A Critique of Ronald H. Nash’s Opposition to the Doctrine of Inclusivism

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Section I

Introduction:

In Ronald Nash’s Is Jesus the Only Savior, Nash sets forth in the second section of the book, a clear and concise argument in favor of the Biblical and orthodox position of Christian Exclusivism. In doing so, Nash sheds light on the many false assertions of the Inclusivist by demonstrating both theologically and philosophically, the errors of such a position. Set forth below is a review of some of the major highlights of Nash’s argumentation. It is helpful to state that this is a non-exhaustive treatment of Nash’s argumentation and only a handful of issues will be addressed in this essay. Also, it should be noted here that the author of this essay is a Reformed Presbyterian and much of what is stated below in regards to Covenantal Theology may be unfamiliar ground to many of the readers. Nevertheless, this position is both orthodox and historic and was the predominant view of the Reformers.

Strengths:

Broadly, the author found much strength in Nash’s argumentation. First and foremost, it proceeded from a Biblical world and life view with the Lord Jesus Christ and the inerrant Scriptures as the epistemological starting point; in that order. Next, Nash’s argumentation was sound, orthodox and consistent with Scripture. Moving on, Nash did an excellent job in stating the Inclusivist position and treated the subject matter fairly; without creating “straw-man” arguments. Finally, Nash utilized sound logic throughout the course of his argumentation. Specific examples of this are seen on but not limited to page 145, where he cites both Modus Ponens and Affirming the Consequent, and on page 175, where he made use of both Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens.

Specifically, Nash did a wonderful job in stating and evaluating the Inclusivists starting axioms or presuppositions. Treatment of this subject begins on page 105 of the text where Nash describes Inclusivism’s general starting points as the “Particularity” and “Universality” Axioms. This was necessary to keep the reader both informed and engaged in the argument. Starting on page 117 of the text, Nash gives a broad overview of “General” and “Special” revelation and rightly dismisses the Inclusivists argument that General Revelation is sufficient to save. An excellent observation of the Inclusivist presuppositions is then gleaned on page 118 where the text reads; “A key assumption of Inclusivism is the belief that general revelation is sufficient to bring people to salvation. Inclusivists have to say this.”1 Nash dismantles this assertion by highlighting the fact that the central meaning of the Gospel is, “Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.”2

Moreover, Nash did a good yet brief job via his treatment of Romans chapters 1-3, where he utilized this text to disprove the Inclusivist argument; with the highlight of this treatment coming by way of his citation of Romans 3:23. Also present in this section was the wonderful statement of Bruce Demarest, who illuminated the logical consequence of General Revelation via the Exclusivist position when he states that; “general revelation serves only to condemn man, not to save him.”3 Noting this, it is seen that the exact opposite of the Inclusivist claim is true; with God’s general or natural revelation acting as a tool to condemn all of those outside of the decreedal election of God.

Beginning on page 123 of the text, Nash once again highlights specific points of Inclusivism when he cites its three foundational claims as;

(1) a distinctively inclusive understanding of the nature of faith, (2) a recognition that the many Old Testament believers will be in heaven, even though they were not Christian believers…(3) an appeal to the alleged Old Testament tradition of so-called holy pagans.4

Nash’s treatment of these foundational points is very cogent on both a theological and philosophical level. First, he rightly points the reader to the necessary object of faith with texts such as John 14:6, Acts 4:12 and Romans 10:9-10.5 Next, Nash takes this argument past the Scriptural references and into an internal critique of the Inclusivist position (Clark Pinnock’s) when he draws attention to the inconsistency of both the need to evangelize and the non-necessity to evangelize on page 126; with a similar treatment of this subject being found on page 165 and beyond.

Likewise, Nash dealt with the issue of Old Testament believers in a similar cogent fashion when he states that; “Old and New Testament believers share a covenantal relationship with God that is grounded on special revelation.”6 In short, Nash demonstrates in this section that the death of Christ reaches across the old and new era’s of salvation history by making the death of the Savior retro-active to the O.T. believes – with both under the same Covenant head, Jesus Christ.

On final strength of Nash’s fine work will be dealt with because of its amazing validity and clarity both theologically and philosophically. Specifically, the author refers to Nash’s treatment of Pinnock’s Arminian roots, which the author would say, is in actually, Open Theism.7 Here, Nash rightly points out that both the Inclusivist and the Arminian are at odd’s with both the sovereignty of God in decreedal election and His omniscience. Nash goes on to rightly describe the salvation of the believer in these theological positions as a synergistic system of cooperation.

