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Saturday, September 12, 2009

What kind of revelation can save?

Not long ago, I saw a video of Robert Schuler interviewing Billy Graham on “The Hour of Power.” In that interview, Graham said, “I believe that everyone who loves Christ or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are members of the body of Christ.” He went on to say that people in the Buddhist world, the Muslim world, the Christian world and the unbelieving world are members of the body of Christ because they have been called by God. “They may not even know the name of Jesus. But they know in their heart that they need something they don’t have and they have turned to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved. They are going to be with us in heaven.”

Of course, Schuller was delighted to hear this and said, “So there is a wideness in God’s mercy?” Billy Graham responded, “There is. There definitely is.”

This brings up a very important issue: what knowledge is necessary in order to be saved? Is any revelation sufficient regardless of one’s exposure to biblical truth? Is it possible to be saved without having specific knowledge of Jesus Christ? Do Muslims, Buddhists, and members of other non-Christian religions go to heaven simply because they have searched for truth in some way?

We’ve heard these kinds of universal statements from some in the more liberal denominations and the emerging church movement. We expect it from them. But to hear Billy Graham saying that it is not necessary to hear the gospel in order to be saved is quite disturbing.

I’m going to spend at least a couple of posts exploring both sides of this issue because it is an important question. It affects our view of God, our view of Scripture, our view of Truth, our view of salvation, and most importantly, our view of Jesus Christ. This is one case where poor theology can lead to disastrous consequences.

The two main views regarding this issue are the inclusivist view and the exclusivist view.

Inclusivists hold that general revelation does indeed provide, by itself, salvific truth - truth sufficient to save. General revelation is the revelation provided in the creation itself. We find an excellent description of this in Romans 1:19-20: For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

So general revelation excludes what is called special revelation, found in Scripture.

Inclusivists says that general revelation is salvific because the God who saves is its source. “All revelation is saving revelation. The knowledge of God is always saving knowledge.”[1] Those who enter a faith relationship with God are saved, while those who reject the truth delivered through general revelation are eternally and justly condemned. Thus, salvation has been available to all men in every part of the globe in every era of history.[2]

This means that those of other faiths can be saved because they are holding on to whatever revelation they have been given. Whether they believe His name is Allah, or that He exists in the form of thousands of Hindu gods, they are reaching for the true God, and God graciously accommodates the ignorance they have about Him due to the limited revelation they have witnessed.

This does not mean that inclusivists believe that Christ is not necessary for salvation. They believe that the work of Christ is necessary, but not the knowledge of Christ. In other words, all men are saved through the work of Christ, but not all men are aware of the work of Christ. Inclusivism also does not hold that the knowledge of God gained through general revelation is attained by human reasoning. Romans 1:19 says, That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. So, the knowledge of general revelation is given by God to men by which He draws them to salvation.[3]

A main theme of inclusivism is the inconceivability of a God whose central characteristic is love damning people to hell without ever giving them a chance to be saved. “It is possible to say that this general revelation of God has only a negative function that leaves man without excuse. . . But what kind of God is he who gives man enough knowledge to damn him but not enough to save him?”[4] They believe that if God condemns men who through no fault of their own have never heard of Jesus Christ, He cannot be a God who truly desires for all men to be saved. Inclusivists hold that this view provides the most accurate and biblically consistent depiction of how God relates to the unevangelized.

But is this biblical? I encourage you to search the Scriptures and see if it is so that someone can be saved without a knowledge of Jesus Christ and His gospel.

Next time I’ll present the exclusivist view and deliver what I believe to be the clear biblical teaching on this issue.

[1] Alan Richardson, Christian Apologetics (London: SCM Press, 1947), 127.

[2]John Sanders, No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992), 215.

[3]Ibid., 234.

[4]Dale Moody, The Word of Truth (Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 1967), 59.

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