Evangelism is Hindered: Inclusivism/Exclusivism

Derek Ouellette —  April 26, 2011

Some of you are going to say, “hey, cut it out with the emotions and suck it up”. Please don’t.

Having never attended seminary, most of my “views” are somewhat jumbled around. I’ve been slowly coming to take certain positions and stand firm on them. Positions like “Christus Victor” as the umbrella atonement motif, “Covenant Theology” as the correct way to read the scriptures, “Divine-spiration” as a way to understand biblical authority, “Union with Christ” as a way of understanding justification and a variety of other things.

But there are many areas where I very well might like to hang a “Under Construction” sign. Most of those places are places where I’ve not reflected very deep on certain subjects which I’ve long taken for granted.

I’ve always believed myself to be an “exclusivist”. But when pushed I remember even as a teenager entertaining the thought that God will ultimately judge someone according to the light given them. Especially if that “someone” could not possibly have heard the Gospel.

So you might say that I’ve always been somewhat of an “inclusivist”, even if by accident.

I have friends who are exclusivists and other’s who are inclusivists. Both are not happy with me because I somewhat wobble between the two. One day I’ll take a position, but for now let me share one reason why evangelism is sometimes hindered by some of my exclusivist thinking and inclusivist thinking.

The Exclusivist In Me: What else are we saying when he tell them that they need a conscious commitment to Jesus Christ to be saved?

When I share the Gospel with someone and tell them that they must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved, I have this nagging thought on the back of my mind. There is something I hope they do not ask.

What about my loved one’s who never heard your message and are already dead?

What I’m telling them (even if I’m not saying it) by preaching an exclusivist Gospel is, “Your loved one’s are already lost, buck up so that you can be saved.” It’s a hard message with serious implications. We might like to think that people are just selfish enough to accept the message that at least they will be saved, and not really care about their lost loved ones. To this we might hope that the people we preach the Gospel to are somewhat like Hezekiah who, when hearing that his actions will bring judgment on Jerusalem in a later generation says, “The word of the LORD you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?” (2 Kings 20:19).

The Inclusivist In Me: What’s the point? Why bring further condemnation by preaching the Gospel?

I must admit, the more “inclusive” I become the less I desire to evangelize. It’s as if I subconsciously think that it would be better if I did not share the Gospel to them because if they will be judged according to the light given them, I say, “let God give them the light of nature. Why condemn them more by making them explicitly aware of the Gospel?

My teetering will frustrate many people and I have no doubt that my quiet exclusivist friends will have a pile of ready verses to answer my struggle, and my many vocal inclusivists friends will have many answers for me as well. It will be some time before I find my own way in this debate. I’m always looking for the third door. The option less considered. A way beyond the impasse that will do the best justice to the biblical testimony. I’m open to suggestions. :)

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Tricia

    As an inclusivist struggling with the guilt of being so inclusive, I feel your pain and understand your struggle. I miss days of black and white theology, but also shudder that I was one of those…

  • http://www.thefuerstshallbelast.wordpress.com Tom1st

    The only reason you should give up evangelizing as an Inclusivist is IF, and only IF, you assume that evangelism is PRIMARILY about getting people into heaven after they die.

    But if evangelism is about bringing heaven to earth, calling people to what God created them to be IN THE PRESENT, and being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, then there’s no reason, even as an Inclusivist, that you should stop evangelizing.

    This is one of the hardest things I’ve had to communicate to my Exclusivist friends – the Inclusivist has a strong call to missions, too. Not just because we believe some will go to Hell, but because we believe the the re-creation of all things begins in the present time.

    So, if you want the Kingdom of God to come to earth, and you should as a Christian, then you cannot help but evangelize.

    That’s my two cents anyway.


    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Thanks Tom. I couldn’t agree more with your Kingdom emphasis in the here and now, but I don’t separate that from the hereafter. To me they are one and the same. It’s all about bringing the Kingdom… and filling it!

  • Britt

    Man i like you Derek…..I can relate to you so much and i am thankful for you and your blog/learning.
    Your friend,

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Hey thanks Britt, right back at you.

  • http://BeingTC.com T. C. Moore

    I have to say, as a Inclusivist, I can’t relate to your apprehension to share the Gospel with others. I never think that more light will add to someone’s condemnation. All I think is how wonderful Jesus is, how wonderful his Good News is, and how much the person I’m sharing with needs to know his or her Savior. We are not responsible for someone’s rejection of greater revelation. God only knows to what extent they have stubbornly and selfishly rejected him, and to what extent some other stumbling block is the cause. But no one will be condemned by accident. God is just and merciful. In fact, I would say God is just BECAUSE God is merciful. All men have sinned therefore mercy is just.

