Is Christian Evangelisation a ‘Bait and Switch’ Scam?

return to questions

 

Christian evangelisation is a ‘bait and switch’ scam. First it offers love and logic then moves into suffering and sin and offers a solution. Just when Christianity catches your attention, the pitch switches to threats of eternal damnation if you don’t accept. Is this what you mean by a gospel of love v gospel of wrath?

 

BM

___________________

 

Dear BM

 

Christianity’s mixed message of love and wrath could easily appear to be a ‘bait and switch’ scam.  An ‘offer you cannot refuse’ has been the dominant message since the 5th century when Augustine made original sin the cornerstone of Christian theology in order to convert the Pagans of the Roman Empire.  Most Christians, even the most intense fundamentalists, are not deliberately preaching a dishonest ‘sales pitch’.  They truly believe that the world is sick with sin. A lot of philosophers, psychologists, law enforcement authorities and social workers agree with them. Christians truly believe that salvation is the cure for sin and suffering.  This is, was, and ever will be the Gospel message.

 

Where the message gets confused is by switching the cause of suffering from personal sin to ‘original sin.’ Augustine took original sin so seriously that he believed infants were born as depraved as the most notorious criminals. For Augustine, infants were born with a one-way ticket to hell and were so deserving of God’s wrath that, if left unsaved, they must be ‘excluded from both the Kingdom of heaven and eternal life.’  No one in the modern church believes this, and yet many continue to interpret the Bible as if they do.   

 

This is the double message you are hearing.  On one hand the Gospel of Love says that God loves us and has provided a cure for sin and suffering.  Conversely, the Gospel of Wrath says that God hates us for our depravity. Calvin and Luther preached that multitudes were predestined for hell, and no amount of tears or prayers could alter God’s horrible judgment against them.  Many Protestants continue to be deeply influenced by Reformation theology, which was built on the dual pillars of original sin and predestination.

 

All theologians who embraced original sin (and predestination) found their authority in Paul’s epistle to the Romans.  Paul sets up his argument at Romans 1:18. ‘The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness...’  Augustine, Luther and Calvin interpreted this to mean that God is angry at all men, women and infants because of original sin.

 

But is God angry at men (sinners), the wickedness (sin) of men, or the wickedness of leading men who have suppressed the formerly revealed truths for their followers?  We need to be clear about whether God is angry at particular people for specific wickedness, or at all people for inherited wickedness. A straightforward reading points to the particular and specific. Augustine disagrees because he needs original sin to incriminate all.  What is the nature of their wickedness?

 

‘They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator. (Romans 1:25) Paul does not elaborate ‘the truth’ that was known or how it was known, but he states that the wickedness was to worship ‘created things’ (which could mean material possessions, sensual pleasures, or even the lust for power) rather than the Creator.

 

Paul concludes his argument with a scathing condemnation. ‘Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.’ (Romans 1:28-29)

 

This sounds like a description of the denizens of hell. Christianity (and many other religions) believes that heaven and hell are reserved for an eternal separation of the righteous from the unrighteous.  Hell will be the eternal home of those who have chosen to ‘become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.’  Heaven will be the eternal home for those who have chosen kindness, goodness, altruism and moral purity.

 

The Gospel of Love says that divine justice will separate the kind, good, altruistic and morally pure from violent predators who are wicked, evil, greedy and depraved. The Gospel of Wrath says that all human beings are ‘filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity’. 

 

Most Christians shrug and say, ‘What’s the difference? Some will be saved and some won’t.   God is love for those who accept salvation, and wrath for those who refuse. Justice requires love for the righteous and wrath for the unrighteous. It is not a ‘double message’ but two totally distinct judgements. ’  

 

Two distinct judgements, two distinct paths, two distinct destinations.  Those who choose wickedness, evil, greed and depravity will end up in hell. Those who choose kindness, goodness, altruism and moral purity will end up in heaven.  What is difficult or confusing about this?

 

Even the most primitive tribes should have been able to figure out that the majesty, complexity, order and harmony of the universe pointed to a God-like creator. Even the most primitive tribes believed that higher, invisible powers created and/or controlled the working of the universe.  Even the most primitive tribes knew some version of the Golden Rule and shared an innate sense of right and wrong. Therefore anyone who chooses a life of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity is without excuse. What is difficult or confusing about this?

 

This is where the double message or, as you describe it, the ‘bait and switch’ is introduced. A primitive caveman who chose kindness, goodness, altruism and moral purity should be welcome in heaven. Similarly, ancient tribes that worshipped ancestors or totems in their quest to live a life of kindness, goodness, altruism and moral purity should be welcome in heaven.   The righteous of all nations – Old Testament Jews,  Zoroastrian wisemen, stoic Pagans, enlightened Buddhists, devout Muslims and so forth – should be welcome in heaven.

 

Unfortunately, the Christian Gospel is more difficult and confusing than this. All of those people were sinners. They all required a Saviour. The only Saviour is Jesus Christ

 

This is where the ‘bait and switch’ is introduced.  Justice is comprehensible if damnation is reserved for sinners who deliberately and wilfully choose wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. Justice is not comprehensible if it is the random consequence of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.   Where is justice if the entire world population that lived before Christ was condemned for not knowing the Saviour? Where is justice if entire nations that worshipped other Gods were condemned for not knowing the Saviour?

 

The exclusivity of Jesus and his role as Saviour is the most distinguishing feature of Christianity. The Early Church viewed Jesus as the universal Saviour.  By this they understood two things: 1) Jesus had the power and authority to break the bonds of sin and freedom from sin was a gift for all believers. By the power of the Holy Spirit, believers would experience the renewing of their minds and a progressive transformation into beings of kindness, goodness, altruism and moral purity. 2) Those who did not have the opportunity to accept Jesus as their Saviour in this life (because they lived in the wrong place at the wrong time, or died as infants) would have a full opportunity to accept salvation during a future 1000 year future resurrection.  The Gospel of Love provides time and means for every believer to progress in their sanctification until they are perfectly filled with kindness, goodness, altruism and moral purity. Then they are ready for heaven.

 

The Gospel of wrath reduced and perverted the role of Jesus.  John Calvin and his followers proclaimed that Jesus was not Saviour of all because only a limited number were predestined to be saved from wrath. Augustine, Luther and Calvin were all enemies of freewill. The elect are not chosen because they are kind, good, altruistic and morally pure, but because God provides an unmerited gift of grace.  The unelect are not damned because they are wicked, evil, greedy and depraved, but because they have failed to accept an offer that cannot be refused.    

 

A ‘bait and switch’ scam? I prefer to think of two distinct versions of Christianity. The Gospel of Wrath and original sin are so deeply entrenched in Christian theology that most Christians cannot see that the God of Wrath lives in a realm beyond good and evil, coherence and justice.  This is all alien to the simplicity of the Gospel of Love.

 

For more thoughts about how the original gospel differs from contemporary Christianity, click here. 

 

 

Comment or Question?

 

Tags:  original sin, freewill,  salvation, Augustine, Luther, Calvin