Todd Mangum on Inclusivism
reviewed by Fred G. Zaspel
At the 2002 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Toronto, Todd Mangum of Biblical Theological Seminary presented a paper entitled, "Is There a Reformed Way to Get the Benefits of the Atonement to ‘Those Who Have Never Heard?'" Mangum positioned himself as undecided on the question but argued that God may save some who have never heard the gospel via "1) general revelation (accompanied with an extraordinary ability to discern its truths, which only the Holy Spirit could provide); and/or 2) extraordinary expansion of the covenantal community's parameters" (p.1). He concluded that "God has given us some room to speculate here" (p.15) and charges that "evangelicals have too often been guilty of putting an exclamation point where God has put a question mark" (p.16). Simply put, Mangum argues that we cannot know if those who have never heard of Christ will be condemned. Some who have never heard of Christ may in fact be saved.
Early on Mangum asserts briefly that "full assurance" of salvation is reserved only for those who knowingly embrace Christ. Then he states as a given that this is the purpose of the evangelistic/mission enterprise — to minister informed assurance to those who have responded positively to general revelation but who have not yet heard of Christ. Here in only a few brief sentences Mangum has subtly and gratuitously changed the playing field for the discussion. He has changed the purpose of evangelism from that of rescuing lost sinners from eternal destruction to ministering informed assurance to those who might not have known they were saved. Again, he states all this in passing as a given — I can't imagine how he could attempt to support it all exegetically.
His argument continues in the same methodological vein. For example, he states, "Certainly, Rom. 10:14-15 presents the way God ordinarily reaches His elect." The word "ordinarily," here, is unwarranted, but Mangum gratuitously presents it as a given. On the face of Rom.10:14-15, of course, Paul's argument seems much different. He certainly seems to be arguing that informed faith is the necessary and exclusive means by which God saves his elect. This is not God's "ordinary" means but his exclusive means. Indeed, this seems to be the whole force of his argument — that gospel mission is mandatory in order to salvation and that without it people are lost. The whole flow of his argument rests on not only the exclusiveness of Christ but also informed faith as the exclusive means of saving union with him. We must confess Jesus as Lord. We must call on his name. We must, then, hear the good news. Paul even draws his own conclusion for us in these very terms: "So then faith comes by hearing ...." (note the inferential particle, ara). There is most certainly nothing at all here to hint of a mere "ordinary" means of salvation. The force of the argument is exclusivism, and without this notion of exclusivism, the argument is nullified entirely.
Mangum attempts explanation — "But Rom. 10:18 raises questions about whether God may occasionally work in an extraordinary way among ‘unreached' people." But again he smuggles in his assumed conclusion. There is certainly nothing in this verse that necessarily raises such a question at all. There is precisely nothing here about "occasional exceptions" or "extraordinary" means. There is nothing at all in the text itself that demands that we understand this in any other terms than that of responsibility — an idea that easily keeps the discussion within a Pauline and larger Biblical context. The question of the possible saving efficacy of general revelation is nowhere addressed. It is a notion imported to the verse, not read from it. Worse, this is a notion that does not create mere tension — it is a notion that renders Paul's entire argument much less than cogent if not confusing and even self-contradictory. Paul's argument is of the exclusiveness of Christ and the exclusiveness of faith in Christ as the means of salvation. In short, Mangum's argument cuts exactly across the flow of the context and therefore completely lacks the compelling "pause" for which he argues.
Mangum next argues that the broadening bounds of the old covenant community (to include Gentiles) opens the possibility of salvation for those who have never heard of Christ. Here Mangum seems to be grasping for straws. The observation (of the expanding bounds of the covenant community) could just as easily be used, rather, to demonstrate God's gracious inclusion of the disadvantaged and "unexpected" in the gospel community. It says nothing at all of an exceptional means of entrance — nothing at all. Moreover, Mangum seems to have forgotten that the new covenant community, by very definition, includes only those who know the Lord and have his law written on their heart (cf. Jer.31:34; Heb.8:10ff). This certainly seems to describe people of informed faith and with corresponding conversion of life.
Mangum is on thinner ice still when he appeals to the final judgment and its examination of how people have treated Christ/his people. He surely knows that these kinds of passages do not demand that we see in these (or any other) works anything more than their evidential value. And he surely knows that the surprising nature of the judgment can easily be accounted for in these terms and so in the non-meritorious intent of their efforts. There is just nothing here which creates any necessary inclusivist pause.
Similarly, the question of whether those who receive "fewer stripes" for example could possibly have merited by ignorance no punishment at all is altogether without support from the text. It is an idea entirely imported to the text. Indeed, these passages all speak of punishment — punishment in degrees, granted, but punishment. To take them as allowing non-punishment is exegetical chaos. He just cannot expect an exclusivist to "pause" for mere speculations like these; there is just too much exegetical ground for him to take otherwise.
Mangum's argument concerning the salvation of deceased infants is perhaps his best, but even here he is working with mere speculation. While I would agree that infants who die are included among God's elect and are saved, I have to admit that this conclusion is itself grounded on the thinnest of exegetical ice. And now to reason from the thin ice of the probability of salvation for those who are incapable of anything but ignorance (even of general revelation), to the possibility of salvation to those who intelligently rebel against general revelation and who are everywhere in Scripture described as lost in this ignorance, is just far too much to ask.
Oddly, Mangum fails to address the many passages that insist not only on the exclusiveness of Christ (John 14:6, Acts 4:12, etc.) but also on faith/repentance as the exclusive means of salvation in Christ. "He who does not repent will perish." "He who does not believe on the Son of God remains under condemnation." "God gives the right to be his children to those who believe in the name of Christ." "Whoever believes in Christ is saved, but whoever does not believe in Christ is condemned already." On and on these kinds of statements go, but Mangum seems to be unaware of their relevance to the discussion. The demand is, simply, believe in Christ or perish. That is, salvation in Christ requires an evangelically informed faith in Christ. It is this that gives us the missionary compulsion. And in light of the exegetical weight of these kinds of passages, the very tenuous speculations/questions Mangum has raised just cannot be expected to give the pause or leave the question mark for which he argues.
Mangum's inclusivist argument is exegetically hopeless, a mere grasping for straws and certainly no contribution to the discussion. If it were not such a serious issue it could be written off as naive and sophomorish. But it is much more serious than that, and it fits into an overall pattern at BTS of expansion beyond the gospel.