A Critique by Ted Loy of Randy Alcorn's Money, Possessions, and Eternity-
(especially with regards to rewards)
C. I Scofield's legacy of "merit theology" - or rewards:
Since The Scofield Reference Bible of 1917 which popularized classic dispensationalism, there has been been some disagreement with his position as to the nature of rewards. Scofield and those who have followed him, Lewis S. Chafer, Woodrow Kroll, Zane Hodges, Charles Stanley, Erwin Lutzer and Randy Alcorn , et al, all hold to what could be called a "merit theology" regarding what we do for the Lord as believers. Simply explained, they all rightly subscribe to the Reformation doctrine of salvation by grace through faith - received as a free gift through no merit of our own. So far so good; however, in addition they hold to the concept that works accomplished by believers do gain merit with God which He is forced to repay. In other words, it is possible for believers to put God in the place of repaying us for what we have done for Him! That is, we can actually make God owe us for our service to Him.
General problems with dispensationalism's teaching regarding rewards:
Those not in the dispensational camp have had trouble with this rewards doctrine because it comes dangerously close to the universal pagan idea of manipulating the deity. In other words, whatever is done for the gods or spirits is a way of getting them to do what is wanted - to reciprocate. They are forced, then, to do whatever the devotees desire. It is also similar to the so-called "health-wealth gospel" which states God will have to pay us back for everything we give to Him (usually what is given to the $1000-suit so-called evangelist).
Biblical solutions to specific problems raised by dispensationalists:
Although there are Bible passages which appear to teach some kind of material remuneration to believers for their works - either on earth or in heaven - the central understanding of Scripture maintains a high view of God who does not owe us anything!
All He ever gives is on the basis of pure grace - unmerited favor. It is never possible for mere humans to force God into a position of being in debt to us. The doxology of Romans 11:33-36 is such a powerful affirmation of this truth: "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen." It is especially important to note v. 35 which is a quotation from Job 41:11: "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" This verse says it all. In answer to this rhetorical question, no one has ever given to God so that He would have to repay that person. There can be no payback when it comes to what we do for God. There is no quid pro quo. However, this is exactly what the rewards teaching of dispensationalism would have us believe.
Our Lord taught a parable found in Luke 17:7-10 which underscores the truth of Romans 11:35. After the servant in this parable returned from a hard day's work for the master, he was asked to prepare a meal and serve it to the lord of the estate. As Jesus continued his didactic narrative He said the master had no obligation whatsoever to thank or repay the servant for anything he did because the servant simply "did what he was told to do"! In fact, according to Jesus, the servant needed to say to himself, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.", v. 10. This teaching of our Lord is worlds apart from Randy Alcorn's teaching on rewards. Let's see what Alcorn himself writes in his book, Money, Possessions, and Eternity.
Alcorn's teaching about rewards:
Essentially, Alcorn believes we are not to strive for power, possessions and pleasures on earth, but we are to strive for power, possessions and pleasures in heaven. "It is senseless to devote our lives to the 'mud pies' of power, possessions, and pleasures of this world - when our lord offers to us the power, possessions, and pleasures of the next world, our eternal home.", p. 136. How is it that we are to gain power, possessions, and pleasures in heaven? Alcorn answers that question very clearly: "We will stand before the judgment seat and be recompensed for our works.", p. 131. So there is no doubt as to what Alcorn is teaching. God will repay us for our works when we arrive in heaven, and we will receive power, possessions, and pleasures - because we will merit them! Please note, Alcorn is speaking of material power, possessions, and pleasures! Furthermore, God will be obligated to repay us for all we have done for Him!
Why his teachings lack a biblical foundation - and even undermine it:
What Acorn prohibits on earth, he freely encourages in heaven! We can't set our minds on power, possessions, and pleasures on earth, but while we're on earth we can set our minds on power, possessions, and pleasures in heaven! I would suggest that Alcorn re-read 2 Corinthians 4:18: "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." Although we see power, possessions, and pleasures on earth, according to Alcorn we are to set our minds on the very same things in heaven - (which he believes to be some kind of glorified earth - much like the earth on which we live right now). May it never be! In heaven believers will never experience power, possessions, and pleasures such as we see today. According to 2 Corinthians 4:18, these things are temporary. What we do not yet see, i.e. those things having to do with our heavenly existence, are eternal. Thank God we will not be encumbered with the power, possessions, and pleasures of earth. In fact, they will be completely forgotten after one look into the face of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
All of this fits together when you read Alcorn's book, Heaven. In this book he teaches there will be an eternal glorified earth (which he calls heaven), and believers will be divided into a complex class system which will be determined by the works they have done on earth. Some will have more power than others. Some will have more possessions than others. Some with have more pleasures than others. This kind of unbelievable scenario comes about because of Alcorn's "merit theology" - his dispensational teaching regarding rewards. Frankly, this kind of "heaven" is nothing more than a gross misinterpretation of Scripture combined with a good dose of human imagination which reflects both a low view of God and a low view of heaven. Alcorn is convinced we really won't want to serve God like we should unless He throws in rewards as an incentive. He thinks we'll just coast into heaven scot-free without paying the price if we don't work for the eternal rewards we need to earn from God. If anyone denies his teaching of "merit theology"/rewards, he calls them "pseudospiritual.", p. 130. This is the same kind of perjorative language he uses in his book, Heaven, to characterize those who disagree with his speculative projection of heaven as some kind of glorified earth.
