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This essay will take an analytical look at the pseudo-theology of Inclusivism, as described by Ronald H. Nash, in his book, Is Jesus the Only Savior? Nash presents the two major axioms of Inclusivism as: 1) “The Particularity Axiom” focuses on Jesus Christ as the only mediator of salvation. 2) “The Universality Axiom” expresses the inclusivist’s “belief that God must make salvation available to all human beings, including everyone who lived before Christ outside the sphere of Jewish influence and everyone since Christ who has lived without hearing about the gospel” (Nash, 106). Without a clear understanding of these inclusivist axioms, it would be difficult for the reader to understand Nash’s arguments against inclusivism and the subsequent argument for Christian exclusivism.
Nash approaches the subject of inclusivism by largely dealing with the works of inclusivists, John Sanders and Clark Pinnock. Nash maintains a strong Christian exclusivist’s position on the subject of salvation. With the use of a strong scriptural hermeneutic, sound reason, and a literal interpretation of the Scriptures; Nash effectively dismantles the theories of the proponents of inclusivism and he properly elevates Christian exclusivism to its rightful place in Christian thinking. Although, there are sections in the book where his Calvinism bears heavily upon his overall assessment; Nash’s major conclusions are solid in rendering the theory of inclusivism absurd.
Amazingly, Sanders and Pinnock label themselves as Evangelical Inclusivists. Yet, they insist that large numbers of un-evangelized people will be saved. Nash points out that many evangelicals “feel” that way, even if they don’t believe the Scripture necessarily teaches such a position. “Inclusivism has become an enormously influential position among evangelicals at the end of the 20th century” (Nash, 175). He quotes Douglas Geivette’s appropriate evaluation of those who are swayed by their feelings more than by Scripture: “Capitulation must come pretty easily when sentiment is a fundamental control on one’s hermeneutics” (Nash, 172). The trend seems apparent; hermeneutical integrity is being replaced by a sentimentality towards a Christ-less majority.
Because of this breakdown in “staying true to the Word” by so many evangelicals; Inclusivism has become a dangerously relevant issue. It has also become an issue among Catholicism. “Indeed, a movement towards inclusivism is one of the major legacies of Vatican Council II (1962-65), which issued a statement declaring that ‘they also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or his church, yet sincerely seek God, and moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do his will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience’” (Nash, 109). The big thinking of German theologian, Karl Rahner is, in large part, responsible for this theological backsliding presently held by the Catholic Church. His ramblings do not imply that Christ is not the only Savior; but, that Christ will save a member of an extra-Christian religion if they are truly devout. Nash points out that Rahner believes these adherents to extra-Christian religions have, in some way, already been touched by Christ; thereby making them “anonymous Christians” (Nash, 110). This belief may work for Rahner but it doesn’t seem to work for the members of traditions like Islam and Hinduism. They definitely do not think themselves to be anonymous Christians.
Clark Pinnock doesn’t seem to follow this notion of anonymous Christians either (according to Nash). He claims that Rahner’s notions “sanctify non-Christian religions as vehicles of salvation in the lives of those who call out to God from within paganism” (Nash, 112). Inclusivism is not willing to suggest that non-Christian religions are sufficient for salvation (that would be Pluralism). What they are willing to suggest is, “what God really cares about is faith and not theology, trust and not orthodoxy” (Nash, 113). In essence, the jihadist could be sincerely seeking God; therefore, his heart is in the right place. Nash counters by saying, “even as we grant this, the Bible does not speak of people whose quest for the Ultimate leads them to seek after false gods (Nash, 113).
Still a little fuzzy on what inclusivists actually believe?
The typical argument of evangelicals is that two things are required for saving faith: (1) faith must be directed towards the right object, and (2) the proper object of faith must be approached with certain subjective attitudes, including sincerity and genuine commitment. (Nash, 113).
Inclusivism seems to suggest that what is really necessary is the subjective attitude and sincere commitment, and that it does not matter if the object of their faith is a false god. This smacks of pluralism and sounds a lot like some sort of universalism. Yet inclusivists say “no”. They still insist that universalism lacks biblical support and that universalism cannot do justice to the biblical teaching of a hell. “Inclusivists also disagree with pluralist, who teach that non-Christian religions offer genuine salvation. If non-Christians are saved, inclusivists insist they can only be saved on the basis of the person the work of Jesus Christ, the only Savior.
