5 Errors of the Prosperity Gospel

Interesting read From Thegospelcoalition.org:

More than a century ago, speaking to the then-largest congregation in all Christendom, Charles Spurgeon said, “I believe that it is anti-Christian and unholy for any Christian to live with the object of accumulating wealth. You will say, ‘Are we not to strive all we can to get all the money we can?’ You may do so. I cannot doubt but what, in so doing, you may do service to the cause of God. But what I said was that to live with the object of accumulating wealth is anti-Christian.”
Over the years, however, the message being preached in some of the largest churches in the world has changed—indeed, a new gospel is being taught to many congregations today. This message has been ascribed many name, such as the “name it and claim it” gospel, the “blab it and grab it” gospel, the “health and wealth” gospel, the “prosperity gospel,” and “positive confession theology.”

No matter what name is used, the essence of this message is the same. Simply put, this “prosperity gospel” teaches that God wants believers to be physically healthy, materially wealthy, and personally happy. Listen to the words of Robert Tilton, one of its best-known spokesmen: “I believe that it is the will of God for all to prosper because I see it in the Word, not because it has worked mightily for someone else. I do not put my eyes on men, but on God who gives me the power to get wealth.” Teachers of the prosperity gospel encourage their followers to pray for and even demand material flourishing from God.

Five Theological Errors

Russell Woodbridge and I wrote a book titled Health, Wealth, and Happiness: Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ? (Kregel, 2010) to examine the claims of prosperity gospel advocates. While the book is too wide-ranging to summarize here, in this article I’d like to review five doctrines we cover in it—doctrines on which prosperity gospel advocates err. By discerning these errors regarding key doctrines, I hope you will plainly see the dangers of the prosperity gospel. 

1. The Abrahamic covenant is a means to material entitlement.

The Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12, 15, 17, 22) is one of the theological bases of the prosperity gospel. It’s good that prosperity theologians recognize much of Scripture is the record of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, but it’s bad that they don’t maintain an orthodox view of this covenant. They incorrectly view the inception of the covenant; more significantly, they erroneously view the application of the covenant.

In his book Spreading the Flame (Zondervan, 1992), Edward Pousson stated the prosperity view on the application of the Abrahamic covenant: “Christians are Abraham’s spiritual children and heirs to the blessings of faith. . . . This Abrahamic inheritance is unpacked primarily in terms of material entitlements.” In other words, the prosperity gospel teaches that the primary purpose of the Abrahamic covenant was for God to bless Abraham materially. Since believers are now Abraham’s spiritual children, we have inherited these financial blessings. As Kenneth Copeland wrote in his 1974 book The Laws of Prosperity, “Since God’s covenant has been established and prosperity is a provision of this covenant, you need to realize that prosperity belongs to you now!”

To support this claim, prosperity teachers appeal to Galatians 3:14, which refers to “the blessings of Abraham [that] come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus.” It’s interesting, however, that in their appeals to Galatians 3:14 these teachers ignore the second half of the verse: “that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Paul is clearly reminding the Galatians of the spiritual blessing of salvation, not the material blessing of wealth.

2. Jesus’s atonement extends to the “sin” of material poverty.

In his Bibliotheca Sacra article “A Theological Evaluation of the Prosperity Gospel,” theologian Ken Sarles observes how the prosperity gospel claims that “both physical healing and financial prosperity have been provided for in the atonement.” This seems to be an accurate observation in light of Copeland’s statement that “the basic principle of the Christian life is to know that God put our sin, sickness, disease, sorrow, grief, and poverty on Jesus at Calvary.” This misunderstanding of the scope of the atonement stems from two errors prosperity gospel proponents make.

First, many who espouse prosperity theology have a fundamental misconception of the life of Jesus. For example, teacher John Avanzini proclaimed on a TBN program, Jesus had “a nice house,” “a big house,” “Jesus was handling big money,” and he even “wore designer clothes.” It’s easy to see how such a warped view of the life of Christ could lead to an equally warped misconception of the death of Christ.

A second error that leads to a faulty view of the atonement is misinterpreting 2 Corinthians 8:9, which reads, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.” While a shallow reading of this verse may lead one to believe Paul was teaching about an increase in material wealth, a contextual reading reveals he was actually teaching the exact opposite principle. Indeed, Paul was teaching the Corinthians that since Christ accomplished so much for them through the atonement, they should empty themselves of their riches in service of the Savior. This is why just five short verses later Paul would urge the Corinthians to give their wealth away to their needy brothers, writing “that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack” (2 Cor. 8:14).

