A Critical Look at Inclusivism

"For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe." (Deuteronomy 10:17)

"Opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality," (Acts 10:34).

"But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)--well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me." (Galatians 2:6)

Many a thinking Christian has, as one point or another, asked the question, "How does God judge those who, since Christ, have not heard the Gospel?" Though the Bible is far from silent on this matter, it offers what seem to many as irreconcilable viewpoints. Consider the following excerpt from chapter 18 of Moreau, Corwin, and McGee's Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey for the basic theology of the judgment of those who have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ (305-6).
Paul, in Romans 1-3, also addresses issues of those who adhere to other religions. There he notes that people who have not heard of Christ are judged differently from those who have (2:6-15). However, his blanket condemnation of all people because they fail to live up to the light that they have (1:18-32; 3:19-20) does not leave much 'wiggle room' for tose who teach that non-Christians who are sincere believers in their own religions can be saved (see Kane 1978b, 133-37).

Now this is, without a doubt, an accurate representation of part of the biblical perspective, but unfortunately, it does not resolve the conflict quite so quickly. For the aforementioned scriptures state that "God shows no partiality". But if God does not show partiality, then what do we call it when God chooses the Gospel as the exclusive means of imparting the Holy Spirit, which is the sole means of regeneration, and only allows a certain percentage of people to hear the Gospel?

According to Reformed theology, the impartation of the Holy Spirit is a prerequisite to regeneration. That is, the Holy Spirit is necessary to enable the previously hardened heart and darkened mind to respond in faith to the truth of the Gospel. Likewise, God chooses to impart the Spirit to some, and to withold Him from others. Is this, or is it not showing favoritism, or, partiality? This depends on the biblical definition of partiality. While the lexical constructions in Deut. 10, Acts 10, and Gal. 2 all vary somewhat from one another, each of them is built around the word prosopon ("face"), and as such, showing partiality is literally "accepting face", or "regarding the external circumstances of a man, [as in] his rank, wealth, etc. as opposed to his real intrinsic character" (Lightfoot, 108).

Through this, we can see that the biblical concept of showing partiality is that God does not favor certain individuals or peoples because of anything they have inherited or accomplished in and of themselves. Rather, He chooses sovereignly. His election is based on nothing whatsoever except His "good, pleasing, and perfect will" which is hidden from us. So does God show partiality? Certainly not. Does He play favorites? According to the Reformed perspective, absolutely.

Unfortunately, this does not wrap things up in a neat little bow for those who, like myself at times, in their flesh tend to see this as treacherously unfair. All are condemned because they have not responded flawlessly to the measure of revelation which has been awarded them. Those who do respond are only capable of doing so by means of the Spirit. And the Spirit is given only through the Word of God, the 'preaching' of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, in all practicality, those who have not received the Word of God have not had opportunity whatsoever to receive the Spirit, and thus to respond in faith to the Gospel unto salvation.

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves, "So what?" Certainly this sickens some of us due to the fact that we "see through the glass but darkly" and thus cannot reconcile a loving and merciful God who would play favorites at the expense of the eternal torment of billions. But has He not done this throughout history? Does the Old Testament not resound with the truth that God has chosen a particular people for Himself at the demise of all others? Indeed, compared to God's people in OT times, the Christian phenomenon is truly breathtaking. Now, instead of a few hundred thousand chosen ones, through Christ, God's children adopted since Christ number in the billions! The glorious mystery we learn of in Colossians 1:27 is "Christ in you (Gentiles), the hope of glory"! God's favor has spread exponentially to people of all nations, tribes, and tongues. Praise be to God!
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A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin, Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004.

J. B. Lightfoot. Saint Paul's Epistle to the Galatians. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962 3rd reprint ed.

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