The Gospel of Exclusion



The message of exclusion is a fundamental problem for christianity and the church today.

While there are abundant examples of the message of exclusion, the Chik-Fil-A episode is an obvious recent example. Regardless of the first amendment issues involved, this was an epic failure in communicating the message of Christ for the christians who were involved in “taking a stand.”

In christianity, we are very comfortable with the designation of an outsider group. How we treat the outsider is reflective of our understanding of the nature of God. Too often exclusion and rebuke are emphasized, furthering the outsider’s sense of shame and alienation. With a punitive understanding of the outsider, we collectively, and possibly individually, become self-righteous about opposing and excluding.

The reality is that God’s benevolence in not confined to the church. God has never let go of the outsider, even when the outsider lets go of God.

In an earlier post, What’s the Difference?, I pointed out the areas of concern that I have with central message of the western evangelical gospel. The message communicated is to convince an individual of their sinful state, of the fearful verdict awaiting them from a wrath-filled God, and of the conditions required to save themselves from eternal punishment.

The central problem of humanity is not God’s demand for judgment. The central problem of humanity is our sense of alienation from God. Shame and guilt magnify this alienation and are barriers that must be overcome to approach God. Unfortunately, in a gospel of exclusion, the myth of alienation is perpetuated by focusing on accusation and by falsely portraying the anger of the Father. In an orthodox inclusive gospel, the primary message is to convince a person of God’s love for them and His acceptance of them.

I understand that the phrase “gospel of inclusion” makes us nervous. Often when this phrase is used, we see a message that is watered down, containing little truth or life and bordering on pluralism. I do not believe that all roads or belief systems lead to God. Jesus is the only way that we could be reconciled to God. A belief system, including christianity, is hollow if it is not leading a person to share life with God.

However, we do not have to let go of the essence of scripture and truth to communicate a gospel of inclusion. If we look to scripture, the Father’s embrace of all humanity is evident. He has included sinner’s before they (we) do a single thing.

But what about their sin? Don’t worry about it, it isn’t our job. Our concern should be their sense of alienation and lack of understanding of the Father’s love for them. This is the “sin” that must be overcome in their life, and it is not overcome through moralizing condemnation. It is overcome through a convincing communication of the truth of the Father’s loving embrace. Whatever moral issues a person struggles with can only be transformed through the love of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. When and how that happens will occur within a person’s relationship with God, not according to our agenda or timeline.

For the church, having an orthodox theological basis for inclusion is essential to an engaging missional stance toward others. 

An unconditional theology of the gospel makes a difference in the freedom and assurance that we experience in Christ. It also makes a huge difference in how we approach others. Although we may not know where someone is in their understanding and knowledge of God, we start with the assumption of their inclusion and acceptance by the Father and then encourage them in the love of God.

So what do you think? Do you feel that Scripture can support an orthodox theology of inclusion?

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14 thoughts on “The Gospel of Exclusion

  1. I think the message of Christianity is this, no one comes to the Father except through Christ. If a homosexual repents of their sin and accept Christ as their Savior then they are in the church. Jesus is the door and only by entering that door do you have fellowship with God and His church. Welcome all who are saved. That to me is a pretty good message.

  2. Ken,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I would rephrase your comment in this way:

    Jesus was the only way that mankind could be reconciled to the Father. Because of what He has done, anyone can experience fellowship with God when we participate in His life and love.

    The point that I am making is that in our gospel message, we can communicate to “others” (anyone) that they are out and that there is a process that they must accomplish to get in. Or we can communicate what Jesus has done and that they can live in awareness and enjoyment of that reality.

    What do we lose biblically if our starting point is that you are included in what Jesus has done? It seems to me that Scriptures easily support this position. I believe this is a foundational issue in the church’s approach to the world.

    Your thoughts?

  3. Hello kansasbob,
    Can you describe the invitation as you see it? There is an important distinction to be made between what God has accomplished and an invitatiion to participate in what He has already done.

  4. Thanks, Linda, for an intriguing post.

    As a Wesleyan, I look to John Wesley as one example (among others) of how to go about preaching the Gospel. Wesley was quite clear that there is no “good news” without bad news. He instructed his lay preachers to start with the Law. Once the listener realized his or her desperate condition, they would natural seek out the solution to it.

    Peter gives us the same model in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost. He started with the bad news (“You crucified this Jesus…) which led them to ask: “What must we do to be saved?” Only then did he say: “Repent and be baptized…” This (of course )is all in Acts 2.

    Paul does the same in Romans. Chapters 1-4 paint the desperate condition of humanity separated by sin from God. Only beginning in 5:1 does he go positive: “There is now therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…”

    So, there is a place for saying “you are out” as long as we make it clear that we ALL begin by being “out” (Romans 1-4). There’s o room for self-righteousness here! Yet, universal redemption (to use Wesley’s term) means that all of us can potentially be IN. However, this always depends upon our response to God’s grace in Christ, freely offered to all.