In his Bibliotheca Sacra article “A Theological Evaluation of the Prosperity Gospel,” theologian Ken Sarles observes how the prosperity gospel claims that “both physical healing and financial prosperity have been provided for in the atonement.” This seems to be an accurate observation in light of Copeland’s statement that “the basic principle of the Christian life is to know that God put our sin, sickness, disease, sorrow, grief, and poverty on Jesus at Calvary.” This misunderstanding of the scope of the atonement stems from two errors prosperity gospel proponents make.

First, many who espouse prosperity theology have a fundamental misconception of the life of Jesus. For example, teacher John Avanzini proclaimed on a TBN program, Jesus had “a nice house,” “a big house,” “Jesus was handling big money,” and he even “wore designer clothes.” It’s easy to see how such a warped view of the life of Christ could lead to an equally warped misconception of the death of Christ.

A second error that leads to a faulty view of the atonement is misinterpreting 2 Corinthians 8:9, which reads, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.” While a shallow reading of this verse may lead one to believe Paul was teaching about an increase in material wealth, a contextual reading reveals he was actually teaching the exact opposite principle. Indeed, Paul was teaching the Corinthians that since Christ accomplished so much for them through the atonement, they should empty themselves of their riches in service of the Savior. This is why just five short verses later Paul would urge the Corinthians to give their wealth away to their needy brothers, writing “that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack” (2 Cor. 8:14).

3. Christians give in order to gain material compensation from God.

One of the most striking characteristics of the prosperity theologians is their seeming fixation on the act of giving. We are urged to give generously and are confronted with pious statements like, “True prosperity is the ability to use God’s power to meet the needs of mankind in any realm of life” and, “We have been called to finance the gospel to the world.” While such statements may appear praiseworthy, this emphasis on giving is built on motives that are anything but philanthropic. The driving force behind this teaching on giving is what prosperity teacher Robert Tilton referred to as the “Law of Compensation.” According to this law—purportedly based on Mark 10:30—Christians should give generously to others because when they do, God gives back more in return. This, in turn, leads to a cycle of ever-increasing prosperity.

As Gloria Copeland put it in her 2012 book, God’s Will is Prosperity, “Give $10 and receive $1,000; give $1,000 and receive $100,000. . . . In short, Mark 10:30 is a very good deal.” It’s evident, then, that the prosperity gospel’s doctrine of giving is built on faulty motives. Whereas Jesus taught his disciples to “give, hoping for nothing in return” (Luke 10:35), prosperity theologians teach their disciples to give because they will get a great return. 

4. Faith is a self-generated spiritual force that leads to prosperity.

Whereas orthodox Christianity understands faith to be trust in the person of Jesus Christ, prosperity teachers espouse something quite different. “Faith is a spiritual force, a spiritual energy, a spiritual power. It is this force of faith which makes the laws of the spirit world function,” Copeland writes in The Laws of Prosperity. “There are certain laws governing prosperity revealed in God’s Word. Faith causes them to function.” This is obviously a faulty, perhaps even heretical, understanding of faith.

According to prosperity theology, faith is not a God-granted, God-centered act of the will. Rather, it is a humanly wrought spiritual force, directed at God. Indeed, any theology that views faith chiefly as a means to material gain rather than justification before God must be judged inadequate at best.

5. Prayer is a tool to force God to grant prosperity.

Prosperity gospel preachers often note we “have not because we ask not” (James 4:2). They encourage us to pray for personal success in all areas of life. As Creflo Dollar writes, “When we pray, believing that we have already received what we are praying, God has no choice but to make our prayers come to pass. . . . It is a key to getting results as a Christian.”

Prayers for personal blessing aren’t inherently wrong, of course, but the prosperity gospel’s overemphasis on man turns prayer into a tool believers can use to force God to grant their desires. Within prosperity theology, man—not God—becomes the focal point of prayer. Curiously, prosperity preachers often ignore the second half of James’s teaching on prayer: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James. 4:3). God does not answer selfish requests that do not honor his name.

