Recently I posted an entry (Rewards, Randy Alcorn Style) with links to discussions on another blog. I will not duplicate the postings Steve Lehrer has offered on the subject. Some of what I say may overlap with his comments, particularly, if I offer a few more blog entries on distinctive biblical passages. Randy Alcorn's beliefs find expression in Money, Possessions, and Eternity, rev. and updated 2003, (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1989).
For this entry, my purpose is to show that Randy Alcorn's theological formulations concerning "rewards" have a history and that his beliefs are in continuity with those expressed long ago by C. I. Scofield in his notes published in The Scofield Reference Bible in 1917.
The editors of The New Scofield Reference Bible retain C. I. Scofield's theology intact as they reiterate his note on 1 Corinthians 3:14.
God, in the N.T. Scriptures, offers to the lost, salvation, and, for the faithful service of the saved, rewards. The passages are easily distinguished by remembering that salvation is invariably spoken of as a free gift (e.g.) John 4:10; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8,9 while rewards are earned by works ; Matthew 10:42; Luke 19:17; 1 Corinthians 9:24,25; 2 Timothy 4:7,8; Revelation 2:10; 22:12.
A further distinction is that salvation is a present possession Luke 7:50; John 3:36; 5:24; 6:47, while rewards are a future attainment, to be given at the coming of the Lord ; Matthew 16:27; 2 Timothy 4:8; Revelation 22:12.
God in the N.T. Scriptures offers to the lost, salvation; and for the faithful service of the saved, He offers rewards. The passages are easily distinguished by remembering that salvation is invariably spoken of as a free gift (e.g. Jn. 4:10; Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8-9), whereas rewards are earned by works (Mt. 10:42; Lk. 19:17; 1 Cor. 9:24-25; 2 Tim 4:7-8; Rev. 2:10; 22:12). A further distinction is that salvation is a present possession (Lk. 7:50; Jn. 3:36; 5:24; 6:47), whereas rewards are a future attainment, to be given at the rapture (2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 22:12).
Randy Alcorn falls prey to the same false disjunction that led astray C. I. Scofield and his theological children. Alcorn discriminates between salvation and rewards saying,
Whenever we speak of rewards, particularly because we speak of them so rarely, it's easy to confuse God's work and man's. Many mistakenly believe that heaven is our reward for doing good things. This is absolutely not the case. Our presence in heaven is in no sense a reward for our works, but a gift freely given by God in response to faith (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
Actually, within these four sentences there are several issues that I could linger over in addition to the issue of salvation and rewards. I will avoid those issues for now, as I seek to keep my focus.
Alcorn simplistically reduces salvation to regeneration and sketches the following chart on page 127 of Money, Possessions, and Eternity.
|Past (1 John 3:2)||Future (Revelation 22:12)|
|Free (Ephesians 2:8-9)||Earned (1 Corinthians 3:8)|
|Can’t be lost (John 10:28-29)||Can be lost (2 John 8)|
|Same for all Christians (Romans 3:22)||Differ between Christians (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)|
|For those who believe (John 3:16)||For those who work (1 Corinthians 9:27)|
Following his chart Alcorn reiterates his antitheses between salvation and rewards in prose.
Salvation is about God's work on behalf of humanity. Conversely, rewards are a matter of our work for God. When it comes to salvation, our work for God is no substitute for God's work for us. God saves us because of Christ's work, not ours. Likewise, when it comes to rewards, God's work for humanity is no substitute for our work for God. God rewards us for our work, not Christ's (127-128).
Alcorn's beliefs concerning rewards are in accord with the beliefs that came to be vitally attached to Classic Dispensationalism, at least in America. Several authors who are in agreement with Alcorn are:
Lewis S. Chafer, Salvation, 12th printing (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977).
Woodrow Michael Kroll, It Will Be Worth It All: A Study in the Believer's Rewards (Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1977).
Zane Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege: A Study on Faith and Works, 2nd edition 1991 (Dallas: Rendención Viva, 1981);
___________. Grace in Eclipse: A Study on Eternal Rewards (Dallas: Rendención Viva, 1985);
___________. Absolutely Free: A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989).
Robert Wilkin, Confident in Christ: Living by Faith Really Works (Irving, Texas: Grace Evangelical Society, 1999).
Charles Stanley, Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990).
Erwin W. Lutzer, Your Eternal Reward: Triumph and Tears at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1998).
R. T. Kendall, Once Saved, Always Saved (Chicago: Moody Press, 1983).
Michael Eaton, No Condemnation: A New Theology of Assurance (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1995).
