The Need for a More Christlike God: An Interview with Brad Jersak

The Need for a More Christlike God: An Interview with Brad Jersak April 29, 2015

moreChristlikeBook_trans_270Today’s post is an interview with Brad Jersak, author of A More Christlike God, which came out last week.

The book, with a foreword by Brian Zahnd, is about how replacing whatever image of God we have with a more Christlike image of God is central to the Gospel being truly good news. ​Brad Jersak (PhD) serves on faculty at Westminster Theological Centre (UK), where he teaches New Testament and Patristics. He is also senior editor of CWR Magazine. ​

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your spiritual journey

I grew up in the Canadian Evangelical scene and sensed a lifelong call to ministry from a very early age. In the course of pursuing theological training, I met and married Eden. After seminary, I eventually pastored in two congregations (one Mennonite, one Renewal focused) for twenty years (1988-2008).

In 2003, I began writing books (10 now) and doing seminars, especially on the topic of ‘listening prayer.’ In 2008, I left pastoring and completed a PhD in theology (Bangor, Wales). I am now on faculty at Westminster Theological Centre (UK) teaching New Testament and Patristics and am senior editor of CWR Magazine (Pasadena). Over the last 12 years, my journey progressively led me toward and finally into the Eastern Orthodox Church, where I was ordained ‘Reader’ in 2013.

So, in a sentence or two, can you tell us what your book is about?

In the church and the world, toxic images of God abound—retributive notions of God that look nothing like what Jesus revealed in his life or teachings. A More Christlike God portrays God as exactly like Christ crucified: self-giving, radically forgiving, compassionate love.

Why did you write this book? What’s your big vision?

I want to share the good news that if God is perfect love revealed perfectly through Christ, then the gospel is more beautiful than we ever imagined. People who find that God is actually Christlike might be freed to love him again.

So many people, from Christian to Muslim to Atheist, believe in soul-damaging images of God. They either live in fear and bondage within that abusive belief system; act as its agents who perpetuate the abuse, or reject faith altogether because of their distorted conceptions of God no longer work. This book is especially for Christians who are ready to consider the Christlike God, especially post-Evangelicals who already instinctively know something is “off” and want confirmation that their faith has not been in vain.

Can you give us an overview the book? What should we expect to find?

Part I is called What is God like? Competing images of Will and Love. When we ask, ‘What is God like?’ we soon discover many toxic and un-Christlike images of God, even among Christians. These images range from the almighty God of raw will to the good God who reigns by love and consent. The New Testament claim is that the perfect image of the invisible God is revealed in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Part II is The Cruciform God where I state that the God revealed through Christ is seen most clearly at the Cross. A ‘cruciform’ God, by nature, consents to the afflictions caused through natural law and human freedom. But he also participates in and transforms our suffering world as self-giving, radically forgiving, co-suffering love.

Finally, Part III is Unwrathing God. Since Christ reveals God as cruciform, the biblical notion of ‘wrath’ shifts from any active violence in God to a metaphor for God ‘giving us over’ (consenting to) the intrinsic, tragic consequences of our own defiance. It establishes the Cross, not as a place where God demands wrath as appeasement, but renounces wrath in favor of forgiveness. This plays out in a more beautiful gospel, where God never turns from or against sinners, but is relentless in his mercy, demonstrated on the Cross.

Can you give us 3 compelling quotes that really capture what the book is about?

“We believe Jesus has shown us the face and heart of God through the fullness of his life on earth: revealed through eyewitness accounts of his birth, ministry, death and resurrection. We regard this life as the decisive revelation and act of God in time and space. That’s still a faith statement, but for Christians, it is our starting point. To look at Jesus—especially on the Cross, says 1 John—is to behold the clearest depiction of the God who is love (1 John 4:8). I’ve come to believe that Jesus alone is perfect theology” (9).

When I personally turned my gaze to the God who is completely Christlike, I was confronted with how un-Christlike the ‘church- God’ or even the ‘Bible-God’ can be. Setting Jesus as the standard for perfect theology, many of our current Christian beliefs and practices would obviously face indictment. Even significant swaths of biblical literature don’t line up well with the Christ of the Gospels. Claiming that God is revealed perfectly in Jesus triggers tough questions about the God I once conceived and preached” (13).

