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    July 25th, 2012 @ 9:04 am by Kevin

    This morning, my wife forwarded me Richard Rohr’s daily mediation called “Jesus and Buddha.” I like it so much I decided to quote the entire piece here:

    The Christian tradition became so concerned with making Jesus into its God and making sure everybody believed that Jesus was God that it often ignored his very practical and clear teachings. (How many of us love our enemies?) Instead, we made the questions theological and metaphysical ones about the nature of God (which asked almost nothing of us!). Most of our church fights have been on that level, and no one ever really “wins,” so it goes on for centuries.

    What Buddha made clear is that the questions are first of all psychological and personal and here and now. We created huge theories about how the world was saved by Jesus. I think what Jesus was primarily talking about was the human situation and describing liberation for us right now. Clearly the Kingdom of God is here and now, as Jesus said. However, we turned Jesus’ message into a reward or punishment contest that would come later, instead of a transformational experience that was verifiable here and now by the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). For Jesus and for the Buddha both rewards and punishments are first of all inherent to the action and in this world. Goodness is its own reward and evil is its own punishment, and then we must leave the future to the mercy and love of God, instead of thinking we are the umpires and judges of who goes where, when, and how.

    I think this perspective highlights one of the key issues dividing Christians today: Is Christianity simply an external system of future rewards and punishments, as people like Jerry Newcombe believe? If so, being a Christian is about conforming to that system and teaching other people to do the same–not to mention warning them about what will happen if they don’t. How grace factors into this perspective is a mystery, seeing as this essentially turns Christianity into a works-based religion. But you’ll hear adherents to this view arguing for it all the time.

    On the other hand, we have Christians like Richard Rohr who certainly keep one eye on the future, but who believe that being a Christian is primarily about imitating Christ today. I’m definitely in this camp. As a commenter on my Huffington Post article said yesterday,

    I don’t believe that God is the egomaniac that so many people make him out to be. I don’t think he really cares all that much whether we believe in him or not. What matters most is how we act, what we do and how we live our lives in relation to others. So you’re an atheist. Whatever. Do you love your neighbor? Yes? Then that’s great. Keep doing it. So you’re a devout Christian. That’s wonderful. Do you love your neighbor? No? Then you still have work to do. It’s that simple.

    I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think God puts too much stock in the names we call ourselves. In fact, when someone tells me they’re an atheist, I tend to imagine God chuckling and saying, “No you’re not.” Especially if that atheist is currently engaging me in a theological debate. The same goes for any of us who take on the name “Christian.” In that case, I see God eying us skeptically saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

    Just so we’re clear: This is not another version of the works-based salvation I criticized above. Unless you define salvation–as I do–as deliverance from the cycle of self-destructive violence in which the human race has been trapped since the beginning. In that case, I believe we can literally play a hand in the salvation of the entire world. How? By imitating Christ, by loving our neighbor–even our enemy–as we love ourselves. We don’t do this because we’re afraid that if we don’t, God will consign us to hell. We do this because we recognize that this is the only way to break the cycle. And until we do, hell will continue to reign. And we won’t have to wait until we die to experience it. Best of all, this doesn’t require faith in some sort of convoluted theology. It is what Rohr calls a “transformational experience that is verifiable here and now by the fruits of the Holy Spirit.” In case you don’t know what those fruits are, Galatians 5:22 gives us a list: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

    Where does grace enter the picture? Simple, it’s all grace. That’s because our actions do not determine is our eternal destiny. That has been secure from the beginning. As Thomas Talbott argues so well in Universal Salvation? The Current Debate, our actions merely determine the means by which our salvation will be achieved.

    For the more tenaciously we cling to our illusions and selfish desires–to the flesh, as Paul called it–the more severe will be the means and the more painful the process whereby God shatters our illusions, destroys the flesh, and finally separates us from our sin.

    So tell me this: Which brand of Christianity is most likely to produce such fruit? One that runs around warning people that the wrath of God is about to come down unless they jump through the right hoops? Or a faith that announces that salvation is already here, that there’s no longer anything to fear–not even God?

    I can only respond with the fruit each brand of Christianity has produced in my own life. And if you ask my wife and children, they’ll definitely go for door number two.



leave a comment on this post (19 Comments)

  1. Kevin,

    It seems to me that some things you mention are based on semantics and require more careful articulation. I agree with certain points but feel it would be better to nuance the real differences. I could be wrong but let me explain.

    You seem to argue that the real importance is in our actions – fruits of the spirit. But how is that different from a works based religion. If you don’t mimic Jesus, will you still be saved? If you practice violence will you be delivered? It seems you’re saying the same thing as most Christians (apart of the “cheap grace” folk who believe actions don’t amount to anything). Even most Calvinists argue if the fruits of the spirit are absent, then you’re not really saved and Arminians simply say you can lose your salvation.

