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June 4th, 2012 @ 1:47 pm by Kevin
Brian Jones is the kind of Christian who creates atheists. Ironically, his contribution to atheism is probably directly proportional to his efforts to convert people to Christianity.
In fact, I’ll take things one step further and say Brian’s contribution to the rise in atheism is inversely proportional to his evangelism efforts. That is, I’m willing to bet that for every person he “saves,” he renders at least 5-10 people incapable of ever taking Christianity seriously again.
Who is this Brian Jones, and why am I being so hard on him? For starters, he’s the founder and senior pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley, located in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He’s a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary. And his favorite meal is Kentucky Fried Chicken. I have no problem with any of this. For me, my beef has to do with one thing and one thing only: his book, Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It).
Something you should understand up front: I don’t usually get angry at books. I don’t care if an author disagrees with whatever position I happen to hold on a topic. I’m always eager to explore a different perspective. That’s how we learn and grow. When I worked on Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, for example, I read dozens of books that challenged virtually every facet of everything I believed. But never once did I get angry. Instead, I welcomed the opportunity to have my worldview so thoroughly deconstructed. In the end, not much of it survived. But I feel pretty confident about what passed through the fire.
For some reason though, Brian’s book is a special case. I first picked it up in late 2011, but I only got about 75 pages into it before I threw it down in disgust on my bedside table. There it remained for the next six or seven months.
Complete disclosure: My initial impulse was to put the book under the front wheel of my van and then spin the tires until all of the pages flew out. But that would have been messy. And a waste of gas.
At the time, I couldn’t quite articulate what bothered me so much about it. It wasn’t his arguments. I’d heard them many times before. It was more of a gut response to the way they were presented, I think. An animalistic urge. I just wanted that book dead.
Which is why I resisted the impulse to say or do anything initially, because I didn’t want to indulge such clearly un-Christian impulses.
But then last night my friend Drew emailed to ask if I’d read the book. His email included a couple of quotes from it:
Jesus rescued you from falling into the hands of Someone larger than your mind can conceive, stronger than the combined strength of a trillion nuclear explosions, a holy God destined to unload the complete, unrestrained force of His wrath on you for offending His holy nature. That’s what you were really saved from…
Apocalyptic urgency is not about saving your friend from hell. It’s about saving your friend from God. Hell isn’t your friend’s biggest problem; God is. Hell is simply the end result of God’s justified wrath. It’s the final permanent expression of his anger towards those who have purposely chosen to reject His lordship over their lives.
That’s why until you understand how violent and inhumane God really is, how utterly wrathful the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ can become, you’ll never feel the urgency to help your non-Christian friends escape his detestable clutches. (From pages 119 & 132)
After reading the quotes, I thought, really? Does the book really say that? I mean, if you believe in hell as a place of eternal torment for the wicked, Brian’s logic is spot on, but rarely do you hear a proponent of such a position be so forthright. So I dove back into the book last night to see what else I’d missed. Here’s another chestnut:
Practically speaking, if everyone goes to heaven, why bother with Jesus at all? Why attend church? Why serve? Why tithe? Why share our faith with others? None of this makes any sense. Why would we do anything beyond that which makes us feel good? If there is no hell, then giving less than our best to our faith makes perfect sense. (p. 35)
Clearly, Brian’s belief exemplifies what another Brian (McLaren) points out in our teaser trailer: “Our entire theological system has been reduced to a hell-avoidance plan.” For Brian Jones, the only reason to become a Christian is to escape the wrath of God. Sure, there may be a few other tangential benefits along the way, but for Brian, it’s all about the big finish. (See my thoughts on this line of argument.)
That viewpoint essentially tees up the rest of the book, which can be roughly divided into two parts: 1) Helping readers understand just how creepy (Jones’ word, p. 123), bloodthirsty, vindictive, genocidal, pestilential, sadomasochistic, and capriciously malevolent God is, and then, 2) encouraging readers to warn people to flee his wrath before it’s too late.
Yes, God loves you. Yes, God wants to show you mercy and grace. Yes, Jesus died on the cross for you as an act of God’s love. However, if you’re not a Christian, you also need to understand that the God of the Bible thinks that your transgressions warrant execution (Rom. 1:32). He loathes your sin and considers you a personal enemy (5:10). Every single act of disobedience you commit against His will enrages Him and forces cosmic self-restraint just to keep Him from instantly obliterating you from his planet (Nah. 1:2-3)
If you’re thinking, Okay, that’s just about as creepy as you can get, then you’re starting to gain a clearer understanding of the true character of the God in whom you’ve placed your trust as a Christian. (pp. 120 & 123)
Left completely unanswered is why anyone would want to have anything to do with such a God even if he does exist. Brian’s appeal essentially breaks down to self-interest. You can either turn and embrace this psychopathic advocate of infanticide (p. 125), ethnic cleansing (p. 127) and rape as a weapon of war (p. 129)… or burn.