Certainly all our requests should be made known to God (e.g., Phil. 4:6), but the prosperity gospel focuses so much on man’s desires that it may lead people to pray selfish, shallow, superficial prayers that don’t bring God glory. Further, when coupled with the prosperity doctrine of faith, this teaching may lead people to attempt to manipulate God to get what they want—a futile task. This is far removed from praying “Your will be done.”

False Gospel 

In light of Scripture, the prosperity gospel is fundamentally flawed. At bottom, it is a false gospel because of its faulty view of the relationship between God and man. Simply put, if the prosperity gospel is true, grace is obsolete, God is irrelevant, and man is the measure of all things. Whether they’re talking about the Abrahamic covenant, the atonement, giving, faith, or prayer, prosperity teachers turn the relationship between God and man into a quid pro quo transaction. As James Goff noted in a 1990 Christianity Today article, God is “reduced to a kind of ‘cosmic bellhop’ attending to the needs and desires of his creation.” 

This is a wholly inadequate and unbiblical view of the relationship between God and man.

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Religious Pluralism as a threat to Christianity

Introduction

Eastern traditions tell of a story of three blind men touching an elephant. Each man was touching a different part of the animal. One was touching a leg, another the trunk, and the third was touching the side of the elephant. The first man concluded that the elephant must be like a great tree, for its leg resembled one. The second man concluded that the elephant was like a snake, because he was holding the trunk. The third man concluded that the elephant was like a great wall, for he felt the large side of the animal.[1] This analogy is representative of the myriad of world religions. Each religion claims to have an understanding of an ultimate reality, yet they disagree on the means by which to obtain knowledge about it. Christianity, for example, claims that the only way to obtain salvation is through relationship with Jesus Christ.[2] Religious pluralism claims that the one Lord has manifested himself by other names, therefore, Christianity’s claims that Jesus Christ is the only way for an individual to receive salvation is simply one of many options. According to the pluralistic hypothesis, Christianity is false because each religion represents a person’s connection to the Real. This paper will analyze John Hick’s pluralistic hypothesis and argue that it contains shortcomings on moral, philosophical, hermeneutical and logical grounds, which render the hypothesis incorrect.

John Hick’s Pluralistic Hypothesis

John Hick became a Christian at an early age, developing conservative theological views.[3] Later in life, Hicks moved to England to teach and began attending different religious services. While attending these services, Hick believed that each person was, “opening their minds to a higher divine Reality, known as personal and good and as demanding righteousness and love between man and man.”[4] According to Hick, each person was experiencing the same type of religious experience that a Christian does. In essence, these were “different human responses to one divine Reality.”[5] A religious pluralist cannot definitively say that Christ is the sole revelation of God.[6] If Christ were the sole revelation of God, then more followers of other world religions would be attracted to Christianity. Instead, the soteriological goal of religion, according to the pluralistic hypothesis, is to experience the Real.

The pluralistic hypothesis, as outlined by John Hick, consists of four major parts. First, Hick argues that humanity is inherently religious. Next, Hick highlights that there are significant differences in the content of the various world religions. Third, Hick argues that religion is not an illusion. Lastly, Hick recognizes that religion generally has a positive effect on the lives of those who adhere to it.[7] Ultimately, Hick believes that there is an Ultimate Reality, or “the Real”, which is the foundation of all religious experience.[8] Each religious experience is simply a way of “conceiving, experiencing and responding in life to the Ultimate Real.”[9] Thus, the pluralistic hypothesis believes that all religious experience is valid. One cannot say that one person’s experience is more valid or is the exclusive way to experience the Real. The pluralistic hypothesis argues for the existence of one divine reality, from which all religious experience is derived. The claims asserted by Hick’s pluralistic hypothesis are troubling to Christians because it “provides a framework by which one can claim that any religion which positively transforms its followers’ lives is valid.”[10] The pluralistic approach undermines the claims of Christianity of Jesus’ divinity. Instead of being ontologically true, the pluralistic hypothesis demotes Jesus’ divinity to a metaphorical or mythological status.[11]

John Hick’s pluralistic hypothesis challenges Christianity by proposing that within the Bible, Jesus never claims to be God incarnate. Instead, Jesus saw himself as God’s last prophet.[12] The early church developed the concept of the divinity of Jesus after the New Testament had been completed. Hick argues that Greek philosophy, combined with Christian tradition, produced the view of Jesus as God incarnate. Other religious pluralists argue for a “theocentric Christology that posits Christ as normative for the Christian experience, but not-absolute in any way.”[13]John Hick is able to put into complex scholarly vernacular what many in the world believe to be true. How can a loving, all-powerful God reveal himself to so few? If Christianity is correct, then why does it appeal to such a small portion of the human population? The pluralistic hypothesis, as proposed by Hick, offers a plausible and well-vetted solution to these questions.