    You mention “if so, being a Christian is about conforming to that system and teaching other people to do the same” – I agree with that, isn’t it proper to endorse a system if that system is love? Isn’t Christianity about endorsing a system where mercy, compassion, love, grace and peace are endorsed – where hatred, favoritism, injustice and violence are not? If someone endorses Jesus’ system I think that’s a good thing. So it’s really about – What system do you endorse? I think you make this distinction but in a broader sense.
    You say you agree with keeping an eye on both the future and imitating Christ today, but then say “There is no longer anything to fear – not even God?” Is a failure to imitate Christ a reason to fear? Is it a terrible thing to fall in the hands of an angry God?

    If you believe there is punishment for not practicing Jesus’ teaching, then why is there NOTHING to fear? As I read the NT it seems there’s plenty of reason to fear but I feel we need to articulate that better – justice needs explaining. This is why Talbott made such an impact on me.
    In my opinion much here is based on semantics, and helping people to work things out might include us making more careful distinctions.

    • Thanks for the response, Gene. I agree that we are probably having a difference of opinion due mainly to semantics. However, my POV is also informed heavily by Rene Girard and Ernest Becker, neither of whom I address in this piece. A few things:

      First of all, you may have missed a part that I added to the post after first publishing it. Here it is again: Where does grace enter the picture? Simple, it’s all grace. That’s because our actions do not determine is our eternal destiny. That has been secure from the beginning. As Thomas Talbott argues so well in Universal Salvation? The Current Debate, our actions merely determine the means by which our salvation will be achieved.

      For the more tenaciously we cling to our illusions and selfish desires–to the flesh, as Paul called it–the more severe will be the means and the more painful the process whereby God shatters our illusions, destroys the flesh, and finally separates us from our sin.

      This is my point, really–I don’t define salvation as “saved from hell.” I simply don’t believe hell is in the offing. I do believe, however, that we will suffer–possibly for a very long time–inasmuch as we cling to all that is false. So no, if you don’t mimic Jesus you will not be saved from pain and suffering in this life and beyond. Only when you turn and embrace him and the path he has laid out for us will you be free. There truly is no salvation apart from Christ. Because only in Christ do we find the path to freedom from our selfish desires, which, when full-blown, give rise to death.

      Second, when I talk about conforming to a system, I mean an external moral system that is essentially fear-based. As in, “If you don’t do X, God will do X to you.” That’s totally different from following Christ. Following Christ is based on freedom, not fear. In fact, I think following Christ is progressive knowledge of your freedom. Sort of like Neo in the Matrix. It’s about overcoming fear, not being motivated by it. Fear is what always messes us up. Once again, Neo’s journey in the Matrix is informative here.

      Failure to imitate Christ will cause you to fall into fear, because your thinking will become darkened, and you’ll find yourself hunkered down in the Garden like Adam and Eve thinking that God is out to get you. I don’t believe there is punishment for not following Christ, simply the natural consequences of refusing to do so. And it’s God’s mercy that allows us to experience these consequences for as long as it takes us to come to our senses.

      • Kevin,

        Yes we agree on much but I figure we’ll just have to disagree. I tend to read the NT as stating there is punishment; God’s wrath is upon those who don’t believe. I tend to see it that,
        a) if God does not punish, then he is not loving.

        Therefore I would disagree with your statement that there is no punishment for not following Christ. I realize that too may be a semantic but it’s one I think we should still articulate that God is active in the reconciliation of an individual – he is actively punishing with his wrath whether it be natural or supernatural consequences. I realize this does not sit well with Jersak (as per my emails with him regarding Anninias and Saphira) so I imagine you too might disagree.

        As for the systematic salvation (if we can call it that), I agree with you, but I would still say it still requires a careful articulation in order that people might understand you WITHOUT confusing you as being anit-biblical. If Jesus says “if anyone should beleve in me they will not perish” then it’s safe to say belief in Jesus will save you. But what does that mean? Traditional Christianity is right for endorsing belief – for by it we act (as Abe did believing God would raise up his son from the dead).

        A good example is the notion of Retribution. Many Universalists have difficulty with it, yet I find it to be within total compliance with love. The difference isn’t whether God pays back individuals for their disobedience, but what is his purpose. If God pays back to correct the person, I find that just. If he doesn’t then I would not find it just. The real difference here then is – as Smith tells Neo in the Matrix – PURPOSE.