  • http://treasurecontained.wordpress.com Crystal

    Derek, In some ways I’m there too. But how I understand the Bible, it seems like we are at least supposed to live like exclusivists are right – aggressively evangelizing and discipling – and then trusting in God’s justice. There’s room for God to have ‘other ways’, but he didn’t tell me what they are – and he did make it clear that a lot hangs on my obedience in the matter of proclaiming the cross and Christ as the way.

    I’m not sure I follow the tie with Hezekiah (that passage has always chaffed me too) and a person’s acceptance of an exclusivist gospel. If the message is true, embracing it does nothing to condemn or save deceased loved ones. In what way is it a selfish or uncaring decision? Are we less grieved for those who die without Christ because we believe they will suffer an eternity separated from God?

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Hi Crystal, the Hezekiah tie-in was that as long as Hezekiah knew he was safe, he didn’t care much about the fate of his kin.

      I like your thoughts on living like an exclusivist in the realm of an inclusivist possibility.

  • Kyle Pitts

    I see no evidence to support inclusive salvation, most the Scriptures that are used to defend it are the same Scriptures used to defend Universalism with a lighter tone. I do know that there are many verses that seem to naturally flow with exclusive salvation, in fact I would assert that many Scriptures such as 2 Thess 1:8,9 strongly support exclusive salvation.

    • http://ryankcollins.wordpress.com Ryan Collins


      While you think that Scripture does not support inclusive salvation, the same can be said about exclusivism. In fact, 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 is not even a support for exclusivism. Verse 8 says, “he will impose a penalty on those who do not acknowledge God and refuse to accept the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Notice who the penalty is for: (A) those who do not acknowledge God and (B) those who refuse to accept the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

      What if the person is not able to consciously acknowledge God, the concept of a supernatural deity? What if the person does not even have the opportunity to reject the Gospel because they have never heard of the existence of such a thing as “Gospel?” These are questions that the exclusivists I have spoken with cannot answer.

  • http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/ FrGregACCA

    What Tom1st and T.C. Moore said, more or less. “Salvation” is not just about fire insurance. It is about the transformation, restoration, and healing of human beings in the here and now by the reinstatement of communion with God, and unless and until that occurs, beginning, at least, this side of Jordan, the whole possibility of fire insurance must come under severe scrutiny. This is at least as true for those who profess faith in Christ as it is for others. See Matthew 7:21-23, for example. “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

    While eschewing such labels as inclusivist/exclusivist, I continue to hope, pray, and work that, as God desires, “all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth”.

    • brad.dickey@gmail.com

      Man, “fire insurance”, has that chat got me in trouble. I nearly tone anyone out anymore when they start off with a mindset that Jesus death on the cross was all about salvation. How selfish, self serving, unhumble, unreal a statement that is. Salvation was the first, sequentially, of the things the Christ died for. I don’t even think it was the biggest, by a long shot.

      One of the pictures I draw for people to understand this, is in regards to the fire insurance mentality.

      Picture a compass drawn on a large parking Lot. Put the Divinity at 12:00.

      You are the pivot/fulcrum in the center.

      You hear a fire and brimstone speach.

      You want “to be saved” so you don’t go to hell! (May John Tetzel pay for establishing this trend)

      So you are standing IN a position that condemns you to hell.

      You go to leave that position.

      You say a magic prayer, have a magic bath, share milk and cookies at church now and then, more now for some.

      And boom you are taught you just escaped fire and brimstone.

      Wait, do you even believe yet??? or are you being a good little lemming and parroting the magical incantation to save your sorry behind?

      There is ONE WAY to Him. There are 359 WRONG ways to Him. If you get on the compass just to flee, and take off, the odds are greatly against you making it. If you set your eyes on Him and run straight to Him, run that race, you will get there.

      “There” is 1 john 4:16. Also mat 5:48 (please avoid the secular definition for “PERFECT” and accept what it meant to a greek author.)

      I’ll go away now.

  • Brian MacArevey


    I appreciate your honesty and thoughtfulness here. I agree with Tom, TC, and Greg; but I won’t pretend that these issues are very easy to work through, especially for those of us who have been heavily influenced by exclusivist though. Good post :)

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Thanks Brian!

  • brad.dickey@gmail.com

    Hey, umm, Derek….

    Ever consider not everyone is to be an evangelist in the Church?

    Each has their gifts. How many go around without the gift, messing up the chance for someone with the gift, when they move to discuss faith with a person?

    Eph 4 shows not all have that teaching or reaching gift, there are different parts of the Church for different tasks.

    THE CHURCH, as a whole has the great commission. However the individuals all are a separate part of that body….

    I’ll leave before someone scolds me.