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Gospel Disproof #32: Salvation by faith

In Gospel Disproof #28 we looked at conditional salvation and how bizarre it was to suppose that a loving and self-sufficient Father would create a situation where His beloved children would go to Hell forever unless they met certain rarely-obtained conditions. As a parenting scenario, it just doesn’t work, but by an odd coincidence it works great as a tool for manipulating people and making them think that they have to submit to you and your teachings in order to be saved.

Salvation by faith takes that manipulation one step further: not only does your salvation depend on submitting to some human teacher, but you have to believe that what he tells you is absolutely and infallibly true. It’s not enough to merely try to be good or to behave in ways that make you an asset to the community. You have to believe, even when it makes no sense, and even when it’s in conflict with what you see around you.

To make matters worse, you have to believe even though God Himself does not behave as though He believed everything people say about how much He loves us and wants to be with us and wants us to know Him and so on. Your salvation depends on believing what fallible men say about God, under conditions that are fundamentally inconsistent with their teachings being true.

Psychologically, this is extremely powerful: since your salvation depends on your willingness to prefer the beliefs of men over the evidence of the real world, aggressive gullibility becomes not merely a virtue, but the driving force in one’s life. Suddenly “worldview” is more vital than the world itself. You can make a career out of thinking up clever rationalizations for why reality fails to live up to what preachers say it ought to be. Any time you encounter evidence that your beliefs are wrong, you can make your salvation even more certain by simply choosing to disregard the evidence and cling to your faith anyway. It’s a self-reinforcing, correction-resistant self-deception.

It’s also, by another strange coincidence, very easy to do. The things men want you to believe turn out to be fairly flattering: how important you are to God and how all of history revolves around the story of everything God is going to do to make sure you end up eternally blessed and blissful. Even the negative stuff (about what a wretched sinner you are) turns out not to be so bad because hey, you’re forgiven—unlike those other vile heather sinners who are even worse than you. So you get to claim humility while simultaneously considering yourself better off than everyone else.

This combination makes the Gospel both easy to spread and highly resistant to correction. It is possibly the most effective way to manipulate large groups of people. And yet, from a theological perspective, does salvation by faith really make sense?

The problem theologically is that, by making faith a condition for salvation, we’re effectively turning salvation into something you do, by your own efforts, as opposed to being merely a conclusion you arrive at through observation of the evidence. If salvation were something that happened just by discovering that God is real, He could save us all simply by showing up so that we could all see that, ah, yes, there He is. But that’s not how the Gospel works.

Salvation by faith is a way to earn your salvation by deliberately choosing not to let the evidence deter you from gullibly embracing what the preacher says, just because the preacher says it. The “virtue” in your faith that makes it worthy of saving you is that you had to make a deliberate choice not to accept the real-world evidence, and to accept the words of men instead. It is a conscious, mental effort that you make on your own behalf in order to obtain salvation for yourself.

And yet, the Gospel explicitly teaches that you cannot earn your salvation by any works. Salvation must be passively received. According to some teachers, even faith itself must be passively received as a gift from God. Such a passive gift of faith, however, would be like skeptical, reality-based belief rather than faith-based belief. The best way to to achieve truly passive faith (without programming it into believers like robots) would be for God to show up in person, in real life, consistently and universally enough that we could all see Him and know that He was real. Then we could have a belief that truly required no work or effort on our part.

So there’s an inherent contradiction in the Gospel: God wants us all to be saved by a passive faith that we could easily have if He would only show up in real life, but yet most people, according to Jesus, are not going to be saved. They’re going to go to Hell because of their lack of faith, but since faith must be given to us by God, their lack of faith is a direct result of God’s failure to show up to give it to them, despite His alleged desire to see them all saved.

Meanwhile, the faith that Christians do have, that earns them their place in Heaven, is not a passive faith at all. It’s an active and aggressive pursuit of the words of men, and an active rejection of any evidence that contradicts what men teach about God. It’s a deliberate, conscious, and sometimes strenuous exertion of the will in order to affirm “spiritual truth” and reject an incompatible material reality. If you stop making the effort, if you let material reality dictate what you believe, then you might apostasize, but as long as you keep working at it, your faith will still “save” you.