        Logically, I still see you trying to play two sides of the fence, while denying one. Is it wrong to say that Jesus and Paul instilled fear in believers? (fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell) Did Peter do it regarding false teachers and warning of such people’s fates? Again, you seem to agree with Rohr but isn’t part of Rohr’s view that it’s loving to tell people that they’re on a destructive path? If salvation is also part of the future then what to make of those who insistently practice evil? Doesn’t Paul say, condemnation will be given to them (rom 1-2)? My point being both sides are true and are compatible – we can preach fear and peace simultaneously and we ought to. Fear for those who practice evil and peace for those who practice love. I think people polarize too far and make fear a transgression.

        Anyhow, thanks for the thought provoking posts. Keep em coming.

        • Gene: You said…
          a) if God does not punish, then he is not loving.

          I agree with this, but what does that punishment look like? To me, every sin is its own punishment. And I can think of no worse punishment than encountering the truth, having your sins exposed, and having your delusions shattered. There’s no need for anything beyond that in my view. Once we truly see ourselves for who we are, that will be the thing that prompts us to work with God to repair the damage we have caused. I see glimmers of this in stories like Christ’s encounter with Zacchaeus. No punishment or threat of punishment required; merely an encounter with the Living Word.

          Like I said, if you don’t follow the way of Christ, you will be punished. But the punishment will be a natural consequence of divorcing God. Of course God is involved, but in the same way the father in the story of the prodigal son was involved. He gave his son the latitude to discover the error of his ways, and then he welcomed him back once he had hit rock bottom. Once again, no need to pile on any punishment other than the one already experienced. Speaking of Anninias and Saphira, I’d listen to our upcoming Beyond the Box podcast on that.

          When I hear Jesus say “if anyone should beleve in me they will not perish,” I agree that it’s safe to say belief in Jesus will save you. But only because belief in Jesus is the thing that sets us free from self-destruction. Of course right belief and right action go hand in hand. What I’m arguing is that no one is going to be punished for believing the wrong things. They are merely going to be in misery until they come to see the truth. And they may even perish (die) as a result of their refusal to do so.

          Ultimately, I think we are disagreeing about whether God actively punishes us or whether he merely allows us to experience the fruit of our sinful desires until we finally realize the error of our ways. I’m not sure it’s all that important. Because we can both agree, as Greg Boyd puts it, is that to divorce God is to go the death route. So following Christ is the wisest course for both this life and whatever is to come.

        • As one who has just recently (within the last year) left “Fundamental Christianity” and the church world behind, in order to find a more pure understanding of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, without the external stumbling blocks, i.e. false teaching, I am just now, I believe, beginning to see the bigger picture in regard to how humanity relates to God: we are His children. Plain and simple. Jesus said so, many times; I’m not even going to get into semantics (which some call “context”), because the NT is so clear that when “One died, all died,” and that “All” will be made alive in Christ, and that we are the Father’s adopted kids (Eph 1). So, If all of the above is true, and I believe it is, then it makes sense to look at humanity’s relationship with God as just that- a relationship; not a professional or “quid pro quo” type, but rather, a real familial type…kind of like the one’s that we have with our own kids… I think that once I began to really see this as being the primary truth that is being divulged in Scripture, it began to make more sense of this whole blessing/curse, reward/punishment, and even fear/love conundrum. If God is a father, like I am a father, then He must, because He is God, be a better father than I am, and if that is true, then what do we really have to fear? Now, that being said, if God really is a better father than me, and I believe He is, then in fact I really do have something to fear when I deliberately disobey (key word deliberately), because that means that although I know full well what is right, and I decide to go against it, then what is God (who is my Father who loves me) supposed to do? Punish me, that’s what…but why…because I offended Him? If that were the case then how could he be any better than me? That is a human motivator, because it is based on pride, and the end result is not remedial but retributive…and that’s not right…because that would undermine everything that Jesus taught, especially, “love others and esteem them as more than yourself.” In any case, thanks Kevin for what you’re doing- the world needs more voices to speak up and explain the Father’s love! Be blessed, brother!

    • Gene: You said, “Telling those who practice injustice that they should be afraid is right.” I can agree with this in spirit. I would just change the words to say, “Warning those who practice injustice that it will come back to haunt them is right.” This is entirely biblical and in keeping with the way Jesus spoke to people. But to me, it sounds more like, “If you persist in your behavior, you will come to no good end. The measure you use to judge others will be used to judge you.” Again, we are talking about natural consequences here though, not some arbitrary punishment tacked on by God.

    • The question is what saves us? The work of Christ which secured our forgiveness. God has done all that needs to be done in that regard. However, many Christians has substituted right belief for the work of Christ. Belief has become many Christian’s works based salvation. Right belief = salvation. Wrong belief = hell.

      Paul says that we need to “work out our salvation”. Loving, letting go, forgiving, putting God above all doesn’t secure our salvation. It is the working out of our salvation. The process and demonstration of what life looks like when we are living according to the Kingdom way rather than under the curse of sin.