Forget the environment:
Christianity is not a “let’s make the world a better place” kind of religion. It is meant to solve one issue: the problem of human sin, which has flared up the wrath of a holy God. (p. 106)
Forget helping other people.
Scripture, not human compassion, guides a disciple’s priorities… Christians lose apocalyptic urgency when they become preoccupied with important kingdom-related activities like feeding the poor and fighting for human rights. Over time they allow these activities to take precedence over helping people get to heaven. (pp. 99 & 102)
Just get about your business.
Christianity is in the wrath-deflecting business. And we need to ask ourselves, “How’s business?”
As I read through the rest of the book last night, I actually had to stop a couple of times and check the spine to see if it really was published by David C. Cook or if it was a parody of people who believe in eternal torment. What else could I conclude when the author chides Richard Dawkins for going too easy on God or when he encourages readers to “live like a pagan” in order to win people to Christ? His chapters on evangelism are as creepy as the God he worships. It’s essentially about marketing yourself correctly. Oh, and loving people. But only as a means to an end.
Thankfully, Drew’s email didn’t just include quotes from Brian’s book. It also included a link to The River of Fire, written by Orthodox theologian Alexandre Kalomiros. This document was originally delivered as the keynote speech at an Orthodox youth conference in Seattle back in 1980. Since then, it has come to occupy a place of honor as an apologetic against the toxic theology preached by Christians like Brian Jones. A not-so-brief excerpt:
There is no doubt that we are living in the age of apostasy predicted for the last days. In practice, most people are atheists, although many of them theoretically still believe. Indifference and the spirit of this world prevail everywhere.
What is the reason for this state?
The reason is the cooling of love. Love for God no more burns in human hearts, and in consequence, love between us is dead, too.
What is the cause of this waning of men’s love for God? The answer, certainly, is sin. Sin is the dark cloud which does not permit God’s light to reach our eyes.
But sin always did exist. So how did we arrive at the point of not simply ignoring God, but of actually hating Him? Man’s attitude toward God today is not really ignorance, or really indifference. If you examine men carefully you will notice that their ignorance or indifference is tainted by a deep hate. But nobody hates anything that does not exist.
I have the suspicion that men today believe in God more than at any other time in human history. Men know the gospel, the teaching of the Church, and God’s creation better than at any other time. They have a profound consciousness of His existence. Their atheism is not a real disbelief. It is rather an aversion toward somebody we know very well but whom we hate with all our heart, exactly as the demons do.
We hate God, that is why we ignore Him, overlooking Him as if we did not see Him, and pretending to be atheists. In reality we consider Him our enemy par excellence. Our negation is our vengeance, our atheism is our revenge.
But why do men hate God? They hate Him not only because their deeds are dark while God is light, but also because they consider Him as a menace, as an imminent and eternal danger, as an adversary in court, as an opponent at law, as a public prosecutor and an eternal persecutor. To them, God is no more the almighty physician who came to save them from illness and death, but rather a cruel judge and a vengeful inquisitor.
You see, the devil managed to make men believe that God does not really love us, that He really only loves Himself, and that He accepts us only if we behave as He wants us to behave; that He hates us if we do not behave as He ordered us to behave, and is offended by our insubordination to such a degree that we must pay for it by eternal tortures, created by Him for that purpose.
Who can love a torturer? Even those who try hard to save themselves from the wrath of God cannot really love Him. They love only themselves, trying to escape God’s vengeance and to achieve eternal bliss by managing to please this fearsome and extremely dangerous Creator.
Do you perceive the devil’s slander of our all loving, all kind, and absolutely good God? That is why in Greek the devil was given the name DIABOLOS, “the slanderer”.
But what was the instrument of the devil’s slandering of God? What means did he use in order to convince humanity, in order to pervert human thought?
He used “theology”. He first introduced a slight alteration in theology which, once it was accepted, he managed to increase more and more to the degree that Christianity became completely unrecognizable. This is what we call “Western theology”.
I’m hoping that excerpt cleanses your palate like it did mine. But don’t stop there. Read the entire thing.
To wrap up this epic post, as a Christian, I do not believe my highest calling is to save people from hell. Remember: the word “gospel” means “good news,” not “great warning.” Therefore, the gospel I share is about freedom from fear and freedom from death, not bondage to fear of a malevolent deity. That’s precisely the sort of thing Jesus came to save us from–hunkering down in the Garden afraid that God is coming to get us.
Instead of instilling fear, I believe my highest calling is to adhere to the two greatest commandments: 1) to love God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind and 2) to love my neighbor–even my enemy–as myself.
You may think I’ve contravened at least one of those commandments by writing this post. But just because my words sound wrathful at times does not negate my love for Brian as a fellow human being. I do not regard Brian as my enemy. And even he will admit that there is no incompatibility between love and wrath.
So at least we agree on one thing (and I don’t even mind admitting it).