A Brief Discussion of Religious Inclusivism

Those who adhere to an inclusivism view argue that people can receive salvation without knowing the giver.[14] The idea of inclusivism is not as broad as the pluralistic hypothesis, but still stands in opposition to the exclusivist approach of the Bible. An inclusivist believes “Jesus is the only mediator and that all must come to him and through him”[15] However, an inclusivist will also affirm the belief of salvation for non-Christians. This belief again stems from the thought that those people who have not heard the gospel should not be eternally condemned. The assertion that those who do not adhere to Christianity can obtain salvation ultimately argues that non-Christian world religions have a salving value.[16] Many inclusivists will argue that the Bible does not teach that a confession of Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation.[17] One who adheres to religious inclusivism closely resembles one who affirms a universalistic approach to soteriology.

Why Pluralism is a Threat to Christianity

John Hick’s pluralistic hypothesis is troubling to modern Christians for multiple reasons. One could argue against Christianity in the following manner. If other world religion offer valid soteriology then Christianity’s claims to exclusivity is false. Other world religions offer valid soteriological claims. Therefore, Christianity’s exclusivist claims are false. This argument is developed in the form of motus ponus, and is deductively valid. Therefore, one must disprove the premises in order to render the argument false. John Hick is able to put into words a theory of religious pluralism that resonates with many college students.[18] Second, Hick is a clear and persuasive writer. Lastly, Hick’s pluralistic hypothesis is able to adequately respond to the majority of counterarguments. For example, Hick’s theory is criticized because different religions have different beliefs about what happens to an individual after death. Hick’s argues that this is not vital knowledge for one to be saved. Therefore, these different religions need to dialogue further with one another in order to reconcile their differences.[19] Further, Hick’s theory of religious pluralism argues that religions are cultural constructs aimed at explaining the Real. An individual’s religious beliefs are significantly influenced by one’s geographical circumstances.[20] Thus, if someone was born in the West, they have a higher probability of adhering to Christianity than someone born in India. In modern society, religions are no longer concentrated to various nations.[21]

A Response to Inclusivism

As previously defined, one who believes in inclusivism believes that there is a saving value to religions outside of Christianity. This view, as espoused by Clark Pinnock, has a few problems, which render the argument invalid. The idea of inclusivism is not supported by scripture, though Pinnock attempts to do so. Inclusivists also appeal to general revelation to prove their point, but general revelation is not sufficient for salvation. Romans 5:12-21 teaches that sin and death are universal, as well as life and grace.[22] Therefore, one can be aware of the existence of God, but this does not guarantee salvation. One can only obtain salvation through the grace of Christ. God’s desire is to see that all men are saved. This leads to the question about the exclusivity of Christianity. Paul says in Romans 10:9-10 that one must confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts in order to receive salvation. A person who adheres to inclusivism does not believe that this is solely true. Ronald Nash argues that Romans 10 is logically valid.[23] Nash relies on conditional statements in order to prove his argument. He argues that if all members of a group, A, are identical to the members in group B, and the statement “If A, then B” is true, then so will its reverse, “If not A, then not B” also be true. Hypothetically, all members of group A constitute those who believe that Jesus rose for the dead and confessed Christ as Lord. Members of group B are those who are saved. Thus, if members of groups A and B are the same, it is logical to argue that if someone does not confess Jesus as Lord and does not believe that he rose from the dead, then they are not saved.[24] Logically, therefore, it is completely believable that anyone who wishes to be saved must profess Jesus as Lord and believe in their hearts in order to receive salvation. Christianity, through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the only way to salvation.