      The fear isn’t that God would be displeased with us for our sin. The fear is that we will have squandered and even worked against the great work which God has done for us. Do you want to look in the face of Love and say, “well, I believed in Jesus. I know I wasn’t so good with the love thing, but I’m forgiven, right?” That’s a small, shallow life to have lived, imo.

      • Rebecca, you said:

        The fear isn’t that God would be displeased with us for our sin. The fear is that we will have squandered and even worked against the great work which God has done for us. Do you want to look in the face of Love and say, “well, I believed in Jesus. I know I wasn’t so good with the love thing, but I’m forgiven, right?” That’s a small, shallow life to have lived, imo.

        Four of the best-phrased sentences I have read in a long time.

  2. Interesting conversation. Just to throw in some points if that’s alright.

    The very early Christians called themselves “the way”. This was taken from the Prophet John’s “make a way the path in the wilderness”, which came from parts of Isaiah that talked of “the way” or the highway in the desert… ect. ect.

    As well in some better bible translations justification (in Paul’s letters) is translated as “right with God according to the way pointed out”. This is of course linked with the early Christian understanding of “the Way”. “The way” then is the right/just way that a person should live in connection with the law and the moral fabric written into God’s universe. Our conscience is in tune with “the way”, and this plus the light of Christ inside us (plus other things) is there to guide us in “the way”. Of course our consciences can get scathed over and we begin to follow the paths of sin and destruction instead of the “narrow road” of “the way”.

    So with this understanding all of humanity was forgiven by God on the cross but Christians are the ones who acquire this forgiveness into their lives, and thus through Holy Spirit inside them become justified (right with God according to “the Way” pointed out).

    In Romans 1 and 2 Paul tells us what God’s wrath is. It is God allowing us to go on our own paths into destruction. In other words God’s wrath allows us to go off of the narrow road of “the Way” like the Prodigal son. But through Christ’s help the Christian is saved from going down this destructive path (which God allows in his “wrath”) when they follow Christ and desire to live for him.

    So essentially the Christian is the person who is “right with God according to the way” in God’s eyes….. and then with God’s help begins to progressively live this out more and more in his/her life. Thus we are progressively being saved from the destructive behaviours that we have inherited from the influences of the world around us.

    So then in Hebrews it talks about God’s judgment on sin…..where these particular quotes are taken from an old Testament passage where it mentions that the judgment on sin is for the purpose of vindicating the person (from the Hebrew word mitzpah – meaning vindicate, or set right with God). So again this leads to an understanding of judgment being to “set right with God according to “the Way”. Which in the New Testament is often translated as “justification”.

    Yet Christ tells us what the “judgment” for rejecting him is. It’s basically that light has come into the world, and this is the judgment, that those who reject the light are allowed to walk in the darkness. So again the judgment/wrath is allowing the person/society to go prodigal and get to the point where they become so miserable that they return to Christ and decide to live according to “the way”, with God’s help, because they have learned how destructive and terrible sin is. As well other people who are observing the prodigals destructive lifestyle learn by watching their mistakes and decide to not live that way.

    Thus through this all God is calling people back to him in his mercy and grace, and when we come back to him we are set right according to “the way”… and God has judged (corrected) us.

    So. With this understanding….. any age-abidding correction in the afterlife would be a medicine, or sacrament (to use some of the founding fathers language) to bring prodigals back to “the way”.

    Therefore I’m not convinced that Christians who are justified (right with God according to “the way”) in God’s eyes, will need correction in order to be brought back to the way, or right with God…… because in God’s eyes we are already there. But I’m entirely convinced that those who have rejected Christ in this life will need some sort of correction to bring them to repentance and back to “the way”….. even if this correction is not active punishment/wrath, but rather God allowing them to suffer distress from their conscience once their sins are more and more exposed….. which would align close with what Kevin has said.

    If that makes sense.

    • Kevin,
      I’ve d/l the podcast and I’ll give a full listen tomorrow. Thanks for the tip on that.

      Still your words seem illogical to me. On one hand you say
      “I don’t believe there is punishment for not following Christ,”
      yet you agree with me that a loving god will punish those whom he loves.

      Yes we have disagreement on whether God punishes directly vs. indirectly. But I already knew that. My main reason for commenting is that the polarized statements often can come off wrong – for example – the above statement. Isn’t rejecting Jesus (not following) result in punishment? The ? of whether or not it’s direct or indirect is irrelevant. What matters is God does punish, whether it be directly or indirectly.

      I get your drift regarding most things, as I said I agree with most of your post. I just simply think it needs to be rephrased to reflect your ideas more clearly. If you say on one hand people won’t be punished for not following Jesus (that is to take the road of violence) yet you say they won’t be punished for practicing violence then what exactly will people be punished for?. Unless of course you believe rejecting Jesus is not synonymous with sin. If it is, then wouldn’t it be clear that not following Jesus will result in punishment? I would imagine you might say that NOT FOLLOWING JESUS does not mean “rejecting Jesus” but those are clarifications I’m referring to.

