An Inclusive Gospel?

Last night some of us gathered at the Claddagh. We had great conversation about serious, eternal issues (and we joked about worthless, superficial stuff too - lots of fun!). It was a great time. At one point Chris W. brought up the issue of "exclusivity," and how those outside of the church often perceive our message. Is the Gospel exclusive or inclusive?

This issue comes up with Judas (the other one) while Jesus is teaching the disciples in the upper room. That night Jesus sat down and told them that he was leaving, but not leaving them alone. The Holy Spirit would come to dwell in them. Here's part of what he says, "Yet a little while and the world will see me no more... Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." (John 14:21 ESV)

Judas is troubled by these words. It sounds too exclusive. He says to Jesus, "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?" (verse 24) It seems like Judas struggled with the idea of a private, exclusive Gospel. He wants to know why this abundant life is limited, not open for everyone. What about the Father's love for the world? What about all nations being blessed in Abraham and streaming up to Zion? Jesus responded by saying, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." (verse 23) Jesus says, the Gospel is for the world! It is for "anyone" who will follow him. So the Gospel is really both inclusive and exclusive. It is inclusive in that it is offered to all who will come, none will be turned away. Yet, it is not found or experienced by those who reject it. This is something most of us understand.

But here's the thing. How we preach this Gospel has a major impact on how people perceive the Gospel and our Savior. I find that many Christians want to tell people about Jesus in such a way that emphasizes its exclusivity. This is probably the most popular way to evangelize. "You're out, and unworthy, so you better get right with God." Hyperbolic, yes, but the point is much of evangelism makes people feel like a poor man who's invited to a country club. He's really not welcome, but if he dresses up he can come in. But there are others who, following the example of Jesus, preach the Gospel emphasizing its inclusiveness. Think about this. Jesus invited (included) uneducated men to be his disciples. Jesus opened up his Gospel to tax collectors, Samaritans, drunks and prostitutes. When he interacts with people like this his emphasis is on the inclusive nature of the Gospel essentially saying, "This is for you too. I choose you."

Take a look at the way Jesus preached. Now, "exclusive" and "inclusive" are not biblical terms, but in general which term would best describe most of Jesus' preaching? While the Gospel's exclusivity is always assumed, the emphasis most of the time seems to be its inclusive offer.