Like the pluralist, the Christian inclusivist also believes that God is made known through each of the world religions. However, where they differ is that the inclusivist believes that full and complete knowledge of the Divine can only be gained through Jesus Christ. To understand the dynamics of this inclusivist approach, it is necessary to journey back to the 1960s and the Vatican Council (of the Roman Catholic Church) who wrestled with the issue of how people from other faiths should be considered in terms of Christ’s salvation. The conclusion of the Council was that while its members believed that everlasting salvation could only be found through faith in Jesus Christ, special provision should be extended to those people from other traditions 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 [God’s] will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience [14].’

In reaching this decision, the Council also recognised and affirmed that whatever was true and holy in other faiths also reflected,

‘a ray of that truth which enlightens all men[14]

Central to this line of thinking was the idea that other religions should be thought of being at a stage that was ‘pre-Christian’ rather than ‘non-Christian’ as the Council believed that each one was ordained to find its fulfilment in Christ.

Of course, this inclusivist approach differs from pluralist ideas in that it does not suggest all religions lead to God but rather that although these other religions display something of the truth of the Divine, the complete truth comes only through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. The suggestion by the Vatican Council was that other religions may also be considered participants in this process occurs because Christ secures the possibility of eternal salvation for all people through his death and resurrection – and that, irrespective of how they came to believe in him.

Central to this way of thinking is the idea developed by the Council who proposed that Christ’s salvation is granted to people in one of two ways – these being

  • Ordinary way of salvation
  • Extraordinary way of salvation. [14]

These we shall consider in the next two posts…

[14] ‘New Dictionary of Theology’ (IVP, 1998) p 135