The exclusive view of Hell is, without a doubt, the majority position for conservative evangelicals. Exclusionism teaches that Hell is only for the few who have actually prayed the prayer and become Christians and all others will perish. Those who perish include those who have never heard the Gospel, those who have heard the Gospel, and everything in between (those who only got a partial view of the Gospel). For some who believe in exclusion, they would extend the eternally damned to children, infants, babies, and even those in the womb.
The justifications for this view do vary, from the staunch Calvinist view to the free will view, the justifications are different, but all come to the same conclusion; unless you have had an encounter with the true living Christ, you are going to Hell.
The argument is generally that humans are naturally evil. We are evil from the moment of conception and sinful from the moment of conception. They argue that it’s in our nature to be evil and sinful. Because it’s in our nature, we’re guilty before God, so even if we haven’t heard of Christ, that is the fault of our ancestors who have now condemned us to Hell because they rejected God.
It is the above view that often encourages the evangelicals to be so fervent about missionary work and “saving souls.” To them, the Great Commission is actually the greatest commandment God ever gave because it deals with eternal things, specifically about Heaven and Hell. To such believers in the exclusive nature of the Gospel, the Gospel is ultimately about our eternal state rather than our time on earth (this is not necessarily true of everyone who believes in exclusivism, but it certainly is the majority attitude).
Exclusivists will often appeal to John 14:6 (“I am the way…”), John 3:16 (“…whoever believes in me…”), and Romans 10:13 (“For those who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved”). They often take these scriptures at face value and hold that the opposite of calling on the name of the Lord must condemn a person. Some who believe in exclusivism will still hold that infants and children are still saved through God’s mercy (as per 2 Samuel 12:23) because they lack the capacity to understand salvation. But others respond that 2 Samuel 12:23 is David simply crying out, that the belief that infants go to Heaven is “theology that helps you sleep at night” that has no real backing in Scripture, and that if infants went to Heaven then we should kill them before they know what’s going on (this is the more extreme argument I’ve seen). This is really the only area of disagreement among those in exclusionism.
The potential problems with an exclusionist viewpoint:
The very first problem with the exclusionist viewpoint is that it requires a belief in the corruption of the human nature. While Paul uses the term “human nature” to refer to our fallen aspect, we have misunderstood his meaning. Paul is simply referring to our propensity to sin, but is not saying that sin exists within our nature. To say something is essential or within a person’s nature is to say that if you removed the said object from the nature, it would cease to be what it is. We look at a rock and, essential to the nature of the rock is “solid.” If we remove “solid” from the nature of the rock, then it ceases to be a rock.
So we look to human nature. If “guilty of sin” or “sinful” is essential to human nature, then what do we say about Christ? Either He was sinful or guilty of sin simply by being human, or He wasn’t human. This is quite the problem for most Christians as most Christians believe that Christ was human in all manners except sin (which is the true belief to hold). If there is something wrong with our human nature, then it would also mean that Adam and Eve ceased to be whatever God created them when they chose to sin. None of these beliefs work. Thus, when Paul says our “nature,” he means it in a manner different from how we understand the word “nature.” Rather, he is arguing that our wills aren’t lined up with God’s will. This has nothing to do with our nature, but has everything to do with what could be called a “sin nature.”
When we speak of a sin nature, we’re speaking of our wills not being aligned to God’s, meaning that we will sin. This would mean our wills are damaged, but that Christ was born with a perfect human will that worked with His Divine will. This wouldn’t make Him non-human, but simply a human in perfect form (when it comes to the will). A person who is born colorblind isn’t less human or have a different nature than those who can see colors as they are; likewise, just because we are born with imperfect wills (as the consequence of Adam and Eve) doesn’t mean that Jesus was different for being born with a perfect will.
But what this ultimately teaches us is that while we have a “sin nature” of sorts, we are not guilty of sin until we know what we are doing. If we cannot be guilty of sin until we have the capacity to know right and wrong, then already the strict exclusivist is in trouble in his beliefs. But the “soft exclusivist” will say, “I already believe that.” Now make no mistake, the child is still saved through Christ and not simply because he is innocent, but he is saved in a different manner; he is saved from the curse of death, which is something all humans suffer from. But once again, the soft exclusivist would say, “I agree.” So is there a problem with soft exclusivism?
That is something we will look at in the next post on inclusivism; in explaining inclusivism, some potential problems with soft exclusivism will be looked at. Keep in mind that I’m not saying what I believe, but merely explaining the positions. At the end of this series I’ll finally disclose my beliefs on the issue.