“All Roads Lead to Rome (or Rather, Heaven)”

Often after I say that I’m a member of a Reformed church, I get the question, “What do you mean by ‘Reformed’?” And my answer usually boils down to the five pillars of the 16th century Protestant Reformation: salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, all of these revealed in Scripture alone.

And among these five essentials, “Christ alone” is often attacked today, not only by non-Christians, but also by Christians of various colors in two ways: universalism and inclusivism. Universalism states that all humankind will ultimately be saved and that there is no such thing as a literal hell or eternal punishment, and all religions ultimately lead to heaven. Inclusivism, on the other hand, while acknowledging salvation by faith in Christ alone, also proposes that explicit knowledge of Christ is unnecessary for salvation. God can give salvation to a person who implicit responds in faith to His general revelation.

Throughout church history, but especially in our postmodern society, both universalism and inclusivism are affirmed by church leaders of various persuasions. True universalism, related to the New Age pluralism, is rare. Mother Theresa, for one, is a universalist when she says, – “All is God – Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, etc., – all have access to the same God.” Inclusivism, on the other hand, has gained many adherents among well-known evangelical leaders:

  • Billy Graham: “I used to think that pagans in far-off countries were lost – were going to hell – if they did not have the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached to them. I no longer believe that… I believe there are other ways of recognizing the existence of God through nature, for instance – and plenty of other opportunities, therefore, of saying yes to God.”
  • Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, megachurch pastors, speakers: Christians and Muslims should build relationships which “genuinely reflect our common love for God and for one another.”
  • Tony Campolo, pastor, speaker: “The difference between a Christian and non-Christian is not that Jesus isn’t in the non-Christian – the difference is that the Jesus who is within him is a Jesus to whom he will not surrender his life. You say, ‘Are you saying that Jesus is present in everybody?’ I am only telling you what it says in John 1:9. He is the light that lighteth every man, every woman that cometh into the world.” [Does he realize that “everyone” here means everyone who would believe in the Light, not every single man and woman in the world?]
  • Brian McClaren, emergent church guru: “I am not embracing a traditional universalist position, but I am trying to raise the question, ‘When God created the universe, did he have two purposes in mind – one being to create some people who would forever enjoy blessing and mercy, and another to create a group who would forever suffer torment, torture, and punishment?’ What is our view of God? A God who plans torture? A God who has an essential, eternal quality of hatred? Is God love, or is God love and hate?” [Another evangelical Marcion.1]
  • Tony Evans, pastor, speaker: When asked, “You’re saying, if a Hindu looks up and says, ‘I know you’re up there somewhere. I don’t know who you are, but I’d really like to know you,’ God will count that as sufficient as salvation?” his straight answer was, “Yes.”

“By this I mean if a person is sincerely seeking God and desiring to know Him, and is responding to the truth he knows, if there is no missionary or direct manifestation of God, then God judges that person based on his faith in the light he has received. And as in the case of Abraham, God will retroactively count this person as righteous by applying the death of Christ from the dispensation of grace.” [Compare this false teaching with John 8:56; Heb 11:26, and the Westminster Confession of Faith VII:5, XI:6, and Second Helvetic Confession Article 11 below. Evans is mixing natural revelation with special revelation; in contrast to the Old Testament saints and prophets, the heathen do not have special revelation from God about a coming Messiah.]

  • Joel Osteen, pastor, speaker: Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Larry King (note how many times he says, “I don’t know”): Asked if Christ is the only way to heaven and not works, he replied, “There’s probably a balance between. I believe you have to know Christ. But I think that if you know Christ, if you’re a believer in God, you’re going to have some good works. I think it’s a cop-out to say I’m a Christian but I don’t ever do anything.” [This is Romish salvation by faith and works.] Answering whether Jews or Muslims would go to heaven, he was noncommittal, “You know, I’m very careful about saying who would and wouldn’t go to heaven… I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don’t know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don’t know. I’ve seen their sincerity. So I don’t know.” [I wonder who is this “God” whom the Hindus “love.”]
  • Presbyterian Church (USA), 2001 General Assembly: Affirmed the “unique authority of Jesus Christ as Lord,” but also declared, “Although we do not know the limits of God’s grace and pray for the salvation of those who may never come to know Christ, for us the assurance of salvation is found in confessing Christ and trusting him alone.”
  • Reformed Church in America, Synod 1997: Rejected the statement that “divine redemption from sin is only by grace through faith in the perfect work of the Lord Jesus Christ alone, the only mediator between God and humankind.”

