Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Book Review: A Theology of Inclusivism

Back in 1987, I came across an article in Christianity Today written by Neal Punt that radically altered my understanding of salvation. Neal’s article, All Are Saved Except introduced his understanding of what he then called biblical universalism. Now, 20 years later, after much dialogue, development, and a heresy trial, Neal Punt writes a definitive explanation of what he now calls evangelical inclusivism. I have travelled with him on this 20 years -- not directly, but in reading all his published books on the topic and his online material. It has been worth the journey! Punt’s starting point is to ask which of the following options is biblical:
  1. All people are lost except those the Bible explicitly states are saved.
  2. All people are saved except those the Bible explicitly states are lost.
Traditionally, the first of these has been the answer to the question of who is saved. Punt presents a compelling and persuasive argument that the Bible teaches the second. On the surface, this shift may seem trivial. It is not. There are profound practical implications for our theology and spirituality. The best way of summarising Punt’s argument is to reproduce his statement of the argument in the introduction of his book:
EVANGELICAL INCLUSIVISM is the teaching that all persons are elect in Christ except those who the Bible expressly declares will be finally lost, namely, those who ultimately reject or remain indifferent to whatever revelation God has given of himself to them, whether in nature/conscience (Rom. 1 & 2) or in gospel presentation. Evangelical inclusivism is based upon these four biblical facts:
  1. The so-called "universalistic" texts speak of a certain-to-be-realized salvation as Calvinists have consistently maintained, and they do so in terms of all persons as Arminians have always affirmed [Punt includes a cross reference to the relevant chapter of his book which I have omitted here and following].
  2. All persons, except Jesus Christ, are liable for and polluted by the imputed sin of Adam (inherited sin). However, the Scriptures neither teach nor imply that anyone is consigned to eternal damnation solely on the basis of their sin in Adam apart from actual, willful, persistent sin on the part of the person so consigned...
  3. We must accept the so-called the so-called "universalistic" texts as written. We may allow only those exceptions that are necessarily imposed upon these passages from the broader context of the Scriptures as a whole...
  4. Jesus "saved" sinners, once for all, by making the supreme sacrifice 2,000 years ago. We speak of this as "objective" salvation. The Bible means something altogether difference when it says Paul set out to "save some" (1 Cor. 9:22). The Holy Spirit "saves" sinners by using human agents to bring the gospel to them. We refer to this as "subjective" salvation. A great amount of confusion results when this distinction is lost sight of... [bold formatting is in the original]
When Punt’s perspective is adopted (and I believe it is absolutely biblical) then we immediately have some answers to some very profound questions that people ask. For example, What happens to children who die at birth? Will they be saved? What about people who never explicitly hear about Jesus Christ and don’t have the opportunity to become Christians? Are we saved by grace alone? or are we saved by grace plus works? The questions go on and on. These and other questions are resolved by adopting Punt’s approach. Personally, I don’t like any of the terms for this view that Punt has come up with so far. The latest one is evangelical inclusivism. The problem with the word evangelical is that it has connotations associated with a particular group of Christians. That might be ok for some, but it does come with considerable baggage in my opinion. My preference would be for biblical inclusivism. Whatever the term, Punt’s book is essential reading for anyone and everyone who has an interest in who will be saved and lost -- and isn’t that all of us? If you want to develop a theology of salvation which is truly based on grace, then A Theology of Inclusivism is an essential book. Related Links Note: I tried to find some extended online arguments against evangelical inclusivism but was unsuccessful. If anyone knows of any, please let me know and I will add them to this post.


  1. Hello to you all. You quote several of my articles on Evangelical Inclusivism and I am pleased that you do so. May I just note one point? The point is made here that, "the problem with the word evangelical is that it has connotations associated with a particular group of Christians." Actually, it should not. I use the word in the traditional Protestant way as the Lutherans, for example, use it; it refers to being genuinely biblical.
    A second point is that I myself have also reviewed Neal's new book here:
    Robin A. Brace

  2. Hi Robin

    Thanks for your comments. A question: if the word "evangelical" means "being biblical", why not leave out the middle word and just call evangelical inclusivism "biblical inclusivism"? I appreciate that you are using a word a certain way. But the word "evangelical" has a range of meanings in modern society. So rather than explain what evangelical means, why not just say what we mean!

    I will check out your review.