For those who consider themselves to be part of the “exclusivist” understanding of salvation there is a definition posted by Terry Tiesen over at Scot McKnight’s blog that he is presenting for editorial feedback (see full post here). This is Tiesen’s definition:
At various points in human history, God revealed himself and his purposes in the world more fully, culminating in the incarnation of God the Son. Everyone has some knowledge of God through divine self-revelation and, in God’s justice, people are judged only according to the revelation they have received. Therefore, no one is condemned for not believing in revelation which they have not received. But, in God’s grace, he only saves people who believe in him according to the most complete revelation that he has given to human beings. At each point in human history, therefore, knowledge of the latest and fullest divine revelation is necessary for saving faith.
As someone who would consider myself more or less an exclusivist I am wrestling with this definition. I affirm that first line that at various points in human history God has revealed Himself and that the incarnation is the climax of revelation (ie. Acts 17:23-34; Heb. 1:1). Furthermore, I affirm that the Apostle Paul argued that all people have some understanding of God (at some point in their life), including Richard Dawkins (Rom 1-2)! This would result in people being judged according to the revelation that was received upon rejection of that revelation. So-called “general” revelation is always rejected in favor of gods that are no-gods at all (again, Rom. 1-2).
In the next phase I would affirm that God does appear to judge according to the most recent revelation of sort. Hence, Paul could lament the Jewish rejection of Messiah even though the Jews were zealous for Moses’ Law (Rom. 9-11). But it must be more than this: there is not a group of people who simply seem to acknowledge the most updated revelation, but a group of people that God somehow “chooses” to receive this revelation in a salvific way (again Acts 17:23-34; add Rom. 8:26-29). Therefore, God chooses those who will be able to receive the salvific revelation at certain points in human history.