The doctrine I believe is taught in Scripture is known as particularism or exclusivism or restrictivism. Advocates of this view insist that all are lost apart from a conscious and volitional embrace of Jesus as personal Lord and Savior. Salvation is available only to those who by faith in Jesus have become confessing Christians.
That there is no salvation apart from a conscious faith in Jesus Christ is considered by many to be scandalous. Here are ten things to remember about this critically important issue.
(1) The doctrine I believe is taught in Scripture is known as particularism or exclusivism or restrictivism. Advocates of this view insist that all are lost apart from a conscious and volitional embrace of Jesus as personal Lord and Savior. Salvation is available only to those who by faith in Jesus have become confessing Christians. It should be noted, however, that most particularists believe in the salvation of those dying in infancy.
(2) Advocates of inclusivism argue that whereas Jesus is ontologically necessary for salvation, he is not epistemologically necessary. In other words, salvation is only a possibility because of what Jesus has done in his life, death, and resurrection. Apart from what he did, all would be consigned to eternal death. However, one need not consciously confess faith in the name of Jesus to be saved. Salvation is available to those who have never heard the name “Jesus” if they respond positively in faith to the revelation God has made of himself in nature and conscience.
(3) Pluralists contend that there are many ways or paths to salvation, one of which is personal faith in the personal Jesus. Others, however, can be saved by other saviors, whether Buddha, Mohammed, etc. The center of the universe and the object of knowledge and faith is “God”, not Jesus. Jesus (or Christianity) is like the earth, one planet among many that orbits the sun (God). Salvation is in the sun, not in any one of the planets to the exclusion of any other. In other words, notes John Hick, “the Copernican Revolution in astronomy recognized that the sun is at the center of the solar system and that our earth is only one of the planets revolving around it. A comparable revolution in theology acknowledges that the ultimate reality we call God is central, with Christianity as one of the worlds of faith revolving around that divine center” (“A Pluralist View,” 82-83).
(4) Many people have argued that the existence of the multitude of non-Christian religions in the world is evidence that people are always sincerely seeking after God, but in their own unique way. Will not God acknowledge this “seeking” and save them based on that alone, apart from conscious faith in the name and gospel of Jesus? The best answer to this question is found in Romans 1:18-25.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 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. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Rom. 1:18-25).
Most evangelicals have interpreted Romans 1 not in terms of man’s gradual evolution up the ladder of spiritual enlightenment, but of his grievous devolution into the depths of sin and rebellion. This is not an ascent but a descent, not progression but regression. In other words, non-Christian religions are the result of a deliberate denial of God and a refusal to glorify and honor him as God. Idolatry and non-Christian religions are not signs that men are searching for the truth, but evidence that they do not want it. R. C. Sproul is representative of this perspective when he writes:
“According to Paul, religion is not the fruit of a zealous pursuit of God, but the result of a passionate flight from God. The glory of God is exchanged for an idol. The idol stands as a monument not to religious fervor but to the flight of man from his initial encounter with the glory of God” (The Psychology of Atheism, 69).