      @Chris,
      Thanks for your thoughts. I see things much like you. I would however say it’s not wrong to say “God is offended” all who stand for justice should be offended when injustice is done. But just to make myself clear, God being offended is not the reason he punishes. He punishes to correct. Even retribution can be corrective. I recently emailed Tom Talbott on this and he agreed, retribution can be compatible with Universalism or better said, retribution can be loving. It’s the purpose that I’m concerned about. I believe God even goes beyond retribution when he declares he’ll pay back 3 times the sin. I believe it’s because he’ll do what is necessary to make things right (justice). I’m writing a FB note on this very topic.

      @Christopher,
      Thanks to you too for the great comments. I’m not convinced that Romans 1 is saying that the wrath of God is “allowing us to go on our own paths into destruction.” – It seems to me that Paul also says “God will repay according to what they have done”. His comment is that the wrath of God IS BEING REVEALED but then goes on to say something worse is coming.

      With that said, I’m not against indirect punishment, heak for all I know that’s right. But what I do believe is its incorrect to say there’s nothing to fear or not following Christ does not result in punishment. Of course I think I get you Kevin, I’m simply saying it needs to be clearly stated. I think you would say that those who reject Jesus’ teaching will be punished – for their sin has built in consequences by God to drive that person to humility. I’m good with that.

      One last note on the prodigal son. The things that drove the son home were not only the consequences of his sin. There was famine – and that had nothing to do with his behavior. It was God driving his son home as he does with us all. Again I think we all agree God is looking to get his son back, I just am arguing that he’s much more involved than just letting things go bye.

      • Once again, Gene, fear is the problem. It is not an effective motivator. Especially fear of what God will do to us if we disobey him. Freedom is about stepping out from under the shadow of fear, because fear has to do with punishment. This is part of the problem: So much of this discussion revolves around a crime and punishment matrix. A friend forwarded this Richard Beck quote to me today, which is relevant: “…the main problem Protestants tend to worry about when it comes to sin isn’t the sin. It’s God’s anger over sin. Because of this Protestants aren’t really all that interested in escaping sin. They are mainly preoccupied with escaping hell. Thus, for many Protestants the answer to our “sin problem” isn’t holiness but forgiveness. Put more crudely, Protestants are more interested in being saved than in being good. The results of this emphasis, if you look around, are pretty obvious.”

        As a result of this sort of reasoning, I prefer other metaphors. As Greg Boyd suggests in the video I posted, marriage and divorce is a good one. My Orthodox friend talks about sickness and healing. Whatever the case, we realize that choosing not to follow Christ is the broad road that leads to destruction. There’s no question about that. That is why Jesus warns us away from it. But I agree with Christopher’s eloquent response, esp. his example of Jesus weeping for Jerusalem like a father who knows his children are about to doom themselves. He’s not behind the scenes instigating the Romans, who are soon going to destroy the city. The people will bring it upon themselves by refusing to follow Christ’s example and rebelling against the Romans. They bring destruction upon themselves as a natural consequence of their actions. So to summarize, we are not to be motivated by fear, because perfect love casts out fear. But that doesn’t mean abandoning Christ won’t result in suffering. Should we fear this? Should that fear motivate us toward holiness? I still say no, because such a fear is still a self-centered focus on avoidance of pain rather than an others-centered and God-centered desire to step into holiness.

  3. Hi Gene. My understanding of God’s wrath in Roman’s is connected to God’s involvement. It later says in Romans that he is longsuffering and patient waiting for all to return to him (I’d also say calling him). You see in Paul’s speech about wrath in Romans he says that God’s wrath burns against ALL sin. So with this in mind, if this is an active wrath then it would be impossible for God to be merciful. In Romans Paul also indicates that he himself is potentially subject to this wrath…. so then the “wrath” he’s talking about, can’t be something that Christians are not under because it has been appeased on the cross. So then…. if this wrath is God’s punitive active wrath… that burns against ALL sin… which even Christians are still under….. then we’re all in big trouble.

    Yet this kind of wrath obviously isn’t evident in the world around us, and in the Bible. If God’s wrath, in a punitive active understanding, burned against ALL sin….. and Jesus was the full representation of God….. then how was it that he was fully of mercy, even to the point of being merciful to the adultress women, and stopping her from being stoned to death even when that was just according to the law?

    Yet if this “wrath” against ALL sin is God allowing mankind to progressively go down the slippery slope into depravity…. then Christ’s mercy fits into the paradigm. Every sin is part of the hardening of human hearts, leading to our depravity….. but God is constantly calling us back to him and his mercy.

