Christ or antichrist?

Back in January 2011 when I first embarked on Hellbound?, I had no idea how deeply political the idea of hell could be. For me, the film was more of a personal journey, my attempt to grapple with a concept that had both repelled and fascinated me throughout my life as a Christian. As I’ve recounted dozens of times during interviews and Q&A sessions, it wasn’t until I witnessed the reaction to Rob Bell’s book Love Wins that I realized how heated this discussion could get.

The publication of Love Wins–or, more accurately, the trailer that preceded the book’s publication–truly was a watershed moment. Although people like Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt and other members of the emergent crowd had been raising similar questions for years, somehow Bell hit the zeitgeist just right, causing an explosion of controversy. At the time, two voices struck me as particularly prescient about the implications of this debate. The first was Jimmy Spencer, Jr., who said (in a writing style reminiscent of Bell’s own),

You’re witnessing something big right now. You’re witnessing a new split in Protestant Evangelicalism.

We have all felt tremors of this thing coming for a couple years now…

Rob Bell’s book will play a huge part in triggering this split.

This is not just about theology. It’s about control of the story of Jesus.

It’s about the entire framing of God and The Gospel.

It may not be nailing 95 theses on a door…

But it could mark a major shift in how Evangelical Christianity represents itself from this point forward.

The other voice was Kevin DeYoung, who said Love Wins represented such a wholesale departure from historic Christianity that he didn’t even known where to begin his critique. Apparently, he overcame his paralysis long enough to bang out a 20-page review, in which he noted:

At the very heart of this controversy, and one of the reasons the blogosphere exploded over this book, is that we really do have two different Gods. The stakes are that high. If Bell is right, then historic orthodoxy is toxic and terrible. But if the traditional view of heaven and hell are right, Bell is blaspheming. Both sides cannot be right. As much as some voices in evangelicalism will suggest that we should all get along and learn from each other and listen for the Spirit speaking in our midst, the fact is we have two irreconcilable views of God.

I couldn’t have put it better myself. The question is, what do these two irreconcilable views of God look like?

The Sacrificial god

This is the god of Kevin DeYoung, Mark Driscoll, John Piper and other “young, restless and Reformed” types. The primary attribute of this god is holiness or otherness. This god’s will is paramount, and violation of his will puts you in danger potentially for all eternity. The Sacrificial god gives a judicial account of sin, which means violating this infinite god’s holiness incurs an infinite penalty or debt that no human is able to repay. The only way to escape this god’s wrath is to hide behind his Son, Jesus, the sole being capable of making the sacrifice necessary to appease this god’s wrath. Because with this god, forgiveness and reconciliation can only be achieved through sacrifice.

Not surprisingly, worshiping this god leads to a binary way of thinking that reflects the either/or mindset of this god:

  • In/out
  • Us/them
  • Clean/unclean
  • Sacred/profane
  • Truth/error
  • Love/hate

This self-centered god also promotes a self-centered existence where your primary concerns are:

  • Avoiding god’s wrath
  • Self-preservation–perpetuating your individual existence for all eternity
  • Keeping yourself pure by adhering to a moral code and compelling others to do the same
  • Showing mercy to others, but only as a means to an end–providing a platform from which to warn them to flee the wrath of god before it’s too late.

Serving this god also promotes a hostile religious identity. For worshipers of this god, truth is primarily…

  • Propositional vs. Experiential
  • Intellectual vs. Emotional
  • Literal vs. Metaphorical
  • Transactional vs. Relational
  • “Conversional” vs. Compassionate
  • Affected vs. Authentic

True dialogue–which involves charity, compassion and openness to the other–is impossible for followers of this god. All that’s permitted is debate, with “no expectation of encountering afresh God’s truth, no hope of expanding the horizons of spiritual understanding,” to quote Anglican Bishop Michael Ingham.

Unfortunately, the effects of worshiping this god are not limited to the church. Seeing as many Western nations, such as America, were founded by people who believed in some version of the Sacrificial god, even secular Western states tend to reflect this sacrificial theology. As Jon Pahl has observed in his book Empire of Sacrifice, “Sacrifice—the religious exclusions and substitutions through which power has been concentrated and legitimized—has been a key factor in producing American identity.”

The Self-sacrificial God

Thankfully, the Sacrificial god isn’t the only game in town. Through people like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Michael Hardin, Brad Jersak, Joshua Tongol, Rene Girard and even Pope Francis, another God is emerging–the Self-sacrificial God. This God is also holy, but what makes this God holy is not “otherness”; it’s love, particularly love of enemy:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

This God is also consenting rather than willful. Instead of imposing his will on us, this God makes room for us and only commands or directs those who make room for him. With this God, sin is a relational problem rather than a judicial problem. Sin is anything that gets in the way of perfect love. As a result, the remedy for sin is not punishment and exclusion but healing and reconciliation. And with this God, forgiveness and reconciliation can only be achieved by self-sacrifice, because self-sacrifice is the very definition of love.