Compare all of these inclusivist teachings with what Scriptures say about salvation in Christ alone:

  • Romans 1:18-20, 2:14-15: The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who are without excuse because of what God has revealed to them in creation and in their hearts.
  • Acts 4:12: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
  • Romans 5:17-19: Christ’s perfect obedience is the only ground of justification.
  • 1 Timothy 2:5: Christ is the only mediator between God and man.
  • Romans 3:23-24: All have sinned, but redemption is by Christ alone.
  • 1 John 5:12: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

And the Bible has a caveat for all Christians: those who teach salvation in any other name and that all religions lead to heaven, are false teachers:

  • Galatians 1:9: “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
  • 1 John 4:1-3: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”

In addition, our historic creeds and confessions clearly declare solus Christus, as in the following examples:

1561 Belgic Confession of Faith Article 23: “We believe that our blessedness lies in the forgiveness of our sins because of Jesus Christ, and that in it our righteousness before God is contained… not claiming a thing for ourselves or our merits and leaning and resting on the sole obedience of Christ crucified, which is ours when we believe in him… In fact, if we had to appear before God relying – no matter how little – on ourselves or some other creature, then, alas, we would be swallowed up.

1563 Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 61:Q. Why do you say that you are righteous only by faith? A. Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, for only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God. I can receive this righteousness and make it my own by faith only.”

1563 Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, Article 18: “They also are to be accursed that presume to say that every man shall be saved by the law or sect which he professes, so that he is diligent to frame his life according to that law and the light of nature. For Holy Scripture sets out to us only the name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.”

1566 Second Helvetic Confession Chapter 11: For we teach and believe that Jesus Christ our Lord is the unique and eternal Savior of the human race, and thus of the whole world, in whom by faith are saved all who before the law, under the law, and under the Gospel were saved, and however many will be saved at the end of the world… Wherefore, we quite openly profess and preach that Jesus Christ is the sole Redeemer and Savior of the world, the King and High Priest, the true and awaited Messiah, that holy and blessed one whom all the types of the law and predictions of the prophets prefigured and promised; and that God appointed him beforehand and sent him to us, so that we are not now to look for any other… For however many seek salvation in any other than in Christ alone, have fallen from the grace of God and have rendered Christ null and void for themselves (Gal 5:4).

1647 Westminster Confession of Faith: VII:5: “Under the law, [the covenant of grace] was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the passover lamb, and other types and ordinances given to the Jewish people, all of which foreshadowed Christ to come. These were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the work of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in their faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they received complete forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. This covenant administration is called the old testament.” XI:6: “The justification of believers under the old testament was, in all these respects, one and the same with the justification of believers under the new testament.”

With all of Scripture and historic Protestant confessions declaring the doctrine of solus Christus, one wonders how can all these popular evangelicals miss the point. This is because of the tremendous pressure coming from a pluralistic culture to soften and water down the gospel. If I were speaking in an evangelical meeting, and I say that the heathen are lost if they die without Christ, and that if God elected them to be saved, he will send someone to preach the gospel to them (Acts 18:10), I would probably be stoned to death. Having been taught all their lives that God loves everyone and that man only has to cooperate with this love by exercising his own free will to be saved, evangelicals eventually go into the abyss of universalism, sliding all the way down to its logical conclusion: the absence of eternal judgment:

Pelagian freewillism âž­ Universal atonement âž­ Inclusivism âž­ Univeralism âž­ No Hell

1Marcion of Sinope was a 2nd century heretic who taught that the cruel God of the Old Testament is different from the loving God of the New Testament, a teaching that later would be called Marcionism. He then rejected the whole canon of Scripture, except for ten of Paul’s epistles and a revised Gospel of Luke.

