I have quite a different solution to this: abandoning this Gnostic gospel of salvation by sound doctrine as totally contrary to the teachings of Jesus and Paul. Belief and other such works of the mind have absolutely NOTHING to do with salvation. When the man asked Jesus in Matthew 19 what he had to do in order to have eternal life, I don’t recall that Jesus asked him one single question concerning what he believed. Did Jesus even ask, “do you believe in God?” Nope!
The gospel taught by Jesus and Paul is that of salvation by the grace of God. All God asks is faith (and no that does not mean believing the right things). After all, what make faith alive and real according to James? Works such as taking care of those in need, seeking justice, correcting oppression, and defending the unprotected. That more than anything should be a clue that this has nothing whatsoever to do with your religious beliefs and observances. What faith is all about is doing what is right for its own sake and not because you are looking for a payback.
That view (the latter one I described) is not annihilationism. I’m not an expert in Eastern Orthodox theology but I don’t think they tend to be big fans of annihilationism. While I think there is a variety of thought in the Orthodox tradition on this subject, I know there are folks that lean toward some sort of universal reconciliation. Not sure. Sorry!
Since I read the edited content portion of your post before I had a chance to respond, I have to say that, in all Christian love, it was quite ungracious and uncalled for. That out of the way, let me address the points that you made, none of which I agree with. I’ll start with a few passages and comments.
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
So right from the start, we have to repent of sins and believe the good news that Jesus came to die as a sacrifice for sins, making salvation possible for those who believe – not in Mohammed, Buddha, Zoroaster or anyone else, but in Jesus Christ. No mention of good works yet.
John 6:29, “Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
So the work of God is to believe in Jesus. Of course, this is more than an intellectual recognition that he is the messiah or the Son of God. John 6:53, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Jesus tells the Jews (and us) that if he isn’t our life, we are not saved.
Lastly, John 3:3, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Peter said to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins in Acts 2. Jesus calls us to be his disciples, to live for him, in Matthew 28. Once we repent, make the decision to clean up or lives and live for Jesus (and I would say are baptized also), we are born again, a change has happened on the inside, to our souls. We don’t have to do any good work to be saved, but once clean from the inside, we are called to help the poor and generally meet needs as we come across them. We are not called to indiscriminately look for injustices to correct or oppressions to release. Note that not only do we have to have these correct beliefs, none of the process of being saved makes any sense without a belief in the existence of the God of the bible.
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
The rich young man asked Jesus, "what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" (v16, NIV). There can only be an eternal life if there is a heavenly realm with a God determining who will be accepted into this life, and who won’t. And since the rich young man appeared to be an Israelite, and asked the question to Jesus, a teacher of God, it is without question that the rich young man believed in God, so Jesus didn’t ask have to ask him if he believed in God or not, it was assumed.
1 Timothy 4:16
" Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers."
So, according to Paul, not only do we have to have the correct doctrine, he said we have to watch it closely, since he knew that it would become corrupted, even starting in the days of the lives of the apostles.
I don’t believe in the social gospel, it doesn’t exist biblically. Yes, we are called to do good works as we follow Christ, especially helping the poor, but we not called to become social warriors. Nowhere in James does it mention, “seeking justice, correcting oppression or defending the unprotected”. The 2 examples he mentions are favoring the rich over the poor at a church meeting and not helping a Christian brother or sister with food or clothes, a Christian context to good works. Again, if a Christian comes across some sort of injustice or oppression, he/she should seek to alleviate it. But we are not called to go out into the world to, “seek justice”, etc. We are, as followers of Christ, called to have a relationship with God through prayer (and I would say scripture reading), set an example of Jesus Christ in our lives to make the gospel attractive, do our best to make disciples of Jesus Christ, avoid temptation, help other Christians in their walk with God, repent of sin, confess our sins to to others, be involved in almost a daily basis with Christian fellowship, etc. That is the context in which we, “do good works”.
Final point: People died in the time of Moses because of idolatry. God wants to be believed in, and wants to be glorified - in the New Testament era that is through the lives of Jesus’ faithful followers. To say that we can be saved without believing in God or by having the correct beliefs is simply nonsensical and unscriptural.
Your answer was a good one! Of course it matters what we believe, and we find that all through the Bible, and throughout the post-Apostolic age. The only thing I would mention is that one can make a good biblical case for fighting oppression, etc.
Apparently it is not ok to say somebody is ridiculous for believing certain things, but it is ok to say they are going to hell and their soul destroyed for believing those thing. Very well, since it is the only thing allowed here… you people are going to hell for believing things like that. Justification and proof? Jesus said, “as you judge others, so also shall you be judged.”