“For our own sakes, we might take a break from trying to convince ourselves that Jesus was and is God and to spend this twenty-first century meditating on the truth that God is like Jesus. Exactly like Jesus. When the veil that obscured God was torn in two, what did it reveal? A Suffering Servant who hangs on the Cross (Zech. 12:10)! Thus, every human conception we previously associated with ‘God’ is uprooted, root and branch!” (22)

If you had to name them, what 1-2 parts of the book are you particularly excited about?

I am enthusiastic about introducing and explaining the language of ‘cruciform’ (cross-shaped) and ‘kenotic’ (self-giving) so that any thoughtful person can ‘get it’ quite easily.

I also work hard to explain ‘wrath’ in biblical context as a metaphor for the intrinsic consequences of sin rather than active violent intervention. Clarifying the language we use for God is important because the words themselves become images that either reveal or distort our perception of who he is.

I am even more excited about chapter 14, our description of ‘The Beautiful Gospel,’ which is an adaptation of a presentation called ‘The Gospel in Chairs’ (originally composed by Fr. Anthony Karbo). It demonstrates how God does not turn from anyone until they turn to him, but rather, is always for us and always toward us, as seen over and over through the life of Christ … supremely on the Cross. A growing network of friends has been trying to popularize the presentation in many settings (including prisons, S. African townships, university classrooms) with incredible responses. As people’s image of God becomes Christlike, the gospel once again is heard as good news.

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  • I agree with most of what Jersak says. However, I disagree with his Part III. God does not renounce wrath against sin. God sees sin as an evil disease that is killing us – similar to ebola. Sin must be destroyed, just as ebola must be destroyed. That is what God’s wrath is against. It is not against us, but the disease of sin that is killing us.

    • kent hartmann

      I think what Jersak is saying is that wrath is not anger-fueled retribution but is what Paul said it is in Romans 1…the natural, inherent consequences that flow from sin itself. When god’s nature is seen as love, then even his wrath has to come from this nature. Therefore, wrath cannot be what we’ve been taught it is. I agree with you that sin is better seen as a disease that is to be healed than a crime that needs punished, and I agree that god hates sin and has done everything needed to allow us to be healed from sin’s disease.

      • I don’t think we disagree, Kent. God hates sin, hates what it does to us, and in the end will eradicate it. I suspect that both of us (and Jersak) reject the Penal Substitutionary view of Atonement, and see that view as a big part of the problem in evangelical Christianity.

    • Brad

      I think I’m tracking with you. Where I go in great detail in the book is unpacking how God renounced wrath against people as the solution to sin. He overcame wrath through self-giving love and radical forgiveness, and by conquering death itself by his resurrection. Said another way, he overcame wrath by love and overcame death by death and resurrection.

      • Unfortunately, I think we may disagree. I think God’s wrath has always been and continues to be against sin as an evil that must be eradicated from human beings. I think the problem is the Penal Substitutionary view of Atonement (PSA), which teaches that our guilt was transferred to Jesus, who was then punished in order to satisfy retributive justice, allowing God to forgive us. I don’t believe that this is the correct understanding of Biblical teaching. The sin offering of the OT was a way of cleansing the person of sin, by absorbing it into the sacrificial animal. The innocent blood of the animal was then used to cleanse the Temple. But the sacrificial animal did not need to die in order to cleanse the person of sin. This is made clear in scapegoat on the day of Atonement. The goat absorbs the sins of the people and is sent out into the wilderness, and the people are considered cleansed of sin.

        The sacrificial death of Jesus parallels this exactly. Our sin is absorbed by him when he is on the cross (that is what was meant by his becoming a curse). His death is a death to sin. By participating in his death, we too die to sin. We each are now meant to be a temple of God, in whom the Spirit of God is to dwell. Thus we each must be cleansed of sin continually by the blood of Jesus.

        It sounds to me as if you think that you need to reject the view that God’s wrath against sin still exists. If so, then I think there is something seriously wrong with your view, that ends up coddling sin, which would be a very serious error.

        • Spencer

          But what we would fail to realize is that God’s wrath against sin actually parallels our own human conception of what solves the world’s problems. “You hurt me, so you need to be punished.” Is God so naive?