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7 thoughts on ““All Roads Lead to Rome (or Rather, Heaven)””

  1. George,

    Thanks for your feedback, George. Indeed, this matter of the extent of salvation is of great importance to all of us.

    First, I’d like to point out that Reformed believers do not condemn anyone based on our opinions. It’s the Word of God that is the key to the kingdom of heaven. Second, we do not presume to know the mind of God, and as a result, we preach the Word of God “promiscuously,” i.e., indiscriminately to all who are within the hearing of the gospel. We don’t know who the elect are; we can only base our judgment about a person’s salvation based on his profession of faith and the fruits of faith evidenced in his life.

    Having said that, Reformed believers may then be able to say that salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone , and this is grounded in the work of Christ alone in his life, death, and resurrection. And since we believe in election, we believe that Christ died only for the elect.

    And if Christ died only for the elect, how do we explain the three verses you mentioned as examples of universal atonement? As Reformed believers, we have to harmonize the “universal” texts with the “limited” (e.g., Christ died as a ransom “for many”) verses. We therefore exegete these verses according to the following propositions, of which only one can be true:

    1. Christ died for ALL the sins of ALL people.
    2. Christ died for ALL the sins of SOME people.
    3. Christ died for SOME of the sins of ALL people.

    The first ends in universalism, which is contrary to Scripture. The third ends in salvation for no one, because the perfect righteousness of Christ is imputed to no one. The second means that only some people – the elect – are saved, since Christ paid for ALL their sins. This is the only true statement, since according to Scripture, only SOME people are saved.

    Thus, Reformed believers exegete the “all” and “everyone” passages to mean “all kinds” of people, diseases, etc. And “world” could mean many other things, in addition to “all” people. The interpretation of these verses depend upon the grammatical-historical context.

    I have a post on this subject at:

    “The Death of Christ and the Eternal Covenant”
    http://www.twoagespilgrims.com/d…doctrine/?p=213

    Sorry for the long reply. Thanks again for a nice blog.

  2. Thanks again, Adrian. Your comment reminds me of the 18th century revivalist Charles Finney, who is regarded by many evangelical leaders today, including Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, and the late Bill Bright, as the father of the modern crusade movement. His “new measures” and “anxious bench” were indeed the forerunners of the altar call.

    But I wonder if these evangelicals even know what Finney taught; or maybe they know about it but ignore it because Finney was the origin of their evangelistic methods, and it doesn’t matter what he believed in because he was a sincere man of God. Finney rejected the following historic doctrines of the church: (1) original sin; (2) substitutionary atonement by Christ; and (3) justification by faith alone in Christ alone. He even condemned one of the most orthodox of all Protestant doctrines: “The doctrine of imputed righteousness, or that Christ’s obedience to the law was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a most false and nonsensical assumption.” Most evangelicals go into shock and denial when they hear that their “hero” is nothing short of a heretic.

    Then how is a person saved, according to Finney? Just as Adam’s sin was only a moral example not to be emulated, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was also a moral example to be followed. So a person is saved by good works that emulate the works of Christ.

    You can read more of Finney’s theology in Michael Horton’s “The Disturbing Legacy of Charles Finney.”

  3.  I am glad to hear that you share my concerns for taking quotes (especially from the Bible) for what they were meant to say and looking into them before we use the words without having researched them first.  I have read books simply because they were miss-quoted and I wanted to be sure I was aware of the writer’s true intent.  Thank you for expounding the quotes and the beliefs of the men behind them.  It is always dissapointing when Christian Leaders refuse to take a stand for what the Bible seems to be very clear on. 

  4. Adrian,

    Good to hear from you!

    I share your concern about taking other people’s quotes out of context. Many people do that for selfish motivations, especially with Scriptures, don’t they?

    You didn’t ask if I was misquoting Billy Graham, so I assume that you have read or seen the many interviews he had with magazines like Newsweek and McCall’s, and TV shows such as Larry King Live and Robert Schuller’s “Hour of Power.” These are all very well-documented.