Combatting Religious Pluralism

John Hick’s pluralistic hypothesis seeks to claim that all religious experiences are valid. Most world religions have definitive differences in what they claim to be truth. However, one of the foundational principles of logic is the law of non-contradiction. If a proposition is true, then the opposite cannot be true at the same time. For example, Appalachian State University cannot have both won and not won the 2015 Fiesta Bowl. This is a contradiction. Therefore, one can conclude that if various religions make contradictory truth claims, they cannot both be correct. Though Hick attempts to rescue his hypothesis from the grasps of contradictory truths, he cannot do so successfully.[25] The example presented at the beginning of this paper described three blind men who were touching an elephant. This example presupposed that each blind man was in fact touching an elephant. The example actually assumes what it is trying to prove.[26] Notice, too, that the men’s description of the elephant do not contradict one another, but instead differ slightly from one another. If their statements did contradict one another, one could safely assume that they were not, in fact, touching the same object. Thus, because world religions offer contradictory truth claims, they do not worship the same God.

Hick’s pluralistic hypothesis argues that all religions are simply a culturally conditioned response to the Real. Paul Copan argues “when a pluralist asks the question about cultural or religious conditioning, the same line of reasoning applies to the pluralist himself.”[27] In essence, the pluralist has been impacted by his cultural surroundings and religious convictions as much as anyone he is trying to dissuade or disprove. However, Hick is convinced that he is correct in his hypothesis of religious pluralism. Christians are constantly challenged to justify their claims of uniqueness. Hick’s theory should be subject to the same scrutiny. Hick is making an assertion, just like a Christian who believes in religious exclusivism.[28] There are no common threads that run through every world religion, and therefore one cannot formulate any positive statements about the nature of the Real. If one cannot make positive statements about the Real, why even attempt to prove its existence? Therefore, there is no good reason to believe in the existence of the Real.[29] The knowledge of the Christian God is derived from divine revelation in Scripture.

The biblical exegesis that Hick uses to support his theory of religious pluralism is inaccurate.[30] Hick argues that if Jesus’ claims to be the only way are accurate, then Christianity cannot be on the same level as other religious traditions.[31] It is also difficult for Hick to reconcile the belief that Jesus was fully God and fully man. Hick argues, “that Jesus was God the Son incarnate is not literally true, since it has no literal meaning.”[32] Ultimately, Hick dismisses this biblical passage as one with no significant meaning. The problem with Hick’s biblical arguments is that they rest solely on his interpretations, which are formulated from his own presuppositions. There is an ample amount of scholarship, which argues that Jesus did, in fact, regard himself as God. Jesus claimed to be the unique Son of God, calling God his own father, thus making himself equal to God.[33] In the book of Mark, Jesus responded to Caiaphas, the high priest, that he was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One. To argue that Jesus was not the Son of God, and that these passages have no literal meaning, is to reinterpret the role of Jesus Christ in Christianity.

Hick’s pluralistic hypothesis claims that all moral codes of each major world religion are equal. Hick states, “I have not found that the people of the other world religions are, in general, on a different moral and spiritual level from Christians. They seem on average to be neither better nor worse than are Christians.”[34] The teaching of virtues, according to Hick, is equal among all world religions. Hick argues that one should think of salvation in universal terms rather than through an exclusivist lens. Salvation should be defined according to human change, which happens, according to Hick, when one adheres to the moral code espoused by any world religion. Therefore, according to Hick, there can be no religion that claims moral superiority. This is another way for Hick’s pluralistic hypothesis to level the playing field of world religions. Hick’s argument is simply not accurate. The moral code of Christianity differs significantly from other world religions. For example, when a Muslim kills someone in the name of Allah, their righteousness is upheld and their actions are justified. The Bible, on the other hand, condemns killing in the Decalogue, and teaches that Christians are to love their neighbors as themselves. The Bible upholds the sanctity of life and the principle of Imago Dei, whereas Islam justifies killing in the name of Allah. Thus, one can conclude that various world religions do not espouse the same moral codes. If all world religions do not espouse the same moral codes, then it is perfectly legitimate, and appropriate, for one religion to claim moral and salvific superiority.

Conclusion

According to the pluralistic hypothesis, Christianity is false because each religion represents a person’s connection to the Real. However, John Hick’s pluralistic hypothesis contains shortcomings on moral, philosophical, hermeneutical and logical grounds, which render the hypothesis incorrect. Hick’s argument stems from a question that many have wrestled with throughout their lives: “What happens to those who never hear the Gospel?” It is the job of the Christian to go out into all the world and share the good news of Jesus Christ. Further, Hick wrestled with the question of whether or not all religions worship the same God. Hick, again attempts to makes these differing views compatible. Hick says, “And so it does not seem sufficient simply to say that the same identical God is being named and described differently. The difference between these describable divine personalities goes too deep for that to be plausible.”[35] The same principle can be applied to Hick’s theory. The differences between the various world religions are too deep to prove Hick’s pluralistic hypothesis as true.