    So, the bad news comes first, and the good news is second. Salvation at the end of the day is God’s loving solution to a desperate problem.

    1. Greg,
      It’s nice to meet you. I’ve added your blog to my reader also.

      I heartily agree that salvation is God’s solution to a desperate problem. The problem for humanity, however, was not that we behaved badly (even though we did), but that our communion with the source of Life was broken, and we were powerless to restore fellowship with God.

      In my opinion, the presentation of the Law and the bad news frames the gospel in the context of morality and behavior, neglecting the shame and alienation that hinder a person’s ability to enter into relationship with God.

      I believe that Peter’s central message in the Acts 2 sermon is resurrection and the fulfillment of God’s promised Messiah. Romans 1-4 seems to emphasize the futility of the Law and moral righteousness to achieve communion with God.

      My next post will be about decision and response. I hope you feel free to join the conversation whether or not we agree.

      Grace and peace to you also.

  5. Hi Linda, How’s it going? Just popped in for a wee visit.

    A couple of months ago I ended up going to a huge church nearby with a visiting speaker. Since he was well known and from the other end of the map I looked forward to hearing his message. As the message unfolded, I was not so excited, in fact, I was becoming more distressed the longer I listened. Out of that reflection, I put my thoughts down the next day and an article came together that will eventually get posted on my website.

    The article is entitled: What I Need to Hear–Sinner or King’s Kid? As you can imagine, I give reasons for longing to hear preaching that reminds me that I am a King’s Kid!

    My website is: http://www.ChurchExiters.com

    My book is: Spiritual Abuse Recovery

    All the best!

    1. Hello Barb,
      Can you believe it’s been almost a year since we met in Colorado? It was nice to have the opportunity to see you.

      I think if we really understood how much the enemy uses shame and guilt to keep people away from the Father’s love, we wouldn’t reinforce those accusations from the pulpit. It can take a long time for the truth of God’s love to erase the residue of condemnation.

      Thanks for stopping by! All the best to you too.

  6. I think the main problem when it comes to Scriptural support is the twofold emphasis in Scripture itself of divine love and divine judgment of sin and evil. It’s easy to frame love as nothing more than a divine response to rescue people from what awaits them if they don’t accept the grace extended to them. This is how we’ve predominantly read the story for centuries and it often misses the deeper connection with God’s nature entirely. But it’s also easy to frame love as nothing more than an unconditional acceptance that ignores our need for change and holiness altogether. While morality is not the basis of our acceptance, it does describe what the wholeness/holiness we ought to re-attain looks like. And I guess some would argue that if the cross is described exclusively as a demonstration of the depth of God’s love (which it undeniably is!) and not described as a demonstration of the depth of human evil (judged and condemned in Christ’s own body) as well, we are not really helping people in seeing clearly the whole picture of what we are saved from.

    In other words: if we want to follow Jesus entirely we can’t trim the message to those words that talk about God’s love and extravagant efforts to be in close fellwship with those on the fringes but we also ought to embrace the hard sayings that leave many people in an unchanged state of darkness, condemnation and state of great suffering away from the experience of that same love. Hell as a picture of exclusion and being on the outside is a reality according to Jesus, a reality that divine love does indeed want to save us from. And if some people confess to me that seeing the depth of their own sin and depravity has not led to them to be manipulated into a relationship with God that is dominated by a fear of punishment but into a deeper appreciation of what Christ did on the cross for them, I have to accept that and be happy that they experienced it this way.

    I guess the difficult question is: which audience and in what context and circumstance need to hear those hard sayings today? There is an argument to be made that the closer we come to God, the more we’ll be amazed at His love but also deeply shaken by the depth of His wrath towards the evil that still stains us. The God who is a consuming fire cannot be tamed to be nothing more than a cozy corner near a fire place in the winter time. The repentance that God wants to lead us into (especially as those who already believe!) seems to use both elements consistently in its preaching and teaching: a wooing of love to come and drink freely, and a terror to shake us out of complacency and deadly compromises.

    1. Josh,
      It’s nice to see you. I wrote about justice a couple of posts ago, The Beauty of the Wrath of God. Justice is an important facet of divine love. We have an expectation for the new creation that evil will ultimately be eliminated and that all will be as it should be. Personally, this includes being transformed by divine love to the point that sin and evil are addressed in our lives. I agree that the closer we commune with God, the more the fire of His love penetrates our thoughts and actions. While this may not be pleasant, it is restorative and redemptive at the hands of our loving Father. And it is hopefully a deterrent from the destructive and alienating consequences of ongoing sin.

  7. Kim,
    What? I assume your comment is unrelated to this post.
    I have not followed the emerging church movement, but I believe there are others such as Mike and Julie Clawson, Steve Knight, and Mike Morrell, to name a few, who know what is happening with that movement, if you are interested in further information.

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