          • Spencer, I reject Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) theory, so I believe it is mistaken to view Jesus as somehow being punished for our sins. I think the Biblical view is that sin is eradicated from our lives by Jesus’s death. It is a difficult view for us to undestand. I think Athanasius’ view probably comes closest. Sin has corrupted us and will eventually lead to our death. The Word joins us in our death and recreates us.

            Sin is still the evil that God hates and will eliminate from our lives in order that we may have new life. The process begins in us now, but won’t be completed until we see Jesus face to face. But that process means that we are to cooperate with God now in removing sin from our lives as best we can.

      • By the way, I think the story of the bronze serpent gives us the insight we need to understand the Atonement.

  • Eric Oppenhuizen

    I’m always looking for something that is going to challenge my thinking. It seems that one who moved from a being a conservative western evangelical to eventually being ordained in the Eastern Orthodox tradition has an interesting story and perspectives to go with that. Can’t wait to read this, the article teased me a little too much. “Setting Jesus as thfe standard for perfect theology, many of our current Christian beliefs and practices would obviously face indictment.” This is a strong statement, I’m curious of what kinds of beliefs and practices he discusses in light of this.

  • Rick

    I find it interesting how many NT, OT, and Christian history scholars end up in Anglicanism or EO, or on the outskirts of the Great Tradition such as Methodism.

    • newenglandsun

      the eo have always had a great impact on greek patristic studies but what about catholics? there are plenty of catholics who end up becoming church historians. for instance, cardinal danielou. and there is hardly much practice in biblical theology within the eastern orthodox church. there are perhaps more catholic biblical scholars (or at least people who consider themselves catholic) than there are eastern orthodox biblical scholars. also, within the realm of anglo-catholicism (or high anglicanism), there aren’t too many biblical scholars either. the anglican biblical scholars are largely of evangelical or broad anglican perspective.

  • Rust Cohle

    I think it is a mistaken premise to consider everything about Jesus to be be ethically superior; some of Jesus’ behaviors and teachings are certainly worthy of moral critique, just as much as the Old Testament deity is worthy of critique.

    Avolos, H. (2015) The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics. Sheffield Phoenix Press Ltd.

    • newenglandsun

      ironic that the author of that particular book also wrote another book called “the end of biblical studies” and yet still continues in biblical studies…

      • Rust Cohle

        He was critiquing “Biblical Studies” as “academic biblical scholarship was primarily an apologetic religionist enterprise.” If you imagine he engages in apologetics, you should actually read what he writes.

        • newenglandsun

          i never said avalos engaged in apologetics. however, to turn it into a religion critiquing exercise seems to me to be equally nonsensical and laughable.

  • Without Malice

    A more Christ-like God; I’m sure that will be on every Jew’s reading list.

  • James

    Of course you can’t include everything in a single book. But what about resurrection to complete the picture? Note Jurgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope. I hope you are not implying God’s power and authority are submerged in processes unique to the present universe a la Alfred North Whitehead. Or am I over my head?

    • Brad

      Yes, I do a lot with the resurrection in this book. The reason for the focus on the cruciform God is because the cross uniquely reveals the nature of God, while the resurrection confirms that revelation as true. To quote Simone Weil, even if Hitler were resurrected 50 times, I would not worship him. It is the God revealed through Christ crucified that wins our hearts. The resurrection, then, is absolutely necessary because it means the crucified One is alive and present.

      • James

        Thank you for the reply. The comparison with Hitler seems out of place. Resurrection not only confirms crucifixion to be true but also reveals the nature of God as not only cruciform but truly creative, something evil autocrats can’t quite manage. And New Creation comes to us ultimately from outside-the-box, God in Christ, power and great glory. We should be careful to keep these facets of God’s nature, death and resurrection, in dynamic tension. Maybe you do, I should read your book!

    • newenglandsun

      there are lots of christians who take an apophatic approach to the biblical usage of the wrath of god. mostly eastern catholics, eastern orthodox, oriental orthodox, and the assyrian church of the east but a fair number of high anglicans and roman catholics do so as well. they are hardly process theologians though.

  • Jerry Shepherd

    An alternative perspective, in case any of your readers want to check it out.

    • Mike H

      Wow. Quite a review, and before the book was released! Is the “farewell” tweet forthcoming?

