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The Christian and Heavenly Rewards

October 6th, 2013 No comments

In small group today, Mr. Huck raised the question of whether a Christian ought to be motivated by rewards from God. It is an interesting question. Standard doctrine tells us that God saves a person not because of his own actions, but for God’s own reasons. For somebody who understands this, salvation as a reward is not a motivation for virtuous behavior. Indeed, doing an action only for fear of Hell or as the price of salvation is not going to save anybody.

Nor is doing it to attain a feeling of salvation; too many Hell-bound sinners act virtuously merely for material ends like that. This does turn into a version of Newcombe’s Paradox though. Suppose God has already decided whether I am saved or lost. I face the decision of whether to embezzle or not. God is very good at prediction, and has already decided that people who choose to embezzle are not ones he wants to save. Thus, if I embezzle, He has predicted that and I am lost. If I don’t embezzle, though, I don’t get the benefits of extra money (and let us assume that there is no downside to embezzlement from guilt or prison).

One point that came up was that parents do not rely on the gratitude of their children; they offer them material rewards too, in the hopes it will train the children to do the right thing by themselves later. Does God do this too?

Categories: theology Tags:

Homeschooling Lessons and “Does God Use Sound When He Speaks to Prophets?”

August 13th, 2013 1 comment

Homeschooling children sure does educate the teacher. Already I’ve learned:
1. How to define “median” accurately.
2. What “firmament” means. Read more…

Categories: Bible, theology Tags:

The Theology of Prayer

July 28th, 2009 No comments

A couple of relevant theological questions:

1. Is it okay to pray for the souls of the dead, e.g. my father?

Answer: Yes. We can certainly pray for the souls of the living. That is, we can pray that it is God’s will that He has chosen them for heaven. We can pray for them no matter how wicked they are or how imperfect their faith in God. We can pray not only that they change their behavior or belief, but that God will have mercy on them despite their sins. Indeed, we all need that mercy and should pray for it for ourselves; we all sin, and it is just a matter of degree.

God is not stuck in time as we are. He has a plan, and we pray even though He has that plan and knows what will happen anyway. Thus, it is fine to pray even if something has already happened. If we hear of a plane accident, we can pray that our friend on the plane has survived, even though at the time of our prayer he is already either killed or not.

Thus, we can also pray for the soul of someone who has already died. We can pray either that he had a deathbed conversion or that even if he didn’t, God will be (was? is?) merciful.

2. Is it okay to ask a dead person, e.g., my daughter Elizabeth, to pray for me?

Answer: I don’t know. This came up because a lady asked me if she could pray to Elizabeth to pray for her. This is what Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic people are supposed to do when they pray to saints. (What commonly happens is that they pray to the saint directly— “Please cure my cancer” as opposed to “Please pray to God to cure my cancer”— but it is properly considered idolatry to make direct requests, I think.)

It is wrong to ask someone to pray for me on the grounds that they have special clout with God because they are especially holy. The Roman Catholic doctrine that saints have superogatory merit that they can give away to the rest of us as a sort of spiritual cash is an evil doctrine. Saints are, we may hope, members of God’s elect, but not on account of their special virtue, nor do they have special power with Him. My Lizzie was especially spiritual, and gave more evidence than the vast majority of us of being one of God’s children, but she was a sinner too, and showed it in daily life.

Nonetheless, it is good to ask fellow Christians to pray for us, and Lizzie is a fellow Christian, even though she is dead. So, is it proper to ask her to pray for us now, not as a special saint, but as a saint such as we hope we are ourselves? I don’t know.

Categories: prayer, religion, theology Tags:

The NPR "All Things Considered" News Style

April 5th, 2009 No comments

From Pastor Wegener in Zambia on Baylyblog:

There used to be serious articles on core doctrines of the faith: progressive revelation, inerrancy, the Trinity, original sin, justification, sanctification, the Day of Judgment, hell, etc., all of them written by learned pastors and theologians.