The crux of Inclusivism’s arguments ultimately leads to its undoing. Proponents of this philosophy believe that “general revelation” is sufficient to bring people to salvation. Nash reminds the reader that general revelation “is revelation that God makes available to all human beings” (Nash, 118). This “general revelation” or knowledge is said to have worked condemnation in humanity, because they held the evident truth of general revelation in unbelief. Scripture testifies that humankind knows the invisible God by the things He created; moreover, “general revelation also gives humans general moral understanding so that certain kinds of conduct are known to be wrong” (Nash, 118). Concerning general revelation, Scripture expressly states, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Romans 1:18,19); and again, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21). And as Nash points out “[A]ll have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23)”. Nash goes on to solidify his position by emphasizing that Romans 1-3 clearly dismiss the idea that followers of non-Christian religions can find salvation through general revelation. Biblical evidence suggests the extreme opposite; according to Bruce Demarest, general revelation serves only to condemn man, not to save him. (Nash, 120).
The inclusivist builds a strawman by arguing, the Jews have special revelation and that none of them seek God either; so therefore it appears that no matter what sort of relation we have, all people are damned to hell. Clearly, this is misleading because not all Jews rejected special revelation. All of the believers in Acts 2 were Jews as were the 3000 converts who responded to Christ at Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost. On this fact alone, the strawman is torn to bits. To be clear, Sanders presents this argument, not to dismiss general revelation; but, to reinforce his argument that general revelation must be a sufficient vehicle leading to salvation for all mankind. However, “the inclusivist’s view of general revelation is assumed without biblical warrant and is then used to compromise other important biblical teachings such as Paul’s identification of Christ’s death and resurrection as an essential component of the gospel” (Nash, 122).
Inclusivist’s like Sanders believe that Christian and non-Christian believers will be in heaven. He says that non-Christian believers are those that believe in God and Christians are those who place their faith in the special revelation of the work and person of Jesus Christ. This necessarily draws the conclusion that Jesus need not be the direct object of one’s faith. He says, “People can receive the gift of salvation without knowing the giver or the precious nature of the gift”; further, “God will accept in his kingdom those who repent and trust him even if they know nothing of Jesus” (Nash, 123). According to Pinnock, people are saved by the “faith principle”. He uses Hebrews 11:6 as the proof text for his claim. He states, “according to the Bible, people are saved by faith, not by the content of their theology” (Nash, 123). This begs the question; does not faith require an object? Is not that object Jesus Christ, who is revealed through special revelation? Doesn’t this line of reasoning contradict the inclusivist’s particularity axiom? How does an object-less faith agree to the irreducible inclusivist claim that Jesus is the only mediator between God and man? Although the inclusivist has no feasible rebuttal for such questions; he still insists a faith which is deficient in theological content can be salvific. This way of thinking flies in the face of Scripture and denies its essential nature. Nash comments, “This kind of faith lacks contact with biblical faith and leads to severely anti-biblical consequences “ (Nash, 129).
Nash sites Pinnock as summarizing the most important theological argument for the inclusivist, “If God really loves the whole world and desires everyone to be saved, it follows logically that everyone must have access to salvation” (Nash, 130). In essence, this makes God obligated to man. At this point Nash exhibits his hyper-Calvinistic dogma. He argues for limited atonement, and further implies all other evangelicals who do not hold to this doctrine are Armenians who deny God’s perfect knowledge of future human actions. Nash rightly refutes Pinnock’s assertion that salvation is ultimately up to the person. However, Nash seems to reject that, “salvation is a consequence of humans participating with God. God’s part was providing a Savior; humans’ part involves the use of free will to accept what God has done” (Nash, 132). Although, it is a mystery that God can be sovereign and man has free will to accept or reject God’s offering of salvation; it is not obligatory for God to reveal his salvific work to every person, in every era, and every geographical location. In this case Nash allows his Reformed theology (which is highly contested) to render his argument less palatable.
“Exclusivists and evangelical inclusivists affirm their commitment to the authority of Scripture” (Nash, 137). Yet, interpretation differs on many of the scriptural texts that inclusivists cite in support of inclusivism. One such Scripture reference is the story of Cornelius in Acts 10. The specific reference in this chapter is verse 34 and 35: “then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how to it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.’” Sanders says, “Cornelius was already a saved believer before Peter arrived but he was not a Christian believer” (Nash, 139). This is to imply that anyone who fears a supreme being and does what is right will be accepted by God. Nash counters with, “while fearing God and doing what is right are important elements of the Christian commitment, they do not exhaust what it means to be a saved believer” (Nash, 139). Nash points out that Cornelius was a God-fearer, and not at all different from the Jews who needed to come to an understanding that Jesus was the Messiah who affected salvation. Peter statement in verse 35 is merely a declaration of realization that God was willing to save the “whosoever” of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews. Pinnock hails Cornelius as a “pagan saint” because of his belief in God before he became a Christian. This seems to be a far-reaching claim and fails miserably for the inclusivist’s case. Inclusivists also suggest that Paul’s sermon in Athens, “acknowledges the authenticity of the worship of the men of Athens at the altar to an unknown God” (Nash, 141). Yet, Nash notes that Paul preached Jesus crucified and resurrected in that Mars Hill address. The biblical text explicitly suggests that God would no longer wink at their ignorance, and that all men would be judged because of their sin. Paul’s definitive claim was that all men must trust in Jesus and repent.