    Later on in Romans Paul says that this understanding of wrath IS just “else how would God be judging the world”. It is not separate from God’s justice and God setting the world right.

    For example. When the prophet John came on the scene, before Jesus became prominent, his main message was to “repent and flee the”wrath” to come”. In other words, turn around and get back on “the Way” and not go into the slippery slope of depravity which God’s wrath allows.

    Yet many of the Jewish people rejected this warning and did go on the slippery slope into depravity…. leading to the Jewish zealots ticking off the Romans…. leading to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.. The Jewish people that helped to bring on this were in a real bad place at that time…. they had gone down the slippery slope. Of course God’s wrath also allowed the Romans to go into their own depravity thus attacking and doing terrible things to the Jews. So the “wrath to come” lead to the fall of Jerusalem, the end of the Old Covenant sacrificial system, and the Jewish people rejection form their land”.

    Remember… in the Gospels Jesus wept over Jerusalem saying “How I longed to bring you under my wings”….. this is not coming from a heart of punitive active wrath. It’s coming from the heart of a loving father that knows his children are going to hurt themselves and is grieved over it.

    So then… here’s what happened. God used their evil to bring about good. they brough judgment on themselves, and God used it to bring about freedom from Jewish oppression to the new Christian people… and for justice for Christian people who had been opressed. He used it to destroy the Old Covenant system and bring on the new age of Christianity….. where Christianity could then flourish.

    I believe this is similar to how God’s “wrath” against the Jewish also functioned in the Old Testament Prophetic texts.

    So sin does have dire consequences and God does bring about justice…. God just works in ways of wisdom where he doesn’t act inconsistent with his non-violent, benevolant, loving character. God brings good out of human evil….. he doesn’t do evil to us.

    Thus in this regard…. any “wrath” from God against Jesus on the cross was simply God allowing the people at that time to progressively go down their paths in depravity to the point that they killed Christ (God as man) on the cross. God foreknew that they would do this to him, but came to earth anyways out of his deep deep love for humanity. Thus God, in his love, turned the greatest of evils (killing God) to the greatest of good…. forgiveness of sins for the salvation of the world.

    Thus we have a God of true and complete love, mercy, and wisdom…. that in his fullness of such turns human evil into mercy, forgiveness, and justice.

  4. Kevin and Christopher,

    Again thanks for the responses. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the discussions and the work Kevin is doing on this movie. These very discussions are ones that all Christians should have. For this reason my sincere prayers are that Christians will give Kevin the chance to be heard.

    I see our agreement is what’s critical to our faith – God loves and seeks the redemption of all. That is what matters most to me so don’t take this as an “anti-biblical” critique. As I said, I agree with much.

    I don’t want to get into the pacifist arguments since I’m not much learned on them. I’ve had 1 discussion with Jersak and the mechanics made little sense to me while the logic was very appealing. Nevertheless, I need to be able to work it out but inconsistent language or arguments only make it more difficult.

    I won’t comment on Romans 1-2 because we have a fundamental difference on the notion of God punishing people for correction. On one hand we seem to agree – there is punishment for those who refuse to follow Jesus. But that is why I am confused by the language that people are not punished for NOT following Jesus. What I’m seeing is an attempt to maintain a non-violent approach to God (non-punitive) while maintaining a loving approach (punitive) in one fell swoop.

    I am convinced that traditional Christianity has a great many premises right and punishment is one of them. I also, by nature and by experience believe fear is a proper reaction to punishment as I quoted Jesus who on one hand says “fear the one who can destroy body and soul” and then turn and say “but don’t be afraid you’re far more valuable than a bird.” These two things can be compatible w/o having to sacrifice the other. I see you trying to do that but then come out with statements like: “There’s no punishment for not following Jesus”, which I translate as – there’s no punishment for those who refuse to imitate Jesus – but you already said there is, it’s built in naturally.

    On one hand Kevin I understand you to see, natural consequence and punishment to be a semantic but you’re unwilling to accept that fear of the consequence of sin can be seen as a motivator for doing righteousness. Isn’t it your view that punishment can be the very discovery of shame and hurts because of evil behaviors? Can’t fear of going back to that be true? Can’t fear of God dealing with us be real? I see no reason to think it cannot. God actively punishing (which I endorse) vs. passively is to me a side issue. What matters is that:

    a) Telling those who practice injustice that they should be afraid is right. For the arrogant require a harsh lesson to break their hard hearts. (Telling them – there’s nothing to fear not even God is misleading unless it’s clarified – Evangelical Universalism does this quite nicely.)

    b) It’s compatible that someone can fear God’s punishment and fully love God simultaneously.

    • Hi Gene. You had said. ” I am convinced that traditional Christianity has a great many premises right and punishment is one of them”.

