Pascal’s Wager

cc-be_right.jpgI’ve never been a big fan of “Christian” bumper stickers. Reducing the precious doctrines of Scripture to catchy slogans and Bible nuggets oversimplifies God’s Word and in no way encourages us to dig deeper and learn more. We are conditioned to take our information in bullet fashion but doing this with Scripture leads to what I like to call bumper sticker theology. We end up with a knowledge of the Bible more shallow than the layer of adhesive necessary to fix one of these cutesy sayings to our car.

One of my least favorites is the one which says, “If you are living like there is no God… You’d better be right!” At first glance this appears to be a fresh, clever little zinger designed to get the lost to think. In actuality it is a rewording of a very old decision theory known as “Pascal’s Wager.”

Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician, physicist, and religious philosopher who lived in the mid-17th century. He first articulated his decision theory about God in a book entitled Pensees. Pensees, which literally means “thoughts,” was Pascal’s collective apologetic for the Christian faith. In it he argued that it is a better bet to believe in God than to not. It boils down to four possibilities:

  1. If you believe in God, and God exists, you go to heaven and you’ve gained everything.
  2. If you believe in God, and God does not exist, you’ve not really lost anything.
  3. If you do not believe in God, and God does not exist, you’ve not really lost anything.
  4. If you do not believe in God, and God exists, you will go to hell and you’ve lost everything.

It’s summarized quite well in the previously mentioned bumper sticker. I don’t like Pascal’s Wager as a means of evangelism for many reasons.

First, it is an incomplete argument and offers no evidence, biblical or otherwise, for support. It is completely man-centered and focuses on the destiny of man rather than the glory of God.

Second, the very same argument may be used by every other religion in the world. “If you’re living like there’s no Buddha… You’d better be right!”

Third, and most importantly, it trivializes the Gospel, eliminates the Lordship of Jesus, and reduces our Savior to some sort of odds-on favorite. “Hey, don’t put your eternity on atheism, it’s a 100-to-1 long shot. Jesus is almost a sure thing…I got a tip on it.”

Well, here’s a tip…

Jesus is not a get-out-of-hell-free ticket nor is He “fire insurance.” He is Creator God. He is Lord.

Telling someone the reason they should trust in Jesus just because it’s the best bet is dishonest. It does not provide that person with the whole Gospel. Christianity is not a “good bet.”

It is a transformation (“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17).

It is commitment (“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” – Matt. 16:24).

It is sacrifice (“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20).

If you are trusting in Jesus for salvation and have submitted to His Lordship then, great! It’s time to get busy doing what He would have you do. Get into the Word, go deeper than bumper sticker theology.

But if you are just backing Jesus as the odds-on favorite…

…don’t.

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