And it accomplishes all that while simultaneously contradicting the Gospel itself. But that’s what militant gullibility can do for you.

Comments

  1. Mary says

    Thanks for this. One of the clearest presentations yet of ideas I have had jumbled in my head for years but have been unable to articulate.

  2. Reginald Selkirk says

    And yet, the Gospel explicitly teaches that you cannot earn your salvation by any works.

    That depends on which Gospel you read.

    • Igakusei says

      That depends on which Gospel you read.

      I was raised Seventh-day Adventist, and they have an interesting solution to this that involves combining salvation by grace and salvation by works. So we’re saved by grace, but if we don’t obey the commandments (read: works), then we won’t be saved. So keeping the Sabbath and all that other stuff becomes a salvational issue, but they’ll bend over backwards denying that they teach salvation by works.

      It never really made sense to me.

  3. Tige Gibson says

    In general I like and appreciate what you are doing because it is true that Christianity and the Bible are wrong at almost every turn, but I would not understate that fact that we really only need one simple reason not to trust the Christian faith or religions in general.

    If something is wrong it is wrong for one reason. Whenever someone offers lots of reasons for something, it is a dead giveaway that these are excuses, excuses in the negative connotation.

    If a person is put on trial for murder and the death sentence is death, if the prosecution offers 95 reasons the suspect is a bad person but does not focus on the murder, that does not justify the death penalty.

    At #32 I am thinking this is turning into 95 theses, and we like Luther may have a lot of good reasons, but you still only need one solid reason to back up the charge (and what is the charge exactly?), and visitors to the site may see these as excuses that they believe have already been addressed by theology/apologists.

  4. says

    If something is wrong it is wrong for one reason.

    That is not even remotely true. Things can be wrong for multiple reasons, and while concentrating on only one failing may make your attack more focused, that doesn’t mean that other failings don’t exist or that someone is wrong to point them all out.

    • Reginald Selkirk says

      Things can be wrong for multiple reasons…

      Did someone mention the ontological argument?
      .
      Also, cross-reference the concept of “fractally wrong”

  5. Eric Miller says

    This is my response.

    1.-Salvation by faith takes that manipulation one step further: not only does your salvation depend on submitting to some human teacher, but you have to believe that what he tells you is absolutely and infallibly true.-

    Jesus is God and to believe on Him for salvation is in no way manipulative.

    2.-It’s not enough to merely try to be good or to behave in ways that make you an asset to the community-.

    What is good? Who decides it? What makes something good? What if your “community” is in Nazi Germany and to be an “asset” you need to turn in your Jewish neighbors?

    Let me try to illustrate why being good isn’t good enough: Imagine you lent me your house to use for the weekend while you go on a vacation. You come back and I tell you that I broke your flatscreen and ruined all your furniture. Then I say, “ You should forgive me because I washed your dishes and painted your fence, too!” That irresponsible renter is you before God. Simply doing “good” works doesn’t erase the damage caused by the evil you’ve done; you still have to pay the punishment for your wrongdoing.

    3.-You have to believe, even when it makes no sense, and even when it’s in conflict with what you see around you.-

    Not only has God given us reasons to believe the things we orthodox Christians believe but, most importantly, He has given us His Holy Spirit as a self-authenticating witness to our hearts. As Christians, we stand on the truths that God has made known to all men and the truth revealed to us personally by the Spirit. You might say that a Muslim or Hindu can claim similar religious experiences. This is true, but the presence of false experiences does not negate the truth of genuine ones.

    4.-To make matters worse, you have to believe even though God Himself does not behave as though He believed everything people say about how much He loves us and wants to be with us and wants us to know Him and so on.-

    It’s to bad their are no reasons given or examples provided to back up this statement I don’t find this statement to be true in the slightest. God has given us many reasons to believe in Him (origin of the universe, existence of contingent beings, fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, Resurrection of Jesus, direct personal experience of God and so on). In addition, we know that God loves us because He sent His Son (who went willingly) to die for us.

