Good works and salvation
A significant number of Christians hold the misconception that their faith teaches them how to earn their way into heaven, says an American pastor who conducted a series of interviews with people about what they believed.
In December 2019, B. Tyler Ellis delivered a TEDx Talk called ‘Jesus Is Not A Role Model’, which was later posted on TED’s YouTube channel as ‘Finding Meaning In Daily Acts of Good.’
The talk explores what happened when Ellis interviewed more than 50 people, asking them 20 questions each about God and life’s meaning. The interviews, he says, showed surprising commonality regardless of whether someone believed in God or not.
Early in the piece, Ellis mentions that a new ministry idea came to him after he had a chance encounter with a man at a friend’s wedding who had been drinking too much. After some introspection, the guest told Ellis that he didn’t know how anyone could believe in God. It prompted Ellis to ask him a question.
“My question is “Hypothetically, if all your questions had answers that provided more reasons to believe in God than not, what would you do?””
Ellis invited the wedding guest to pray the sceptic’s prayer, “God if you’re out there, please help me to find you.”
Over the next few years, Ellis conducted some 50 interviews with people from various walks of life.
This, he said, also led to several unexpected adventures, including hosting his Muslim friend and atheist friend at Thanksgiving.
One of his common interview questions was, “Hypothetically, if God and Heaven are real, on what basis do you believe God will or will not accept you into Heaven?
According to Ellis, despite addressing a diverse field, he found that there was an overwhelming consensus: If God does exist, acceptance in Heaven depends on performance on earth.
This finding was also confirmed by a wider study carried out by the Barna group, which found that 21 percent of Christians had some agreement with the statement, “If a person is generally good or does enough good things for others during their life, they will earn a place in Heaven.” Another 23 percent agreed strongly.
Ellis said that he has since spoken to around 1000 people, and that he estimates “80 percent” nominate good works as the reason for God’s acceptance of them.
“I wonder where the disconnect is here,” he said.
“Don’t get me wrong…Jesus is a role model. But if we’re talking about how we can obtain forgiveness from God and eternal life, then in that context, no, Jesus is not a role model.
“Christianity claims that Jesus came, not to show us the way based on our merits, but to be the way to heaven based on his merits.”
More than half of the people he spoke to wanted to continue the conversation, he said.
He notes in the talk that, because he asked questions rather than giving answers, many people quickly opened and articulated their beliefs for the first time.
One of the talk’s other major conclusions was that people can form surprising connections by asking questions, rather than offering up immediate answers.
B. Tyler Ellis has been in ministry since 1999, including six months in Australia.
The Ted X talk has 10,200 views and 240 likes on Youtube at the time of writing and was shared on social media by Lee Strobel, Mark Mittelberg, Mary Jo Sharp, Karen Prior Swallow, J. Warner Wallace, Rice Broocks, Abdu Murray, and Michael Licona.
It can be viewed below.
For more on B. Tyler Ellis, visit his website here.