Rather than binary thinking, followers of this God are more prone to think “trajectionally.” That is, rather than being “in” or “out,” with this God, everyone is in, but everyone is also out. All are loved by God, but all are mired in sin. Therefore, everyone is somewhere along the following continuums, ideally moving toward the positive pole:

  • Away—————————————Toward (God and the Good)
  • Bondage———————————–Freedom
  • Illness————————————–Wellness
  • Destructive——————————–Constructive
  • Illusion————————————Reality

Following this God also promotes an others-centered existence where your primary concerns are:

  • Sharing God’s love with others
  • Sacrificing your life on behalf of others, if necessary
  • “Positivity dominance”–rather than worry about being made unclean, through Christ, we make all things clean
  • Mercy as an end in itself–acts of kindness aren’t a platform from which to share the gospel, they are the gospel

This God also encourages a hospitable religious identity, where our approach to truth is primarily:

  • Experiential vs. Propositional
  • Emotional vs. Intellectual
  • Metaphorical vs. Literal
  • Relational vs. Transactional
  • Compassionate vs. Conversional
  • Authentic vs. Affected

Taking all of this into consideration, I wholeheartedly agree with Kevin DeYoung that these two versions of God are completely incompatible. So my simple question to you is, which god most resembles Christ, and which most resembles antichrist? (Not the antichrist but all that is opposed to Christ.) Perhaps that depends on whether your name is Kevin Miller or Kevin DeYoung, but I’m going with door number two. The question is, why do people like Kevin DeYoung (and Kevin Miller, for many years) consistently choose the Sacrificial god?

For starters, because we have been led to believe it is the only faithful reading of the Bible. We have been taken hostage by a theological system that not only indoctrinates us with a toxic view of God, it effectively inoculates us against anyone who might come along to liberate us from it, placating us with sayings like “God’s ways are not our ways” and warning us about “false prophets” and “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” It’s the worst of all possible worlds.

Second, the Sacrificial god makes sense. We live in a “you do the crime, you do the time” world, where justice = retribution. This shouldn’t be surprising considering our world is based on a secularized version of the Sacrificial god paradigm. How could things be any other way? In this sense, I believe the Sacrificial god represents a monstrous failure of imagination.

Third, we find it personally gratifying. Who doesn’t want to be “in”? And after all the sacrifices we’ve made to kiss up to the Sacrificial god, there’s no way in hell we’ll stand for those heathen slackers getting a piece of our pie.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we’ve never been introduced to a viable alternative. I have to believe that even the strongest adherents to the Sacrificial god have to at least hope the Self-sacrificial God exists. But many of those folks are convinced that renouncing the Sacrificial god is tantamount to renouncing Christianity, itself. Little do they realize it’s the first step toward embracing it!

So how do we break free from the Sacrificial god? It’s not complicated, but it can be painful. The first step is to reconsider our theological paradigms. How we conceive of the Bible is supremely important to this discussion. If we believe the Bible is like the Sacrificial god–an untouchable legal document designed primarily to winnow the weeds from the wheat–there’s no room for discussion. However, if we take an incarnational approach to the Bible, where we recognize the text is equal parts human and divine, new avenues of dialogue open up. Also important is the realization that God’s primary revelation to us comes not through through the written word but through the Word–Jesus.

Second, we need to reexamine church tradition. Rather than a monolithic entity that has led inexorably to our current theological paradigm, an honest appraisal of tradition will force us to admit that there has always been–and continues to be–a variety of views on any given theological topic. That’s not to say all of these views should be given equal merit. But the Church thrives best when these discussions are allowed rather than suppressed. Because if these questions are suppressed–or, worse, controlled behind a facade of “free and open debate”–they will manifest themselves in ways that are inherently dysfunctional and self-destructive.

Finally, on a personal level, we need to repent–to change our minds, to change the trajectory of our lives. We need to admit that no matter how we’ve dressed it up, our pursuit of God has been largely a fear-driven, self-centered enterprise. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s where everyone begins. And admitting it is the first step toward healing.

Of course, that’s difficult to do if you fear eternal torment in hell is awaiting those who break company with the Sacrificial god. But if you think about it, what could be worse than being forced to serve the Sacrificial god for all eternity?

Hellbound? is available on DVD and VOD starting May 28, 2013. Pre-order your copy here.

