Inclusivism: The Calvinist Consensus?

Inclusivism briefly defined, is the position that states that while salvation by Christ is ontologically necessary, it is not epistemologically necessary. Of course, a simpler way to state the position is that a person who is saved by Christ can be saved in ignorance of Christ. As far as I know, those who hold this tenet would not say that a blatantly immoral ignorant person is saved since there has to be some kind of outward morality, etc., being exhibited.

Some forms of inclusivism are “more extreme” than others. For instance, both W.G.T. Shedd and C.S. Lewis are inclusivists, but I’m unsure whether Shedd would go “as far” as Lewis did in saying that a person could be consciously opposed to God and then at the Judgment, God say that the “bad” was offered to so-and-so deity, while the “good” I take it as offered to Me. I reference one of Lewis’ works of fiction (Narnia chronicles–“Last Battle” I think) since I see it cited often in articles that are either critical of or enamored with Lewis’ writings.

Recently I was reading portions of my one volume edition of Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology and found something by him not unfamiliar to those of us who even vaguely recall some of his pernicious views. What may be new to some of you is Shedd’s citations of others to bolster his pernicious views.

We know from Scripture that there is nothing new under the sun. There is essentially nothing new since the fall of Adam in the garden and afterward, when Cain and Abel offered their respective sacrifices. All true believes are like Abel and all the unregenerate are like unto Cain in their philosophy, religion, system of thought. The following quotes are what I copied and pasted from volume 2 of the three volume edition of Shedd.

Shedd writes:

“It does not follow, however, that because God is not obliged to offer pardon to the unevangelized heathen, either here or hereafter, therefore no unevangelized heathen are pardoned. The electing mercy of God reaches to the heathen. It is not the doctrine of the Church, that the entire mass of pagans, without exception, have gone down to endless impenitence and death. That some unevangelized men are saved, in the present life, by an extraordinary exercise of redeeming grace in Christ, has been the hope and belief of Christendom. It was the hope and belief of the elder Calvinists, as it is of the later. [1]”

Those familiar with Shedd’s writings will not be shocked at this brazen assertion. To those who are not so familiar, perhaps will be unsettled and dismayed at Shedd’s Satanic, gospel-denying heresy. The Lord willing, we’ll take a look at the above footnote [1] shortly. More Shedd:

“The Second Helvetic Confession (I. 7), after the remark that the ordinary mode of salvation is by the instrumentality of the written words, adds:

Agnoscimus, interim, deum illuminare posse homines etiam sine externo ministerio, quo et quando velit: id quod ejus potentiae est.’

[this is translated by Alan W. Gomes in my single volume edition: ‘We acknowledge, meanwhile, that God can illumine men even without the external ministry, how and when he pleases, for such lies within his power.‘ –CD; underlining mine]

The Westminster Confession (X. 3), after saying that ‘elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when and where and how he pleaseth’ adds, ‘so also are all other elect persons [regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit] who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word.’

This is commonly understood to refer not merely, or mainly, to idiots and insane persons, but to such of the pagan world as God pleases to regenerate without the use of the written revelation.”

It might be interpreted as Shedd does, but the context of those “incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word” appears to be about ability rather than geography. That is, the word “incapable” seems to be an alleged “intellectual incapacity,” and not geography. But whichever of these ways one reads WCF 10:3, the one pernicious point held in common is that some persons are saved in ignorance of the Person and Work of Christ (i.e., the gospel), thus blatantly contradiction Romans 10:1-4.

“One of the strictest Calvinists of the sixteenth century, Zanchius, whose treatise on predestination was translated by Toplady, after remarking that many nations have never had the privilege of hearing the word, says (Ch. IV.) that

‘it is not indeed improbable that some individuals in these unenlightened countries may [belong] to the secret election of grace, and the habit of faith may be wrought in them.’ [underlining mine–CD]

This quote is indeed found is Zanchius’ treatise, though there is some debate regarding whether or not Zanchius was the actual author of the treatise. So, depending on which side one takes regarding the authentic authorship of Zanchius, we can adjust or frame our questions accordingly. We ask questions in order to obtain knowledge of whether a given person is a respecter of the face of men, or receives glory from men rather than seeks the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

“By the term ‘habit’; (habitus),the elder theologians meant an inward disposition of the heart. The ‘habit of faith’; involves penitence for sin, and the longing for its forgiveness and removal. The ‘habit of faith’; is the broken and contrite heart, which expresses itself in the prayer, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ It is certain that the Holy Ghost can produce, if he please, such a disposition and frame of mind in a pagan, without employing, as he commonly does, the written word.”

Shedd, here, will contradict a plain text such as Romans 10:1-4 and abuse the narratives of Ruth, the Centurian (e.g., not so great “faith”, not even in Israel), Cornelius, and the Ethiopian eunuch as so-called examples of ignorant penitents who had this “habit of faith.”