      I have a lot of interest in the book, and so did read your whole review. A few observations even though it seems stupid to respond to a review of a book that neither of us has read:

      I think you pick up on a lot of the things Jersak will have to address to make a convincing argument. Christians usually make a compelling case that God is angry, violent, genocidal – mercy seems to be more of a loophole. Given the right verses, the Bible makes it fairly easy to do. I look forward to seeing how Jersak navigates that.

      You seem to portray the entire (unread) book as an attack on “biblical theology”. Really though, your portrayal is that it’s an attack on a particular biblical theology, hermeneutic, and theory of inspiration (verbal plenary inspiration). Certainly what you and others mean by “biblical theology” is not what Jersak and others mean, or what others have meant throughout history. We could lob bible verse and church father quote grenades back and forth, but I’ve no interest in that.

      If the book is as you say, I think it likely that Jersak will respond to the accusation of being a “Marcionite” and that he’s well aware of your examples of wrath.

      Re: penal substitutionary atonement. Virtually any critique of this theory is met with the accusation that it’s being caricatured and has ALWAYS been the position of the church (I noted that the vast majority of your list is post-reformation and debatable…other than the Calvinists). While there is disagreement in the PSA details, I’ve read too much on the subject to be fooled by either of those claims. What would you point to as a fair representation of the theory?

      • Jerry Shepherd

        Hi Mike H,

        No “farewell” tweet forthcoming. I’ll have to work on the rhyme, maybe something like, “Slip out the back, Jersak”! But, no, I’m not at that stage–yet.

        I felt pretty comfortable doing the review, because I’m already quite familiar with the arguments, and I don’t expect anything new. But, who knows? Maybe I’ll be surprised.

        On the biblical theology point, I am one of those who consider Irenaeus to be the father of biblical theology, which is why I referred to him so much in the review. The “hiccup” in the whole history of biblical theology comes with Gabler, which was ok as he expressed it, but which soon degenerated into a history of religions approach. The heirs, however, of a true biblical theology would be people like Geerhardus Vos, Herman Ridderbos, Richard Gaffin, Brevard Childs, Craig Bartholomow, Michael Goheen, Scott Hahn, etc.

        If you’ll go back and look at the review, that list of names I gave was not with reference to PSA, but with regard to retributive punishment. That being said, the list as is, with perhaps the exception of Jerome, would work for PSA as well. If you have any inclination to do so, you can check on my blog, starting with Ash Wednesday, where I provided each day a quotation from a church father with regard to the death of Christ, most of them, in my opinion, supportive of PSA. Among the quotations are ones from the Epistle of Diognetus, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Eusebius, Athanasius, Hilary of Poitiers, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Augustine, and Cyril of Alexandria. What would I point to? I’m very comfortable with the books on this by Leon Morris, John Stott, I. Howard Marshall, J. I. Packer, the edited volume, The Glory of the Atonement, and more recently, works by Scot McKnight, Jeremy Treat. Also, though he likes to play on the edges, NT Wright identifies himself as a PSA adherent as well.
        If anything is unclear here, please get back to me.

        • Mike H

          Thanks for the clarification.

          Regarding PSA though (which is in your review), language that indicates Christ as “substitute” And “sacrifice” and/or references to “payment” aren’t IMO necessarily supportive of PSA as formulated by Calvin – a particular way of looking at the cross as a way to satisfy divine wrath. And NT Wright offers a far different view than say, JI Packer.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Hi Mike. There are always going to be differences between PSA advocates as to exactly how they articulate the doctrine; but I believe the terms you pointed out do indeed converge toward a fuller, more theoretical formulation such as is found in Calvin. Wright’s view is different than, as you suggest, Packer’s, but I would not characterize as it as “far” different. As I said, Wright likes to play on the edges, and sometimes his attempts at nuancing his own views sometimes seem to obscure rather than clarify. Nevertheless he does describe Jesus’ death as atoning, as substitutionary, and as penal. If these elements are admitted, the exact articulation, as I said, may look different as you move from theologian to theologian. But I believe they are, nevertheless, working the same conceptual schema.

        • Andrew Dowling

          “I felt pretty comfortable doing the review, because I’m already quite
          familiar with the arguments, and I don’t expect anything new.”