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About Kevin Miller

Kevin Miller is an award-winning screenwriter, director and producer who has applied his craft to numerous documentaries, feature films and shorts. Recent projects include "The Chicken Manure Incident," "Hellbound?," "Drop Gun," "No Saints for Sinners," "spOILed," "Sex+Money," "With God On Our Side," "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," "After..." and the upcoming biopic "The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton." In addition to his work in film, Kevin has written, co-written and edited over 45 books. He lives in Kimberley, BC, Canada with his wife and four children.

  • Neil Fix

    I have a problem with this. The problem being that as soon as you write it down, you then put the reader in the position of agreeing or disagreeing. Which is kind of something you’re against.
    They say one thing as propositional truth, and you say this. Whichever someone agrees with, they accept as truth-and it is propositional. And, also, propositional truth is not balanced against evidential truth. It is perfectly possible for both to co-exist in the same statement.

    • Kevin Miller

      Neil: There’s nothing wrong with propositions. I was merely identifying a tendency to over-intellectualize at one end of the spectrum (and I’ll be the first to admit this is one of my weaknesses). For me, it’s a spiritual discipline to step out from behind my theological/philosophical constructs and enter into relationship, warts and all. Also, I should note that even though this article seems to be written within a binary choice–one view of God or the other, as I note toward the end of the piece, I see these views as two poles at either end of a spectrum rather than discrete categories.

      • Neil Fix

        Yes, that makes sense. I think there is definitely a spectrum that most of us move along in both directions, sometimes even on the same issues. A problem would be if people refuse to move, or possibly to look at the whole spectrum.
        However, I was responding to the article as written. I think that saying about it being a spectrum in the article would have been both more helpful and interesting. Possibly even, at some point, developing it.

        I have a problem with this way of saying because I have read many articles from people from various viewpoints who basically say that ‘someone else’ says x as a propositional truth; and that this propositional truth is wrong, because propositional truth is wrong. Without appearing to realise that they are guilty of the same thing as ‘someone else’. And, in a way, polarising an issue more than it already is. It comes very close to a point of no way of dialoguing because the views and/or expressions are so polarised. I understand you have limited space and may well be writing off the cuff, as it were, but things can sometimes look different when published-readers can invest them with more authority. That being said, I think the article is interesting and thought provoking. I haven’t finished thinking about it yet, but on the whole, I agree.

    • Tracy

      I found the same thing Neil – that i had to be in one or the other camp…. I actually have aspects of both… maybe I am just totally confused by now :) But the thing I have noticed is when an author or writer is trying to put across his point of view – the one that he doesnt agree with gets ‘put down’ as the wrong view, and funnily enough, its always the conservative view! … this article did that. it was not unbiased, but made me feel if i didnt agree with the writer, i was definitely in the ‘wrong camp’. I have felt this way with lots of issues lately – eg. marriage reform etc… that if i didnt agree, i was bigoted, narrow minded and just plain wrong! This article, while I agree with a lot of what he says, gives me that feeling too.

  • Don Rogers

    Excellent Kevin. My trip out of the wasteland of the Sacrificial God came 59 years after it began, when I began to read in earnest the real story of early Christianity. It didn’t coincide with what I had been taught for all those years. Then, I discovered the discrepancies in the scriptures about hell. It was soon after that I realized there could be another version of God for me to contemplate. Thank you for your efforts to bring this information to all.

  • Bryce Leggett

    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.
    Perfect love casts out fear.

    “He (the devil) always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites…He relies on your extra dislike of one to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.”
    ― C.S. Lewis

    I serve a God who is an all consuming fire; who rightly hates sin, and the most loving thing he can do for humanity is to glorify himself, because he is the author of Love. And I am also known by a God who would hike his skirt, run, and prodigally kiss me in my shame, restoring my heart to adoration. “It’s the goodness of God that leads to repentance.”

    “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1st Cor 13:12

    When I arrive in a place I don’t belong, I believe I will weep in shame and joy in knowing that an all consuming – and loving God has saved me, through Jesus Christ, who I did not hide behind, but was born alive into. I believe I will be able to look at everything that has ever happened, every sacrifice that God wills to make (whatever they may be), and I will be able to deduce on my own that God is Good, and every atrocity that has happened through the history of the world was worth what has been gained. No evil that someone would place upon God will ever stop me from believing that he is Good, even if I can’t see it.

    If we lose the Word of God as THE Word of God; we’ll lose it all. Maybe not now, but 200 years down the road, after both of our grandchildren’s are long gone, people will forget the past, and reject the parts of the scripture that we both hold onto now.