    5.-Your salvation depends on believing what fallible men say about God,-

    Not at all. God has given us His supernaturally preserved Word which has proved to be a trustworthy guide for life and practice through the ages.
    6.under conditions that are fundamentally inconsistent with their teachings being true

    Throughout this blog post, I noticed that you make statements like the above and, yet, do not clarify why you think your statement is true. What are such conditions? What are such teachings?

    7.-Psychologically, this is extremely powerful: since your salvation depends on your willingness to prefer the beliefs of men over the evidence of the real world, aggressive gullibility becomes not merely a virtue, but the driving force in one’s life. Suddenly “worldview” is more vital than the world itself.-
    You can make a career out of thinking up clever rationalizations for why reality fails to live up to what preachers say it ought to be. Any time you encounter evidence that your beliefs are wrong, you can make your salvation even more certain by simply choosing to disregard the evidence and cling to your faith anyway. It’s a self-reinforcing, correction-resistant self-deception.-

    Again, I see no examples given or reasons provided for why your reader should think this statement to be true. In fact, this statement could easily be amended and applied to atheism.

    8.-It’s also, by another strange coincidence, very easy to do. The things men want you to believe turn out to be fairly flattering: how important you are to God and how all of history revolves around the story of everything God is going to do to make sure you end up eternally blessed and blissful.-

    My first reaction to your statement was that however you interpret God’s work in the universe is unimportant to its truth and therefore doesn’t really matter. However, you seem to not understand that it is for the glory of God that God does what He does. I agree with the Church father Iraeneus who said. “The glory of God is man fully alive”. Ultimately, God is the center of reality and not man.

    9.-Even the negative stuff (about what a wretched sinner you are) turns out not to be so bad because hey, you’re forgiven—unlike those other vile heather sinners who are even worse than you. So you get to claim humility while simultaneously considering yourself better off than everyone else.-

    I’m not sure where you get this from. I would like to see where in Scripture this concept comes from. Salvation is ALL of grace and none of human merit so there is no grounds for boasting and certainly one is given no reason to think that the unsaved are “ even worse than you”.

    10.-This combination makes the Gospel both easy to spread and highly resistant to correction. It is possibly the most effective way to manipulate large groups of people. -

    Since your above argument was unfounded and untrue it renders this conclusion obviously does not follow those premises. I will note, however, that I did not see how they were connected in the first place.

    11-And yet, from a theological perspective, does salvation by faith really make sense?

    The problem theologically is that, by making faith a condition for salvation, we’re effectively turning salvation into something you do, by your own efforts, as opposed to being merely a conclusion you arrive at through observation of the evidence.-

    We’re not “turning” faith into anything; biblical faith has always involved assent and trust. Saving is something that God does. To accept His salvation does not make turn it into our work anymore than accepting a gift is equivalent to buying and giving it. That’s nonsense.

    12.-If salvation were something that happened just by discovering that God is real, He could save us all simply by showing up so that we could all see that, ah, yes, there He is. But that’s not how the Gospel works.-

    You need salvation because you are sinful and depraved. God isn’t working with some arbitrary system of salvation but a concept of Justice and Mercy that springs from His own holy nature.

    13.-Salvation by faith is a way to earn your salvation by deliberately choosing not to let the evidence deter you from gullibly embracing what the preacher says, just because the preacher says it. The “virtue” in your faith that makes it worthy of saving you is that you had to make a deliberate choice not to accept the real-world evidence, and to accept the words of men instead. It is a conscious, mental effort that you make on your own behalf in order to obtain salvation for yourself.-

    This is nonsense that comes from the author’s own biases and misconceptions. This kind of red-meat slinging may appeal to a hungry base, but it does not serve as a valid argument against Christian soteriology.

    14.-And yet, the Gospel explicitly teaches that you cannot earn your salvation by any works. Salvation must be passively received. According to some teachers, even faith itself must be passively received as a gift from God. Such a passive gift of faith, however, would be like skeptical, reality-based belief rather than faith-based belief.-

    You’ve set your own arbitrary standard of the nature of “passive faith” (I reject that term; saving faith is saving faith) based on a false dichotomy between faith and reality.

