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James Sennett is the Associate Professor of Philosophy at Brenau Univeristy in Gainesville, GA. Here is an abstract I wrote summarizing his arguments for inclusivism in his article “Bare Bones Inclusivism and the Implications of Romans 1:20”:
Concerning salvation, Sennett knows that the common position in evangelicalism is the exclusivity of Christianity; and in contrast, in Mainline Protestant and Catholic circles the inclusivity of Christianity has gained ground. However, in evangelical circles, inclusivism has been virtually rejected by all. Sennett hopes to change this reality with a new argument for inclusivism he calls “bare bones inclusivism.”
Bare bones inclusivism embraces all and only the clear implications of this statement: while all salvation is through Jesus, it is sometimes available outside the church or without overt acceptance of Jesus. First, bare bones inclusivism does not seek to answer whether or not other religions reveal truth or provide God’s grace. Second, bare bones inclusivism allows for a clear distinction between special revelation and general revelation. Finally bare bones inclusivism is silent concerning who is and who is not saved through Christ beyond Christianity: 1) humans that have never heard the good news and 2) humans that have heard but have heard inadequately.
Bare bones inclusivism is proven based on a faithful understanding of the assumption Paul makes in Romans 1:20. Condemning the unevangelized is only just if they have not responded correctly to general revelation. No one is condemned unjustifiably in Scripture. Therefore, since some of the unevangelized have responded correctly to general revelation, some of the unevangelized are saved; and since anyone who is saved is saved through Jesus Christ alone, bare bones inclusivism must be true.
There are two important objections that have been raised against bare bones inclusivism: 1) bare bones inclusivism argues for works salvation and 2) bare bones inclusivism is founded on an inaccurate assumption concerning Romans 1-3. The charge of works salvation is due to the unevangelized being saved by their obedience to general revelation instead of due to faith in Christ. The New Testament however quite frequently connects faith and obedience (James 2:14-26; Romans 8:1-17; Hebrews 11 passim). The unevangelized that submit to general revelation also necessarily submit to the God of general revelation by faith alone. So, it is accurate to argue that the unevangelized are saved by faith as much as the Old Testament saints were saved by faith. Concerning the charge that Romans 1-3 argues that no Jew or Gentile has properly responded to God’s general or special revelation, the inclusivist agrees that apart from the sacrifice of Jesus, there is no salvation. Just as the Old Testament saints were saved in spite of their inability to name the name of Jesus and in spite of the fact that all have sinned, the unevangelized may be saved by Jesus even though they are sinners that do not know Jesus.
Finally, the argument in favor of bare bones inclusivism is overtly philosophical and scripturally speaking, implicitly exegetical and theological. The two main evangelical objections mentioned above have hopefully been laid to rest. Thus, it is time for evangelicals to embrace inclusivism, at least at the bare bones level.
My main concern with Sennett’s article is that he assumes that some of the unevangelized have submitted to general revelation in a satisfactory manner. Who are these people that have submitted to general revelation in a satisfactory manner? In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul lays out the proof for those that have not submitted to general revelation adequately: 21For 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. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (Rom. 1:21-23). What unevangelized person has not worshipped some other false god or has not said, “there is no God?” Where is the unevangelized person that has not believed some form of false “special” revelation?
Sennett also points to the Old Testament saints as proof for salvation coming apart from knowing Christ’s name. I agree that the OT saints did not know Jesus’ name, but they did know Jesus Christ. The gospel was first preached in Genesis 3:15; and the entire Old Testament serves to point to the coming Christ. The coming Seed of Abraham would crush the serpent’s head; thus saving the woman (Gen. 3:15). Furthermore, the OT saints were responding to special revelation, not merely general revelation.
I understand Sennett’s desire for inclusivism to be true. I think his desire is shared by all evangelicals, at least as it relates to children. I even believe that all children are saved somehow through the finished work of Christ alone even though they are incapable of possessing faith in Him; however, this does not mean that we can eliminate the rest of what Scripture says concerning those that are able to have faith in Christ but yet, place their faith in someone or something else. Children are different because even God cannot give them saving faith unless he matures their brains instantly. The unevangelized however are capable of faith, yet they willfully choose to trust in someone or something else (Rom.1:21-23).
Source: Sennett, James F. “Bare Bones Inclusivism and the Implications of Romans 1:20.” EQ 77.4 (2005), 309-319.
What are your thoughts?