Semi-Pelagian Economics: Cash for Clunkers, Rebates and Redemption
The two big stories on this morning’s news sites have to do with the Beer Summit at the White House and the extraordinary popularity of the Cash for Clunkers provision of the Stimulus Program.
As to the Beer Summit, as much or more is being said about the selected suds as racial reconciliation (including the lead story in our own Courier Times and a piece from the Chicago Sun-Times that asks “What Would Jesus Brew?”) Personally, I’m disappointed in the president’s choice of Bud Light, but will add no other pastoral comment.
On this slow news day, I’ve been thinking more about what is officially known as the CARS program (Car Allowance Rebate System) than I have about whether or not this Bud’s for me.
CARS goes something like this: If you are driving a clunker with lousy mileage, you can buy a new car that uses less gas and the government will pay up to $4500 of the cost of the new car. The new car has to be brand new, so the $4500 doesn’t cover the entire cost of the replacement car, though if you trade your old Hummer in on a new Hyundai, at $9970 you’d be nearly half way there. And if you could talk them into giving you $1000 for the Hummer, well…
If you’re like me, you are probably thinking that this whole CARS scheme seems to be nothing more than Semi-Pelagian economics.
Pelagious was a Fourth Century British monk who taught “that man has an unimpaired moral ability to choose that which is spiritually good and possesses the free will, ability, and capacity to do that which is spiritually good. This resulted in a gospel of salvation based on human works. Man could choose to follow the precepts of God and then follow those precepts because he had the power within himself to do so.” Pelagianism was rightly declared heretical at the Council of Ephesus in 431. For more on the topic, see the article at theopedia.com (and bookmark the site; it is useful and reliable).
Semi-Pelagianism is a variant form of Pelagius’ doctrine which teaches that while humankind is sinful and that human persons cannot achieve their own salvation, they can, nevertheless, make a free and independent choice to receive God’s offer of salvation given in Christ. Reformed theology responds with Ephesians 2:8-9 (For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast). Grace teaches our hearts to fear and grace our fears relieve. We need grace to quicken our hearts to faith.
The gospel is not about rebates that get us part way to a new self. It is not about a boost that gets us close enough to grab hold of salvation and pull ourselves up to the heavenly places. The gospel is about a costly redemption. Our debt was not partially paid. Jesus paid it all.
If you’re broke and stuck driving a gas-guzzling, carbon spewing, Hummer it doesn’t do you much good for the Cash for Clunkers program to offer you half the price of a new Hyundai. To mix our current event metaphors, we are alienated from God, and it will take more than sharing a round of beer and conversation around a table on the White House lawn to make things right. It takes him who knew no sin becoming sin for us. It takes what begins with the sharing of a loaf of bread and a cup of wine around a table in an upper room…