Geivett/Phillips’ Exclusivist View

Today, I’ll point out some interesting things in Part 4 of Zondervan’s More Than One Way? This section presents the exclusivist view, the belief that only those who hear and accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be saved. The main article for that section is by R. Douglas Geivett and W. Gary Phillips, called Geivett/Phillips throughout the book.

I don’t want to dig my academic grave in case I meet Geivett or Phillips for a job interview. This book is dated to 1995, and they’re probably big names by now. But, back then, they were young. They had made names for themselves at a Wheaton conference, and they were also published authors on religious pluralism. But I doubt that they were as famous as John Hick, Clark Pinnock, and Alister McGrath. So I think that they were really trying to compensate for that. They wanted to prove themselves.

Consequently, their article and responses are longer than those of the other authors. They have lots of footnotes. They use words like “veridically” (was that on the GRE?). Their writing style is rather technical.

I didn’t really enjoy reading their responses to the other authors, and I was dreading their main article. But, surprisingly, my reading of it went by pretty fast. It was neat, Scriptural, and somewhat enjoyable.

Basically, they are your typical apologists. Their argument goes like this: God exists because the universe had a beginning and thus needed a cause. There is evidence that the universe has a design that allows for human existence. If things were only slightly different, life would not exist, showing there’s a creator who cares about humanity. And there is evidence that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, which validates the Gospels.

Once Geivett/Phillips validate the Gospels (or, more accurately, refer us to other authors who claim to do so), they cite some exclusivist passages as authoritative (i.e., Acts 4:12; John 3:16, 18; Romans 10:9-15; John 14:6; 17:20). They point out that, in the Bible, God often spares only a few, so we shouldn’t be surprised if he does that with salvation.

They also respond to inclusivist readings of Scripture. For example, inclusivists like to cite John 1:9, which says that the Logos enlightens every man who comes into the world. Inclusivists interpret this to mean that people can be saved apart from explicit faith in Christ, since the Logos still communicates to them, through nature and morality. The Logos who became Jesus Christ was, after all, the divine wisdom who permeated the universe. But Geivett/Phillips apply John 1:9 to Jesus’ incarnation. When Jesus came to earth, his light shined on all sorts of people and forged distinctions (John 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:39-41). It shone on people, but not everyone was saved, for many resisted the light. And so Geivett/Phillips make John 1:9 explicitly about the incarnate Jesus.

Here are my problems with Geivett/Phillips:

1. Overall, I agree with the cosmological argument and the argument from design. I don’t think that the argument from design is perfect, mind you, for there are many things about the universe that make little sense to me. For example, how’s it help humanity for so much of the earth to be covered with salt-water? But, in the end, the design argument still works because so many factors had to come together for life to exist, and I don’t think that could have happened by chance.

But these arguments for God’s existence do not prove Christianity. They can easily coincide with Judaism and Islam. Heck, they can even coincide with Hick’s religious pluralism, the view that God interacts with all of humanity through their different religious traditions.

Actually, I think that these arguments can present problems for Geivett/Phillips’ position. God made a wide world with all sorts of people, who are objects of God’s care and concern. And God interacts with only a small fraction of them, while he consigns the rest to eternal torment (or, for annihilationists, destruction)? That doesn’t make much sense to me.

2. Geivett/Phillips do well to point to conservative scholars, who accept the historical reliability of the New Testament. My problem with Hick is that he acts as if all of New Testament scholarship is minimalist (although he cites a few conservative scholars who agree with him). From historical-criticism, Hick constructs a Jesus who did not claim to be God but was a good moral teacher.

Personally, I don’t construct my theology from historical-criticism, for it’s an unstable foundation. So many scholars disagree about what is the earliest strand of tradition, or what is reliable historically. I prefer to go with the final form of the biblical text. That’s what has come down to us. I don’t dig underneath the text in search of what’s earlier, for God can teach us through later stuff. And is my theology based on anything that’s not historical? Perhaps. God can instruct us through material that’s not historically accurate.

But, back to Geivett/Phillips. Geivett/Phillips want to prove that Christianity is true, beyond the shadow of a doubt. And I don’t think they successfully do that. For example, would Jesus’ resurrection prove Christianity? Even Geivett/Phillips acknowledge that one can interpret that in different ways. For instance, they say that “Pinchas Lapide, an eminent Jewish scholar of the New Testament, affirms the historical reality of the resurrection of Jesus, though he denies that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel” (266). So one can believe in Jesus’ resurrection without being a Christian. How, then, does it prove Christianity? Geivett/Phillips should do more work to demonstrate that it supports Christian orthodoxy.

3. Geivett/Phillips are not exactly pastoral. Alister McGrath makes this point: “What does one say to a young Chinese student who has become a Christian, and yet whose parents, back in the rural heartland of the People’s Republic of China, have never heard of Christ? He is naturally concerned for their spiritual welfare and destiny. I think it is this kind of pastoral concern that makes me a little hesitant concerning the approach taken by Geivett and Phillips” (258).

I’ve heard Christians say, “Oh, it’s so great to believe in Christianity! It comforts us. We’ll get to see our departed friends and loved ones.” But that’s not true for every Christian. What if most of one’s friends and loved ones are unsaved?

Geivett/Phillips argue well from Scripture. Their interpretation may be the way things are. And they say on occasion, “We’re not cold and heartless! We’d love for inclusivism to be true. But the Bible says otherwise. Don’t blame us!” (my paraphrase). But they should work on their bedside manner. Is the Bible a cold set of propositions? Or does it reflect concern for people? If the latter is true, then Geivett/Phillips should add some pastoral concern to their clinical analysis.

But that’s just my two cents, for what it’s worth!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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