    People love themselves, and its sending us down a broad road away from the only one who can save us. Anyone who does not hate even his own life; cannot make worth of what I am offering him. Son-ship, to be hidden inside of Christ, and call out Abba. Then to be taken as one completely worthless, and rewritten with intrinsic worth, only based on the one who loves you, not your value on your own, because you are too fleeting to define your own value. And its yours, if you will just humble yourself before the all consuming fire who can hold Love together.

    My brokenness is the lens that makes God’s love go from infrared, to colored wavelength. Without my understanding of my sinfulness, and the truth that like those who died in the tower of Siloam I too DESERVE to die; I will never be able to understand the love of my Father, who is everything.

    “You are holiness and grace
    You are fury and rest
    You are anger and love
    You curse and you bless
    You are mighty and weak
    You are silence and song
    You are plain as the day,
    But you have hidden your face

    Maybe its a better thing, a better thing. To be more than merely innocent, but to be broken, and redeemed by love.” – Andrew Peterson

    The more I listen to the arguments, the more tired I get of God’s followers. But when I think of Jesus, I know that I know, that I am home, and his words in scripture can be trusted completely.

    “I don’t know all the answers, I don’t even know a few; and if I we’re really honest, and the truth were known of me. It may sound a little funny, but this is what my prayer would be; I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you, my Lord.”
    - Jason Upton

    • Susan Gerard

      You’d make a hell of a preacher!

    • Chad Herring

      The only THE word of God are the red letters in the Bible.

      • Bryce Leggett

        But even those were not actually written by Jesus, or even by the people that were with Jesus. His red words were written by people who were with people who were with Jesus. To trust any of the NT gospels, which is literature that came out of word of mouth; is really a leap of faith guided by the Spirit, and proved by its fruit when applied to your life.

        I disagree. Though I do agree that everything has to be read in context, and the Bible is not dogmatic within the context of only our cultural understanding.

        • Chad Herring

          The Bible is EXTREMELY dogmatic within the context of our cultural understanding, why else would all kinds of denominations exist? My point is Jesus didn’t ask for anything to be written down. The text itself is unnecessary because the truths are that universal that anyone can recognize them when spoken

  • Eric Schramm

    I like the self-sacrificial God but have problems with verses like Rev. 20:10 “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” and 20:14,15 “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
    Doesn’t that mean just what it says on the label? Jesus used several examples. “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. I’ve seen my life as a Christian as “I’m only human. God came in and the Holy Spirit brought his (their) soul and fused it with mine. Without Him (them) I have no ability to access heaven. With them, I do.” The symbol of “This is the lamb of God” is simple. Ask a Shepherd. If a wolf, etc, kills two of a flock, 1) a mother sheep and 2) an unrelated lamb, you have a situation. If the mother sheep had a lamb that was nursing, that lamb will die of starvation because sheep don’t adopt. You take the dead lamb and pour its blood over the orphaned lamb. The dead lambs mom will now adopt the living lamb, even after she licks the blood off it. The shepherds Jesus dealt with would immediately have understood that imagery. We cannot be brought into God’s family without the shed blood of the dead lamb. But He’s alive again, and can plead for us. That is the entire reason for this universe. God is Love and wanted to prove it. He let us walk away, knowing he would save everybody through his death.
    I admit, we Christians use the judgment of God FAR too much. His prime motive is love, I get that. It’s the main message He’s been giving me. But to forget that there is still judgment for sin is, to me, a little careless.

    • Kevin Miller

      Thanks for the note, Eric. I would say a couple of things in response:

      1) I don’t see Satan (more properly “ha-Satan” or “the accuser”) as a spiritual entity but rather as an anthropological category. Whenever we step into the role of the accuser, we become the Satan. Hence Jesus’ rebuke to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” Furthermore, I think it’s understandable that verses and images in Revelation trip us up, b/c we’re not used to reading apocalyptic literature. When we attempt to fit it into a literalistic grid, we run into all sorts of problems. The same sort of thing would happen if you attempted to read the owner’s manual for your car through the same grid you apply when interpreting Shakespeare.

      2) I agree that Christ’s death was absolutely necessary to reconcile us to God. But not because God demanded satisfaction–a blood sacrifice. It’s because we demanded it. As Jesus proclaims in his woes to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:29-39, we’ve been killing the prophets from the beginning, because we think the only way to find peace is through violence. By becoming the scapegoat and then returning from the dead, Jesus helped us see that the one we have been expelling all along is him. Furthermore, through his life and teaching, he showed us how we can be reconciled not only to God but also to each other without the need for sacrifice. Jesus entered into our violence and became the sacrifice so that he could expose the system for what it is. We are all complicit in his death. But rather than adopt the perspective of his persecutors and demand vengeance, Jesus offers forgiveness and reconciliation. Sinners don’t need punishment. They need healing. And until our affections are healed by God, there’s no way our choices can be healed. No amount of punishment can heal a broken heart. Only love can do that. And once healing happens, reconciliation can begin. For me, that’s what judgment looks like–wrongs made right.

