Evangelicals have a problem on their hands (the same holds true for "Evangelical Adventists," and, to a lesser extent, more liberal Adventists - though they aren't challenged by certain biblical teachings as much because they do not hold the authority of scripture in as high a regard). The challenge is a topic that I addressed a few weeks ago in part one. That is, the biblical witness is abundantly clear that God performs a judgment based on works. Any serious student who reads the Bible cannot get past such verses as Ecclesiastes 12:4: "For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil." And there are others, of course.
But here's the problem for Evangelicals: maintaining that God performs a judgment based on works challenges at least two important pillars of their faith. 1.) A judgment based on works places too much emphasis on the law, and supposedly diminishes the role of grace. And, perhaps more importantly, 2.) such a thought jeopardizes the destiny of an individual, thus undermining the dearly-held teaching of "eternal security," "the perseverance of the saints," or, as it is commonly known "once saved, always saved." (These three terms, or whatever other term you can come up with that describes the same thing, are not necessarily synonymous within the lexicon of Protestant/Evangelical Christianity. There are varying nuances to each system, but all find their origin in Calvinist theology. I will address this subject as well in a future post.)
So notice what they do in light of these clashing ideas: they place the judgment after the Second Coming, and each person receives his or her reward upon arriving in heaven. Thus, they take a verse like Romans 14:10, where Paul says that we will "all stand before the judgment seat of Christ," and make it into a literal experience that a person goes through upon his arrival in heaven. And, depending on how the judgment goes before Christ's judgment seat, the person will receive a reward that is consistent with how many good works he or she performed, or what that person did with the talents that Christ gave to him, etc.
Aside from the fact that it ignores the plain biblical witness - that Christ will bring His reward with Him at His Second Coming, not after it (see Rev 22:12) - it, more importantly, is a false teaching that appeals to a person's ego. Not only does it take a person's eternal destiny off the hook and exonerates them of any true responsibility here on earth (I would be more than happy to coast through the rest of this life without ever acting with Christian responsibility if it simply costs me a bigger house in heaven), but it, as with all false teachings, pets human pride. To think that I can gain a bigger house, a brighter crown, a whiter robe, by performing better here on earth is the epitome of self-love and self-centeredness.
At the same time, it is incredibly ironic that, in an attempt to make the judgment more palatable - and less "scary" - by placing it after the Second Coming, Evangelicals have actually made it more troublesome. In the Adventist understanding of the judgment, we do not maintain that we actually, literally and physically stand before God as He goes through the books, looking over our records. The Evangelical explanation has its participants literally and physically standing before God's judgment seat, crossing their fingers in hopes that they have enough good deeds to earn that new heavenly BMW. In the Adventist understanding, we have Jesus as our Defense Attorney, pleading our case before the universe, claiming His blood on our behalf. In the Evangelical understanding, the participant is standing disturbingly alone before God, hoping that He can speak up enough on his own behalf. In the Adventist understanding, Satan is the "accuser" of the brethren. In the Evangelical understanding, Jesus is. The Adventist understanding is ultimately God-centered, with the purpose of vindicating and clearing God's name before the universe and our fellow human beings. The Evangelical understanding is self-centered, with the purpose of vindicating our names before God and our fellow human beings.
And the list could go on . . . .
So I ask you: which version of the judgment seems more palatable, less ego-centric, and more gospel-oriented? It seems pretty obvious to me.