      What I’m going to say will seem like a recuring theme in the discussion. That being that I believe that the very early Christian tradition DID have the understanding that Kevin and I have been expressing. I believe the understanding changed after Constantine, and the rise of the Roman empirical church….. with Augustine being one of the main early proponents of a punitive/wrathful God. Which led to this understanding in the Western tradition. What we call “tradition” doesn’t necessarily mean that it is what Christians have always believed. In this case it just means that the understanding of a wrathful/hellfire God has made its way into Christianity and we-just-can’t-get-it-out. Some of these things have become so ingrained in Christian thought…. that believing like the early Christians believed on many things becomes unfathomable….. to many even heretical.

      Another example…. Did you know that before Augustine (and his influences around his time)… that the vast majority of Christians thought that human nature was/is basically good. The idea of “total depravity”, “sin nature”, or Augustine’s understanding of “original sin” would have been foreign to them.

      But I’ll lay bets that some people who read this will roll their eyes that I would even write such a “crazy” thing. Yet go read Ireneaus’ “Against the Heritics”, or Basil the Great’s “On Human nature”. Or any number of other Ante-Nicene writings. It’s all there. What I’m saying was in their understanding.

      Including the understanding of a benevolant non-wrathful, non-punitive God. I believe that many of the things that much of Western Christianity teaches would have been considered to be pagan Gnosticism by them.

      • Christopher,
        Thanks once again and by the way that last reponse was short and well written. I’ll try to do the same.

        The history of who believed what is sort of a non-starter for me. Who’s right and who’s wrong is not determined by the point of history that particular ideas were endorsed. So perhaps the latter got it right ; Augustine. The only way I can make sense of it is to examine the text against my experience.

        From my understanding of the bible, good parents punish their children in order to correct them. We call it discipline. But let me say this. If you conclude that punishement is abuse than I would say that’s a fallacy. The two things are two different words with two different meanings. And that’s what I detect from you and Kevin. as I stated: On one hand Kevin agrees a loving God does punish (but what does that punishment look like) on the other hand you both seem to deny that God is punitive. It’s not hard to see why I would hit the buzzer and call for a better articulated response. That is either say you disagree a good parent (loving God) punishes his children OR say that you believe God can be punitive.

        It seems that the problem with traditional Christianity is not that they see God as wrathful, but that they – (in my opinion, like you) throw the baby out with the bath water by then rendering him as a God of hate. By that I mean they cannot see the compatibility of a God who punishes (wrath) and who loves (merciful) at the same time. For them it’s either or. It seems to me that’s the way you and Kevin argue. If God is punitive then he’s being misrepresented. I argue – like Talbott – not totally. To deny the punitive passages to me seems silly. Instead I like what Kevin said (which sounds exactly like Talbott) that the very discovery of our sin can be the greatest punishement. I agree. But it’s still punishment that God has either built in or actively causes – either way it’s loving not hateful.

        Lastly, would you say it’s loving for God not to punish hitler for his placing families into ovens and gas chambers? If you agree with Kevin that the consequences are built in (that is the punishment is from God in a passive sense) then we agree. But then I would want to ask, why would you do the same as Christians and get rid of part of God’s loving character (wrath) because the other side gets rid of God’s loving character (love)?

        Again, thanks for the response.

        • Hi Gene.

          I here what your saying, and no I don’t think that punishment is necessarily separate from love. I think a certain kind of punishment is love in that it prevents the “child” from acting out in ways, in the future, that will hurt them worse. I don’t believe this type of punishment should ever be punitive, but rather restorative (and aslo justice). I have no problem with the idea of God correcting us in our lives. I have a big problem with the idea of God wiping out cities/nations, causing terrible/horrific things to happen to people ect.ect…. in a “punitive vengeful wrath”, and this being labeled as “justice from a Holy God”. Then in the next breath they tell me that I’m supposed to be Holy… like God…..but then also loving, merciful and giving blessings to my enemies, and those who have sinned against me. These are to opposite views of Holiness….. and I think we can all agree on which understanding of holiness is the human calling.

          So what I’m speaking about it the understanding of “wrath” that many Christians are expressing. I believe what I had expressed is a solid interpretation of Roman’s understanding of wrath that can be applied to the Prophetic texts and the fall of Jerusalem ect. ect. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to punish…. I am saying that an interpretation of what Paul says in Romans on wrath (and other connected Biblical texts on wrath) as and active punitive wrath opens up doors to all kinds of trouble…. it opened up the door to an understanding of God having to torment Jesus in order to be appeased…. to Christians leveling “wrath” on those who don’t align with their understanding of Christian morality (which has happened a plenty)…..it also opens up doors to a particular interpretation of Romans 9 which states that God’s glory comes from his wrath being inflicted on the wicked in the after life…. when they were pre-destined to that all along. Which is an interpretation that I find very troubling.

