Carrots And Sticks

During our discussion this past week about “the Jesus question” in Brian McLaren’s book, we talked about whether Christianity is just all about getting to heaven. I like the comment about how this reflects on Christian maturity, and I think many of us want to accept the simplicity of a “carrots and sticks” approach. But frankly, if it is really just about carrots and sticks, it’s not very effective. I thought I would mix the discussion up a bit more by bringing in a point of view about motivation, and in particular the science of motivation. The subject is motivation within a corporate setting, but I think the message is applicable to life, both with and without God. If the words don’t reach you, perhaps the science will.

The material presented above by Daniel Pink is explored in greater depth by him his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. You can also watch another video that presents this information in a slightly different way.

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Why follow Jesus?

Our discussion on Tuesday night led to an excellent question by Frank. I’m not good at capturing a verbatim of a conversation, but the gist went something like this: If the kingdom of God is the goal of the Christian life and heaven is not, if we no longer have the carrot of heaven and the stick of hell to motivate us, why would anyone choose to work for the kingdom of God? What is the motivation? Why follow Jesus if there is no tangible reward?

(Frank, I hope that this summary is fair to the essence of what you were asking.)

The traditional form of Christianity has obviously been organized around eternal reward and eternal punishment. As we discussed, if eternal punishment is off the table (per Ron Bell), and if a loving God brings everyone to heaven—even non-Christians (universal salvation)—and if we don’t have to do anything or believe anything to qualify, why should our lives be moral? Why should we care about social justice? Why should we do anything about poverty and ecological destruction? Why not just live for ourselves?

We talked a bit about the intangible rewards of working to bring about the kingdom of God. For instance, it was mentioned that in building a Habitat house for someone in need of decent affordable housing, there is a sense of satisfaction from knowing you have helped someone experience a better life. I guess what we are dealing with here is altruism—a selfless concern for the welfare of others. It is the opposite of selfishness. But why not be selfish, if we get to heaven regardless? Many non-Christians are altruistic. What motivates them?

For me the motivation is Jesus. It is found in taking Jesus seriously. It is seeing Jesus not as an instrument whose death and resurrection gets me entry into heaven, but rather as a model of the godly life. Jesus is a model of what it means to be fully human, and I want to be as fully human as I can be.

Frank’s question was excellent and I need to do much more thinking about how to better answer it, because it is essential to progressive Christianity. I’m wondering how others in the group would respond.

Our Questions

A New Kind Of Christianity is structured around ten questions that Brian McLaren says is transforming the Christian church. During our first session we brainstormed and created the following list of questions that may be asked either within or outside of the church.

What’s up with all of the denominations?

So, why is the church so hung up about sin and sex?

Can we live without God?  Have we evolved to the point that we don’t need God?

Is any of this real, or is it all made up?

Specifics about Jesus:  Was he really born of a virgin?  Was he really God?  Did he really rise from the dead?

Why do we need to be forgiven of sin?

Is there such a thing as “Original Sin”?

How do we decide what we are going to stick with from the bible, and what we are going to throw out?

Why do I need to go to church?  Is being part of church necessary to have a spiritual life/relationship with God?

Why are women always treated as lesser than men in Christianity, Judaism and Islam?

Where does the authority come from?

What voice should the church have in today’s secular world?

Is there a heaven?  Do I have to be a Christian to get there?

Is the idea of a hands-on (e.g. interventionist) God inconsistent with a modern, secular worldview?

So, why did the bible stop 1,000 years ago?  Why is there no sequel?