The idea that all religions are equal is a very popular notion in our country today. No belief is better than another. All are equal. All are included. But this is only a theory. In reality, there are very few people in the world who actually want everyone to be in the inner circle (which is the idea behind Universalism). There are almost always people that the most tolerant of humans would like to exclude. I was once talking with one of my customers as I was painting her house and she was articulating this popular notion of inclusiveness by affirming that almost all people are good people . But she was also a very devout liberal Democrat, so I asked her if Rush Limbaugh was included among her "all". She quickly blurted out "No! That man is evil! He is one of the bad people." Personally, I find good reason to doubt that her collection of "bad people" was actually only a few. If Rush Limbaugh fit that category, certainly there were many others like him.
Inclusivism sounds nice and friendly to articulate, but do we actually want it? On one hand, we like to believe that we do. But on the other hand, it is very much a part of our weakness as humans that we also want the inner circle to be exclusive. I think this has to do largely with our sense of insecurity. Many people come to Christ and are transformed by His free grace and reconciling love. But after a short time, many of us begin to appropriate our right standing with God as being a result of some predisposition. We subtly embrace quite and powerful thoughts that suggest that God loves us and gave His life for us and brought us into His family because we possessed a quality of some sort that others apparently lack. Now there is a thing called "faith" without which it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). And the scriptures also say that the announcement of the Gospel does not benefit those who hear if it is not united with faith (Hebrews 4:2). But what is faith? Faith is not a good deed. Faith results in good deeds. Faith is not an act of courage that puts God in our debt. Faith is a response to the love of God that receives what God has already accomplished. It certainly involves courage, but only because we are so deeply insecure, not because it is such a great act. The point is that I as a Christian do not possess a value over non-believers. I am a child of God, yes, but there are other children of God who have yet to be brought home and God, who did not spare His only begotten Son, will not spare me in an effort to retrieve the lost children. We can see this in many countless ways when we think about the thousands of Christians world-wide who are suffering in prison and enduring torture for the sake of the Gospel announcement. This suffering is a price that God is willing for us to pay for the sake of the Gospel announcement to others! This is astounding. It is not a calling that we can begrudge either because it was the means by which we ourselves were saved. If we resent it, it means that somewhere along the line, we have embraced a lie that suggested that we are somehow more valuable than other human beings. This is exactly the kind of lie that the "children of God" of Jesus day believed and caused them to disbelieve Jesus himself! The children of Israel thought of themselves as God's special people with a unique and intimate relationship with the One True God. This was of course right, but it was NOT for the sake of being privileged over others but for the sake of being an agent of God's redeeming love for others. What Israel in Jesus' day forgot and what I myself tend to forget is that God's election of people is not for their self-aggrandizement but for their service to the rest of the world with the ultimate design of redemption. For the promise made to Abraham was that ALL nations might be blessed THROUGH him and his family (Genisis 22:18). But the Israel of Jesus' day was not only keeping the light to themselves and hiding under a bush instead of shining it on the nations of the Gentiles, they were also excluding fellow Israelites who did not meet their standards for what it mean to be an Israelite. So, when Jesus went to eat at the house of a Jewish Chief tax collector (who was collecting taxes for the enslaving and oppressing Roman Empire) the Pharisees regarded this behavior as deeply disloyal. This is understandable. Zacchaeus was a traitor to his nation. But the point was that Zacchaeus was still desired by God for redemption because "He too is a son of Abraham." Luke 19:9. I am not suggesting a sentimentalist approach or attitude towards evangelism. There are certainly difficult and hard-hearted people in the world who are courting God's condemnation. But what I am advocating to myself as well as to you is a commitment to regard other people with intrinsic and equal value before God whether they are Christians or not and regardless of the amount of sin accumulated over their lifetime. It is not God's heart that ANY should perish but that all should come to repentance. We are not the elect of God because we are more qualified. Rather, we are qualified to share in the redemption of the world because we are elect. So let us be good news people, who seek the reconciliation of ALL people to God and who weep when some fail to make it.