Bibliography

[1]Keith Johnson, “John Hick’s Pluralistic Hypothesis and the Problem of Conflicting Truth-Claims,” LeadershipU, accessed November 14, 2015, http://www.leaderu.com/theology/hick.html.

[2]The NASB translation of the Bible was used throughout this paper, unless otherwise noted.

[3]Johnson, John Hick’s Pluralistic Hypothesis.

[4] John Hick, God Has Many Names (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster John Knox Press, 1982), 4.

[5]Ibid., 6.

[6]Johnson, Brad. “A Three-Pronged Defense of Salvific Exclusivism in a World of Religions.” LeadershipU. Last modified March 23, 2014. Accessed November 14, 2015.http://www.leaderu.com
/theology/salvific.html.

 

[7]John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent, Second Edition, 2 ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), 172.

[8]Johnson, John Hick’s Pluralistic Hypothesis.

[9]John Hick, A Christian Theology of Religions: the Rainbow of Faiths (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), 149.

[10]Johnson, John Hick’s Pluralistic Hypothesis.

[11]David Nah, “Religious Pluralism: A Check-Up,” Religious Studies Review 40, no. 1 (March 2014): 1.

 

[12]John Hick, The Metaphor of God Incarnate: Christology in a Pluralistic Age, 2nd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 19.


[13]Harold A. Netland, Dissonant Voices: Religious Pluralism and the Question of Truth (London: Regent College Publishing, 1999), 242.
[14]John Sanders, No Other Name: an Investigation Into the Destiny of the Unevangelized (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992), 255.
           [15] Mark Noll, Christian Faith and Practice in the Modern World: Theology from an Evangelical Point of View, ed. Mark A. Noll and David F. Wells (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub Co, 1988), 149.

 

[16]Douglass Geivett, “’Misgivings’ and ‘Openness’: A Dialogue on Inclusivism Between R. Douglas Geivett and Clark Pinnock,” Journal of Theology 22, no. 2 (June 1998): 27.
           [17]Clark H. Pinnock, A Wideness in God’s Mercy: the Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 157.

[18]Johnson, John Hick’s Pluralistic Hypothesis.

[19]Johnson, John Hick’s Pluralistic Hypothesis.

[20]Hick, An Interpretation of Religion, 2.

[21]John Hick, “Religious Pluralism and Islam,” John Hick, February, 2005, accessed November 14, 2015,http://www.johnhick.org.uk/article11.html.

[22]Johnson, A Three-Pronged Defense of Salvific Exclusivism in a World of Religions.

[23]Ronald H. Nash, Is Jesus the Only Savior? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 145.

[24]Ibid.

[25]Johnson, John Hick’s Pluralistic Hypothesis.

[26]Ibid.

[27]Paul Copan, True for You, but Not for Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith, Revised ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2009), 132.

 

[28]Copan, True for You, But Not for Me, 134.

[29]Ibid.

[30]Netland, Dissonant Voices, 242.

[31]John Hick, The Myth of God Incarnate (London: Hymns Ancient & Modern Ltd, 1977), 172.

[32]Netland, Dissonant Voices, 244.

[33]Hank Hanegraaff, “Did Jesus Claim to Be God?,” Christian Research Journal 28, no. 4 (December 2005).

[34]Hick, An Interpretation of Religion, 52

[35]John Hick, Disputed Questions in Theology and the Philosophy of Religion (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995), 153.

Must faith always be reasonable?

faithMatthew 19 records an encounter between Jesus and the rich young man. Upon asking Jesus what he must do to obtain eternal life, the rich young man knew that he has two choices: obedience or disobedience.[1] Jesus presents the rich young man with two choices, with two comprehendible consequences for each action. Thus, the rich young man has a reason, or basis, for his belief, rather than faith, or simply a confidence in a decision. Too often, Christians do not make decisions based on reason. J.P Moreland writes, “I was saddened to be reminded of how unusual it is for Christian people to be taught how to think carefully and deeply about what they believe and why they believe it.”[2] Christians should strive to be intellectual people, firmly founding their beliefs in reason rather than blind religious convictions.

The Need for an Intellectual Approach

An anti-intellectual approach has led to an overwhelming cultural belief in the existence of blind faith. Dating back to the colonial era, the minister was the intellectual and spiritual authority in the community.[3] The Great Awakening preaching of ministers such as George Whitefield and Jonathon Edwards undermined the significance of reason in the life of the believer by emphasizing personal conversion rather than a costly, calculated decision. The emphasis on personal conversion has led to a misunderstanding of reason and faith. Ultimately, reason is the foundation of faith. A Christian should possess the ability to articulate their reasons for their faith. Christians should strive to train their minds and emphasize the intellectual aspects of their faith, in order to ensure that they may have confidence in their beliefs. There is no biblical evidence to support the idea of a blind faith.

The Relationship of Reason and Faith

Blind faith entails one having confidence or a belief in something that they have no reason to believe is true. The idea of blind faith is not biblically sound. For instance, one may argue that Abraham’s sacrifice in Genesis 22:1-19 demonstrates blind faith. Abraham made a reasonable decision to sacrifice Isaac. Hebrews 11:18-19 says, “ even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.”[4]  Abraham made a rational choice to proceed with the sacrifice of Isaac. As Proverbs 14:15 says, “A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thoughts to his steps.”

faith 2Christians truly know the object of their faith, and therefore make reasonable decisions.  When one makes a decision, they participate in a subconscious cost-benefit analysis, and determine which action will be most beneficial. These reasons are the object of one’s faith. Abraham made a rational choice. Abraham believed that Yahweh is the only God. Abraham determined God to be trustworthy and decided to commence with the sacrifice.[5]  Blind faith means that the individual does not possess and object to base their faith on. Abraham, Peter, and other biblical figures that appeared to be acting on blind faith actually had rational reasons for their actions. Modern Christians want to have a full understanding of the entire picture of God’s work in their situation or in their life. This is not a solid expectation to place on God. Instead, Christians must rely on their testimony, the testimony of others, and Scripture as the basis of their faith in God. Devotion to studying the Bible and the intellectual aspects of Christianity will result in a faith that is firmly rooted in reason.

Reason plays an important role in the life of the believer. 1 Peter 3:15 states that Christians should be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks for an account of the hope that they have. Peter is encouraging Christians to have a reasonable explanation for the faith that they possess. Christians ought to formulate scriptural arguments and share their testimonies in order to defend their beliefs. In doing so, they will reveal the object of their faith. Faith is the confidence in a decision that one has made. The rational scriptural arguments highlight God as the object of a Christian’s faith. That faith allows Christians to believe that God will remain faithful and trustworthy, even though they are not privy to the entire purpose of God’s plans.

Conclusion

Ultimately, Christians should strive to be intellectual people, firmly founding their beliefs in reason rather than blind religious convictions. The lack of Christian devotion to the intellectual study of the Bible has led many to believe in the idea that blind faith exists. However, blind faith is not a biblical concept. Every person bases his or her decisions on reason. The reasons that someone uses to make a decision determine the object of said person’s trust. Therefore, within the life of a believer, faith is built on reason.

Sources

[1]Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, ed. Gerhard Ludwig Müller and Albrecht Schönherr (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996-2014), 77.

[2]James Porter Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. (Escondido, Calif.: Hovel Audio, 2005), 14.

[3]Ibid., 16.

[4]The NIV translation is used for all bible citations, unless otherwise noted. Author’s emphasis added.

[5]Dickinson, Travis. “Should We Be Reasonable About Our Faith?”  1-4. Accessed September 16, 2015. https://blackboard.swbts.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-1105426-dt-content-rid2537800_1/courses/15_FA_PHILO4373I/15_FA_PHILO4373I_ImportedContent_20150825111406/14_SU_PHILO4373I_ImportedContent_20140429092240/1%20Should%20we%20be%20reasonabl.

 

Alcohol: To Drink or Not to Drink?

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The Bible has much to say about the consumption of alcohol. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew people were not forbidden from consuming alcohol, unless they were about to go into the temple (Lev 10:9). The overall sentiment was to avoid drunkenness in order to obtain a level head (Prov 20:1; Isa 5:11; 28:7). In fact, there are many times in the Old Testament where the Bible condones the consumption of wine (Psalm 104:15; Amos 9:14).