Nash offers the overwhelming biblical support for exclusivism, citing several major New Testament texts that suggest salvation is found in none other than Jesus Christ. Pinnock answers these Scriptures by denying them their exclusive properties.
“Pinnock agrees that Jesus is doing something unique and wonderful for the world, but he denies that this is necessarily God’s exclusive way.” In Pinnock’s own words, “but the text does not exclude from eternal salvation the vast majority of people who have ever lived on the earth” (Nash, 146). This inclusivist speculation grows more and more bizarre as one looks at the whole of Scripture.
Nash points to John 14:6 where Jesus declares, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The question becomes, “what good is a way and the truth and a life that people know nothing about? The words ‘no one comes to the father except through me’ are hardly compatible with inclusivist statements” (Nash, 148).
Near the closing of the book, Nash calls in to question Pinnock’s claim to be an inclusivist. He claims Pinnock supports postmortem evangelism. He effectively disassembles Pinnock’s inclusivism with this blow. Supporters of postmortem evangelism are actually exclusivists. This is true because they believe it is absolutely necessary for a person to make a conscious decision of faith in Jesus Christ (even if it’s after death) in order to be saved. If Pinnock is a supporter of postmortem evangelism, then his claim to be an inclusivist is fraudulent. It would seem that Pinnock and other so-called inclusivist must have their way, at any expense (even at the expense of biblical integrity).
Nash concludes his book with a summary chapter: “WHY I AM NOT AN INCLUSIVIST” (Nash, 163-175). He rightly concludes that inclusivism doesn’t square with Scripture; but, it makes people feel better. Citing J. I. Packer, “inclusivist are more influenced by the ‘American idea of fairness’ than by anything they have learned from Scripture” (Nash, 164).
Nash decries the effect that inclusivism has had on the psychology of missions. He shows that missions have become more ecumenical and less evangelical. In essence, missions as a whole, has become less evangelistic in their practice; while remaining evangelistic in their mission statements. It would seem that inclusivism has found its way (pragmatically) into the mission field. Nash has well said, “Throughout this book I have been arguing that ideas have consequences. In most of it I have tried to show the theoretical or theological consequences of inclusivist ideas. But it is also important to show that inclusivist ideas have practical consequences as well” (Nash, 168). These practical consequences ultimately bleed over into what Pinnock has said “even the atheist who, though rejecting God (as he understands God), responds positively to him implicitly by acts of love shown to the neighbor” (Nash, 170). One might be apt to recall the Words of God found in the Prophet Isaiah, “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations!” (Isaiah 14:12).
“Weakened the nations” indeed! Inclusivism demands Jesus is the only mediator of salvation. But it also demands that one need not have knowledge of Jesus or his work to be saved. This pseudo–theology is damnable heresy. The label “Christian Inclusivist” is an oxymoron. Christianity is exclusive. Chapter 3 of the gospel of John reveals a narrative between Jesus and Nicodemus, where Jesus claims, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In verse 18 of the same chapter (the same conversation), “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (3:18). The inclusivist must answer these truth claims of the Savior. They affirm the authority of Scripture; but, what of the exclusive nature of these claims? The evidence Nash presents, suggests that inclusivism has no choice but to reject these words of Christ. One can only be born again by the work of the Holy Spirit through faith in the name of the only begotten son of God (as evidenced by Scripture).
Scripture also claims that condemnation is the condition that precludes faith in Jesus Christ. The exact words are, “he who does not believe has been judged already”. This clearly indicates that judgment/condemnation is an unalterable reality for every human being. Because, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23); condemnation is the just disposition of holy God. Jesus explicitly reveals the remedy, “He who believes in Him is not judged.” The “Him” is none other than Jesus Christ. “For “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED. How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:13,14). The answer is simple, they can’t.
Christianity suffers with the ideologies of flawed thinkers. It is a good thing to be emotionally stirred by the idea of some lost person spending eternity separated from God. But it is a bad thing to bend one’s theology to such a degree that the lost person gets to heaven without knowing the Master. Inclusivism is a demonic play on the emotions, with far-reaching consequences. Its effects are global. Mission organizations are losing funding and recalling many missionaries from the field. Community outreaches have lost their evangelistic edge. The church, as a whole, has lost its palette for the preaching of the cross. All in all, inclusivism has eroded the essential belief in the person and work of Christ while trying to maintain it; inclusivity has destroyed the particularity axiom it claims to preserve.