    • andy wilson

      did he not deal with the sins of the world on the cross? we become sinners though one man Adam, ( whether we believe or not ) and i think that what Jesus did on the cross made every thing right ( whether we believe or not ) but to believe in him there are many advantages in this life . and that i feel is the good news . that we are all included in salvation now lets follow him to be better people right here right now , no moor of, im in, your out the world is saved and God is not mad at us , now lets rejoice.

  • dustin germain

    “However, if we take an incarnational approach to the Bible, where we
    recognize the text is equal parts human and divine, new avenues of
    dialogue open up. Also important is the realization that God’s primary
    revelation to us comes not through through the written word but through
    the Word–Jesus.”

    I’m not sure what that means? Jesus speaks to us through his word, which is the scriptures, no?

  • Andrew Marr

    I appreciate the reference to René Girard in the list of theologians of the self-sacrificing God. Other theologians using this line of thought, James Alison in particular have also made great contributions to this issue. It is Girardian thought that has articulated my belief that God is Love & not hate at all. Girard’s survey of the primitive sacred is helpful as it shows us how the sacrificial god came to be & why it is so easy for Christians to fall back into the sacrificial god. It is worth noting that Babylonian mythology has deities who create humankind for the purpose of enslaving them. I suggest an overstress on God”s sovereignty threatens to move in that direction. Compare that to Jesus who makes himself the sacrifice. My blog Imaginary Visions of True Peace at develops this line of thought. My article “Violence and the Kingdom of God”at introduces Girard’s thought.

  • TheJabbaWocky

    Does no one see ? Your all desperately scrambling to justify god and in the dust of commotion you have lost all sense of direction, reality and possibly sanity.
    If god was “real” he would be what he would be and it would be for you yahoos to deal with. Not Sit around and define him to be what you want him to be.

    The very nature of this argument “defining god” just proves that god is “created” and not a “creator”.
    Your literally re-scripting the protagonist in your fairy tale.
    Doing this undermines any and all platforms in which you could possibly dictate any religious literature as truth or fact let alone as infallible . You say he is omnipotent, eternal, just and host of other “lovely in concept” things but if enough of you feel a certain way his personality can be altered and the rules changed?

    For everyone on the outside looking in this process can be seen permeating from individual to individual on a small level. No two believers believe in the exact same god down to the dotted “i”. Your gods all have similar hallmarks but ultimately you warp him to suit your own subtle and sometimes not so subtle independent and unique world perspectives. More often then not creating incompatibilities between your gods.

    And then protest the god in your mind is the ONE TRUE GOD! on mass ignorant that you are all in fact not advocating a singular concept.

    But this now? To do this so broadly as a community. Its almost comical, an elephant in the room.
    “Yesterday we accepted god was one way but today he is different because we realized we in fact had no idea of what god is and the direction it was going was quite frankly unsettling. BUT GOOD NEWS! this new and improved version we hashed out over hot coco and christian rock at 2 am after talking gibberish (sorry in tongues) for 8 hours straight is much better! ! ALL HAIL GOD 2.05783282, please forward the memo onto your local parish practitioners” “Peace”

    Makes god sound like a never ending beta trail of continuous updates conspicuously changing and following the evolution of secular social norms and pressures.

    Does not sound like a god or any variation of a singular truth that men are bound to obey.

    More a story bound to men crafted to their desires.
    To their insecurities.
    To their needs.
    To their imaginations.

  • Dyfed Wyn Roberts

    An excellent post, especially when you explain why it’s so hard to break free from the sacrificial god. Thanks for sharing and for adding something that helps my journey.

    • Kevin Miller

      Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Simon Hall

    Hi Kevin,

    I’m really looking forward to your movie!

    As someone who tries (and fails) to move between camps I think you may have overstated your case. I would interested to have a neo-Reformed person come on here and tell us what they think of your description of them. It’s a basic principle of reasoned debate that you present your opponents views in the best possible light, so that they might say, ‘I couldn’t have put it any better myself.’ I’m not sure you managed that on this occasion.

    Not that I disagree with you…

    • Kevin Miller

      Thanks for the note, Simon. On the contrary, I think I have put the neo-Reformed view in a better light than they, themselves, have done on many occasions.