    15.-The best way to to achieve truly passive faith (without programming it into believers like robots) would be for God to show up in person, in real life, consistently and universally enough that we could all see Him and know that He was real. Then we could have a belief that truly required no work or effort on our part.-

    It is this paragraph the author reveals his ignorance concerning his dire condition. First, you assert that salvation must be “passively” received through “passive faith ”. Second, you create you own system of salvation, based on your own idea of how your made-up “passive faith” is best achieved. Third you contrast your made-up system with your straw man of Christian faith (which doesn’t include trust) and proclaim yours as superior. This is truly a messy argument, based on your ignorance of WHY you need salvation in the first place and the TRUE nature of biblical salvation.

    16-So there’s an inherent contradiction in the Gospel: God wants us all to be saved by a passive faith that we could easily have if He would only show up in real life,-

    Again, you made up the idea of a “passive faith” which equals a intellectual belief, that doesn’t involve trust, which has no precursor in Christian thought.

    17.-but yet most people, according to Jesus, are not going to be saved. They’re going to go to Hell because of their lack of faith,-

    People got to hell because of their SIN directly and unbelief only indirectly.

    18.-but since faith must be given to us by God, their lack of faith is a direct result of God’s failure to show up to give it to them, despite His alleged desire to see them all saved.-

    Not true. The gift is the SALVATION that comes by grace through faith and not the faith itself.

    19-Meanwhile, the faith that Christians do have, that earns them their place in Heaven, is not a passive faith at all. It’s an active and aggressive pursuit of the words of men, and an active rejection of any evidence that contradicts what men teach about God. It’s a deliberate, conscious, and sometimes strenuous exertion of the will in order to affirm “spiritual truth” and reject an incompatible material reality. If you stop making the effort, if you let material reality dictate what you believe, then you might apostatize, but as long as you keep working at it, your faith will still “save” you.-

    This is a hodge-podge of assertions devoid of arguments or examples to back up the propositional content.

    • Janney says

      Mr. Miller,

      Saving is something that God does. To accept His salvation does not make turn it into our work anymore than accepting a gift is equivalent to buying and giving it.

      I’m sure you realize that, if your assertion is true, then so is Deacon’s: “you cannot earn your salvation by any works. Salvation must be passively received.”

      Unless, of course, God grants the gift of salvation to people who do certain things in this life. But that sounds a lot like merit, doesn’t it?

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Hi Eric, thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your taking the time to write such a long comment, and I’ll try to address it over the course of the next few days. You’ve given me some good material, and I don’t want it to be buried in the comments section, so I’ll promote this discussion to the main blog.

      Thanks again,

      DD

    • Sunny Day says

      “What is good? Who decides it? What makes something good? What if your “community” is in Nazi Germany and to be an “asset” you need to turn in your Jewish neighbors?”

      Well you could claim you were doing the work of god just like this passage here.

      “Thus saith the LORD of hosts … go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. ”

      There is no difference between your social setting telling you what’s good and your religion telling you whats good. They are the same thing.

    • Len says

      You might say that a Muslim or Hindu can claim similar religious experiences. This is true, but the presence of false experiences does not negate the truth of genuine ones.

      So you’re saying that false Christian experiences don’t negate the genuine Hindu or Muslim ones.

      But the question remains, how do you know what’s genuine and what’s false? Saying the holy spirit tells you is no answer, because something similar says the same to a Hindu or a Muslim – they are no less believable (or, to be more accurate, unbelievable) than you.

  6. sunsangnim says

    Great article. You have a great way of deconstructing the mental gymnastics that religion forces people to do.

    This combination makes the Gospel both easy to spread and highly resistant to correction. It is possibly the most effective way to manipulate large groups of people.

    Of course, this is why Christianity has such a large market share in the world of religion. Like any other meme, religion succeeds by being easy to spread and by resisting correction, not by any objective merits or connection to reality.

  7. says

    I could never work out how “salvation by faith alone” could be reconciled with Jesus saying that the ones who would go to Heaven would be the ones who fed him when he was hungry, clothed him when he was naked, visited him in prison etc. & the ones who would go to Hell were all the ones who hadn’t.