Nash, Ronald H. Is Jesus the Only Savior? Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994.
New American Standard Bible:1995. LaHabra: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.
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To present Jesus of Nazareth as, none other than the YHWH (יהוה, YHWH) of Old Testament Scripture is the sole purpose of this writing. The author of the Gospel of John recounts moments in the earthly ministry of Jesus where He identified Himself as YHWH. In the LXX or Septuagint (translation of the Hebrew Scripture into Koine Greek) the verb construction equivalent to the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, YHWH is ἐγώ εἰμί (egō eimi). It is precisely Jesus’s usage of egō eimi that will be considered here, for the expressed purpose of identifying Jesus as no less than the God revealed in Scripture.
The construction of the Hebrew is not easy to discern. אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה is a form of “to be”. It has the sense of “I am” and “come to be”, at the same time. Yet the clearest usage of the utterance is presented within the context of Moses and the Burning Bush narrative of Exodus 3. Here it is used in this manner: “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’ ” (Exodus 3:14, NASB). “The Septuagint… renders the opening of the phrase in Exod 3:14 as ἐγώ εἰμί (egō eimi), which amounts to a title for God elsewhere in the Old Testament (e.g., Isa 43:10, 25; 45:18; 46:4; 51:12; 52:6)” (Miller 2015).
“When God would make His name known to mankind He could find no better word than ‘I AM.’ When He speaks in the first person He says, ‘I AM’; when we speak of Him we say, ‘He is’; when we speak to Him we say, ‘Thou art.’ Everyone and everything else measures from that fixed point. ‘I am that I am,’ says God, ‘I change not’” (A.W. Tozer ).
This could be interpreted to be prophetic, as if to say: “I AM and I AM to be”. “Grammatically, the imperfect form usually suggests a future or uncompleted state. Thus, the phrase can also be translated “I will be who I will be” (Miller 2015).Does this identification of אֱלֹהִים (Elohim) – GOD, indeed offer a prophetic glimpse forward to the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity? One thing is indisputable: God said that He is to be known by the name “I AM”. Therefore, I AM sent Moses to Egypt; I AM delivered the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt: I AM gave the Law to Moses; I AM delivered Israel into the Land of Promise; and it is IAM that promised Messiah.
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” John 8:58
Contextually, it all began on the Feast of Booths. During the midst of the feast, Jesus cried out in the temple, “You both know Me and know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know. I know Him, because I am from Him, and He sent Me” (John 7:28-29). Jesus clearly declared that the people of the feast knew exactly who He revealed Himself to be, and from Whom He had come. He left them with no way out of this blatant confrontation with His Messiahship. In southern terms; He essentially said, “You know good and well that I am God; you just simply don’t know God.” He argues that the reason that they don’t readily accept Him as come from God, is because they really do not know God. As a result of these statements; some believed in Him while others wanted Him dead. (Towns, 73) The confusion of the gathered crowds lead to a failed arrest of Jesus by the temple police and a few confrontations with the “Jews” (leaders of Jewish religious life).
With a divided multitude and a furious Jewish leadership; the context of the immediate passage is to be understood. Look now at the “crowning moment” (for our purposes); the grand discovery of Christ’s deity; the ageless reference to I AM. Probably four or five days after His mid-feast declaration, the Jews come to confront Jesus for causing such disturbance among the festival crowd. (Remember: Jesus had already declared that He was the Source of “Living Water” (Jn.7:37-38) at the pouring out of the water ceremony, on the Great Day of the feast.) The Feast of Booths had effectively been ruined by this Teacher from Galilee. The Feast had ended and all of the pilgrims were preparing to return to their homes (or had already dispersed). “The stage has thus been set for the major confrontation between the Pharisees and Jesus” (Borchert, 294). Now was the time for the Jewish leadership to shut this Jesus down, with their superiority and political pressure.
The Jews issue the argument that Jesus is not a credible witness, due to the fact that He has no witnesses to support His assertions. Their argument was provoked further by another of Jesus’ significant egō eimi declarations, to the lingering crowd. “Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12). The sides are sharply drawn; the Jews reject Jesus outright, and Jesus knows who He is. Cosmically the absence of witnesses is an absurd objection as Dr Towns points out, “In the context of Jesus’ claim to be the light, the rules of evidence are irrelevant. One might as well argue that the sun is not shining if it is the only one declaring itself to be the sun” (Towns, 82). “Jesus picked up the theme of the wilderness wanderings and proclaimed for those who followed him that they would not walk in darkness but have the light of life” (Borchert, 296).