  • Thomas Schultz

    I was doing OK until this paragraph:
    “So how do we break free from the Sacrificial god? It’s not complicated, but it can be painful. The first step is to reconsider our theological paradigms. How we conceive of the Bible is supremely important to this discussion. If we believe the Bible is like the Sacrificial god–an untouchable legal document designed primarily to winnow the weeds from the wheat–there’s no room for discussion. However, if we take an incarnational approach to the Bible, where we recognize the text is equal parts human and divine, new avenues of dialogue open up. Also important is the realization that God’s primary revelation to us comes not through through the written word but through the Word–Jesus.”

    As I have discovered in developing a book called “Revisiting Scripture”, the divide does not have to put the written Word in the first camp. As Jesus said to Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the father.” How exactly you deal with the Old Testament accounts is one issue, but if, as a Christian, you hold tightly to this statement, the dilemma fades away. In many ways the issue relates to how you handle the two covenants. But to unhook from the written Scriptures is to go adrift!

    • Kevin Miller

      I’m not advocating that we unhinge Christianity from the Bible. Rather, that we break away from certain theological paradigms that essentially lead to bibliolatry.

      • Thomas Schultz

        Sadly the first group seems to leave…as you say…no room for discussion or the possibility that they might have made some error in interpretation. It is also sad that some…not all…of the “new” theological paradigms play with Jesus, the Word of God, as being the ONLY word and the only revelation for today being an experience I had in worship last week…which must unquestionably be from the Holy Spirit. Seems there is little room for discussion on either side!

        • Kevin Miller

          There’s always room for discussion, Thomas. For example, when someone (like me) says Jesus should be our interpretive principle, my first question is, “Which Jesus?” Because I’m pretty sure Kevin DeYoung would say Jesus is his interpretive principle. He just sees Jesus in a much different way than I do. I had a similar discussion with my own mother the other day where I asked her if Jesus, being God, was the same one who struck down and killed the Egyptian firstborn during the Passover. She said yes unequivocally and felt in no way did that contradict his teachings on love in the New Testament. I heartily disagreed, but through dialogue I’m struggling to understand how she can be content with such a view.

          • Bryce Leggett

            Here’s my take on God killing the firstborns.

            “The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” -Abe Lincoln at his second inaugural speech.

            If Abe Lincoln did not somewhat believe in the just God; slavery would have existed much longer in America.

            You have a God, who’s people have been enslaved for 300+ years, fighting with the plagues to free his people; who have had their children wrongly ripped from their hands and murdered. God is also directly involved with his covenant people’s government. He IS there king. You have a king fighting for his people. God also refers to the children of Israel metaphorically as his Bride; you have a husband fighting for his wife. All of that should merit a swift immediate judgement on the Egyptians, but it doesn’t. God is good, and he is merciful; as much as he is a fiery husband king.

            God always does the least amount of judgement, for the most amount of repentance, because to get people to repent is actually loving; if someone is stubbornly standing on the tracks, claiming no train is coming, when a train is actually coming. If I can get you to admit you’re wrong and get off the track by humiliating you, I will, because I saved your life.

            God did not just kill the first born’s of Egypt right off the bat; he sends all the plagues one by one, and each time the leader of Egypt refuses to fear God and let his people free. Every time he ups the anti a little bit, each time giving Egypt the chance to do the right thing. That is the fiery husband king turning the other cheek. That is also God liberating the humble and the oppressed.

            If we remove the justice of God from God, we get a limp weak God, who cannot even be faithful to himself, let along those who depend upon him.

            In my opinion many of the OT Judgments do not apply very well now because God is not operating within a direct governmental authority of an actual nation on earth. He is not the direct King of a physical nation.

            The OT God and the NT Jesus are the same God. Remove either of them from the picture, and you get a lopsided God who cannot do what is needed to show the world Love, and save it from sin.

          • Kevin Miller

            Thanks for the input, Bryce. No one is saying we need to remove justice from God. It’s more a question of what constitutes justice. Is justice merely retribution? Punishment? If so, what good is ultimately achieved? Even our own justice system (which is my background) recognizes several key goals: 1) public protection, 2) deterrence, 3) retribution, 4) restitution, 5) rehabilitation and 6) reconciliation (between offender and victim). Not surprisingly, we spend most of our time focusing on purposes 1-3, and sometimes 4 (through community service, for example). However, rehabilitation and reconciliation get short shrift, largely (I believe) because so many of us are operating under a view of God who demand sacrifice rather than a God who is self-sacrificing. So our own justice system becomes a mirror image of how we envision God’s justice. What I’m arguing for is not that we dispense with justice altogether but that we reconsider our definition of justice and that perhaps what Jesus is revealing to us is not merely divine sanction on our retributive mindset but a way to transcend it through love. What that leads to is a form of justice that doesn’t come at the expense of the victim or the offender but has the ultimate good of both parties in mind. It’s a matter of wrongs made right rather than just desserts.

