This book is short (132 pages plus notes); the author says that it is drawn from a longer, earlier work by him, Money, Possessions, and Eternity. It is also straightforward and unabashed in its message: While faith is what gets us into Heaven, it’s works that determine how and to what extent we will be rewarded there. He says it many times, but this may be the strongest version (page 95):
For Christians, salvation took place in a moment in the past. It was free, it can’t be lost, it is the same for all Christians, and it is for those who believe. By contrast, rewards will be given in the future, are earned (by God’s grace), can be lost, differ among Christians, and are for those who work.
In particular, the book argues that it is foolish not to be generous in our charitable giving. The pleasures of holding onto wealth in this life cannot come close to the rewards it will bring us in the next life if we spread it around.
The author makes a convincing case that this is what Scripture tells us. As noted on my “Faith and Works” post on this blogsite, Christians need to be wary of interpreting “faith alone” in such a way that works become completely irrelevant. What this book offers is certainly one way to do that. Note that I’m not saying there can be no arguments to the contrary; to give one example, the author quotes II Timothy 4:7-8 at one point (page 101), but I think it could be read to cut against the author’s general thesis. Still, as I say in my earlier post’s bottom line, we probably can’t know for sure the importance of works and so it’s foolish not to act well in addition to believing well.
It would be off-putting and without strong biblical support to say that there are actually separate, Dante-esque “levels” or “circles” or whatever in the afterlife, but saying that the way we behave in this world will have more than binary consequences in the next one does not seem unreasonable. Note, by the way, that the author sees varying degrees of punishment in Hell as well (see pages 53 and 94 and the verses cited there).
This book is helpful to those of us who are fans of Pascal’s wager, too. It’s sometimes asserted that the wager argument is unsatisfactory because its appeal is too selfish. But, as the author demonstrates (see especially page 103 et seq.), the Bible itself is replete with such arguments: Don’t do this or you will be punished, do that and you will be rewarded. So those who dislike such appeals are at odds with the Big Guy Himself. One off-note: On page 80 there is perhaps a brief suggestion that believers may still feel envy and covetousness in Heaven, which sounds wrong to me.
Two other things about the book I like: If it’s important that we act in a way that God wants, it’s important to read the Bible with eye on what God is telling us we should do, and that’s one of the key focuses of the Bible commentary on this blogsite. The author has a good, quick description on page 88 of what God will reward. And the author likes C.S. Lewis, too, and mentions him, for example, in an interesting discussion of what Heaven will be like (pages 56-59).
Postscript: In his book The Happy Christian (184), David Murray — a pastor and seminary professor — endorses this view of greater rewards for greater works, citing Colossians 3:23-24.