Furious over the implications, the Pharisees initiated a debate that resulted in Jesus declaring, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). It is worth noting that the dialogue between them had returned to the mid-feast “set-up” statement, “You both know Me and know where I am from; and I have not come of myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know. I know Him, because I am from Him, and He sent Me” (John 7:28-29). The implications are clearly honed in, by Jesus, to confront the Jewish leadership. Compare Jesus’ statements in this current dialogue with His original statement in 7:28-29. “Even if I testify about Myself, My testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from or where I am going” (John 8:14); “You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also” (John 8:19). It is evident here, that Jesus is again indicating that the Pharisees did not know the One who sent Him or where He came from. Jesus is effectively separating the leaders from the One who sent Him; thereby, drawing the conclusion that they are of a different stock than they suppose themselves to be.
Their argument ultimately came to a head with this identification of the unbelieving Jews. Their argument is made in vs 33, “We are Abraham’s descendants…”, and again, “They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father’” (John 8:39). Jesus responded by revealing the truth that they, in fact, were not of Abraham; because they did not do the deeds of Abraham. Nor were they the children of God (vs.42). He goes on to say, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father…” (John 8:44). “The Jews obviously realized that he was rendering a judgment on their status, and they countered …” (Borchert, 305). In response, this infuriated collection of religious elitist, call Jesus a Samaritan and a devil (vs.49).
The dark hearts of the Pharisees were further convinced that Jesus was possessed of a devil after He put forth, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death”(vs. 51). Here we come to the “meat of the matter”. They understand Abraham and the prophets to be dead. Their question to Him, was then, in essence, Who do you think you are? “They suspect that Jesus is guilty of blasphemy as they charged in 5:18 in making himself equal with God. Later they will make it specifically (10:33; 19:7). They set a trap for Jesus for this purpose” (Robertson, Jn 8:53).The answer to this condescending bunch was no less than, “I Am God.”
Dr. J Vernon McGee describes this moment:
“They hate Him so much that they want to kill Him. They have murder in their hearts, and He has nothing but love in His. He is going to go to the Cross to die for them. They are thinking of death for Him, but He is offering them life. ‘If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.’ He is offering them eternal life, spiritual life. My friend, this Jesus is more than a man” (McGee, 144-145).
Jesus responds to this venomous crowd with these direct words of truth. “It is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’; and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word. ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad’” (Jn 8:54–56).
“The clear answer to their question was thus, that Abraham acknowledged the superiority/priority of Jesus and not the reverse” (Borchert, 308). But how could Abraham “see” Jesus’ day? Was he seeing it from Heaven? No, the text declares “and he (Abraham) saw it? This speaks of an action of the past, right? “Jewish speculation is not a clear indication of what Jesus meant by his statement, but the Jews realized they needed to deal seriously with him. The question was, How could Abraham have seen him?” (Borchert, 308). The answer is coming soon from the Savior.
“How did Abraham ‘see’ our Lord’s day, that is, His life and ministry on earth? The same way he saw the future city: by faith (Heb. 11:10, 13–16). God did not give Abraham some special vision of our Lord’s life and ministry, but He did give him the spiritual perception to ‘see’ these future events” (Wiersbe, 323). Obviously, these “supposed” children of Abraham did not exhibit the same faith of Abraham; therefore, they were bankrupt of any spiritual perception to see the “express image” of YHWH standing before them. In contrast, John testifies, “We saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The contrast could not have been sharper. Those who believed in Jesus were the faithful and believing recipients of Divine Light; while, the men of religious standing were void of any Light and reflected the nature of the devil.
Jesus reveals his greatest light to these “sons” of Satan. “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). Here it is, the ultimate egō eimi! His statement found in John 8:58 can be translated, “Before Abraham came into being, I AM.” “Again, this was another affirmation of His divine sonship; and the Jewish leaders received it as such. He had once again made Himself equal with God (John 5:18), and this was the sin of blasphemy, worthy of death (Lev. 24:16)” (Wiersbe, 323). That is, unless this clear claim to deity; is, in fact true. It is true, and it effectively demonstrates that Jesus deliberately ascribes eternal divinity to Himself.
Dr. Towns points to the “double-truly(s)” of Jesus as always addressing the doubters and the unbelieving. The “before Abraham was” indicates a pre-existence of Jesus. The “I Am” reflects YHWH; just as it did in Moses’ day. Therefore, what the Jews heard from the divine lips of the Master was in effect, “You unbelieving doubters need to know that I am ever GOD; even before Abraham was formed in his mother’s womb. I am Abraham’s God.” The I Am is finite human vocabulary expressing the infinite. The “ever-eternally present” is indicated. This answers all metaphysical problems presented in the dialogue. Just as God ever “is”; so Jesus ever ‘is” I Am. Morris points out, “Jesus is saying that it is important that those addressed come to trust him as the I AM, which looks very much like a claim to share in the nature of deity. People must see Jesus as one with the Father and trust him as such” (Morris, 123).He further remarks, “He was a man, but he was more, and passages like these bring out the ‘more’” (Morris, 124).