    The quote from Rick Warren and Bill Hybels comes from a document, “Loving God and Neighbor Together”, they signed calling for Christians and Muslims to work together, which in itself is a response to a document issued by 138 Muslim leaders, “A Common Word Between Us and You.” This Yale document declares that the “foundational principles of both faiths” are the “love of the One God, and love of the neighbour.” A portion of this document says,

    What is common between us lies not in something marginal nor in something merely important to each. It lies, rather, in something absolutely central to both: love of God and loveof neighbor. Surprisingly for many Christians, your letter considers the dual command of love to be the foundational principle not just of the Christian faith, but of Islam as well.

    Warren and Hybels surprised and disappointed many evangelicals, including John Piper, who said,

    I just want to register publicly a disappointment with this document, in fact a profound disappointment with the way that it is worded and surprised that some of the people that signed it, some of my friends who signed it, who i would have thought would be more careful in what they lend their support to because what’s missing from this document is a clear statement about what Christianity really is and how we could come together to talk with Muslims from our unique, distinctive, biblical standpoint.

    Brian McLaren and the emerging church leaders, on the other hand, is a more confusing, ambiguous group. Because they’re still “emerging,” i.e., “evolving,” their views on different things concerning the Bible, the church, and society are also not unified. However, some of their views are unorthodox, that is, they’re different, and even contrary, to what the Church has affirmed throughout its 2,000 years of history. Dr. Albert Mohler, one of today’s leading American theologians and President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in his review of McClaren’s manifesto of the emerging church movement, A Generous Ortodoxy, says this about McLaren’s embrace of other religions:

    McLaren suggests that we should embrace the existence of different faiths, “willingly, not begrudgingly.” What would this mean? Well, a complete reconsideration of Christian missions, for one thing. McLaren claims to affirm that Christians should give witness to their faith in Jesus Christ. But, before you assume this means an affirmation of Christian missions, consider this statement: “I must add, though, that I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all?) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts. This will be hard, you say, and I agree. But frankly, it’s not at all easy to be a follower of Jesus in many ‘Christian’ religious contexts, either.”

    In another review, “Emergent Delusion,” Bob DeWaay, Pastor of Twin City Fellowship in Minnesota (I’m not in any way endorsing DeWaay’s other views in quoting him), says of McLaren’s inclusivism,

    He offers a confused view of the exclusive claims of Christianity. According to McLaren, there is always some synthetic alternative even if it must remain undefined: “This is how I feel when I’m offered a choice between the roads of exclusivism (only confessing Christians go to heaven), universalism (everyone goes to heaven), and inclusivism (Christians go to heaven, plus at least some others). Each road takes you somewhere, to a place with some advantages and disadvantages, but none of them is the road of my missional calling: blessed in this life to be a blessing to everyone on earth.”

    Indeed, McLaren clearly denies the “exclusivity” of salvation in Christ in a paper entitled “A Reading of John 14:6”:

    This is the verse that is frequently quoted to defend an idea called the “exclusivity of Christ,” namely, that all who do not consciously and decisively accept Jesus as their personal savior will burn forever in hell. That phrase raises concerns for me, because based on the Scriptures, I believe Jesus primarily came not to proclaim a way out of hell for some after death, but rather a way into a better life for all before death. His message was not about going to heaven after history, but about the kingdom of heaven coming to earth in history. His goal – made clear in word and deed, day after day during his three years of public ministry – was not to constrict but rather to expand the dimensions of who could be welcomed into the kingdom of God, of who could be accepted in the people of God.

    In so doing, he snuggles closer to theological liberals in affirming God’s love but belittling hell, and emphasizing the temporal over the eternal.

  5. I would like to pre-face my comment by stating that I am not completely familiar with the men behind the comments and their theology and am not defending them by a personal connection but would like to have the context for their statements.  I am curious to what context the quotes from Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Brian McClaren were taken.  They seem less pointed and obvious than the others.  I have found in the past that there are times when people are quoted but their point is missed completely and they come out sounding like a blasphemer when they were simply trying to get people to think about the answer behind their questions or get people to love as Christ loved and have compassion for the lost.   This may not be the case but I think it is always good to check on things like that.  Thank you.

  6. Kuya Nollie,

    The fact that there is absolutely no salvation apart from Jesus Christ is a reminder that Reformed Theology is the only view that presents a Biblical understanding of evangelism.

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