Furthermore, this conflict (between a monergistic and synergistic system of salvation) is described as a battle between the “old gospel” versus the “new gospel” and Nash rightly points out that any synergistic system of belief robs God of His rightful glory because it places man as the centerpiece of discussion making. In short, the Triune God is at the mercy of the creature to save; an untenable position. In closing this wonderful section, Nash quotes the famed Theologian J.I. Packer who proclaims that such teachings are “a shameful dishonor to the Christ of the New Testament.”8

Weaknesses:

Two major weaknesses will be cited, with the first being simply mentioned and further elaborated on in the personal conclusion section; with the second being dealt with in detail. First, Nash missed a major opportunity to shed a great deal of inconsistency on both the Inclusivist who holds to the doctrine of omniscience and the Arminian who holds to the same. In short, any theological position that declares that God is both omniscience and has provided the opportunity for all to be saved is in error both theologically and philosophically.

Next, Nash’s treatment of children who die in infancy left a great deal to be desired. Here, Nash rightly proclaims that there is an inconsistency in the Inclusivist objection of Paedo-salvation because the subject being described is an immature infant or child verses a mature person who has recognition of his or her sins.9 Noting this proper distinction, Nash failed to recognize (or simply failed to state) the fact that there is a moderate precedent for Covenant children who die in infancy to be in fact, saved believers. First, there is the issue of David’s infant faith in Psalm 22:9-10, which theologian Rich Lusk describes in this manner;

David never points to a dramatic “conversion experience,” but always traces back the origin of his Spiritual life to the very beginnings of his physical life. As far as David knows, a relationship with God was always already there.10

In short, Lusk describes the faith of David as a “Paedo-Faith,” a fact that is bore out in Biblical testimony. Nash does point-in-fact correctly cite 2 Samuel 12 as evidence for his belief in infant salvation, however, he fails to mention the fact that David’s child was in fact a Covenant child. This pattern continues as a limited theme throughout the Scriptures as is evident in the case of Jeremiah who was “known” and “consecrated” before his birth.11 Likewise, John the Baptist received the Holy Spirit before birth as seen in Luke 1:15 were the text reads; “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”12 Moreover, Paul demonstratively shows that Covenant children/infants are in a different and superior position as opposed to unbelievers when he proclaims in 1 Cor. 7:14 that the children of at least one believer are “holy” and/or “set apart.”13

Finally, there is the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who rebuked the disciples when they attempted to deny the access of little children from coming into His presence; “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”14 The parallel account of this incident as documented in Matthew 19:13-15 actually records the Lord Jesus laying His hands upon the children; with the Lord pronouncing a blessing upon the children in the Mark 10:13-16 rendering of this incident.

One common theme that runs throughout these examples is the Covenant position of these children and there positional relationship to Yahweh. Noting this, there is at least some precedence in claiming that at the very least, Covenant children that die in infancy are saved due to either: (1) Paedo-Faith, (2) the faith of their parents and there Covenantal binding to Yahweh due to that faith, or, (3) as the Westminster Confession and London Baptist Confession declare that these children are “elect infants.”15 These same criteria would be applicable to those with mental difficulties as well and noting this, much of the tension is removed from the orthodox position of infant salvation up and against the Inclusivist claim of inconsistency regarding this topic. It is believed that the statement of these points, or points similar, would have been extremely helpful to solidify Nash’s already strong argument as seen throughout his treatment of Inclusivism.

Section II

Personal Conclusion:

It is asserted that Ronald Nash did a wonderful job in refuting the position of Inclusivism. His argumentation was sound and consistent with Biblical revelation and it is obvious that his foundation was grounded in the eternal Logos Jesus Christ. Throughout his discourse, Nash was easily able to demonstrate the logical and theological inconsistencies that plague the Inclusivist argument. Furthermore, Nash did a fine job at pushing the antithesis regarding the many sections of Scripture that the Inclusivists attempt to use to prove their unorthodox doctrine.

