorgasbord of thoughts, each waiting to respond to your particular and oftentimes very urgent questions.
In that “smorgasbord” you will find the answers to your questions. You can even find out why I refer to B as Evangelical Inclusivism.
You may be the type of person more interested in the practical application of B. If so, you may find it advantageous to begin your study by turning to Chapter 18, “It Makes a Difference.”
EVANGELICAL INCLUSIVISM is the teaching that all persons are elect in Christ except those who the Bible expressly declares will be finally lost, namely, those who ultimately reject or remain indifferent to whatever revelation God has given of himself to them, whether in nature/conscience (Rom. 1 & 2) or in gospel presentation.
Posting 1 THE SO-CALLED “UNIVERSALISTIC” TEXTS
In this chapter we will examine the evidence for the first and most basic tenet of Evangelical Inclusivism, Biblical Fact #1
“The so-called “universalistic” texts speak of a certain-to-be-realized salvation as Calvinists have consistently maintained, and they do so in terms of all persons as Arminians have always affirmed.”
My unusual interest in the so-called “universalistic” texts, some of which are listed below, was due neither to my limited knowledge of the theology of Karl Barth nor to the fact that today we have many people who have been nurtured in various “world religions” living in our communities. My introduction to these passages was much more prosaic than that. In preparing to lead a group discussion on “The Salvation of Infants,” I turned to the works of Dr. Charles Hodge, the Princeton Calvinist, where I found this quote:
DR. CHARLES HODGE
"All the descendents of Adam, except those of whom it is expressly revealed that they cannot inherit the kingdom of God, are saved" (Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1888, Vol. I, P. 26, emphasis added).
Hodge based this comment on his reading of this text:
“Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men” (Rom. 5:18).
He went on to say that Rom. 5:18 teaches us that “It is more congenial with the nature of God to bless than to curse, to save than to destroy.”
Hodge did all his theology on the basis of premise A, namely, “All persons will be lost except those the Bible declares will be saved.” Only in this one reference to Rom. 5:18 did Hodge work with premise B: “All persons will be saved except those who the Bible declares will be finally lost.”
Consistent with B, Hodge recognized that there are exceptions to Rom. 5:18b when he said, “except those of whom it is expressly revealed that they cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” The Scriptures teach us that those who “cannot inherit the kingdom of God” are those, and only those, who, in addition to their sin in Adam, —personally, willfully, and finally reject or remain indifferent to God's revelation of himself, whether made known in nature/conscience (Rom. 1 & 2) or in gospel presentation (see Posting 2).
If we accept the biblical fact that not all persons will be saved, we cannot avoid working with either premise A or B whenever we read or interpret the Scriptures. This is part of our thinking process. We are seldom aware that one or the other of these assumptions is profoundly influencing our understanding of the Bible's message.
It is interesting and instructive to learn that for the first 350 years following the age of the apostles, the leading church fathers spoke of salvation from the perspective of premise B rather than A). However, we must turn to the Bible itself to learn which of these two assumptions conveys the truth of the Scriptures.
Hodge could have drawn the same conclusion that he drew from Rom. 5:18 from most of the so-called “universalistic” texts that are listed below. There are exceptions to the following passages that are necessarily imposed on them by the broader context of the Scriptures (see Posting 3). Only the Bible itself has the right to make exceptions to the following explicit pronouncements that the Bible makes. The Bible says:
“The true light gives light to every man” (John 1:9).
The Lamb of God “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
The Son was sent to “save the world” (John 3:17).
Jesus “will draw all men” to himself (John 12:32).
Jesus came “to save” the world (John 12:47).
All “are justified freely by his grace” (Rom. 3:23, 24).
“One act of righteousness” brings “life for all men” (Rom. 5:18).
God “has bound all men . . . so that he may have mercy on” all of them (Rom. 11:32).
“All will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).
“One died for all, and therefore all died” (2 Cor. 5:14).
God does not count “men's sins against them” (2 Cor. 5:19).
Every tongue will “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:10, 11).
Through his Son, God has reconciled “all things” to himself (Col. 1:20).
Christ Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all men” (1 Tim. 2:6).
God “is the Savior of all men” (1 Tim. 4:10).
God's grace “has appeared for the salvation of all men” (Titus 2:11, RSV).
Jesus tasted “death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9).
Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and “for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
There are no significant textual criticism or translation problems in the above so-called "universalistic" passages. They are not unclear or fuzzy either in English or Greek. Theologians, not translators, have difficulty with the texts listed above. Anyone who can read this study can know what these texts say just as well as the most learned professor of theology.
There are instances where the Bible uses "all," "every," "world," “every one,” and even "all men" when making reference to a limited group or category of persons or things. For example Rom. 12:18, 2 Cor. 3:2, and Titus 3:2 mean "all whom we meet.” As many as fifty such examples can be found in the Scriptures. These cause no confusion because the limiting factors are clearly understood from the immediate context. The so-called “universalistic" texts (listed above) differ from these examples because there is no limiting factor found in their immediate context.
Dr. Thomas Talbott writes: "I have been unable to find a single example drawn from Paul's theological writings in which Paul makes a universal statement and the scope of its reference is unduly fuzzy or less than clear. Paul's writing may be cumbersome at times, but he was not nearly as sloppy a writer (or a thinker) as some of his commentators, in their zeal to interpret him for us, would make him out to be" (The Inescapable Love of God, Universal Pubs.,1999, P. 59).