Alcorn's beliefs faithfully reflect the beliefs of Lewis S. Chafer who says, "Salvation is not a reward for the beleiver's service. Salvation is God's work for us. Rewards are always connected with the believer's works and merit" (Salvation, 66). Like those who have gone ahead of him to forge his doctrine of rewards for believers, Alcorn commits the same theological errors as he succumbs to an overly-zealous anti-Catholic guardian hermeneutic to avoid any possible introduction of merit theology into his doctrine of salvation. He succumbs to his overly-zealous anti-Catholic method of interpretation by isolating the biblical imagery of rewards/crowns from the biblical imagery of salvation/deliverance so as to preserve his doctrine of salvation from the contamination of merit. Strangely, however, like all who preceded him in his divorcement of rewards from salvation, Alcorn is willing to speak of mere humans, albeit believers, as meriting rewards from God. The notion that mere humans have even a negligible capacity to put God in their debt for anything is astonishing. Yet, Alcorn's doctrine of rewards entails the belief that humans can and do put God in our debt. Otherwise, what does it mean to earn or to merit rewards from God?
Integral to the doctrine of rewards taught by many and embraced by Alcorn is the abstraction of obedience from belief. Alcorn expresses it this way: "Belief (trust, faith) determines our eternal destination: where we will be. Behavior (obedience) determines our eternal rewards: what we will have there. Words do not affect our destination (in other words, our redemption is secured by the work of Christ). However, works do affect our reward experienced at the destination. Just as there are eternal consequences to our faith, so there are eternal consequences to our works" (128). So, as all who embrace the Alcorn-style beliefs concerning rewards isolate rewards from salvation, they also invariably isolate obedience from faith. In their anti-Catholic zeal to oppose a doctrine of salvation enmeshed with the notion of merit, they fall headlong into a doctrine of merit, nonetheless, even if they have located merit at a different place in their theology. Zealous to reject the notion that humans put God in their debt with regard to salvation, they have relocated the concept of human merit in connection with rewards so that humans do put God in their debt, but only with regard to non-salvational rewards. Is not this notion monstrous?
Far better guides concerning the biblical imagery of reward for salvation are John Owen and John Calvin. Owen astutely observes,
Eternal life may be called the reward of perseverance, in the sense that Scripture useth the word. . . . It is a reward neither procured by (properly and morally, as the deserving cause) nor proportioned unto the obedience of them by who it is attained. A reward it is that withal is the free gift of God, and an inheritance purchased by Jesus Christ; a reward of bounty, and not of justice, in respects of them upon whom it is bestowed, but only of faithfulness in reference to the promise of it; a reward, by being a gracious encouragement, --as the end of our obedience, not as the procurement or desert of it (The Doctrine of the Saint's Perseverance Explained and Confirmed, vol 11, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold [London: Banner of Truth, 1966], 503).
Similarly, John Calvin argues,
Lest we should think that the reward the Lord promises us is reduced to a matter of merit, he has set forth a parable, in which he has made himself a householder who sends whomever he meets to cultivate his vineyard. Some are sent, indeed, at the first hour, others at the second, still others at the third, and some even at the eleventh; and at evening he pays them all equally [Matt. 20:1ff]. . . . 'The Lord has by this comparison illustrated the diversity of his manifold calling, pertaining to the one and only grace . . . where it is clear that those sent to the vineyard at the eleventh hour and put on an equal footing with those who had labored the whole day represent the destiny of those . . . whom God's mercy rewards at the decline of the day . . . in order to reveal the excellence of his grace. For he does not pay the price of their labor but showers the riches of his goodness upon those whom he has chosen apart from works. Thus they also, . . . who sweated in much labor, and did not receive more than the latecomers, should understand that they received a gift of grace, not the reward of their works" (Institues, 1.17.3).
Regrettably for all who embrace Alcorn's view, I am compelled by Scripture to disagree at foundational levels with his theology concerning rewards. My disagreements are grounded in thoroughly biblical reasons. Scripture persuades me that the notion of earning or meriting anything from God, salvation and rewards equally, is a horrendous notion. Equally awful is the abstraction of rewards from salvation and of obedience from faith that is integral to the system of theology advanced by Alcorn, Chafer, Hodges, Wilkin, Kroll, et al. Any doctrine, whether Catholic or Protestant, that postulates that humans have the capacity to put God at our debt seems terrible to me and worthy of rejection.
Does not Jesus teach us to repudiate any notion of merit in our obedience? "So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty'" (Luke 17:10).
Given the rewards theology’s notion that “salvation is past” or that salvation is a “present possession” but that “rewards are future,” do you, my readers, recognize why Tom and I devoted chapter 2 of The Race Set Before Us to an explication of the biblical portrayal of salvation in Christ as entailing both present (already) and future (not yet) realities? Given the rewards theology’s abstraction of rewards from salvation, do you recognize why Tom and I devoted that same chapter to a the Bible’s portrayal of salvation with a full array of imageries that entail a variety of metaphors? Also, given the rewards theology’s abstraction of obedience from belief, do you understand why Tom and I devoted a whole chapter (chapter 2) to the biblical portrayal of belief and obedience and their indivisibility? These are no insignificant issues to be grasped. Fail to understand these and one will preach an inferior gospel, if we should call it a gospel.