Are all included, really?

This blog occasionally receives comments objecting to our statement that, "all people are included in God's love and life." Some objectors claim that this statement is tantamount to teaching universalism. Though that is not what we mean by the statement, it is understandable that some misconstrue it that way, given differing viewpoints concerning the doctrine of salvation.

As Trinitarian theologian Gary Deddo commented to me recently, those who object to a trinitarian, incarnational understanding of salvation tend to view salvation as a steady state of individuals that is effective in a mechanical (instrumental) way, whereby individuals either are in the “on” (saved) position or in the “off” (unsaved) position. This mechanistic view of salvation comes from thinking that God operates upon individuals as a causal force, either in a deterministic way (as in Calvinistic double predestination), or (as in Arminianism) by creating a universal potential that becomes actual only when the individual makes a certain response.

In contrast, the incarnational Trinitarian theology represented on this blog views salvation in accordance with the following points:
  • In and through Jesus Christ, God has established a reality that is true in relation to all humanity. That reality is that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of all.
  • That reality calls for a response from individuals.
  • That individual response either affirms or denies the reality, but it does not and cannot change the reality of who God is in Christ in relationship to all. 
  • Personal denial (rejection) of the reality of who God is in Christ does have consequences for the individual. However, those consequences do not undo the reality, nor do they create an alternative reality.
The key point is the understanding that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of all is a statement concerning who God is and what he has done for all in the person and work of his incarnate Son. This is a theological statement; it concerns the purpose, character, heart, mind and achievement of God. It testifies to the reality of who Jesus is in relation to all people, whether or not any person accepts or rejects that reality (truth). The statement, in itself, says nothing about human response and thus nothing about the final state of any individual persons in either accepting or denying that reality. Thus, when we speak of God as having "included all in his life and love," we are speaking about who God is and what he has done, not about human response.

Thus, when we say that "all are included" we are not speaking of "included" in a mechanical, causal, static, non-relational, anthropocentric way. Rather we mean it in a realist, onto-relational, Christ-centered way. What we mean concerns how God, apart from human response, views all people because of who he is and what he has done (and is doing) in the person and work of his incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

This being the case, we declare that all people everywhere are included in Christ (i.e. they belong to Christ) by virtue of creation (Christ is Creator and Sustainer of all) and redemption (Christ is Savior of all). From the cross and empty tomb forward (and reaching back in time as well), all people no longer are beholden to the first Adam, but are included in the new humanity forged by, in and through the new (and final) Adam, Jesus Christ. He is the new head of all humanity. None of these statements speak to human response to these realities except to the response the man Jesus has made for us all as the "vicarious human" who stands in and represents us all.

This onto-relational perspective, admittedly, differs from that of contemporary Calvinism, which sees Jesus as Lord and Savior of only some; and Arminianism, which sees Jesus as potentially Lord and Savior of all (or some, depending on personal response). Those who object to our statement that "all are included" typically hold to one of these two views, and in doing so tend to view salvation in a anthropocentric, non-relational way, assigning to the word "included" a meaning that we do not intend. Such are the complexities of communication, which is a reminder that we need to be clearer in our communication.

In evaluating our statement that "all are included," please evaluate it as we define it, not in some other fashion. Let us hear and understand each other, even if we end up disagreeing (and, please, let's never be disagreeable).

Click here for a short article on the GCI Weekly Update blog on the related topic of universalism,