by Shawn Lazar
The Beacon Dictionary of Theology is produced by the Church of the Nazarene, an Arminian, or Wesleyan Church. The Dictionary definitely teaches the necessity of doing good works in order to be saved (e.g., under the entry on Faith, which is defined as obedience, self-committal, and being controlled by the truth). But that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. The entry on Rewards had some good points.
“There can be no doubt that both Jesus and the apostles held out the prospect of rewards as an incentive to works of righteousness” (p. 459).
I’m glad the Dictionary does not doubt it, because many people do. In fact, they have never even heard the concept of eternal rewards, even though “there can be no doubt” that Jesus and the apostles taught it (e.g., Jesus saying “lay up treasure in heaven,” Matt 6:19-21; or Paul on being judged for rewards in 1 Cor 3:11-15).
Are Rewards Selfish?
Some people object to eternal rewards as selfish. It sounds like bribery. The Dictionary disagrees:
“The Christian views rewards, not materialistically, certainly not as bribes, but as the self-giving of God himself in His own special forms of approval and blessing. What greater reward could a child of God have than to hear the Master say, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant: …enter thou into the joy of thy lord’” (p. 459).
The entry goes on to say,
“The power of incentives cannot be scorned when God himself provides them; and perhaps in providing them, God displays a truer view of human nature and of virtue than the moral philosopher” (p. 459).
Aside from the disparaging aside about “materialistically” (actually, many of the promised rewards are materialistic, in the sense of being rewards to be enjoyed physically, in our resurrected bodies, in the Messianic Kingdom), these are good insights. Thinking about rewards in terms of selfish bribes misses that they are actually a greater enjoyment of God Himself. That’s the ultimate incentive of rewards—being able to enjoy and glorify God more. And we should be especially careful about disparaging the very idea of eternal rewards when God Himself provides that incentive.
Not Salvation by Works
The Dictionary is also careful to warn about turning rewards into a message about salvation by works:
“The other theological problem suggested by the concept of rewards is the lurking implication of salvation by works. But nowhere is eternal life held out as a reward for good deeds; rewards are additional blessings promised to those whose salvation is by grace through faith…The basis of reward is merit; the basis of salvation is entirely different—it is grace alone” (pp. 459-60).
This passage could have been written by a Free Grace author. It reflects Free Grace Theology. It clearly distinguishes between salvation and rewards, merit and grace, and warns of confusing the two.
While I cannot reconcile the theology underlying this quote with other entries in the Dictionary that teach a type of salvation by works (an inconsistency in Wesleyan theology itself, or the way it is interpreted by the Dictionary’s multiple authors?), this is an excellent quote. And more importantly, it can serve as a point of contact when discussing the salvation message with Nazarenes.
If you do witness to the Nazarenes, there may be a reward in it for you!