The second of the two strongest objections to the exclusivist view is the seeming contradiction between God’s universal salvific will, as cited in 1 Tim 2:4, and the idea of limited access to salvation. How can God truly desire the salvation of all people and yet only give a select few the opportunity to obtain salvation? Says John Hick:
The implication is that the large majority of the human race thus far have, through no fault of their own, been consigned to eternal perdition . . . This would not be the work of a God of limitless and universal love, who values all human beings equally, but of an arbitrary cosmic tyrant, more fit to be reviled as the devil than to be worshiped as God.
The biggest flaw in this objection lies in the phrase “through no fault of their own.” It must be remembered that man’s condemnation is precisely his own fault. This idea presupposes both an entitlement to grace and the injustice of an eternal hell. As was argued earlier, Romans 1:16-32 makes it clear that man is condemned because of his own sin. It is just that man should pay for his sins. It is just that all men should pay for their sins. God would not be any less loving or any less righteous if He condemned all and saved none. Man deserves hell. God does not owe grace to anyone. God does not owe salvation to anyone. God does not owe the gospel to anyone. If He did, it would cease to be grace. Salvation would be merited, not given.
Another flaw in this objection is the assumption that God’s desire that all people be saved in 1 Tim 2:4 is God’s sovereign will. God’s desire that all people should be saved is more properly understood to be His moral will. (For a more detailed treatment of 1 Tim 2:4 start here.) If it was God’s sovereign will that all people be saved, they would invariably be so since God’s sovereign plan cannot be thwarted. This of course would lead to universal salvation, an impossibility, biblically speaking.
It should be noted that this line of thinking is what has led some to actually embrace the concept of universal salvation. It is argued that if God is both loving and sovereign, He will save all people. But it is a dangerous thing for us to conjecture what God would or would not do based on our own understanding of Him. The Bible teaches that God is both loving and sovereign, and yet it also affirms that hell is real and there are people who will go there.
God’s own high view of the gospel and the centrality of His Son in that gospel precludes the notion that anyone could be saved outside of a specific knowledge of Christ. God has given us the gospel and has told us that this is how He saves people (John 1:12-13, 3:18, 36, 14:6; Acts 4:12; Rom 1:16, 10:9, 17).
What effect should this have on us? It should drive us to share the gospel! If the gospel is the only way that men can be saved, it becomes all the more imperative that we share it boldly. Conversely, if the inclusivists are right and God grades on a curve, accepting any religious effort as a potentially saving action, then the opposite is true: be quiet and bring all the missionaries home! Do not speak the name of Jesus. Stop sharing the gospel because if they reject it, they’ll go to hell, whereas if they never hear the gospel, God may make a special exception for them and let them in anyway. Of course, such an idea is craziness if we allow the Bible to shape our theology.
You and I hold in our possession the only power of God for salvation. The Great Commission is clear: possession of the gospel comes with the responsibility to share and make disciples of all nations – including this one (Matt 28:19-20). Let’s pray for boldness and opportunity, knowing that God has chosen the gospel message to save men.
John Hick et al., Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. Ed. Stanley N. Gundry, Dennis L. Okholm, and Timothy R. Phillips (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 250.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 332.
John Sanders, No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992), 89.