Saturday, April 09, 2005

Theology and Its Consequences

Thursday as I was driving to the MAX station to go to work, I happened to hear Alistair Begg preaching on the radio. The part of the sermon I heard was about the mystery of God's grace, and how all people are undeserving of this grace.

According to Begg, we all, because of our sin, deserve nothing but the wrath of God, and we should, by rights, expect the wrath of God in return for our actions. In response to the question of those who are lost, he replies that we shouldn't be surprised because we all deserve that fate. "The great mystery," says Begg, "is that any of us would ever be saved."

This is fairly standard confessional Calvinist rhetoric. But look at the social implications of this kind of theology. What are we to think of the lower class, the so-called criminal element, the undesirables of society? Classically, "There but for the grace of God go I."

Yes, that's what those people need -- the grace of God (read moral reform). They are "bad people" by nature. The only way out of their plight is for them to repent (with the help of the Holy Spirit and through the preaching of the word, of course) and turn from their current way of life. Drug addicts, prostitutes, street thugs -- they all suffer from moral, not socio-economic, problems. The poor don't need our help, they need a good stern lecture.

Does this sound familiar? If not, read this column.

But this is based on bad theology. It misses the entire point of the gospel. God is not angry with us. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. Does God think of the lost as though they deserved nothing but wrath? Is this the same God who would leave the 99 sheep to find the one that is lost? Regardless of what we do or do not objectively deserve, God most definitely does not look at us that way.

If we imagine that the lost deserve God's wrath and receive it by God's choice, it's easier for us to justify our lack of compassion for the socially and economically disadvantaged, especially when they live in non-Christian parts of the world. God, by grace, will lift some out of their plight. The rest receive what they deserve.

But if instead our image of God is of one who cares obsessively for the lost, who would do anything for them, then surely we must be called to a different sort of action. What limit can there then be to what we must do to help our neighbor (in the universal sense) in need?

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