          Wow, how incredibly dismissive and juvenile. Your “pre-emptive attack” shows your more interested in circling the wagons, protecting your conception of “biblical theology” (whatever that means . . I suppose it means the theology you agree with) at all costs, without any possibility of self-critique or humility.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Hi Andrew. I may be dismissive, but I believe informedly so. Certainly not juvenile. As I said, I’m already familiar with the arguments, and they are characterized by sweeping generalizations, non sequiturs, false dichotomies, ad hominems, and simply the failure to honestly confront the evidence. For example, in Jersak’s answer to Daniel’s very legitimate question above, he simply ignored the evidence, and took the crucifixion as being the “punchline” to all the things Jesus said about coming judgment: “Hey, I was just foolin’ ya with all that judgment talk; it was a joke.” This is in no way serious exegesis, and does not constitute an honest attempt to deal with the text. And it completely sidesteps the fact that Jesus talks about the judgment which will come against Jerusalem as coming precisely on account of how they treated the Son of God in the crucifixion. The proper response to this failure to deal with the evidence in a serious and honest manner is, in fact, dismissiveness. The biblical text is not a playground for all kinds of speculative theologizing.
            “Biblical theology” is simply, as I use the term, an attempt to understand the totality of the biblical revelation as a unified account of God’s workings in a redemptive-history.

          • newenglandsun

            “For example, in Jersak’s answer to Daniel’s very legitimate question above, he simply ignored the evidence, and took the crucifixion as being the “punchline” to all the things Jesus said about coming judgment: “Hey, I was just foolin’ ya with all that judgment talk; it was a joke.””

            first off, there are several problems with this–first off, the conception that the historic tradition of the church does not take god’s emotions as reflecting of humanity’s emotions.

            1. “Admittedly, in speaking about God like this, our language is using human modes of expression; nevertheless it really does attain to God himself, though unable to express him in his infinite simplicity. Likewise, we must recall that “between Creator and creature no similitude can be expressed without implying an even greater dissimilitude”; and that “concerning God, we cannot grasp what he is, but only what he is not, and how other beings stand in relation to him.”” (CCC, 43)
            2. “Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you. And if David calls Him just and upright (cf. Ps. 24:8, 144:17), His Son revealed to us that He is good and kind. ‘He is good,’ He says, ‘to the evil and to the impious’ (cf. Luke 6:35). How can you call God just when you come across the Scriptural passage on the wage given to the workers? ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong: I will give unto this last even as unto thee. Is thine eye evil because I am good?’ (Matt. 20:12-15). How can a man call God just when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son who wasted his wealth with riotous living, how for the compunction alone which he showed, the father ran and fell upon his neck and gave him authority over all his wealth? (Luke 15:11 ff.). None other but His very Son said these things concerning Him, lest we doubt it; and thus He bare witness concerning Him. Where, then, is God’s justice, for whilst we are sinners Christ died for us! (cf. Rom. 5:8). But if here He is merciful, we may believe that He will not change [re: the state after death, as St. Isaac mentions below].” (st. isaac of nineveh, Homily 51)
            3. “Many of the things relating to God, therefore, that are dimly understood cannot be put into fitting terms, but on things above us we cannot do else than express ourselves according to our limited capacity; as, for instance, when we speak of God we use the terms sleep, and wrath, and regardlessness, hands, too, and feet, and such like expressions. … His forgetfulness and sleep and slumbering are His delay in taking vengeance on His enemies and the postponement of the accustomed help to His own.”” (St. John of Damascus, An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book I)

            secondly, no one is taking the prophecy’s of impending judgment as a “joke”. what’s odd is that the evangelicals claiming they have finally “softened” up hell by referring to c.s. lewis’s “the great divorce” have actually said the same thing as those who reject a literal expression of the wrath of god do. they haven’t actually “softened” up hell as there really is no general dogmatically explicit view on hell in the church to begin with. and many church fathers (including isaac of nineveh) were actually universalists.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Hi again newenglandsun. I don’t really know how you’re two long quotations have any direct relevance to the issue under discussion. Were we talking about divine impassibility? And I’m sorry, I’m having trouble making sense of your last paragraph.

          • newenglandsun

            you were talking about jesus’s judgment and how it proves the wrathful vengeafulness of god. i have given you much quotation on the overall transcendence of god that shows that christians have NOT historically understood these passages as proving some sort of whacked-up psychotic god.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Nor have I. I do not consider a god who executes righteous judgement on the wicked to be a whacked-up psychotic god.

