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.

About Chip
Chip is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, AR and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, TN. He served more than five years on the staff of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana as Director of Communications and Public Relations, editor of the Indiana Baptist newsjournal, and regular contributor to the Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. He currently earns his living as a writer. He serves his local church as a teacher and deacon and his local Baptist Association as a Seminary Extension instructor and supply preacher.

One Response to Pascal’s Wager

  1. Randy Steed says:

    * Having begun with a prayer for God’s grace to flow from my comments on this (your) post from 2006, the Holy Spirit reminded me: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Proverbs 25:11, various translations.
    Interestingly, folks may see Prov 25:11 as a zinger, or a wise observation, or a pithy statement, or as gold, etc.

    * Jesus used rich and wise zingers with His calls to repentance to cause “His own” (John 1) to reflect on their Creator and Lord. Proverbs is packed with short and wise zingers.

    * It would seem that King James liked Prov 25:11 since he signed off on the translation bearing his name; although we might wonder if he read it – since history doesn’t show his life to have been a pursuit for righteousness. Noah Webster liked Prov 25:11. He left it the same as the KJV when he did his Webster Bible Translation (WBT) for use in teaching children in the USA’s 19th century public schools.

    * Pithy? Zinger? You name it. God likes it. He inspired it to wake up our minds to His wise counsel.

    * Actually, personally, I don’t prefer the connotations that come with “zinger.” It sounds like a “gotcha” thing, sort of a guilt trip thing. But, I choose words for affect when teaching to stir our minds out of slumber. So, if zingers speak for you or to you, God is our judge – not me.

    * The impetus that led to my stumbling onto your post is a newly awakened stirring for ‘gospelizing’ that the Holy Spirit has been doing in my spirit. Souls have been dying without forgiveness and without salvation while I was sidetracked on all the things that wear the banner “Christianity” – which folks regard as sacred and Biblical – but they are really just cultural or traditional. So, thinking about gospelizing, a memory of a pithy statement embossed into my trucks license plate holder came to my mind. It said: “If you’re living like there is no God… You’d better be right!” – [OOPS! I didn’t know this was such a mine-triggering sore spot – an explosive zinger.] I searched the www, and there was your post. Amazing!

    * The reality is, after my wife passed away almost 2 decades ago, I eventually became attracted to a “Christianity” based church-goer who was clever at pretending to love the gospel ministry – but she loved my bank balance more.

    *Once, when visiting her parents’ home, her dad was out looking over my pickup truck. He saw my license plate holder: “If you’re living like there is no God … You’d better be right!” When I went over to talk, he said he liked it. Do you know why? I didn’t – and could have asked. Turns out he was angry about a church that had not reached out in love when he had been in a very bad way in his life! I MESSED UP!! I WAS SILENT WHEN HE NEEDED – WHEN GOD HAD ORDAINED THAT HE READ MY LICENSE PLATE HOLDER’S ZINGER STATEMENT: “If you’re living like there is no God … You’d better be right!”

    * If I’d been more tuned into the voice of the Holy Spirit instead of potential family connections … well, he died. Had he received the love, grace and truth of God brought to us by Jesus Christ? Was he confused – inside his heart despising God when it was a failure of church-goers using Jesus’ name who let him down? Was my future father-in-law living like there is no God, but wanting someone to help him see his mistaken ideas about church-goers and Jesus?????!!!

    *He is dead. With God? Without God? The “zinger” blurb on the plate holder was a key to a conversation that SHOULD HAVE happened!

    * THIDEOLOGY friend, I agree with you: attempting to persuade unsaved people using human logic, catchy but empty clauses, … is powerless. Jesus Christ is the Lord and the only Savior. And bumper stickers can’t be large enough to proclaim the complete “good news” about Christ. NEITHER did your post, by the way!

    *We could pick each other apart! Or, we could focus, by the wisdom the Spirit gives us, on seeing each opportunity to share the word about Christ (Romans 10:17). We are not necessarily ‘people being dishonest’ when we trust our wisdom instead of His. The Lord will instruct and empower us if we want what He wants.

    * And, my Brother, you are correct: Christianity is not a “good bet.” Christianity, as a word or label, has come to mean many things. Sometimes, as a label, it means almost nothing. In the first century, it wasn’t even in the writings called the New Testament. True followers of Christ, sanctified followers whose ways and words reminded people of Christ, came to be called Christianos. Oh! That it were the same now! So terribly often, churches are teaching how to be better earth-dwellers; not how to look like Christ, and to live like we know our actual residence is in the heavens with our Lord.

    * What is your religion? … someone may ask. Is “By faith in God, I follow Christ” a good and humbling response? I hope so.

    * May the peace and joy of Christ be abundantly within you.

    /r/ 17Dec2019 /

    Ref: https://thideology.wordpress.com/2006/02/16/pascals-wager/

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