          • Bryce Leggett

            I keep thinking this is like Facebook and I can like your posts above mine.. haha..

            I agree that our justice system is mostly bent around punishment for men who, in Johnny Cash’s words; have long paid for their crimes. Reconciliation and rehabilitation get almost completely overlooked. But compared to say Myanmar where they will give your crimes punishment that is meant to last more than your lifetime, say 700 years; to compensate for reincarnation, our justice system is better, but still faulted.

            I think the weight of our crimes has to be looked at in the light of the parable of the heavily indebted man whom is forgiven by his king, then goes and beats a man who owes him a coffer.

            I think if God’s interest for Egypt was punishment or retribution, he would have just killed them; period. Or killed the people who did the wrongs. But the outcome of that would have been PRIDE on the Egyptians side, and they would not have let God’s people go. But killing the firstborn brought grief, and inspired fear of a powerful Father taking care of his children, and broke the will of Pharaoh and his people.

            God resists the proud.

            We forgive others, because we are also guilty. When God forgives others, he is not guilty. That’s the difference. We sin against God, and he is just to hold his ground. We sin against others, and others are unjust to take pride in being wronged, because they too are guilty.

            My hope is that everyone would be saved, but there are some people who hate God, and their hearts won’t be moved. There are also people who hate God, because his followers are hypocrites, and they have seen a lukewarm arrogant Jesus, and rightfully wanted nothing to do with that. There are many people who would change if they had one glimpse of the real Jesus.

            There are parts of the gospel I hate to chew, but I haven’t seen enough evidence to part from them. I trust that God is good, and when I can see not just in part, but in full; I will know that his choices were good, even if I disagree with them now.

            My job is to love my neighbor as myself, and trust that God will justify me and judge, or forgive others, of all the wrongs I have received in life, at the end of our lives. The OT, God did it in their lifetime, because Jesus was not covering the sins of many, and God was still interested in him having a people to be born into.

            On a side note, it should appall people that Jesus forgave sins. He wasn’t forgiving people just of offending God; of stepping on Gods toes. He was forgiving people of stepping on other peoples toes. An idea like that would COMPLETELY get the Gospel rejected in say a middle eastern country, where the idea of a forgiving/loving God is offensive to their retributive God mindsets.

            We turn the other cheek because God holds the keys of Justice, and we too are in his debt; not because forgiveness is the right action. I am humbled to the point of love for my enemies, because God has been good to me. Forgiveness is unfair, and we serve an unfair God who forgives. That makes him look glorious. If God was fair, I’d be dead already. And God is also fair, we will never be able to remove the fairness of God from He who is also unfair. There’s a duality for you. Haha..

            “There are two kinds of people in this world, those who reject that they are forgiven, and those who accept it.” – I can’t remember.

            I think many people who are believers by word, but not by action and understanding, who will be involved in the weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Who told you to flee from the coming wrath?” God did; it was no merit of your own that you saw your need to be saved, so don’t boast about how good you are that you are saved, and how well you give 1/10th of your mint, you white washed tombs..

            “Broad is the road that leads to destruction, and narrow is the path that leads to life.” -somewhere in the NT.

            That scares me, I hope I’m on it, but I’m pretty selfish.
            I like you Kevin. Lets get a beer someday.

          • Kevin Miller

            Beer? Did somebody say beer? Still digesting this, Bryce. Thanks.

  • Edmund Conroy

    I think there’s three then – there’s the Young Neo-Reformed/Calvanist “God”, then there’s the Charismatic Arminian Loving God – Who is also Just – and then there’s the Rob Bell God – who frankly seems like he couldn’t be just…

  • Tracy

    You quote: “However, if we take an incarnational approach to the Bible, where we
    recognize the text is equal parts human and divine, new avenues of
    dialogue open up.” Can you explain what you mean by this sentence please? If ALL scripture is inspired by God – as scripture says, are you saying that we cannot trust it, since it was written by human hands? i am struggling with this, and while I agree with most of what you have said, I dont agree with universalism where all are in, whether they want to be or not. I don’t quite know if that is where you are heading with this? Anyway, good article and definitely food for thought.

