The Stochastic Gospel?
A Radiological Illustration
In a recent episode of the Reason Together Podcast, my co-host Daniel asked an interesting question about setting spiritual goals. The topic brought to mind and interesting illustration from my profession as a Radiologic Technologist. I thought I would expand on that here and how it illustrates spiritual things.
Most people don’t know what the word “Stochastic” means. Before my education in Radiology School, I didn’t either. The word itself refers to any effect that is randomly determined. Of course, as someone who believes God is sovereign, I would prefer the word “unpredictably” instead of “randomly”. To God, nothing is a probability. He’s not random. However, from man’s perspective it appears there are probabilities because we obviously don’t know what He knows. For man, things are often unpredictable, though ultimately not random.
Brace yourselves for a nerd moment
The word “stochastic” is used in contrast with the word “Deterministic”. Without getting too nerdy, I’ll briefly explain their use from a purely Radiological standpoint.
Gross oversimplification of “Deterministic”: Radiation doses are measurable. At a certain known dose or exposure to radiation, a person will experience effects of Acute Radiation Sickness. There is an exact dose, that if you receive it, you will develop cataracts. Likewise with skin burns (erythema) and reproductive sterility. If you get the associated dose or higher, you will have the effect that goes with it. It can be accurately predicted.
Gross oversimplification of “Stochastic”: Certain effects do not have a threshold dose at which point you contract the effect. These effects are known as Stochastic effects. They appear to be unpredictable as to when, how, and to what extent the effect is experienced by the subject. Examples include cancer, leukemia, and genetic effects or modifications. More exposure equals higher probability of the effect, but is not a guarantee per se.
There, that wasn’t so bad now was it?
How these words illustrates spiritual seeming goals
Sometimes, Christians have a certain spiritual goal, a desired effect. The question is, can the effect occur deterministically (an exact action results in a predicated outcome)? Or, are spiritual goals stochastic (regular activities increase the probability of the outcome I want)?
The way this illustrates certain spiritual things can be seen for example in how I can set a goal that I want to teach the Gospel to ten people this month. If my present witness is five people, this increases the probability of seeing someone profess faith in Christ by a factor of two. Probability is higher, but still unpredictable because ultimately, people have the free agency to refuse a Gospel witness. Higher probability has ultimately no measurable effect on Gospel evangelism since one-hundred percent of people have the ability to reject. This spiritual effect is stochastic.
So, setting a goal to witness to more people is reasonable. However, setting a goal to see five people saved this month or even this year is not a reasonable goal. This would require the saving of souls to be deterministic, or based on a threshold, i.e. “witness to x number of people and y number of people will profess faith”. This is not a realistic way to set a goal. Gospel evangelism is not subject to the law of averages. To meet such a goal without failing would require changing the parameters. I would have to beguile people, pressure people, or otherwise manipulate people to meet my man-made, deterministic goal.
We tend to like man-made, deterministic goals because they’re a much more effective motivator to action than patiently increasing probabilities over time.
Applying man-made, deterministic goals to evangelism inevitably results in false professions because the Gospel can only be received upon actual understanding of it, and the changing of one’s mind to believe it alone for salvation. And to meet your man-made goal, you would either have to remove people’s free agency (not possible), or change the Gospel in such a way that you can virtually guarantee that they cannot refuse and that no change of mind is required to receive it.
The latter is quite possible, and in fact happens all the time. And it shouldn’t. This is the perversion of the Gospel known as “easy-believism” or “quick-prayersim”. A specific rebuttal of that is outside the scope of this post, but just know that it is usually man-made, man-centered goals and expectations that produce this perversion of the Gospel. It normally focuses on making the word “faith” subtly ambiguous as well as redefining the word “repent” to make it a redundant way of saying “faith” and thus unessential to salvation and utterly meaningless as a doctrine.
Quick-prayerism also either denounces or redefines Biblical teaching on the bearing of “fruit” or evidences of salvation. By doing so, there is literally no evidence required in order to pronounce someone born again other than the fact that a person professed to be born again, or prayed a prayer in your presence.
A certain syllogism is often used like:
Premise A: “If you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, you’re saved.”
Premise B: “You believed”.
Conclusion: “You’re saved."
This is a very common syllogism among Independant Baptists, and at face value it sounds very good because Premise "A” is a Biblical absolute. It’s pretty much a direct scriptural quote. However, Premise “B” has some wholes in it. “You believed” is subject to falsification. Unless there are some ways to test Premise “B” on ones self, it is essentially non-falsifiable and must be thrown out. Did they understand? Did they mean it? Did they really believe? Those are all unknowable things until tested and verified by Biblical Tests. Tests which comprise the basis of the doctrines of Assurance of salvation and Eternal Security. If you want to know what those tests are, read my post on “Scientifically Testing Salvation Claims: Is it Reasonable?”
Knowing my job verses God’s job
The pastor who discipled me for ministry said it this way, “You need to know your job, and you need to know God’s job. And don’t confuse the two”. My job is to be faithfully increasing the stochastic “probabilities” that people can be saved by witnessing as much as is reasonably achievable as led by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. God handles it from there. Again, there are no probabilities with God, only men. If I set deterministic goals for evangelism, I am overstepping God’s jurisdictional purview. I’m essentially trying to go beyond my job, and do God’s job for Him.
So, you can see how setting spiritual goals using man-made, deterministic thresholds instead of just faithfully increasing stochastic probabilities can actually lead to a poorly presented Gospel at best, and heresy at worst. It can lead to the manipulation of the people. This type of man-centered goal-setting is one of the most prevalent epidemics among Independant Baptists today. Patient faithfulness is patently better.