Economist John Forbes Nash won a Noble prize for game theory. He made two points. (1) The more valuable something appears to be in the minds of the competitors, the higher the price it generates. As an example, he noted that a beautiful girl created greater competition than just a pretty girl vying for the same group of young men.
(2) Competitors seek to keep the final price as cheap as possible, which he called equilibrium. For math-nuts there is a pile of equations which we will ignore here. Both theories apply to modern Christian evangelism.
Nash described a bar scene where a group of college boys discussed the girls. A pretty girl entered and several of the men, but not all of them, went over to get her attention. A little later on a drop-dead gorgeous girl came in and all the men gathered round.
The prize of the game – the girl – earned her value by her perceived worth to the men based on her beauty. Her actual value may have been very little – in fact she might be a tiresome pill. The merely pretty girl may be much more clever, intelligent and talented but this did not factor into the game.
Let us apply this to the issue of Christian evangelism. Clearly the most valuable thing available to humans today is the saving of their soul. Its loss is an eternal disaster.
If we apply game theory two things become obvious. Modern evangelism does not attach a high price to salvation. Television religious programming which reaches the largest audience focuses on the “love of God” to the point of leaving listeners to conclude that God is too nice and too tolerant to ever send anyone to hell.
Theologians dubbed this “sloppy agape” or “cheap grace” so what cost Him everything we regard lightly or not at all. It is one jump from there to the wrong conclusion that God saves everyone and that hell is a wild image from Renaissance literature, with gargoyles spitting and lashing out their tongues at us from the stone walls of ancient cathedrals. Some teachers even conclude that there is no hell at all except for a handful of really BAD people and we all know who they are! The rest they say end up in heaven.
There is a not a shred of evidence to support universal salvation or the absence of hell. To compare this with Nash’s theory, the beautiful girl that the men compete for is not all that beautiful, in fact, she may be very ordinary. Statistically we know that 30% of the born again believers do not go to churches. If there is no competition, no real loss in choices of life or death – why bother??
If hell is not really that big a deal, then being saved is not a big deal either. Many people already believe their sin is not so bad that anyone, much less they must die for it, but just to get their ticket punched each week they show up at church. Equilibrium for them is the uneasy self-satisfaction of knowing they have done their very least.
Originally printed in Pathway Press, 2013.