Richard, thanks for sharing that piece by Jacoby. I’ve never been one to choose a position because it is less offensive to my anthropocentric sensibilities (after all, I’m reformed ), but the arguments he presents from scripture have challenged me to take a closer look at some of those passages in Berean fashion.
It’s pretty well accepted in Christian theology that some form of hell exists, and that many in the afterlife will end up either annihilated or under divine punishment of some kind. You may disagree, and that’s fine, but as this is a Christian forum it seems a little silly to expect Christians here to not believe basic Christian doctrine, though we may disagree and engage in discourse over the details.
Richard, thank you for these observations - which are a good challenge for me as I have been processing questions around all this in recent months. Since I have been openly critical here of “guardians of doctrine”, the reminder from Paul that you post above is a good counter-point for me to ponder. Indeed, I agree with some of the things you write, but think that there is much that needs push-back too. I think you are right that belief in God could/would have been more-or-less presumed (at least among Israelites) in that day.
Here I must disagree. If it is the word “social” that scares you, then find some other word. But you don’t have leave (as a Bible believing Christian) to drop the payload delivered by that word, because you can hardly read a Bible passage anywhere without tripping over a call to live rightly and justly, and/or (more often) the excoriating rebukes when God’s people fail to do this. From Micah who tells us our business (far from being the offering of thousands of sacrifices) is really to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. Or from the new testament, the words from our very own Lord about the sheep and the goats would alone lay to rest the notion that our salvation is an easy and done deal the moment recite a few right words and believe a few right things. The unfortunate recipients of the Lord’s admonition “away from me you evil doers, … I don’t know you” was addressed to religious folks who had all their doctrinal 'i’s dotted and 't’s crossed. If all this doesn’t lay to rest the mistaken notion that the gospel has no social expectations, then I can’t help you.
Christ made himself to be about the business of proclaiming good news to the poor, healing for the sick, freedom for the captives … and if you insist on trying to spiritualize all that away, then various passages (including in James) are waiting to thwart you in that move as well. “Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” and “Faith without works is dead.”
So yes, while it is true that we cannot save ourselves, it is also not true that our salvation is just a “one-off” singular event after which we can relax because we are now “in”. God is constantly saving us so that we can do those good works he has prepared for us to do. What Christ already did for us is a done deal. That much is true. But now Christ calls us to be perfect like our Father in heaven - and that does not happen over night, and indeed we can rest assured that that is not something that anybody can observe “now I’ve finally done it - I’m perfect like God”. So I propose it is much more biblical to see our salvation being worked out in us.
Gotta go for now - busy weekend! But in any case thanks for these challenges.
I would agree that accepting the right things helps us in our relationship to God. However, I rebel inwardly to think that the actual knowledge of something is what saves us. It doesn’t seem fair. After all, I don’t think that God judges my 5 year old daughter based on her incomplete knowledge of salvation; though she does sin, I don’t think that God will throw her into hell for either the sin or the lack of knowledge. I also don’t think that God will judge those based on acceptance of something they have never heard of (those who have not heard), or can 't understand (mentally challenged)–but on their repentance. Mr McKain wrote of a God who judges based on truthfulness–maybe he’s had some PTSD with regard to preaching an unkind God (I think, based on my response to some sermons, I’ve had the same).
Matthew Bates wrote a book called “Salvation by Allegiance Alone,” approved by Scot McKnight and Michael Bird, two of my favorite writers with great credentials, which argues that “faith” is the word “pistis,” more at accepting God’s/ Christ’s lordship rather than believing in a creed.
The true climax of the gospel–Jesus’ enthronement–has generally been deemphasized or omitted from the gospel
Consequently, “pistis” been misaimed and inappropriately nuanced with respect to the gospel. It is regarded as “trust” in Jesus’ righteousness alone or “faith” that Jesus’ death covers my sins rather than “allegiance” to Jesus as king.
Final salvation is not about attainment of heaven but about embodied participation in the new creation. when the true goal of salvation is recognized, terms such as “faith,” “works,” “righteousness,” and “the gospel” can be more accurately reframed.
Once it is agreed that salvation is by allegiance alone, matters that have traditionally divided Catholics and Protestants–the essence of the gospel, faith alone versus works, declared righteousness versus infused righteousness–are reconfigured in ways that may prove helpful for reconciliation. (p9)
James writes in 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Psalm 51:16, 1716 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
But I certainly want to teach my daughter more, as she grows, about the God who sent his Son to die for us and identify with us. And our relationship to God grows as we learn more about him day to day, and repent and with His help, as with Eustace, accept HIs purification. George Macdonald observed in one of his books that with time and learning more of God, we realize there are things that we are ashamed of in ourselves, even though a few days ago we weren’t aware of them.
I’m not being dogmatic or unrestricted about this. I’d appreciate your thoughts.
