As I was scrolling through my feed today, I came across some quotes which had been tweeted by Wil Wheaton. They come from John Joseph Adams’ book, The End is Nigh, and they’re regarding the Bible. One quote said this:
“The fairy tale of heaven, the promise that whatever s**t happens, your story gets a happy ending. The Bible, boiled down: Once upon a time I helped some poor suckers out and someday, maybe, if you’re good, I’ll help you too.”
Normally I can read things like that and move on with my life without a second thought, but for some reason I felt compelled to respond to this particular quote.
Before I start, let me be clear; I’m not concerned that Adams doesn’t agree with the Bible. What I take issue with is his lack of understanding for the thing he disagrees with. Therefore, I’ve decided to write this post, so that others who would seek to agree with Adams might at least do so with the right level of understanding.
Adams’ summation of the Bible falls under the theological idea of “Salvation by Works.” He says, “The Bible, boiled down: Once upon a time I helped some poor suckers out and someday, maybe, if you’re good, I’ll help you too.” This is just bad theology. I can see where Adams might have got this idea from, because this is a theology which has historically been taught by the Church. Salvation by Works teaches that we can be accepted by God, provided that we uphold His moral standard. The result of this is a guilt-based religion, whose followers endlessly strive to achieve the unachievable.
In Bible terms, this is Old Testament thinking. Even so, it’s flawed Old Testament thinking. Although the Law given by God through Moses was based upon the people fulfilling certain requirements, it was not intended to create a culture of guilt. Through the Law, God allowed the people to sacrifice animals in their place. It might seem barbaric to our comfortable 21st Century minds, but given the alternative (that the people themselves die), God was being remarkably gracious to His people.
However, the Bible boiled down, as Adams puts it, is quite the opposite from what he asserts. It is far more accurately summarized by Paul in Romans 8:
“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.” Romans 8:1-4
This passage details what we call Salvation by Grace. It’s grace, not works, which is the central theme of the Bible. There’s nothing we can do to earn our salvation. Instead, God gives us salvation as a gift through Jesus. There’s no “If you’re good” about it. We have the opportunity to accept God’s gracious gift of salvation. I won’t pretend that it’s easy to be a Christian; sometimes it’s incredibly hard. However, it’s far easier than the works-based theology that Adams thinks the Bible is all about.
Like I said earlier, I’m not concerned that people disagree with the Bible; it’s important that people are allowed to have an opinion, especially on the important things in life. However, if you’re going to disagree with something as important as the Bible, at least make sure you understand it properly. I don’t know if John Joseph Adams would agree with the Bible if he read and understood its message. I suspect not, given the way he writes about it.
If you’re going to disagree with something as important as the Bible, at least make sure you understand it properly.
If you’re reading this and you might have retweeted or shared quotes like the one this post is based on in the past, I encourage you to think carefully about what you share. It might fit with your preconceived ideas about religion, while also being completely false. Again, I’m not trying to stifle anyone’s right to have an opinion; quite the contrary. Just make sure that your opinions are based on accurate information.