Noting this, there is one final section that the author would like to contribute that was lacking from the Nash argument. This argument, as mentioned in the “weaknesses” section, is in regards to the Arminian and Inclusivist position of contingency and omniscience.16 It is stated in orthodox theology that Yahweh has exhaustive foreknowledge of all future events. Noting this, there is a major inconsistency with the omniscience of God and the claim of contingency from the Arminian and/or Inclusivist. This point of inconsistency will be demonstrated from the Arminian position of divine foreknowledge to show the major tension in this system.

If God, prior to creating “Ex Nihilo,” knows that X will S, and He knows this perfectly, then X must S at the prescribed time and place that God foresaw this event. Since God perfectly foreknows this event, then this event must necessarily come about and likewise, this future event has already had an effect prior to its actuation; it has affected the foreknowledge of God. Noting this, it can be asserted that “what will come to pass must come to pass and the future is not contingent.” However, the Arminian and the Inclusivist who argues in favor of Divine foreknowledge would likewise claim that all men can be saved. Noting this, let us fill in the symbols above. It is perfectly known, prior to creation that John Doe will not believe. Given the doctrine of Divine foreknowledge, and noting the fact that God perfectly knows that John Doe will not believe, is there any way that he can believe? To claim “no” denies one of the major tenants of both Arminianism and Inclusivism, human freedom; to claim “yes” denies the perfect and divine foreknowledge of God. This puts the Arminian and/or Inclusivist on the horns of an epistemological dilemma because they are forced to choose between; (1) not all men can be saved, or, (2) the future is contingent and God’s knowledge is not exhaustive.

Noting this major inconsistency and tension, Nash was right to set forth his Calvinistic understanding of God’s omniscience. However, it is believed that the treatment of this area would have been much improved if Nash would have expounded on this logical tension in a more exhaustive manner.

Finally, Nash on a number of occasions mentioned the Inclusivists claim of “fairness” where all people must have a “chance” to believe; totally discounting that this very circumstance (the non-evangelism of certain people groups) was brought about by the perfect and divine plan of God who knows the “end from the beginning”17 and works “all things according to the counsel of His will.”18 To this claim, the author would like to close this essay with words of Dr. Martin Luther who proclaimed;

It may seem absurd to human wisdom that God should harden, blind, and deliver up some men to a reprobate sense; that He should first deliver them over to evil, and condemn them for that evil; but the believing, spiritual man sees no absurdity at all in this; knowing that God would be never a whit less good, even though He should destroy all men.19

Bibliography

Arndt, William; Danker, Frederick W.; Bauer, Walter: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Boettner, Loraine. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1932.

Lusk, Rich. Paedofaith. Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2005.

Nash, Ronald H. Is Jesus the Only Savior. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.

The Holy Bible:English Standard Version . Crossway. Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishing, 2001.

The London Baptist Confession of Faith. 1689. http://www.vor.org/truth/1689/1689bc00.html (accessed 02 15, 2011).

The Westminster Confession of Faith. Lawrenceville, GA: Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2007 (2005).

Footnotes (Repositioned Due to Blog Formatting)

1 Ronald H. Nash. Is Jesus the Only Savior? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994: Pg. 118.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 120

4 Ibid., 123

5 Ibid. pg. 125

6 Ibid., pg. 127

7 See the argument starting on page 131

8 Ibid., pg. 133

9 See page 136

10 Rich Lusk. Paedofaith. Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2005: Pg. 2.

11 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Jer. 1:5, ESV.

12 Luke 1:15, ESV

13 The BDAG states that the word ἅγιάor “holy,” in reference to the believer’s child, contextually means; “include a pers. in the inner circle of what is holy, in both cultic and moral associations of the word, consecrate, dedicate, sanctifyconsecrate, sanctify by contact w. what is holy: unbelievers by a Christian marriage 1 Cor. 7:14.” Arndt, William; Danker, Frederick W.; Bauer, Walter: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

14 Matt. 19:14, ESV

15 See the Westminster Confession of Faith section 10:3 and London Baptist Confession of Faith 10:3.

16 The reader is asked to keep in mind that this argument is directed towards Arminians and Inclusivists who hold to the Biblical doctrine of exhaustive foreknowledge and this argument does not in fact address Pinnock’s open theistic view.

17 Isaiah 46:10

18 See pages 104, 164. Bible reference Eph. 1:11, ESV.

19 Loraine Boettner. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1932; pg. 66.

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