The curious thing here is that the words “social gospel” are entirely his. I was just quoting the Bible myself. What I said comes mostly from Isaiha chapter 1. But then I can see how this wouldn’t be so popular among the Gnostics (i.e. the “my beliefs save me and your beliefs are sending you to hell” crowd). Though this is hardly just in the Old Testament, there is also Matthew 25 and epistle of James, but then perhaps like Luther and Marcion, he just picks the parts of the Bible he likes and describes everything which disagrees with such as “straw.”
But if you want to talk facts here rather than just empty rhetoric, I don’t support the real historical “social gospel” movement which sought to reduce the Bible to the mandate of social reform alone. Anybody who has been paying the slightest attention and sought to find out what I believe would know this. And I am really not interested in engaging someone who does not make such efforts before throwing around accusations. I really have had enough of such people.
Supporting a creed as a definition of a religion is one thing. I do that too. But replacing God with the creed as the source of your salvation is something else. I will certainly continue to repudiate that.
No PTSD, remember that I wasn’t raised Christian. I came to Christianity from science, liberalism, psychology, and existentialism by looking at the Bible with an open mind and seeing if I could see anything of value in it. What I found remarkable is that so many of the liberal criticisms (with which I was raised) of the Christian establishment, were right there in the Bible itself. That is a large part of what made me a believer, and this is the explanation for why I so strongly oppose the the distortions preaching an unkind God, treating the threat/promise tactics evangelism as the mafia-like racketeering which is all amounts to. As I have said before, my hope is that all these things which make Christianity so useful for power and manipulation will eventually be purged from the religion, for then the claim that this comes from God will be more believable.
Salvation is achieved by acting out the life of Christ. That’s what it means to “take up your cross” and to “put on Christ”. People will be judged based on the decisions they made concerning the knowledge available to them. Little children aren’t at risk of hellfire since they’re still innocent and don’t have the knowledge of good and evil.
Matthew 19:14: Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
My way of thinking solves this without making exceptions or by pretending that children are completely innocent. Though perhaps the passage telling us to become as children is an important hint. I think it is really about how children are still absorbed by the learning task of life – learning from everyone and everything. In this world being so wide open makes them vulnerable frankly, but in the next, that vulnerability becomes their greatest strength, connecting them with those who are ready to help.
That is a great question. I am not sure what accountability really is. Throwing a tantrum is sometimes our way of figuring out the world in the safe place of our homes. I don’t know even how much adults control things by extension…and maybe understanding how God looks at children helps us understand adults as we learn, too.
No I don’t think so. I frequently point out that selfishness in an infant is perfectly righteous. Their own well-being is the extent of their responsibility and all they can handle.
But then there is the assertion of the Bible that nobody can say they are without sin. I take this to mean that with human language we also acquire a memetic inheritance of bad habits (i.e. sin). But I then I think this is all about the competition of diametrically opposed forces within us (creative forces of learning versus the destructive forces of bad habits) rather than somebody passing judgement about whether we are worthy.
So this is why my response was focused on an evaluation of the forces involved when it comes to children. In their case I see reason to think that the positive/creative forces are stronger… before the bad habits have taken too much of a hold and become really destructive.
I did not have time to give adequate response to this earlier - and perhaps still do not now. It does remain the best objection (to me anyway) for contemplation. Let me just add these to this morning’s words in any case:
I don’t disagree with you that belief is important - of paramount importance even! What I further insist on, though, is that belief is inseparable from life and obedience. That is - whatever a person may profess with their mouth, their true beliefs - the true state of their heart is revealed in how they live toward their neighbor (whom they can see) and therefore toward God (whom they cannot see). So yes - we are called to believe all the right things. That is identical to being called to live the right things. In that, I suggest is the “reconciliation” of the two disparate tugs that we westerners tore asunder in our pretense that truth can be some abstraction we entertain apart from our obedience, allegiance, and our very life itself.
In all this I suspect that I may not differ as much from you, Richard, as my earlier post above might make it seem.
Everyone does sin – but of course, 2 years old don’t sin. What’s the resolution? Instead of taking on a form of hyper-literalism, it looks like it’s clearly the case that everyone who has had the option to sin, has in fact, sinned. 2 year olds and similar children have not had such an option (their crackpottery is a result of stupidity, not sin).
I also believe not only that hell exists, but that an eternity in hell is a possible outcome. That wasn’t my problem with what he said. It was making ones beliefs the criterion for who goes to hell with his comment on “unbelievers” which I was objecting to. That is why I went to Matthew 19 to see what criterion Jesus employed to answer the question of how one obtains eternal life. You can also object that this idea of his is also a common Christian way of thinking, but this is one which I think has to change.