          • newenglandsun

            so would you identify as the older brother in the prodigal son, then?

          • Jerry Shepherd

            I have no idea what you’re getting at here. But, I’ll simply say that I self-identify as a sinner saved by an incredible and lavish outpouring of grace as Jesus died in my place on the cross.

          • newenglandsun

            he didn’t die in your place. he died with you so that you could be raised to new life with him. read rom. 6:1-4.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            You call attention to an important facet of Christ’s death, but it is reductionistic in the extreme to reduce the atonement to a “co-death.” Before it is that, it is a substitutionary death, “the just for the unjust” (1 Pet 3:18). And Jesus does not die with us; he does not join in our death. Rather, by our putting our faith in Christ, and by our baptism, we die with him. It is an important distinction.

          • newenglandsun

            you seem to understand “for” to mean “in the place of” or “instead of”. that is not what the word “for” necessarily has to mean. hence why i find no evidence for penal substitutionary atonement theory in the bible. you say that jesus does not die with us…then what happened on the cross? read especially matt. 27:46.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            The context in 1 Pet 3:18 “just for [hyper] the unjust,” seems to be much more consonant with substitution (in place of) than any other explanation. What happened on the cross? Jesus dies my death, not along with me, but in place of me. I don’t see how Matt 27:46 supports your argument.

          • newenglandsun

            i still don’t see why “for” needs to mean “in place of”.

          • Mike H

            Did you expect that kind of exegesis in a blog comment post?

            That’d be more feasibly done in a book…like the one he wrote…that you reviewed but haven’t read.

            You may be right in your critiques – I’ll read it for myself. But I’ve also seen enough out of biblical theology that holds to a “unified view of biblical revelation” (see verbal plenary) to recognize that they also come in with a set of lenses, to recognize the twisting and intellectual gymnastics, forced harmonization, dispensations, Gods “secret will”, selectivity in when to take the “plain meaning” and when not to, etc – to be well aware that even the most ardent and rigid inerrantist effectively (thru biblical theology) throws out the pieces of the biblical jigsaw puzzle that don’t fit whether they admit it or not.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Hi Mike. No, I certainly did not expect full-blown exegesis. But I did expect more than simply a cryptic comment about a punchline in some way negating all Jesus’ comments about the reality of divine retributive punishment. Also, I cannot share your rather cynical views about biblical theology. I have seen too much excellently done academic biblical theology to share that cynicism. We may be moving in very different biblical-theological circles. The people I referred to before–Vos, Ridderbos, Gaffin, Childs, Bartholomew, Goheen, Hahn–certainly cannot be typically characterized that way. Add to that group Beale, Levering, Longman, Carson, Scobie, Hafemann and many other very fine scholars.

          • newenglandsun

            sorry, grammar nazi–couldn’t resist–when calling someone “juvenile”, it’s best to use proper grammar. as i am not calling any one juvenile in this particular response, i have intentionally decided to not use proper grammar.

            grammar mistake: “shows your[???] more interested in…”

      • newenglandsun

        i recall one of pelikan’s books on the historical tradition of the church actually EXPLICITLY makes the points that there were MASSIVE variations on atonement views within the ancient church. it isn’t until the reformed come along that all of a sudden, we have to accept penal substitutionary atonement or worship mary and go to hell (literally, most of the converts to catholicism and orthodoxy back then did so because of the atonement).

        • Don’t even get started on the Trinity! One of the bad side effects of Church councils is that their finality obscures the variety of views that existed in the conversation at the time.

          • newenglandsun

            i wouldn’t call it a “bad side effect” but rather that christians tend to assume that the finality of councils shows that “this was the only belief at the time”. the problem is that the councils needed to be held in order to explain what the faith was. hence, no need for a council without an existing dispute. but one problem is that we have non-chalcedonians and even non-ephesians who’s theologies aren’t entirely anathema with respect to the hypostatic union.