This statement of the Master brings an abrupt end to the conversation. “The claim to have been in existence before Abraham must be either delusional or a statement that the speaker was sovereign over time” (Morris, 124). Evidence suggested to the Pharisees that Jesus was “at the least” making a definitive claim to be sovereign over time. They indicate their thoughts by picking up stones, in order to stone Him for blasphemy. Yet, Jesus slips away, into the crowd.
The great apologist and Christian author, C.S. Lewis brings this entire series of events to its intended climax.
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Lewis, 52-56).
As presented, Jesus stood up and cried out during one of the three most important feasts of the Jews; that each individual knew who He was and from Whom He had come (John 7:28-29). He rendered nearly the exact verdict upon the group of Pharisees. Taken as a whole; He announced the reason for their lack of understanding was due to their lack of spiritual knowledge of God. He repudiated the argument that these Jews were the spiritual sons of Abraham and God, based on the intent of their hearts. Essentially, He is saying, I am God and you are not. The altars are open. Come to Jesus. Accepting Him as deity was one of the two options placed on the table. The other option was to reject the YHWH.
The absolute use of egō eimi in 8:58 expresses the unity of the Father and the Son (Morris, 124). No other conclusion could be drawn. It surely was the conclusion of the Pharisees who attempted to stone Him. The Gospel writer, himself, claimed this to be the intended outcome for those who read it. “But these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
Borchert, Gerald L. John 1–11. Vol. 25A. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996.
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. London: Collins, 1952.
McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary: The Gospels (John1-10). Vol. 38. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991.
Miller, Jeffery E. The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2015.
Morris, Leon. Jesus is the Christ: studies in the theology of John. Grand Rapids: Wm. B.Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989.
New American Standard Bible:1995. LaHabra: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933.
Towns, Elmer . The Gospel of John: Believe and Live. Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2002.
Tozer, A.W., and E. Marilynne Foster. Tozer on the Holy Spirit:. Camp Hill: WingSpread, 2007.
Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Vol. 1. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1996.
This essay is an analysis of the theological philosophy of Pluralism as Presented by Dr. Ronald. (Presented to the School of Divinity at Liberty University, THEO 313-B05 – The Person and Work of Christ)
The weight of this essay will focus on Dr. Randall H Nash’s book, Is Jesus the Only Savior? Particularly, it will analyze the first six chapters; which treat the theological issue of pluralism as it opposes Christian exclusivism. Nash primarily uses the pluralism philosophy of Englishmen, John Hick, to explain the tenants of pluralism. Nash goes to great lengths to give a concise understanding of Hick’s philosophy, and how his pluralism undercuts and absolutely dismisses the authoritative nature of Scripture.
As a matter of fact, when studying the theoretical hodgepodge of the proponents of pluralism; one will immediately notice in their literature, a gross absence of Scripture is replaced with wild speculation, with no support for their positional arguments. Nash mentions that pluralism asserts “knowledge about God is simply declared impossible and replaced by personal encounter, religious feeling, trust, or obedience” (Nash, 12, 13). This amounts to no more than theological agnosticism, because of the unreliability of feeling and personal encounters. Obviously, this flies in the face of Christian exclusivists who take as their sole authority the revealed truth of the Bible. (Christian exclusivists believe the Bible teaches that Jesus is the only Savior, and that no one can be saved unless they know the information about Jesus, as contained in Scripture; then express a personal and real belief in the person and work of Jesus Christ.)
Hick enters the discussion in the first chapter. He is described as a man who had an “evangelical kind of Christian conversion” (Nash, 13) experience. At first, he held to a generally orthodox theology; however, he lacked a belief in divinely revealed truth. Ultimately, this orthodoxy was abandoned and gave way to a neo-liberal view of theology which paved the way for his pluralistic views. Hick’s pluralism is encapsulated in his following statement: “There is not merely one way but a plurality of ways to salvation or liberation… taking place in different ways within the context of all the great religious traditions” (Nash, 22).
In the second chapter, Nash begins to break open the mind behind Hick’s early pluralism to reveal the evolution of his radical shift from orthodoxy to a purely pluralistic position. “Hick proposed to replace the historic Christian view that Jesus is the center of the religious world with the claim that God is the center” (Nash, 31). Clearly, in the mind of a pluralist like Hick, this major shift made salvation possible without the central figure of Christianity (Jesus). For Hick, this opens the door to most all major religions; but reduces Jesus to little more than an insignificant historical figure. Hick would claim that his knowledge of devout and pious non-Christians gives validity to the notion that an all loving God would not exclude anyone from His salvation.
