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…)
In the following paragraph from his book Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (1989) Stanley J. Grenz does a good job summarizing some themes in Pannenberg’s view of the final judgement:
On the basis of [the] function of Jesus’ message [as the criterion of God’s judgment] and the New Testament emphasis on the all-encompassing love of God (e.g., Matt. 8:11; John 10:16), Pannenberg asserts that correspondence with the will of God as reflected in Jesus’ proclamation — that is, the command to seek first God’s kingdom and the double command to love — rather than an actual encounter with the Christian message, is the basis of final judgment (Matt. 25:41ff.). The step in this direction is prepared by a thesis, developed in the Christology and ecclesiology sections, that love for others entails participation in God’s love for the world. This understanding of the criterion for judgment means that persons who live in accordance with Jesus’ message will be included in the divine salvation, whereas nominal Christians may find themselves excluded. To the resultant question, If an encounter with Jesus is not the sole condition for salvation, what is the Christian’s advantage? he replies that Christians have the advantage in that they know what the standard of judgment is. Although he emphasizes the universality of the possibility of salvation in this manner and even moves the concept of eternal condemnation to that of a border situation, Pannenberg is unwilling to embrace universalism.
This resonates very well with the sense I remember getting from my initial reading of Volume 3 of Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology.
And, there is so much here to like. (more…)
I came across the following quote many years ago, and quite by accident. It is from a passage where Thomas Aquinas discusses the details of the Last Judgement. I was surprised by how close this is to the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian Perfection.
It seems to me that two prior traditions are meeting in this quote: one that affirmed the life of full dedication to God’s Purpose (early Greek Fathers?) and the other (Augustinian?) that affirmed that we could never be without sin. And Thomas attempts to somehow affirm both streams of tradition.
Among the good there are some who have wholeheartedly despised temporal possessions and have dedicated themselves to God alone and to the things that are of God. Accordingly, since sin is committed by cleaving to changeable goods in contempt of the changeless Good, such souls exhibit no mingling of good and evil. This is not to imply that they live without sin, for in their person is asserted what we read in 1 John 1:8: ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.’ although certain lesser sins are found in them, these are, so to speak, consumed by the fire of charity, and so seem to be nothing. At the Judgement, therefore, such souls will not be judged by an investigation of their deeds.
— Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas’ Shorter Summa: St. Thomas Aquinas’s Own Concise Version of His Summa Theologica (trans. Cyril Vollert) Sophia Institute Press: Manchester, New Hampshire 1993. p. 323.
What I don’t know is how this point of view may have influenced ideas in the teachings of St. John of the Cross or the other subsequent Christian mystic writers.