        • Jerry Shepherd

          Hi newenglandsun. I replied to this earlier, but I think it got lost in cyberspace. So if another version of this reply shows up you can ignore it. In any case, I was reading Pelikan myself recently, and he made the point, contra Aulen, that what Aulen referred to as the classical theory was by no means the predominant theory in the early church, and that the church fathers would have very much been multi-faceted in their understanding of what Christ’s death accomplished. But I doubt that he would have referred to “massive variations” on the atonement. If you have documentation on this I would appreciate it. Thanks.

          • newenglandsun

            “To be sure, other ways of speaking about the atonement were too widespread even among the Greek fathers to permit us to ascribe exclusive or even primary force to one theory, but Christ as victor was more important in orthodox expositions of salvation and reconciliation than Western dogmatics has recognized.” (Pelikan, “The Christian Tradition, vol. 1”, p. 149)

            All I was trying to say is that there is no explicit view of the atonement that has become official doctrine in any denomination other than the Reformed denominations in which PSA is the dominant theory.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Thanks. I believe this is the same resource I was referring to. Two observations: (1) This is a far cry from “MASSIVE variations.” (2) Your last statement is not really correct. There are a number or denominations which would not be characterized as Reformed, even ones that would self-denominate as Arminian, which includes definite PSA formulations in their statements of faith. In some cases, it is not in the statement of faith, but it is the understood default position of the church.

          • newenglandsun

            i suppose “massive” may have been hyperbole…however, the overall intended point was that psa was not the dominant atonement theory in the church. also, arminianism is a part of the reformed tradition clinging on to total depravity as well. and while some arminian churches assume psa to be the only viable atonement doctrine, that is generally because these churches typically have a very low level knowledge of historic tradition and also have poorly equipped (theologically speaking) church members.

            my first church was actually a church that made dogmatic the psa theory of the atonement and it was an evangelical, non-denominational, arminian church. it suffered the problems of being poorly equipped theologically. now that i’ve been able to study more of the history of the church myself (about to get degrees in religious studies and history too but that’s honestly not saying much as anybody can browse through the patristics and read books on atonement theories and even ask their friends who study this stuff), i would have to conclude that psa suffers more problems than it solves. my dad, who is an engineer and is poorly trained theologically as well, would probably be one to agree that jesus’s death was entirely substitutionary–he even mocks theosis.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            You are certainly correct that Arminianism, historically, was an attempt to “tweak” things while still affirming Reformed theology. But as things have developed, Arminianism is no longer a branch of Reformed Theology, but an antithesis to it.

          • newenglandsun

            as i am neither arminian nor calvinist, i would not know the nuanced debates within the reformed traditions as they exist today.

  • Kim Fabricius

    “God is Christlike, and in Him there is no unchristlikeness at all.”
    — Archbishop Michael Ramsey

  • Daniel Fisher

    “Unwrathing” God? One would think a more Christ-informed view of God would therefore be compelled to understand God as one who will “cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”; and who will send some “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”….

    Therefore, in following Christ’s own teaching, surely we ought then to “fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.” I’m not sure how “unwrathing”, then, fits with Christ’s own teaching about the subject?

    • Mike H

      Don’t forget that he made a whip!

    • Brad

      The revelation of God in Christ is seen ultimately in the self-giving love of Christ that overcomes our pagan views of a wrathful God, and supplies the punchline to all of Christ’s teachings on the topic. ‘Unwrathing’ is about God-in-Christ freeing us from wrath (the intrinsic wages of sin), saving us from Satan, sin and death. God was in Christ, reconciling us to himself through forgiveness, NOT saving us from GOD, as if Christ were a virgin thrown into a volcano to appease some offended deity. Wrath-appeasement theology does not describe the Abba Jesus revealed, but rather, wreaks of Molech. That image is precisely what Christ ‘unwrathed’ by showing us the glory of God by hanging on a Cross rather than consuming his enemies.

      • Daniel Fisher

        Brad, thanks for the additional thoughts. One additional thought, if I may… You stated:

        “The revelation of God in Christ is seen ultimately in the self-giving love of Christ that overcomes our pagan views of a wrathful God, and supplies the punchline to all of Christ’s teachings on the topic.” Let me see if I am understanding you correctly….

        Can I restate your thought here by saying that “the revelation of God in Christ is seen ultimately in the self-giving love of Christ that overcomes CHRIST’S views of a wrathful God”?