    • Kevin Miller

      Tracy: Faithfulness to the Bible does not mean interpreting it in a literal fashion or offering our unquestioning obedience to even the most absurd or horrifying commandments. Rather, it’s about about questioning and challenging not only the text but also our interpretive traditions and the practices that grow out of them, especially when these traditions and practices hurt others. Jesus did this repeatedly, as did Paul and the Old Testament prophets. They were constantly running afoul of the religious authorities of their day precisely because they didn’t treat the text as the untouchable word of God. Instead, they consistently reinterpreted it, even reversing the author’s original intent. Our underlying hermeneutic can be found in the words of Jesus (quoting Isaiah), when he says God desires mercy, not sacrifice. Therefore, when we encounter texts that portray God as demanding sacrifice, we have a choice to make: Either accept that we’re dealing with a two-faced God who is sometimes loving and sometimes cruel or else consider that perhaps a human element has crept into the text, requiring us to wrestle through the multitude of competing voices.

      • Tracy

        I understand that. i just don’t know how to do it! When people say that every word in the bible is ‘inspired’ by God, meaning, God got them to write it down….. why would He tell them what to write, if it was untrue, or false in some way? If they wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, why would we then have to interpret it as wrong, or incorrect? I am sorry, i am just trying to work it out, as i know that Jesus is the exact representation of God, and what we see in the OT is subject to God relating to them on their level. I get that. i just don’t understand the ‘writing under the inspiration of the HS’ bit, if its not representing God clearly. i hope this makes some sort of sense. :)

  • SJ theivorylighthouse.blogspot

    I like that you drew a great picture of the binary that exists here but I can’t help but feel that a deeper issue came to the surface with the discussion of hell. In a lot of ways Rob Bell has written on only one topic through all of his books. If some Christian fundamental truth were proved false could we still have faith? Ironically his message has been perceived as quite the opposite. I think that is part of why Bell was taken by surprise to receive the kind of heat he did get from Love Wins. He does, however, raise a point that Christianity will be forced to recon with before the end of the century. If science and popular opinion prove something Christianity once thought as a fundamental to be false, could we still exist? The saddest part of the “Hell debate” (after the utter lack of civility and love from many major leaders) would be the overwhelming “no” to the question of “can we live without knowing everything?” I don’t know if future Christians will be given the luxury of “knowing.”

    Its so simple and yet so unnerving, the questions as well as the answers. We must get comfortable with questions, as puzzled as the disciples and yet still following Jesus. “What if ____isn’t a sin?” “what if there isn’t a hell?” “what if we’re all save?” In the middle of questions will we still live according to faith? As Paul said “should we then sin so that grace may abound? NO!” Part of our belief in salvation should be the redemption to turn away from evil without the fear of eternal pain and suffering chasing us into church.

  • Susan Gerard

    “…a toxic view of God”. Am I misguided if I read the Old Testament only, and see a loving God? Am I naive? What is fundamentally wrong with me, with the “me” that is supposed to be loving and compassionate and Christlike, if I see the God of the OT as Holy and desirous of what is good for us, so much so that He is preparing all along to save us from blood-sacrifice for our sins? Do I have a ‘felt board’ understanding of this God? When I look at the OT God, all I see is His holiness and His gift of Jesus. Does this reaction come in part from the dichotomy of your post? I’m not blind to the wrathful, ‘blood-drinking’ God of the OT. But I see love as well.

    I am not reformed. I don’t crave strong, charismatic leadership, rigid/inerrant interpretation of Scripture, condemnation of sinners. But I see a triune God, I cannot see the one without the others. And I know with all my being that God loves me, and that part of His love for us was that He gave us a mysterious but perfect sacrifice for and because of (don’t deny it) our sins.

    I do wonder why God chose a sacrificial ‘system’ when he could have chosen anything at all.

    • Kevin Miller

      The question I’m raising, Susan, is whether God chose a sacrificial system at all. Perhaps that was simply a human idea that God entered into through Christ in order to dispatch with it once and for all. When I read the Old Testament, I see an idea emerging that God not only rejects human sacrifice (think of the story of Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, Joseph and his brothers, etc.), he doesn’t want sacrifice at all. He desires mercy. This is why Jesus is the fulfillment of the law–he brings about an end to the old way of thinking not by becoming the perfect sacrifice (thus endorsing the sacrificial system) but by revealing our desire for sacrifice as the very thing standing between us and God.

      • Susan Gerard

        You are saying *we* chose the sacrificial system? I am so sorry. I need to reread your post.

        That makes sense to me now. Wow… and thank you so much.

        • Kevin Miller

          Exactly. The work of Rene Girard, Michael Hardin and others have had a huge influence on my thinking in this regard. I highly recommend Michael Hardin’s “The Jesus-Driven Life” and Michael Kirwan’s “Discovering Girard.”

  • Gaston Garcia

    What a beautiful article.

    Yep. I believe we’re actually seeing the end of hell. Not all types of hell, but the end of literal hell.

    I wrote a tiny essay on on the subject: