Monday, April 13, 2009

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Jesus' Bad Deal?

A philosophy teacher named Brint Montgomery posted his blog's link as a comment to Presbyter's earlier post about Our Lord and the Rich Young Ruler. Looking over his site and his argument, they have almost nothing to do with our conversation (I assume he must've Googled us). But, since he brought it up, I'll deal with the substance of his post entitled "The Rich Young Ruler was Right", which seems to be:

It appears that Jesus was asking the young guy to turn his brain off. (Not an unusual tactic for preachers.) But there is another angle here too: one can image the young guy dying after many years, and subsequently going to heaven. God says, "You'd have had a much more impacting life it you'd taken up Jesus' offer. That would have been a pure exercise of freewill, a virtue. Still, you did the rational thing by following the evidence available to you. And that was an exercise of reason, also a virtue. Enter in, then, my good and faithful servant."
This is a very strangely constructed argument. If your premise is that Jesus challenged the Rich Young Ruler to decide between having a "more impacting life" and one which is less so, then perhaps there can be some discussion about cost-benefit and God's rewarding his "virtue". The tradeoff would be between earthly treasure and inner fulfillment with no impact on his eternal destiny.

But of course Jesus didn't couch this (or any other) discussion that way. Rather, he talked about "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" This is an entirely different kettle of fish, in which the cost-benefit analysis is between earthly wealth and eternal security (heaven and hell).

Now, if you don't believe Jesus was who he claimed to be (the Son of God, one with the Father, etc.), then you can feel free to dismiss this claim. Moreover, if that's true, you should essentially dismiss everything Jesus said, since he would have to have been a raving lunatic or a very clever liar. To quote CS Lewis:
You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
In short, if you don't believe Jesus has the authority to be "the way, the truth, and the life" as he claimed, then call him a fraud and be done with him. It would be wrong, but at least it would be intellectually consistent.

Still, before we're too hard on Mr. Montgomery, we should perhaps reflect upon the fact that much of what the church peddles as the "gospel" runs along the same lines. Rather than, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord," we read books and listen to sermons that effectively assert, "For the wages of spiritual immaturity is unfulfillment, anxiety and depression, but the gift of relationship with God is happiness and inner contentment."

No wonder he's confused.

14 comments:

  1. Hey, Jailer, I felt that you would have insight on such matters, since I'd happily read a couple of other things you posted, and since I really was trying to think along the lines of some of the issues you brought up on your Feb. 6th post, "Our Lord and the Rich Young Ruler." (It was not a direct analysis.)

    I'm well aware that many Christians interpret this passage as one about salvation, so I'm not confused as you conjectured; but, I think another move might be available, one based on the claim that Jesus didn't come to save the righteous. How might we make sense of this?

    Well, if this guy really was righteous (i.e., in fact, actually an ethical man, as opposed to merely pretending), then Jesus was offering him something above and beyond God's typical blessing of ethical people.

    For example, in Psalms it's written,"Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth." So it seems to me that God does not punish such people by sending them to Hell; still, there are relative losses for those who cannot and do not chose above and beyond what a rational approach to ethics would allow.

    In contrast, I take it, you would hold it's much more cut-n-dried, that ethical people are still on the Highway to Hell, as one popular rock group phrases it. I'm just not so pessimistic about the love of God for humankind, but I well know this is controversial among Christians.

    By the way, since I'm a Christian Philosopher, I hope you'll grant me the ability to experiment with ideas in ways that lay believers, preachers, and theologians just don't (and perhaps shouldn't) get to.

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  2. Along those line somewhat, I just logged onto another blog whose author stated:

    "It's Holy Wednesday, and I REALLY want to ask Judas Iscariot: "What advise [sic] would you have for today's consumer-oriented disciples?"

    I thought it was a good question. I imagine Judas would comment something along the lines of "You cannot serve God and mammon," or "The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil."

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  3. ...By the way, Jailer, I was an Air Force guy myself years ago. "Above all, aim high!"

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  4. ...and love that $ + Jesus picture too.

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  5. Hi Brint,

    I suppose the first question I'd have for you is what (in your mind) is a "Christian Philosopher"? I have my own ideas: perhaps my favorite would be RC Sproul, who in my opinion carries a high view of Scripture paired with an appreciation (I should say "mastery") of the historical development of philosophy.

    My problem with your philosophy is that it violates a basic rule that would make it "Christian"--it fails to pass the "plain reading of the text" test. Jesus in this case was clearly implying that the Rich Young Ruler's use of the word "good" (you might say "ethical") was inapt, insofar as God alone is truly good. Indeed, the Scripture is abundantly clear on this count:

    "What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written:
    "There is no one righteous, not even one;
    there is no one who understands,
    no one who seeks God.
    All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
    there is no one who does good,
    not even one."
    "Their throats are open graves;
    their tongues practice deceit."
    "The poison of vipers is on their lips."
    "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness."
    "Their feet are swift to shed blood;
    ruin and misery mark their ways,
    and the way of peace they do not know."
    "There is no fear of God before their eyes."
    (Rom 3:9-18)

    The plain message of Scripture is that Jesus' came to save sinners, not to annoint the ethical. In fact, the most "ethical" of the day, the Pharisees, were those whom Jesus referred to as a "brood of vipers" and "whitewashed tombs".

    Respectfully yours,
    Jailer

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  6. 1 Corinthians 1:26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called ...

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  7. If it is the virtue of "reason" we seek, the sermon on the mount can pretty much be tossed out.

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  8. One attribute of Mr. Montgomery is that he is reading the Bible. God could use that to reach him. Many Christians are not reading the Bible and basing their Biblical beliefs on what they learn in the world about what the Bible teaches.

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  9. I was reading an article from Barna research the other day and in it it said that even as Christians (the broad definition) we are becoming our own theologians, picking and choosing what we want to cast as our faith and beliefs. In addition, there is a tendency toward syncretistic theology (blending of the many) and that often our beliefs and values are based on or derived from our emotion and feelings with what seems right. I suppose it is easier to decide if I don't like something then I don't have to make it part of who I am and can rationalize it away. But, if we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God and is Truth we have little choice to rationalize and pick and choose what seems and feels right. The closer we get to God the better His Word fits.

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  10. Isn't the wisdom of man but foolishness to God? I can't see our Lord saying - to ANYONE - "Well done, you're really one-upped me on that one."

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  11. Ahh, the argument of the agnostic or reason-seeker that portrays the Christian as not logical-construct based. Of course, we have not as a whole given much to counter that argument.

    I found it far more interesting reading Mr. Brint's arguments on the the other points as well (kudos to Jailer for linking the file). They state:
    -the hypothetical disease (ooo, rich with analogy)
    -comps to wealth of 1st vs. 21st century
    -the ROI argument, attempting to quantify eternal life in known monetary concerns

    All based on assumptions that Jesus' mission was not what we as Christians know it to be?

    Can we effectively come to a common ground to further discussions? E.g., if Jesus was not speaking of the Kingdom of God, then the rest just cannot follow.

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  12. One pivotal concept that seems to have been only hinted so far can completely blow this debate to bits.

    Most people declare their own goodness (Proverbs 20:6) because we have a very different view of what 'good' is compared to what God see's as good. The Jailor has pointed at this a bit, but not nearly enough.

    The concept also has to be understood on an individual basis before the rest makes sense. the best and quickest way to drill to the root is simply by putting back IN, what our schools have withdrawn years ago. The Dreaded TEN COMMANDMENTS!

    Nobody likes to look at this anymore because it does just what it was originally meant to do: it shines a light on just how bad we really are. Paul pointes back to this when he says - through the LAW, my sin became exceedingly sinful. (Romans 7:13)

    Look at what God see's as good, then after are humbled by the fact that we all are breakers of the Law, THEN we see God's Justice. It is our violation of Gods law that condemns us, not our lack of virtue. God uses a very different standard than mankind on Judgement day.

    For the people that think this is not fair or somehow not loving, then we are able to look at Jesus and we can see how people can both call God good, holy, perfectly just, fearful... and also full of grace and love. He paid the cost for OUR breaking of the law.

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  13. I appologize the the double post, but I wanted to add that I didn't drag in the 10 commandments out of left field... Jesus did in the same passage fo the rich young ruler. check it out..

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  14. I've recently reread Mark's account of the "rich young ruler" (Mk. 10:17-27) and William Hendrickson's commentary on it. Given that, I think some comments might help:

    1. The opening dialog, culminating in verse 22, makes it pretty clear that the young man's money was his idol. So, despite his claim that he measured up pretty well against the "second table of the law", it's clear that he had a fatal problem with "the first". In terms of the Lord's summary, while he may have thought he was doing fine, "loving his neighbor as himself", the claim his money had on him destroys any claim he might have had to "love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength". So then, it's simply not right to take the young man as an example of an "ethical person", in the true sense of the word.

    2. Despite the Lord's clear recognition of the young man's problem, Mark records (after the young man's moral claims in verse 21) that "Jesus, looking at him, loved him". We should all be encouraged by that, since, while He focused His remarks on the rich, His comments were quite general: "Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God." (vs. 24) As for the disciples, for once in Mark's gospel, the actually seem to get it: "Then who can be saved?" (vs. 26) And the answer they get is both general and radical: "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God." (vs. 27)

    3. So we can see that, while the passage focuses on the rich, it's really about us all: We all have our idols. For one man, it's money. For another, it may be a cherished person in his life. For another, it may be "the power to do good". For all of us, it's the fellow we see in the mirror. And, for all of us, it's a fatal defect, and can be remedied only by God, for whom "all things are possible".

    4. He remedies it by "shedding His love abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 5:5) and enabling us to believe that "He so loves the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life". (John 3:16) That's certainly not "pessimistic about the love of God for humankind", though it is tempered by the following observation that there are many who "love the darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil" (John 3:19). Indeed, going back to the passage in Mark, all of us would fall in that group, were it not for God's "amazing grace". Praise Him for it!

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