Today, we’re taken on a journey as the free lance author recounts her confusion on some topic (like fashion or global warming or endangered species) and how she decided to investigate this topic and went to a conference put on by evangelicals on her topic.

She tells us how her plane was delayed and she had trouble checking in to the conference hotel, and missed her first session, but how it was okay, cause she ran into the seminar leader in the restaurant and ate lunch with him and how he was nice and funny and normal even though a great man.

Then she details all the difficulties in coming to any firm conclusions on this topic and tells us how nuance and humility are really important and necessary, but we can be sure of this, and then out comes some platitude worthy of a 7th grader in Sunday school.

My comment:

I like that description of the modern, PBS, style of article– the “one person’s experience” style. You should write it up further as a parody and post it on the web. Another good parody would be to do a math or science article in that style.

The style is pernicious not only because it displaces content but because it makes it easy to convey a point of view unfairly, without argument. You simply find or invent anecdotes that make your side look good and the other side bad without seriously engaging the issue. I recently saw Rob Bell’s “Bullhorn Man” (at CGS), a good example.

Categories: media, theology, thinking, writing Tags:

Moral Perfection

March 17th, 2009 No comments

I was just thinking this morning about how Methodists and Roman Catholics both think that Christians can achieve moral perfection. They aren’t Pelagians, because they think that God is a necessary part of this. But with a little nudge of God’s grace to get you started, you can become morally perfect through one’s own striving. The Roman Catholics even think you can become more than 100% perfect. They say you can accumulate so much merit that you can give away some of it for other people to use.

I think a good way to describe this perfectionist heresy is that it changes the old saying about genius a bit, to say:

“Moral Perfection is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

Communion in Both Kinds

March 17th, 2009 No comments

VC has a good post on laws against child drinking and communion, with comments on communion in both kinds. The Roman position seems to be that it is like priestly celibacy a policy strictly enforced by the Church but allowed or not depending on circumstances of the age. The Council of Constance decrees condemned this and other Wylclifite ideas as being against church commands, not as heresy in itself.

….although Christ instituted this venerable sacrament after a meal and ministered it to his apostles under the forms of both bread and wine, nevertheless and notwithstanding this, the praiseworthy authority of the sacred canons and the approved custom of the church have and do retain that this sacrament ought not to be celebrated after a meal nor received by the faithful without fasting, except in cases of sickness or some other necessity as permitted by law or by the church. Moreover, just as this custom was sensibly introduced in order to avoid various dangers and scandals, so with similar or even greater reason was it possible to introduce and sensibly observe the custom that, although this sacrament was received by the faithful under both kinds in the early church, nevertheless later it was received under both kinds only by those confecting it, and by the laity only under the form of bread. For it should be very firmly believed, and in no way doubted, that the whole body and blood of Christ are truly contained under both the form of bread and the form of wine. Therefore, since this custom was introduced for good reasons by the church and holy fathers, and has been observed for a very long time, it should be held as a law which nobody may repudiate or alter at will without the church’s permission. To say that the observance of this custom or law is sacrilegious or illicit must be regarded as erroneous. Those who stubbornly assert the opposite of the aforesaid are to be confined as heretics and severely punished by the local bishops or their officials or the inquisitors of heresy in the kingdoms or provinces in which anything is attempted or presumed against this decree, according to the canonical and legitimate sanctions that have been wisely established in favour of the catholic faith against heretics and their supporters.

See too the Catholic Encylopedia on Utraquism.

November 4th, 2007 No comments

Divine Anger and the Atonement. I’ve always thought that the idea that Jesus had to die on the cross to propitate God for Man’s sins was a mystery– something that we had no way of understanding. There is no logical connection between Eric Rasmusen sinning against God and God having to die on the cross so Eric could be forgiven. Why not just forgive Eric outright? There could well be a reason, but we are not told it. (Click here to read more.)

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October 14th, 2007 No comments

Alistair McGrath. David Wegener writes this about Alistair McGrath’s theologizing.(Click here to read more.)