    I’m sure Christians have some way of explaining it away – er, sorry, I mean elucidating the true meaning, but I’ve never managed to fathom what it could be.

  8. Anteprepro says

    Wow. Eric Miller’s post is just pathetic. But at least it is numbered for convenient mockery.
    1 is bald assertion, doing nothing to tell us why belief as a requirement for salvation isn’t manipulative (after-life death threats, anyone?).
    2 includes Eric justifying God’s infinite punishment for finite crimes by showing us how good deeds don’t undo those finite crimes.
    3 says we all have sufficient reason to believe, but basically says that our reason to believe is just a gut feeling that is presumed to be magically guided and to be considered accurate and true regardless of the incorrect gut feelings of the unorthodox.
    In 4, he feigns ignorance regarding the injustice that is the main topic of salvation by faith, and presents existence itself, “fine-tuning”, gut feelings and the story of Jesus’s temporary death as evidence of God’s love.
    By 5, we get him pretending that the Bible was all God’s work and had nothing to do with fallible men.
    He simply doesn’t understand that DD shows the logical consequences of a system of beliefs that stresses blind adherence in order to deserve eternal rewards instead of eternal punishment in number 7, and asks for Duncan to show work that Eric himself has already quoted.
    He responds to a claim about how appealing it is to believe we are God’s favorite in 8 by stressing that this is irrelevant to whether it is true (which is itself irrelevant to Duncan’s actual point) and that God is very important (which is consistent with what DD said).
    He bravely pretends in 9 that the salvation granted on grounds of belief doesn’t imply that the saved are better than the unsaved, maintaining humility by saying the saved don’t deserve salvation while simultaneously undercutting the entire idea of the unsaved actually deserving God’s punishment.
    12 boldly claims that God’s system of justice isn’t arbitrary and is something that he is required to abide by his very nature, which nicely shoots down claims of God’s omnipotence. It also makes all the hoops God needed to leap through in order to provide the possibility of salvation a tad more curious.
    14 is only a good argument without actually paying attention to the text immediately after that Eric addresses in 15. Which he decides to deal with by presenting indignant bluster in lieu of illustrating why “passive faith” wouldn’t best be achieved by God regularly presenting himself in the material plane (like He allegedly did in the biblical era and obviously does not do in the modern era).
    In 16, he whines about DD straw-manning faith, suggesting that faith isn’t “intellectual belief” but involves “trust” (which is not necessarily excluded in DD’s “passive faith” scenario, so it seems Eric is using “trust” to mean “to believe in the existence of X, in lieu of solid evidence” instead of believing in their character or reliability).
    17 says people go to Hell because of their sin, while previously admitting that everyone is sinful and salvation is granted despite no-one truly deserving it.

    It’s quite a collection of garbage. It was such a long post that even I was fooled into thinking he actually had something to say. But, alas, no. He was under the impression that Deacon Duncan didn’t understand the relevant doctrines enough to criticize Christianity. Whereas I’m now under the impression that Eric Miller doesn’t understand the relevant reading skills enough to criticize a blog post.

  9. CJO says

    Not at all. God has given us His supernaturally preserved Word which has proved to be a trustworthy guide for life and practice through the ages.

    Poppycock. You could, I suppose, claim that the form of this Word you are familiar with, presumably in English translation, was arrved at by supernatural divine guidance (this is the claim often made of the KJV), but not that it was preserved. Leaving aside the fact that all translation requires interpretation, there is not even a way to know how the ancient originals read.

    For the Old Testament, we have three major rescensions from antiquity, only one of which became the Masoretic text from which most modern translations are derived. And for the New Testament, we have thousands and thousands of textual variants in the 3rd and 4th century manuscripts with no way to know which version is closer to the original in most cases except the mutually contradictory educated guesses of biblical scholars. I could go on.

    You can play your games with imaginary concepts like grace, sin, and salvation, and I won’t have much to say. It’s a game of Calvinball and your rules are just as absurd and without reference to material reality as any other set. But when you claim to know, or even to know the means by which one might know, that the Biblical literature has been transmitted to the modern day in some preserved “original” state, you are making a claim that quite simply contradicts verifiable fact.

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