          But in the interpretation which Kevin and I have stated, Romans 9 takes on a different character. It can then be read as saying that Gods wrath allows people to go into depravity, and they repent and come back to his mercy from which he gets his glory. Which makes a helluva lot more sense, and makes God out to be just and merciful, instead of a moral monster. It is also not seperate from justice, as I’ve explained.

          If your interested I can type out a deeper interpretation of what I’m trying to convey about Romans 9.. Again I’m trying to keep this short.

          So far as tradition goes. I agree with your point. Tradition doesn’t necessarily equate to truth. What I’m getting at is that one of the things people who believe in the wrathful God (which I realize you don’t to the same extent as many) are heavily influenced by (or fall back on) is the view that tradition has always taught this. But I don’t believe it has….. I believe an earlier tradition taught something different.

          So I’m not as much saying that tradition always equals truth, as I’m saying that arguing a wrathful/punitive God from tradition (saying that tradition has always taught it – and people who say different are the radicals) isn’t a position that holds as much water as many think that it does, because this “tradition” is actually something that I believe has been changed from the original “tradition”.

          • Christopher,

            And I hear what you are saying as well. But I think shadows of confusion are created because words are redefined in order to oppose particular premises, when really, we’re in agreement.

            Punishment is punitive. If God punishes, then God is punitive. I realize you’re trying to define something more; their view of punishment lacks. But I think we all need to get to the root. If it is true that God is punitive, that is he punishes, then what are we to make of that punishment? Shall we conclude – God is not punitive, which is to say God does not punish? I don’t believe so. Both of you agree God punishes. So now I take it a step further – God is punitive. I know you realize I’m being careful. I’m saying punitive can be loving. Mind you, I’m not saying all punishment is loving (indeed some folk are abusive). But since God punishes sin, I think we can agree – God is punitive.

            Allow me to press further. Recently in an exchange with Thomas Talbott, I pressed him on a similar issue. I asked him regarding retribution, isn’t it in fact compatible with Universalism? Although he sees it as something God has no use for, I argued if retribution is just another way of saying punishment then retribution can be loving – he agreed. Thus I can accept that God is retributive. Indeed justice appears to be retributive. As I said before, PURPOSE, what is God’s purpose for exacting retribution? That’s the question.

            Wrath? Again nothing different. If God has wrath and anger (which I believe he does) then God’s wrath can be compatible with his loving nature. I can’t imagine that God was not angry with Hitler for his destruction of so many lives – I believe he was angry with him.

            So if God is angry, wrathful and punitive – I can say all of these are compatible with a God who loves the very object of that severe mercy. Leading me to the real distinction:

            These attributes are characterized by most Christians not because they understand God to punish or to be wrathful or punitive, but because they mis-characterize God as hate.

            The best way I can put it is that most Christians remove love from their hermeneutical lens leaving them with a deistic form of God like Zeus, Quetzacoatl or Molech. Once love is employed into our hermeneutic, things shift from an angry god who hates the person to a loving father who is angry with his child.

            So I still would encourage both Kevin and you to get to the nub of the matter. It is the logic of love that is threatened by Christians and omitted because of their misunderstanding of Scripture. Yes they see penal substitution, but that’s because they misinterpret this truth:
            Jesus did turn God’s anger away, because he’s reconciled the world to himself. That is God is angry against the sinner, but because of Christ’s death and resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit, we can now live a new life pleasing to God, where prior to our repentance, God was angry with us. Thus it is true: Jesus did/does appease the anger of God. But penal-substitutionists have seen it that God hates those wicked who are unrepentant. But we know that while we were enemies God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to himself. why? Because Jesus tells us the most incredible words we’ve ever wanted to hear…

            For God so loved the world (wicked).

            Gene

  5. I’ll try to keep responses shorter, I hate these 4 paragraphs :) Sorry about that.

  6. Can’t read right now, but I am reminded of a Terry Scott Taylor (via Dr. Edward Daniel Taylor) satirical song lyric:

    “Bein’ a Christian is really twitchin’, don’t wind up in the devil’s kitchen.”

    In my youth at an evie/charismatic congregation, I was repeatedly told that coolness (of our totally cool church and of following Christ) was the way to hook and land a non-believer not just into the Kingdom, but into our church, as it was by far the best in every way imaginable.

    And some sins, gluttony, pride, they were ignored. No, it’s sexual sin and drug use and nasty illegal activity that are realky all that matter. And getting closer to God was not about intimacy, it was about being able to demonstrate Bible knowledge and financial prosperity.

    In short, it was nothing like the faith I see demonstrated in Christ. In fact, it seems counter to Christ, self-serving and unproductive.

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