This logic appeals to the pluralist; but ignores the practical agnostic premise of pluralism itself (specific knowledge about God is deemed impossible). One immediately recognizes that the acknowledgment of and all loving God is an admission of specific knowledge about God. If God is a God of love; then he cannot be the God of a different religious system which does not ascribe love to God. Nash makes this clear on page 33. Nonetheless, Hick remains unshaken in his understanding that God is, in fact all-loving. The logical pluralist leap from this assumption is that such a God would not limit his salvation based on a mere geographic inaccessibility to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The self-defeating nature of this argument is evident in the following question: How can an unknowable God be known as a personal and loving God and at the same time remain unknowable? Moreover, it begs the question: How can one know that God is unknowable? If God were, in fact unknowable; how could anyone claim there to be a salvific intention in God? Nash concludes that Hick’s defeasible delusions are the effects of starting with a conclusion then seeking premises to support it.
For Hick to avoid this philosophical dilemma, Nash notices that he makes a bold shift from a God- centered theory to a salvation-centered model (Nash, 39). Hick even demands that one drop usage of the name God from religious language. He replaces it with Reality or the Real or Ultimate Reality. The “unknowable-ness” is the foundation for Hick’s evolution to a salvific centered pluralism. His reasoning is that the finite mind of man can only perceive the existence of Ultimate Reality through imagery and symbols that provide the mind with a direction toward perceiving the Ultimate Reality. This speaks to man’s awareness of the Real; but maintains an unknowable-ness. Yet for Hick, these symbols and images presented by the Real are found in various cultures and traditions. Thereby, making this unknowable Reality perceivable through the vehicle of various cultural traditions found throughout the world. Of course, from Hick’s standpoint of unknowable-ness; he can only present his claims of the Ultimate as confidently hypothetical.
It is incredible that Hick does not believe that all religions are adequate for salvation. He even goes so far as to propose a grading system for religions, in order to qualify them for salvific properties. Yet, not all sects or religions past this criteria. According to Hick, some religions are better than others and some are unworthy of support (Nash, 45). In the end though, Hick believes, “Ultimately and eventually, every member of the human race will be saved. This salvation will encompass even the worst moral monsters of history, including at of Hitler and the Nazis, Joseph Stalin and his secret police, and the entire gamut of serial killers, rapists, child molesters and the like” (Nash, 45). However, Hick has a very broad concept of what salvation entails. He maintains that all religions have the same fundamental theme of sudden or gradual change of the individual from an absorbing self-concern to a new centering in the supposedly unity-of-reality-and-value (Nash, 46). This is more easily explained as a move from self-centeredness to Reality-centeredness. But, if Hick is to maintain his Universalist understanding; there is no need to give thought to the supposed commonalities of the world’s major religions.
The problem with this supposedly commonality is, as Nash states, an oversimplification. Nash explains that the human predicament is understood differently in the various world religions; and is therefore, sought to be delivered from in undeniably different methods and beliefs. Nash’s quote of Harold Netland’s question sheds light on this predicament: “Is the human predicament brought on by sin against a righteous and holy God, or is it due to maya (illusion) and avidya (ignorance)?” (Nash, 48). Clearly, different understandings to the problem present differing means of reaching the goal of salvation/deliverance.
Chapter four deals with the apparent contradictory claims of the world religions and the response of the pluralist. Nash rightly sets forth the laws of logic, as they apply to reason and truth. He ultimately shows that a proposition cannot be both true and false at the same time. Hick and other pluralist attempt to avoid this crushing blow by denying that the truth claims of competing religions actually contradict each other. These pluralist attempt to prove that it only appears contradictory. They go so far as to say that the truth claims of the world’s great religions actually complement each other.
Nash gives a summary of pluralist, W. C. Smith’s idea that essentially, “We should stop concentrating on the idea of ‘religion’ and focus instead on external cumulative traditions and internal faith” (Nash, 59). Smith basically concludes that these truth claims can become true if one appropriates them personally. In other words, “If it works for you; then, good for you.” This makes the truthfulness of truth claims relative to the belief of the one who holds them. However, the strength of Nash’s argument is that if one person’s belief is, in fact, true; then it is not logically possible that someone who believes the opposite to be, at the same time correct. Yet pluralist’s hold to their idea “that the many different conceptions of the divine or religious ultimate… are all various culturally and historically conditioned images of the same single divine reality” (Nash, 66). For the one who knows something of the basic tenants of the world’s major religions; it is impossible to ignore the contradictory and competing conflicts found among them.
