The Gospel message in the Bible assumes the existence of God. So, is belief in God, in and of itself, meritorious?
Belief in God is basic to Christianity. The Bible never sets out to prove the existence of God — it assumes God’s existence. Yes, the apostle Paul in the book of Romans say that God’s existence can be seen from created things — but in a day and age when people talk and write (quite seriously) about self-organization in the universe, and the development of life from natural processes, this observation seems a bit less obvious than it did at the time it was written. The Christian Gospel of Jesus Christ has a lot of backstory to it. The Old Testament story of Israel is an assumption for the New Testament. The story of Jesus is understood against the backdrop of the previous story of Israel. And, what we have in the Old Testament is the story of Israel’s relationship with God. This growing and changing portrait of God lies behind all that Jesus says about his “heavenly Father.”
So, if belief in God is considered a disputed point, can the Gospel still be heard?
Or, looking at it another way: if faith in Christ is the basis of human salvation from sin and divine judgement (as generally regarded by Christians), and faith in Christ presupposes belief in God, then is belief in God itself meritorious?
Some people already believe that the issue of faith versus unbelief is the existence of God. They seem to think belief in the existence of God, per se, is the essence of Christianity — and that it somehow helps to make one a “good person.” I don’t know how many people really think like that — but it appears that some do. Yet, for Christians, the issue of faith is trust in Christ. We see Christ as being our way to understanding God.
Is belief in [a] God meritorious? I think the answer is No. My reasons follow. (more…)
I added some bold type to the following quote:
…I have no authority from the Word of God ‘to judge those that are without.’ Nor do I conceive that any man living has a right to sentence all the heathen and Mahometan world to damnation. It is far better to leave them to him that made them, and who is ‘the Father of the spirits of all flesh;’ who is the God of the Heathens as well as the Christians, and who hateth nothing that he hath made.
“Perhaps there may be some well-meaning persons who carry this farther still; who aver, that whatever change is wrought in men, whether in their hearts or lives, yet if they have not clear views of those capital doctrines, the fall of man, justification by faith, and of the atonement made by the death of Christ, and of his righteousness transferred to them, they can have no benefit from his death. I dare in no wise affirm this. Indeed I do not believe it. I believe the merciful God regards the lives and tempers of men more than their ideas. I believe he respects the goodness of the heart rather than the clearness of the head; and that if the heart of a man be filled (by the grace of God, and the power of his Spirit) with the humble, gentle, patient love of God and man, God will not cast him into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels because his ideas are not clear, or because his conceptions are confused. Without holiness, I own, ‘no man shall see the Lord;’ but I dare not add, ‘or clear ideas.’
— John Wesley, Sermon #125: “On Living Without God”
Guest blog by T. C. Moore. T. C. is the planting pastor of the New City Covenant Church in Boston, Massachusetts (a church plant of the Evangelical Covenant Church). He is also a part-time student at the Boston campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary — the Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME). You can find out more about his family here: About the Moore Family. T. C. blogs at: Theological Graffitti. You can also follow him on Twitter:
He says about himself: “I began following Jesus at 16, shortly before my 17th birthday. Jesus rescued me from self-destruction, planted me in his family, and revealed my purpose to me. Following Jesus is about Love and Allegiance and Mission.”
This is an fascinating refelection on Islam, Open Theism and the theology of T. F Torrance. I don’t usually post on the topic of Open Theism because I’m quite non-committal on that topic, myself. I am a free-will Theist, and am strongly opposed to all forms of theological determinism — so I am sympathetic to Open Theism. I’m not convinced that one should lean too hard on any particular theory about the relationship of God to time — the nature of God and the nature of time are both unknowable. Nevertheless, I’m sure someone could claim that I should be an Open Theist given my commitment to free-will Theism.
Be that as it may (or may not), T. C.’s post is very interesting and well worth reading.