The Bible commands Christians to avoid drunkenness. Instead of consuming wine, one should be consumed with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water to wine as a wedding reception (John 2:11). This miracle did have practical reasons. Early civilizations drank fermented drinks because these were safer to consume than water. The fermentation process helped prevent water borne illnesses. Regardless, it is not outlandish to assume that Jesus consumed the wine at the wedding reception. Paul even suggested that Timothy drink wine to help his illnesses (1 Tim 5:23).

For Christians, all things are permissible but not all things are profitable (1 Cor 6:12). Thus, it is not a sin for Christians to consume alcohol in moderation. However, Christians need to be aware that others are watching them. If what a Christian eats or drinks cause their brother or sister to stumble, it will be considered a sin (1 Cor 8:13).

Christians should be careful not to fall victim to alcoholism. Christians must ensure that they maintain their witness. Man cannot serve two masters, and there should be nothing in the life of a Christian that comes between them and their relationship with God.

Ultimately, the Bible never expressly prohibits the consumption of alcohol. Christians ought to be sensitive about how their consumption of alcohol affects their witness, and must ensure that they do not become susceptible to drunkenness.

Truth is what you make of it…

2+2=5

Moral relativism is the idea that all morality is relative to a person or situation. Christians are not immune to moral relativism, their divorce rate, for example, mirrors that of non-believers. Many Christians do not know the Bible well enough to discern sound theology from false teaching. The concept of moral relativism is sometimes difficult to identify and directly defies the idea of absolutism. Christianity, does, however, offer absolutes. Jesus said that he is the way, the truth and the life and that none come to the father except through Him (John 14:6). Pilate even acknowledges that Jesus is truth (John 18:37).

Christianity is a relationship, beginning ultimately with humanity’s response to God’s calling. The major issue associated with moral relativism is the idea of control. Atheists do not want to relinquish the ability to make rules and regulations for their own lives by submitting to the authority and will of God. Enlightenment thinkers also taught the importance of self over submission to the Almighty.

Moral relativism fails to distinguish between good and evil. An individual’s moral code is dictated by their situation and extenuating circumstances. Therefore, the moral code established by the Bible carries no weight to those who adhere to moral relativism. However, Paul instructs Timothy that all scripture is divinely inspired and useful for teaching, rebuking, and instructing in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16).

The Bible clearly teaches absolutism. Paul writes that there is a system of ethics and morals instilled in all men (Rom 2:14). Man cannot pick and choose which commandments to follow and which to ignore (Rev 22:19).  Moral relativism appeals to man’s sinful nature because men like to be in control of their own lives (Mark 14:38).  Theology that teaches universal salvation and prosperity is widely appealing because it is not offensive. Christians should have a burden for the lost and should seek to ensure that all understand that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.

Capital Punishment: Is it biblical?

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The sixth commandment states, “thou shall not murder” (Exod 20:14). This commandment forbids the malicious taking of a life, not accidental killing or killing in wartime. Man is created in the image of God (Gen 1:27).  Therefore, when a person kills someone, they are desecrating the image of God. Capital punishment does not constitute murder, and therefore does not violate the Bible.

God said that whoever sheds man’s blood would have his blood shed (Gen 9:6). The Old Testament outlined the death penalty for many crimes including murder, bestiality, kidnapping and false prophecy (Exod 21:12; Exod 22:19; Exod 21:16; Deut 13:5). In the New Testament, Jesus let the woman caught in adultery free (John 8:7). This verse should not be applied to say that Jesus rejected the capital punishment in all circumstances.

The New Testament does not speak directly to the issue of capital punishment. Jesus and Paul reject the concept of outright revenge for a transgression (Luke 9:54-55). Ultimately, Christians should practice prudence in their view on capital punishment. If one believes someone to deserve capital punishment, there should be irrefutable evidence that the person is guilty of the crime. The utmost caution must be employed to ensure that someone is not punished unjustly. The Bible affirms a society where the capital punishment is appropriate, but rare.

The New Testament upholds a governments right to institute capital punishment (Rom 13:1-7). A Christian must remember that governments must be subject to God’s authority. The Bible includes instances of capital punishment, and therefore it is a legitimate practice. Jesus showed that society should be careful about the implementation of the death penalty and not rush to judgment. One would be amiss to say that God is against capital punishment. The thoughtful and jurisprudent implementation of the death penalty is biblically appropriate.