The logical question is: What do you do with the incarnate God, who died a sacrificial death to atone for the sins of all; but, only those who placed their faith in Him alone will be saved? For Hick, the answer is simple; the incarnation of Jesus is a myth. Nash indicates that Hick believes the early church transformed a sentimental declaration of the Lordship of Christ into a metaphysical claim that only Jesus can be Lord and Savior. In Hick’s way of thinking, Jesus is not actually the only Savior; but merely, the Savior of the individual believer. Hick treats the resurrection similarly, in that it was not fully an actual event, and that it makes no claims about Jesus’ divinity.
Nash shows that Hick’s idea of Jesus is less than that of Him being God. He holds Jesus in high regard, living in a remarkable consciousness of a relationship with God; but he denies that Jesus ever claimed or thought Himself to be God. Nash contends that Hick believes the church to have deified Jesus, and that, was never the intention of God. Hick argues that the New Testament is vague and ambiguous and that Jesus is largely unknown and unknowable. But, Nash counters by saying that Hick’s skepticism of New Testament reliability is hypocritical considering what Hick claims to know about the historical Jesus. In essence: How does he know so much about Jesus and what Jesus believed about Himself; unless the authentic Jesus is discernible in the Gospel record? This amounts to nothing more than wild assertions, with no relevant arguments to substantiate his claims.
Nash strikes at the heart of the problem, by citing Joseph Runzo’s attack on exclusivism as, “neither tolerable nor any longer intellectually honest in the context of our contemporary knowledge of other’s faiths” (Nash, 92). The issue here is that of tolerance. Pluralism accuses Christian exclusivism as being intolerant of any competitors, and the promoter of an elitist mentality that promotes much of the ills of society. Nash negates such assumptions by stating, “that I do not believe in all the things that you believe hardly makes me guilty of intolerants, imperialism, egotism, arbitrariness, or oppression” (Nash, 93). Therefore disagreement does not demand intolerance. “Nor does exclusivism obligate Christians to believe that everything taught by a non-Christian religion must be false” (Nash, 95).
It seems that Nash’s reason for writing is unveiled at the end of chapter six. “Someday we will all finally discover whether this or that religion, whether this or that theory about religion, is true or not. Hick cannot rule out the possibility that after death, during the process of eschatological verification, one religion will turn out to be true after all and one definitive concept of God will prove correct” (Nash, 99). If the Christian exclusivist discover that pluralism is accurate, nothing will be lost. But the price tag of pluralism is way too high. Pluralism is a gamble that is not worth the eternal risk.
Pluralism, (at least Hick’s view) has been demonstrated to be dogmatically speculative, with absolutely no basis in truth. Hick’s view of pluralism promotes annihilation after death; therefore religion is only retained while living on earth. If this be the case, there is no reason to hold to the tenants of any religion, unless those reasons are driven by ideas of self-improvement. Self-improvement can be found in many of the world’s great religions. There is peace to be had through transcendental meditation. There is self-purpose to be found in the jihad of Islam. But, none of the other great religions offer salvation from a fallen human nature (sin). Christianity is unique in this matter.
Christianity solves the sin problem by providing the Sin-bearer in the person of Jesus Christ. Without the atonement provided by Jesus, an eternal existence separated from God would be the fate of humanity.
Pluralism is a philosophy about religion, not a religion itself. Hick’s pluralism especially, is simply a rejection of the infallibility of Scripture. If Hick had held a high view of Scripture he would have never become a pluralist. It is the Scripture that demand Christian exclusivism. From the proto-evangelium, Old Testament typology and prophecy, to the gospel record and New Testament epistles; the Scripture demands that Jesus is the only Savior from eternal punishment. Further, it demands that any relationship with God must come through the person of Jesus Christ. These are exclusive statements; yet, they are inclusive in the sense that “whosoever” believes in Him will have eternal life.
It may not be politically correct in contemporary society; but it is a fact that differing competing claims cannot be absolutely true at the same time. Today’s society demands tolerance, inclusivity and relativism; however, these come with the price of rejecting the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is absolutely the Savior, regardless of the shifting sentiment of today’s pragmatic culture. If Jesus is Lord and Savior; then salvation originated with God. To be saved and reconciled to God cannot and did not originate with man; therefore, Jesus is the only Lord and Savior.
Nash, Ronald H. Is Jesus the Only Savior? Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994.
“Ronald H. Nash (May 27, 1936 – March 10, 2006) was a philosophy professor at Reformed Theological Seminary. Nash served as a professor for over 40 years, teaching and writing in the areas of worldview, apologetics, ethics, theology, and history. He is known for his advocacy of Austrian Economics, and his criticism of the evangelical left.”
Source: Reformed Theological Seminary – https://en.wikipedia.org
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