The motivation for believers to do good works:
Alcorn thinks we need rewards from God in order to be properly motivated to do good works on earth. Why do believers serve the living God? Is it because of rewards they will supposedly receive in heaven as Alcorn asserts? By no means! There is no greater motivation for the believer than the Cross. We give because Jesus gave. We love God and love others because "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son." And when we love God in this way, we will obey Him. "If you love me, you will obey what I command.", John 14:15. There is no middle ground.
Just to make sure we don't shirk our duty as we obey our Lord Jesus out of love for him, the Apostle John admonishes us: "We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, 'I know him, but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.", 1 John 2:3-6. Again, there is no middle ground. Jesus clearly taught: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.", Matthew 7:21. In other words, every individual in heaven will be there because that person has accomplished the will of God by faith - some, of course, better and longer than others. (Please note the varying degrees of productive service mentioned in the "sower and soils" parable, Matthew 13:23.) But God in His grace will receive them all in the same gracious way - just as He did when they believed. (I'm being facetious now: they won't be carrying around signs on their necks explaining how long they served the Lord and what they did in His service!)
Alcorn gives the impression it just won't be fair if God treats everyone alike in heaven if some have served Him longer and better than others. In this regard I love the parable Jesus told about workers in the vineyard as recorded in Matthew 20:1-16. Jesus was not just teaching about faith in this passage - but also about works. You know how the story goes. After agreeing with the owner as to the amount of wages, workers are hired at different times of the day from morning until night. When the pay is handed out, there is some grumbling from those who worked longer hours when they saw the wages were the same for every worker no matter how many hours they labored. The owner had to remind them that they agreed with him before they went out to work as to what the pay would be. God promises the same heaven to all those who both trust and obey him - in spite of varying levels and length of service. Alcorn doesn't think this is fair, so he has re-emphasized "merit theology" throughout his writings to set up some kind of rewards hierarchy in heaven. He sounds a bit like the grumbling workers who thought the vineyard owner was unfair!
The basic error of "merit theology"/rewards:
Really, the "merit theology" C. I. Scofield popularized in 1917 which Alcorn is resurrecting 90 years later contains a basic error. It artificially separates faith resulting in salvation from faith resulting in good works. Faith and obedience cannot be divided. To do so would create a false dichotomy. If we cannot earn the favor of God by believing Him, then neither can we earn the favor of God by serving Him. To put this another way, the grace of God (His unmerited favor) is applied to us not only when we believe but also when we obey. 1 John 3:23: "And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us." According to classic dispensationalism, when it comes to believing in the name of Jesus Christ, that action cannot create any merit with God; however, when it comes to loving one another as a result of our faith, that action can create merit with God!
Alcorn puts it this way in his book, Money, Possessions and Eternity: "Belief (trust, faith) determines our eternal destination: where we will be. Behavior (obedience) determines our eternal rewards: what we will have there.", p. 128. As stated earlier, the artificial distinction between faith and obedience is not biblical. They are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other. As James 2:17 teaches, "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." In other words, dispensationalism wants to consider faith in the abstract without accompanying works - something the Bible never does.
Randy Alcorn is a prolific writer, and I have no doubt he teaches and preaches salvation through Christ by faith; consequently, many have believed and are possessors of eternal life now and forever because of his ministry. For this I am grateful.
In my opinion, however, he has done harm to the Church by teaching that believers can accumulate merit with God by means of their good works - that God can actually be put in the place of owing us material power, possessions and pleasure in heaven - that God will be forced to repay us for our service to Him - that we can actually create a kind of quid pro quo with Him. This sort of thing is an impossibility according to Romans 11:35 (quoting Job 41:11): "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?"
This sort of "merit theology" regarding rewards can also be harmful if we become convinced we can actually manipulate God to give us things in heaven in return for what we have done on earth. This kind of meritocracy is foreign to the Bible and is not worthy of the believer. More than that, it is not worthy of God.