Wil Wheaton, Sin and Salvation

I have some random thoughts today:

1. I was watching an episode of Highway to Heaven last night, “One-Winged Angels.” The angel of the show–Jonathan Smith (Michael Landon)–falls for a woman he’s trying to match up with another guy. The woman’s child is named Max, and he’s quite a rebel! Max looked so familiar to me. I thought it was Jonathan Brandis, but that didn’t seem quite right, since this guy was bigger and older than Jonathan Brandis on It, which came some years later. I found out that Max was Wil Wheaton, Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I saw this episode who knows how many times, and I never realized I was watching Wesley Crusher. I guess you learn something every day! I know that Jonathan Frakes also played on an episode of Highway to Heaven: “A Divine Madness.” I wonder if he and Wil Wheaton ever reminisced about Michael Landon.

2. I like to visit ex-Armstrongite sites, but there’s a view I encounter there that somewhat gets on my nerves. It’s the view that having the Holy Spirit automatically makes one desire to do good and avoid evil. If that’s the case, then why does Paul rebuke churches for immoral behavior? Also, I wonder if people who argue this way are grading themselves on the curve, much like non-Christians do when they say they don’t need a Savior. Can anyone point at himself and say that he is truly righteous–whether he has the Holy Spirit or not? We’re all mixtures of good and evil.

3. I read a sermon by Thomas Belote entitled “Are We All Bad Apples?” Thomas Belote is a Unitarian-Universalist pastor, and I went to Harvard Divinity School with him. He had quite a reputation as a provocative leftist and UU, and my Christian Fellowship group prayed for his salvation. I would have written him off as a closed-minded leftist had I not had an actual conversation with him. I found that his sermons were not just about political liberalism and the “there are many paths to the indefinable divine” spiel. He actually wrestled with profound issues, ones that confronted me as a Christian.

In this particular sermon, he wrestles with the topic of human evil. You wouldn’t expect UUs to believe in sin or total depravity, but he acknowledges that people can sink quite low, to say the least. He mentions the executives of Enron, who shut down California’s power and made fun of those who were suffering. Thom doesn’t end up upholding the doctrine of total depravity, but he sees that we need to account for human evil somehow.

Personally, I have problems with all sorts of perspectives on human evil. I think that Paul’s description of human sinfulness (Romans 1-3) goes too far, since I don’t think everyone is that bad. I think most people are a mixture of good and evil. As an AA friend once told me, “There is bad in the best of us, and good in the worst of us.” If any perspective makes sense to me right now, it is the Jewish one, which states that humans have a good inclination and an evil inclination, and we must decide which to yield to.

4. I’m reading through the apocrypha, and so much of it seems to advocate salvation by works. Wisdom of Solomon acknowledges the goodness of God, but it stresses that we attain immortality through righteous living. Tobit focuses a lot on alms-giving.

My problem with this is basically what an evangelical once told me: How good is good enough? I can take a homeless person out to lunch one day, but how often do I have to take homeless people out to lunch before God considers me righteous? How good do I have to be before I can have assurance of my salvation?

Evangelicals attract me and repel me on this issue. On one hand, they say that we need to be clothed with the perfect righteousness of Christ, since we ourselves are imperfect. On the other hand, I have problems thinking that God condemns non-Christians who live fairly decent lives.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Tomorrow, I’ll write a post on one of my papers. See you then!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Alcoholism, Bible, Daily Quiet Time, Highway to Heaven, Life, Michael Landon, Religion, School, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Television. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Wil Wheaton, Sin and Salvation

  1. scott gray says:


    how have you been? sorry i haven’t stayed in touch very well.

    you talked about belote, and two things struck me as interesting. you said, ‘you wouldn’t expect uu’s to believe in sin…’ and ‘my christian fellowship group prayed for his salvation.’

    if it’s not too personal, and you’re interested in thinking about it out loud, what is your current understanding of the concept of ‘sin?’ has that concept ever been different for you? if so, how did the change in understanding come about for you?

    and what is your current understanding of the concept ‘salvation?’ has that concept ever been different for you? if so, how did that change in understanding come about for you?

    are you back in school now?




  2. James Pate says:

    Good to see you, Scott. Yes, I’m back in school right now.

    What is sin? I take it to be a violation of God’s rules. What are God’s rules? His moral law, which relates to loving God and neighbor. And Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount expanded certain prohibitions to apply to the heart, not only outward acts.

    Has this concept been different ever? Well, since I grew up in Armstrongism, I once included eating pork and Sabbath-breaking as sins. I’m reluctant to do so now, though I would say that doing these things in violation of conscience is sin, since it doesn’t proceed from faith (Romans 14).

    Salvation–Jesus paid the penalty for my sin, and that brings forgiveness. Yet, there are also passages that talk about salvation from sin itself–not just the penalty of sin. Has that ever been different for me? Oh, I think I always believed–on some level–that people should receive God’s forgiveness through Christ and be placed on a path of spiritual growth.

    So I guess my approach to these topics is evangelical, more-or-less.


  3. scott gray says:


    i like the idea that you r understanding of salvation includes a path of spiritual growth. salvation doesn’t just ‘stand still’ for you.

    bob mcdonald, in one of his essays, said, ‘do we hear the voice of the shepherd in our understanding of law?’ do you find you temper the understanding of god’s law with one of the metaphors of jesus, like jesus the shepherd? what metaphors or understandings of jesus seem like the best lens for you when you look to understand the law?




  4. James Pate says:

    To be honest, Scott, I see the law as a burden. But if I were to view it as positive, I’d like C.S. Lewis’ statements in Reflections on the Psalms: the law keeps things from going into utter chaos. Is this what Bob MacDonald says? I’d read his posts, but I’m not used to how he structures them–especially his posts on the Psalms.


  5. scott gray says:


    i posted a comment in response to bob’s essay here:


    how does your sense of law-as-burden fit in? come and think with us!




  6. James Pate says:

    I’ll take a look at it, Scott. That post looks like it flows better than Bob’s posts on his Psalms blog, which are mostly charts.


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