The Traditional Classification
- Exclusivism: Jesus is the only Savior of the world, and one must believe God’s special revelation culminating in the gospel of Christ to be saved.
- Inclusivism: Jesus is the only Savior of the world, but one does not have to believe the gospel to be saved.
- Pluralism: All paths are valid and lead to God.
Figure 1. What about those who have never heard the gospel?
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So, then, what are the main responses to the question “Is there any basis for hope that those who do not hear of Christ in this life will be saved?” Although, when answering this question most theologians assume the traditional threefold framework: exclusivism-inclusivism-pluralism, we uncovered nine distinct responses. . . .
Here is a summary of the nine major responses to the question:
- Church exclusivism: No, outside the church there is no salvation.
- Gospel exclusivism: No, they must hear the gospel and trust Christ to be saved.
- Special revelation exclusivism: No, they must hear the gospel and trust Christ to be saved, unless God chooses to send them special revelation in an extraordinary way—by a dream, vision, miracle, or angelic message.
- Agnosticism: We cannot know.
- General revelation inclusivism: Yes, they can respond to God in saving faith through seeing him in general revelation.
- World religions inclusivism: Yes, they can respond to God through general revelation or their religion.
- Postmortem evangelism: Yes, they will have an opportunity to trust Christ after death.
- Universalism: Yes, everyone will ultimately be saved.
- Pluralism: Yes, many will experience “salvation” as they understand it because they embrace their version of the real.