Here is Shedd’s footnote that I mentioned earlier:

“[1] The following extract from Witsius (Apostles Creed, Dissertation II) exhibits the hopeful view which the elder Calvinism took of the possible extent to which God’s decree of election reaches:

‘Doctrines may be said to be necessary, either to salvation, or to religion, or to the church.'”

Recall Machen’s distinction of essential doctrines (e.g., Virgin Birth of Christ, plenary inspiration, Deity of Christ) in both Christianity and Liberalism and The Virgin Birth of Christ. Machen wrote of certain doctrines that are essential to Christianity that are not necessarily essential for true Christians to believe. Machen:

“‘One thing at least is clear: even if the belief in the virgin birth is not necessary to every Christian, it is necessary to Christianity. And it is necessary to the corporate witness of the Church’ (J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1930), pp. 395-396; as quoted in Walter Martin’s book “Essential Christianity.”

Continuing with Shedd’s footnote (citation) of Witsius:

“‘A doctrine, without the knowledge and belief of which God does not save persons who have come to years of moral consciousness, is necessary to salvation ; a doctrine, without the profession and practice of which no one can be considered religious, is necessary to religion; and a doctrine, without which no one is admitted to the communion of the visible church, is necessary to the church. There may be articles without which persons ought not to be admitted to the fellowship of the church, that should not, for that reason, be regarded as absolutely essential either to religion or to salvation.'” [underlining mine–CD]

Thus, according to Witsius, there may be doctrinal articles that certain [adult?] persons do not believe who “ought not to be admitted to the fellowship of the church” that are not “essential…to salvation.”

“‘Although we might not dare to pronounce a sentence of condemnation against a particular man, we ought not, in defiance of order and discretion, to receive him forthwith into the bosom of our church, whatever sentiments he might hold, and to whatever sect he might belong. And with respect to religion, what falls within the sphere of duty is manifest. But how far it may please a gracious God, or how far it may be possible for him in consistency with his perfections and character, to extend his forbearance to anyone, and save his soul, notwithstanding his errors and sins; or, in short, what are the lowest attainments without which no man is saved who can tell? For this distinction in doctrines, I am indebted to the celebrated Hornbeck (Socinianismi Confutatio, torn. L p. 209). [Underlining mine–CD]

So, here, we see that Witsius is indebted to Hornbeck (never heard of the “celebrated” Hornbeck) for these careful diabolical distinctions.

“‘Again, the knowledge of those doctrines which are necessary to salvation admits of various degrees. It is in different measures of clearness, abundance, and efficacy, that divine revelation, the means of grace, and the communications of the Spirit are enjoyed; and a corresponding diversity takes place in the degrees of knowledge which the saints attain. In some it is clear, distinct, steady, and accompanied with a very firm and decided assent; in others it is more confused, more implicit and latent, subject to occasional wavering, and attended with an assent that is yielded with difficulty.'”

“Implicit” and “latent.” I think something like this would be compatible with what Owen and Edwards said regarding a person being saved by that grace they do deny — supposedly there is an implicit affirmation of salvation by grace alone by virtue of ardent — albeit, ignorant — zeal (contra Romans 10:3).

“‘The command of God indeed lays an indispensable obligation upon all men to make every possible effort to attain a most clear, distinct, and assured knowledge of divine truth. It cannot, however, be questioned, that the Deity, in his unbounded goodness, receives many to the abodes of bliss whose knowledge even of the principal articles is very indistinct, and such as they are hardly capable of expressing in their own words. The smallest measure of the requisite knowledge appears to be this, namely that when an article of faith is explained, the mind so far at least apprehends it, as to recognize and embrace it as true.'”

As noted many times, if a mentally-handicapped person is saved we know that he believes the gospel, though he may not be able to articulate this belief. This would apply to infants as well.

“‘Furthermore, times must be distinguished. It admits of no doubt that under the bright dispensation of the Gospel, a more extensive and explicit knowledge is necessary to salvation than was required under the Old Testament economy; for it is reasonable that both knowledge, and the necessity of knowledge, should increase in proportion to the measure of revelation afforded. Under the Old dispensation, nay, during the time of our Saviours abode on the earth, it was possible for a man to be a true believer, and in a state of grace, who was ignorant of the sufferings, the death, and the resurrection of Christ, and who even presumed to object to the testimony of Christ himself respecting these momentous topics, as is clear from the instance of Peter (Matt. 16:21-23); or, who,though he believed in general in the Messiah, yet knew not that Jesus is the Christ, as appears from the history of Cornelius the centurion (Acts 10 : 2-4). No one, however, I suppose, would now acknowledge any person [in Christendom] as a true believer, who should discover ignorance of these truths respecting the Lord Jesus; and still less a person who should contradict them when represented to him.'”

Many in the Reformed-Calvinist world assume at the start (a priori) that all the apostles without exception were regenerate and so ignorance and skepticism (at least initially) regarding essential gospel doctrines does not to them, imply that one is unregenerate.