The Exclusivity Of Salvation Through Christ Alone
Evidence of Exclusivism
The man on the island who never heard the Gospel Message.... How could a good and loving God condemn to hell someone who’s never heard of him?
Exclusivism is the view that redemption is possible through only faith in the gospel. This has been the predominant Christian position throughout Church history until more recently and remains so among most Catholics who are traditional, and orthodox today. in their Catholic faith. Several texts are commonly cited in its defense. Here are five.
1. Romans 1
First, though inclusivists sometimes employ Romans 1:18–23 to highlight the importance of general revelation, on closer reading the text actually supports the exclusivist view. Paul’s argument is that God’s revelation in nature is sufficient only to condemn, not to save. Though a man alone on the island “knew God” (v. 21), he “detain (suppresses the truth)” (v.18) which is “clearly seen” in nature and is therefore “inexcusable.” They are without excuse. (v. 20). Humans aren’t guilty because they haven’t heard the gospel; they’re guilty because they haven’t honored their Creator. In other words, not because of the absence of something (faith), but because of the presence of something (rebellion).
So will God condemn the innocent tribesman who has never heard the name of Christ? No, because there are no innocent tribesmen. We come into this world fallen creatures.
Scripture simply does not picture fallen humans as having some vague but noble desire for mercy and forgiveness. Moreover, we have an inescapable pull toward enacting our faith in ritual, liturgy, and sacrifice. So what does the man on the island do? In the imagination of the inclusivist, he just cries out for vague mercy and forgiveness, claiming no merits of his own. In the real world, however, he probably participates in a form of idolatrous folk religion that contradicts and undermines the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. Romans 10
Second, the necessity of gospel faith for salvation is on display in : Romans 10
“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved. ow then shall they call on him, in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe him, of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear, without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they be sent
. . .Faith then cometh by hearing; and hearing by the word of Christ." (Romans 10:13–15, 17)
The chain of logic in Paul’s mind is straightforward:
The only way to be saved is to call on Christ’s name.
The only way to call on Christ’s name is to believe the gospel.
The only way to believe the gospel is to hear the gospel.
The only way to hear the gospel is to be told the gospel.
The reality of another means of salvation besides faith in “the word of Christ” is difficult to square with this passage.
3. John 14
Third, we must do justice to Jesus’s declaration, “Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6; cf. 10:7, 9). Though inclusivists sometimes object that this statement says nothing explicit about faith, the idea is surely implied. The whole aim of John’s Gospel, after all, is to convince readers to believe and be saved (John 20:30–31), as the preceding context makes plain (John 3:36; 5:23–24; 6:35; 7:38; 8:19, 24, 42; 11:25; 12:46). The apostle addresses belief no less than 97 times throughout the book. In light of the entire context, then, “but by me” means “but by faith in me.”
4. Acts 4
Fourth, the apostle Peter declares: “Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). Note he doesn’t merely say that there’s no other savior under heaven—something with which inclusivists would agree—but specifically that there’s no other name. Apparently, knowing this savior’s name—the identity of this person—is necessary.
5. Acts 10
Finally, there’s a particularly revealing story in Acts 10. God hears the prayers of a devout Gentile named Cornelius and instructs him to “send men to Joppe, and call hither one Simon, who is surnamed Peter:” (v. 5). Arriving the next day at Peter’s house, Cornelius’s men announce: “Cornelius, a centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and having good testimony from all the nation of the Jews, received an answer of an holy angel, to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee. ” (v. 22).
Peter then journeys with the men to Cornelius’s house, where the centurion addresses his apostolic guest: “Now we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord” (v. 33). What’s interesting is that Cornelius wasn’t expecting any random message but specifically—as an angel had told him—a “Who shall speak to thee words, whereby thou shalt be saved, and all thy house.” (Acts 11:14). In other words, it was a message without which Cornelius would have remained, despite all of his religious sincerity, eternally lost.
Why do I point to this story? Two reasons. First, because if a genuine unreached “seeker” were to exist, why wouldn’t we expect God to reveal the gospel message to him or her—whether through a missionary or a dream—just as he did to Cornelius? Second, and more importantly, because if ever there was a candidate for salvation through general revelation, surely it would’ve been Cornelius! He was as devout and God-fearing as possible given the “light” he’d received. But as the chapter unfolds, it becomes clear that even extraordinary religious sincerity isn’t enough. It was necessary for Peter to leave his home and travel more than 30 miles to deliver a message without which, Scripture suggests, even the most spiritually responsive person in the world cannot be saved.
Why Does this Matter?
So what happens to those who never hear the gospel? The question isn’t some vague theological abstraction; it’s practically relevant and eternally serious. Your view of missions, for example—in terms of both its nature and its urgency—will be directly shaped by your view of the man on the island’s fate. (It’s also worth asking, if divine condemnation results from rejecting Christ, why love wouldn’t compel us to withhold him from the unevangelized.)
Still, one may wonder, isn’t exclusivism unfair? Though it may feel that way at times, in the final analysis we must trust the wisdom of an unfathomably good and merciful God. Perhaps this answer sounds like a cop-out, but it’s not. It’s the posture of humility. After all, it is not our place to subject the Creator to our finite and fallen notions of fairness. Our task is to take him at his word and trust his heart. His ways are higher and different than ours (Isaiah 55:8–9). He needs no counselor, for he is good and does good (Psalms 119/118:68; Romans 11:34). The Judge of all the earth will do right (Genesis 18:25). And above all, we must stare at Calvary, the summit of wisdom and the intersection of justice and love. There, on a Roman tree, the Judge of all the earth hung in the place of rebels who wanted nothing to do with him.