Words of a Fether

I am the way, the truth, and the life;
no one comes to the Father except through me. ~Jesus

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Unintended Consequences

Government bureaucracies and large corporations are notorious for finding out only after the fact that some edict or rule has resulted in causing many more problems than those it was intended to solve. For example, welfare laws have encouraged many mothers to have large numbers of children they care nothing for because it results in more government handouts. But this is especially true in religion and philosophy, such as the fact that “karma” actually blames the victim for whatever they are suffering since it is payback for alleged crimes committed in a life the victim cannot remember.

Regarding Christianity specifically, I’ve tried to address the unintended results of various teachings many times. But I think they can be summarized into two opposite extremes: those who view God as a cold-blooded punisher, and those who view God as a Santa Clause who doesn’t even care whether you’ve been bad or good. Within those, we can further separate on the basis of whether the view applies only or primarily in this life or extends into eternity. Of course, I believe both extremes miss the mark and ignore significant portions of scripture; God is both loving and holy, merciful and just, forgiving and condemning.

What are the unintended consequences of the “cold” view? Calvinism, as I’ve written much about, leads to the conclusion that there is no point to evangelism since God’s decree of whom He ’elected’ cannot be thwarted. They complain loudly against this as being ’hyper-Calvinism’, but that’s where their teachings lead. Lordship Salvation leads us to conclude that we must work very hard and relentlessly to earn what scripture calls a gift freely offered, since this teaching mistakes the results of salvation for its cause. Replacement Theology, where the church becomes Israel (less commonly known, where Israel absorbs the church), claims all the blessings God promised Israel but not her curses, though both groups suffer from the same degree of rebellion. For all of these, the ones who take the teachings to where they logically lead are deemed “radical” or “hyper” or “extreme”.

What are the unintended consequences of the “Santa” view? I’ve pointed out the irony of those who say it’s wrong to criticize others, since they (often with great anger) criticize the critics; they commit the very sin they claim to be against when they encounter anyone who disagrees with them. A belief that claims to tolerate all beliefs cannot tolerate beliefs to the contrary; it is self-contradictory. Universalism, which though it has several ’denominations’, believes there is no eternal suffering for those who do not accept Jesus as Savior in this life. But like Calvinism, this means there is no reason to spread the gospel; in fact, there is no gospel to spread at all. If people can be saved without knowing Jesus died for them and rose again, then there is no need for ’witnessing’ or ’witnesses’, no need to even stop committing crimes such as abuse, theft, or even murder, since everybody’s going to heaven. At least karma pays people back for their crimes, but Universalism is blind to justice. A temporary purgatory doesn’t solve the problem, as I’ve explained in past articles.

There are consequences or necessary implications of every belief. As a whole, I think many Christians don’t consider what those consequences and implications are when it comes to the gospel. What does it mean for scripture to tell us to be witnesses? To spread the gospel? To be willing to die for our faith? If the extreme views are right, none of these things make much sense. They find ways to work them in, but only by being inconsistent or contradictory to their core teachings. We are followers of Jesus for a reason, and it isn’t to be either assassins on one extreme or fairy godmothers on the other. Any religion, philosophy, club, or even business model can preach a ’gospel’ of abiding by rules, even if the rule is to just be nice or help the poor (the anti-rule view doesn’t realize that “be nice or else!” is a rule, a legalistic and controlling belief). Who needs Christian faith for that? Whether God ’elects’ some or all, regardless of how they act in this life, why bother trying to convince others to agree with us? What’s the point? Both sides claim to have the moral high ground, yet anyone in any other religion or philosophy can claim it on the same basis.

I’ve said this many times but not often enough: salvation in the Christian faith is about being reconciled to God through faith in the risen Jesus, and that the expected behavior of one so reconciled is to love God and people. Those who only believe the facts about the gospel but never reconcile with God are no better or worse than those who dismiss the facts and only look at behavior according to their own invented standards. This means that nobody has a license to sin, and nobody can spend eternity with God without Jesus. God accounts for inability; we can trust Him to get the gospel message to all who are required to accept it by virtue of their ability to grasp it. Otherwise there is no reason to send out missionaries of the gospel, but only humanitarian aid workers. If whatever you believe about the Christian faith can be duplicated without it, then you need to seriously question your grasp of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There really is something unique about the Christian faith, some reason Jesus told us to tell the whole world about Him, some explanation for why John “the beloved disciple” would say “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18), some purpose for Paul telling the Greek philosophers “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

Whatever you believe about life, death, and eternity, think it through. Ask yourself where your beliefs lead. Consider the disagreement of others as a benefit since they have a better view of the holes in your arguments than you do (and that includes me of course, and is one of the reasons I debate these things so much). If you are claiming to follow Christ, read the scriptures and compare your beliefs to them. If you think Paul was misguided or contradicted Jesus, then why do you bother with the Bible at all? If Jesus didn’t require us to put our trust in Him in this life, then why risk upsetting others who might be nice practitioners of other religions or no religion at all? If the Bible is all allegory, then why get upset when some interpret it differently than you? Who cares what the Bible says if there is no way to determine what it says? (some try the middle road of throw up their hands and saying “there’s no way to know”)

Consign people to hell, if that’s what floats your boat. Or give them a lollipop and tell them nothing matters except being nice, if that’s what makes you happy. But if you want to call yourself a follower of the Jesus who died for us, rose again, and both “commands all people everywhere to repent” and told us to “love God and others”, then walk consistently with that conviction by spreading the exclusive, narrow, intolerant gospel. Or... be inconsistent if you want, but know that there are consequences for that too.

Posted 2011-03-21 under Christian, behavior, faith, salvation, evangelism, religion, hypocrisy