Inclusivism is a bad idea because it gives people—like Shapiro—false hope that they can have eternal life without coming to Jesus on His terms. Those who refuse to come to Jesus will not receive life (John 5:40). Jesus explicitly states, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
Does a person need to put their faith in Jesus to be saved?
That was the underlying question conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro put to Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Barron in episode 31 of his Sunday Special.
Ben Shapiro pulls no punches when he asks,
What’s the Catholic view on who gets into Heaven and who doesn’t? I feel like I lead a pretty good life—a very religiously based life—in which I try to keep, not just the Ten Commandments, but a solid 603 other commandments, as well. And I spend an awful lot of my time promulgating what I would consider to be Judeo-Christian virtues, particularly in Western societies. So, what’s the Catholic view of me? Am I basically screwed here?
Same Question, Different Responses
In asking this, Shapiro is asking the same question as the rich young ruler—albeit in a less elegant way. It’s the most important question a person can ask: What must I do to inherit eternal life?
Like the rich young Jewish ruler from the first century, Shapiro qualifies his question with a list of good deeds. Both young Jewish men boast of their religiosity and their sincerity to keep the Law.
Although their questions are similar, the answers they each receive are different.
In Jesus’ response, He shows the rich ruler that he—like all of us—falls short of God’s perfect standard (Mark 10:21). In fact, he has not even kept the greatest commandment to love God above everything else, including his wealth. Jesus’ point is clear: You can’t enter God’s kingdom by working.
Paul makes the same point in his letter to the Romans. He says, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). Paul adds, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:23–25a).
In His short encounter with the rich ruler, Jesus illustrates how not to inherit eternal life. But, in an encounter with another Jewish ruler, He explains how to inherit eternal life.
Speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Here’s what we learn from Jesus’ interactions with these two Jewish leaders.
First, good works won’t work. Second, eternal life is received by faith—believing in Jesus.
Contrast Jesus’ response to Bishop Barron’s:
No. The Catholic view—go back to the Second Vatican Council [which] says it very clearly.
Christ is the privileged route to salvation. God so loved the world He gave His only Son that we might find eternal life, so that’s the privileged route. However, Vatican II clearly teaches that someone outside the explicit Christian faith can be saved. Now, they’re saved through the grace of Christ indirectly received, so the grace is coming from Christ. But it might be received according to your conscience.
So if you’re following your conscience sincerely—or, in your case, you’re following the commandments of the Law sincerely—yeah, you can be saved.
Now, that doesn’t conduce to a complete relativism. We still would say the privileged route—the route that God has offered to humanity—is the route of His Son. But, no, you can be saved. Even, Vatican II says, an atheist of good will can be saved.
The belief that someone can by saved today without explicit faith in Christ is called inclusivism. Barron does a good job laying out the inclusivist position—a position taught by the Roman Catholic Church. Unfortunately, Bishop Barron doesn’t give any biblical support for the view.