MORE THAN FOUR HUNDRED YEARS
Arminian and Calvinistic theologians have never permitted the so-called “universalistic” texts to say "all persons will be saved," no matter how clearly these texts say this. To permit these texts to say “all persons will be saved” would contradict the assumption theologians have worked with for centuries, namely, “All persons will be lost except those the Bible declares will be saved,” which I refer to as premise A.
To prohibit the so-called “universalistic” texts from saying “all persons will be saved,” Calvinists claim to find a limiting factor in the immediate context of every one of these texts. Then, quite cleverly, anyone who fails to find such a limiting factor in the immediate context is accused of sloppy workmanship (exegesis) because they must have ignored the context.
Arminian theologians are more forthright. Because we know that some persons will not be saved, they say that every one of the “universalistic” texts must be speaking merely of a “possible or potential” salvation. They maintain this claim even though these passages say absolutely nothing about such a "potential or possible" salvation.
For more than four hundred years Calvinists have correctly maintained that these so-called "universalistic" texts speak of a certain-to-be-realized salvation. During all these years Arminians have accurately insisted that these texts speak in terms of all persons. Neither of these schools of thought has been able to demonstrate that the other is in error regarding what they affirm about these texts. It may not fit into our accepted theological structures, but the fact is that both the “certain-to-be-realized salvation” and the “all persons” elements are found in these texts.
To maintain their theological tradition, Calvinists limit the extent of the so-called “universalistic” texts (not all persons) and Arminians restrict the content of these passages (not a certain-to-be-realized salvation). Thus both Calvinists and Arminians negate the clear reading of these texts.
We have no right to arbitrarily limit either the extent or the content of the so-called “universalistic” texts. Both of these schools of thought have empowered their theology to determine what these texts may or may not say. We may not nullify the Word of God as written in order to maintain our theological tradition. The fact is that Absolute Universalists (those who believe that all persons will eventually be saved) and Evangellical Inclusivists are the only ones who accept these passages as they are written. These texts must shape our theology. Our theology may not shape these texts.
[For a vivid example of how both Arminians and Calvinists refuse to accept the so-called “universalistic” texts as written, turn to Posting “1 Tim. 4:10 Misused.”]
The four hundred-year debate between Arminians and Calvinists, which continues in full force today, would not and could not have continued for four centuries except for the fact that the so-called "universalistic" texts do in fact speak of a certain-to-be-realized salvation in terms of all persons.
For every ten Calvinistic scholars who show beyond all reasonable doubt that these texts speak of an actual certain-to-be-realized salvation, there are another ten Arminian theologians of equal credibility who just as convincingly demonstrate that these texts most assuredly speak of all persons.
Calvinist professors contend that these passages speak so clearly of a certain-to-be-realized salvation that they can not possibly say all persons. A few miles down the road, equally learned, Bible-believing professors in the Arminian tradition teach the next generation that so clearly do these same passages speak in terms of all persons, they cannot possibly be speaking of a certain-to-be-realized salvation. This battle of words has been carried on for more than four centuries!
AN UNDENIABLE FACT
Although he applied these truths in a different way than I am proposing in this study, John Calvin also recognized the fact that both the redemption from sin and the all persons elements are found in these so-called "universalistic" texts (see Posting “John Calvin”).
No one can, with integrity, deny the fact that these texts speak of a certain-to-be-realized salvation as Calvinists have historically maintained, and that they do so in terms of all persons as Arminians have always affirmed. What one does with this fact may be debatable but the fact itself can not be legitimately debated. The first principle of sound interpretation is that whatever is less clear must be understood in the light of what is clear in any given text. What is clear is that these texts speak of a certain-to-be-realized salvation in terms of all persons.
These passages do not speak of merely a “potential or possible” salvation as the Arminians claim. They do not speak of a limited number of persons that are “certain to be saved” as Calvinists assert. We may not like it, it may compel us to change our theological perspective, but the fact is that Absolute Universalists (those who believe that all persons will be saved either in this age or in the age to come) have correctly understood these so-called “universalistic” texts to say, “all persons will be saved.”
However, it is ever so clearly revealed in the Scriptures that “not all persons will be saved” (see Posting "Restoring Hell."). A proposed resolution to this apparent contradiction can be found in Posting 3, “All Are … Some Are Not.”
I received the following response to one of my online postings: "I don't care how many Arminians say those texts speak of all people, THEY ARE DEAD WRONG! The Calvinists are the only ones who are right here!" Although the language is more polite, the sentiment expressed in this outburst is precisely what Calvinists and Arminians are still saying to each other today, just as they did fifty years ago when I was in seminary.
The four hundred-year-old Arminian/Calvinist debate has demonstrated with finality that the translators have given us an accurate translation of these texts. We must accept the so-called "universalistic" texts just as we find them in our English and Greek Bibles. These texts listed earlier (and many other similar texts) very clearly speak of a certain-to-be-realized salvation in terms of all persons. For a close examination, (that is, the exegesis) of most of the previously-cited texts, see Posting, “Examining the So-Called ‘Universalistic’ Texts.”
Any theology that cannot accept both the certain-to-be-realized salvation and the all persons elements that are found in the so-called “universalistic” texts, in conjunction with a final division of mankind, is not structured according to the Word of God as written. Either we accept the so-called “universalistic” texts as written, without any exceptions (Absolute Universalism); or we accept them as written with the exceptions that are necessarily imposed on them by the broader context of the Scriptures as a whole (Evangelical Inclusivism). We have no right to change the Word of God as written in order to maintain our favored theological tradition.
There may be a third or fourth possibility that accepts the so-called "universalistic" passages as written. I am not aware of any such possibility.