    • Andrew Dowling

      You are literalizing ancient hyperbole and apocalyptic language (not to mention ignoring higher criticism and the redaction of the Gospels, but we don’t even have to go there)

      • newenglandsun

        because higher criticism and redaction which say jesus is not truth are totally providing truth, right?

        • Andrew Dowling

          ? ? You aren’t understanding what higher criticism is if your definition of it is declaring “Jesus is not truth” . . .

          • newenglandsun

            actually, that’s what most higher critics of the bible have contended…that basically, we’ve had bad christianity for so long now and now that we’ve come along, we’ve finally understood what it all means…etc. but again, considering that you have shown prior ignorance on the overall complexities between higher criticism and the catholic church, it seems ought also that you would find it difficult to see why also higher criticism has significant conflict with other churches besides.

          • Andrew Dowling

            I’m just going to say you need to read more and put your ego in your back pocket. You have serious misunderstandings about what higher criticism is.

          • newenglandsun

            i’ve written a paper on the historical development of higher criticism. higher criticism was a long and difficult process to accept not just for catholics but for many protestants as well. bishop colenzo, one of the first higher critics from the anglican communion, was actually tried for heresy.

            now, before you go ego-accusing of me, you have come out extraordinarily egoistic yourself. so how about i put my ego in my back pocket when you do? i’m curious to know what exactly my misunderstandings though of higher criticism though are, god. could you correct me on this, high and mighty master of higher criticism god who knows all about higher criticism god?

            of the following, which higher critics might have issues amongst churchmen of all species–bishop john shelby spong, john dominic crossan, bart d. ehrman? would n.t. wright be considered a higher critic for you? you see how the field of higher criticism seems to contain much scholars who both challenge traditional hermeneutical methods and those who support traditional hermeneutical methods but those who support tend to be protestants who also would be considered maintainers of orthodoxy–more theologians than critics.

            perhaps i might be confused on this topic but, alas, andrew dowling, the great god of biblical criticism who knows all there is to know about not only biblical criticism but also history and the bible itself entirely on his own just simply refuses to correct me on this topic. this was a major reason i left protestantism. i had questions and everyone i turned to ask questions of all pretended to be god and never actually gave me a straight answer. i shall await a straight answer from you, god who knows all about higher criticism.

          • Andrew Dowling

            I’ve already noted that your definition and presumptions of HC are flawed. Frankly I’m not sure how much good will come of further discussion with you. I remember your profanity-fueled tirades on Scot McKnight’s blog not that long ago. You seem to have calmed down a bit since your reemergence on Patheos but your tone above suggests to me you could jump over the edge again if you feel provoked. So I’ll just leave it at that.

          • newenglandsun

            “I’ve already noted that your definition and presumptions of HC are flawed”
            yeah…not to the extent that has really “cleared up” the issues…

            but i’m glad that i have a higher criticism god here now to finally explain everything i’m missing in good detail.

            “You seem to have calmed down a bit since your reemergence on Patheos but your tone above suggests to me you could jump over the edge again if you feel provoked”
            here, we’re all moderated so if i do that, peter will send a message in my inbox letting me know my comment was not approved…(and yes, that actually has happened)

          • peteenns

            NES, if I may chime in, I see that here and elsewhere you have some rather strong views on HC that strike me without knowing you–as rather naive. You mention you wrote a paper the development of the acceptance of HC? Can you tell us where and in what capacity? Were you taught various HC methods, etc. as part of your own academic training, or are you looking at it all from a distance?

          • newenglandsun

            it was for an approaches to religion class where the professor took an approach to the class focusing on the context of modernity and religion. i decided to focus on my paper on the development of higher criticism and the challenges it posed toward religious views (specifically in the context of protestant christianity but the professor and i also talked about how i could have easily applied it to focus on judaism and its interactions with higher criticism or even catholicism and its interactions with higher criticism). his training is more in missiology. of course, as higher criticism has a huge overlap with missiology, there is quite a load of knowledge there.

            specific academic training in higher criticism–i’ve studied biblical hebrew for my second language requirement and as interaction with the text was a key requirement for the language requirement, methods of higher criticism were quite involved. as well, i’ve taken another class on new testament where we focused on higher criticism of the new testament. i thought about taking a similar class on the hebrew bible but i was rather fed up with higher criticism at that point in time and instead focused my attention on literary approaches to the hebrew bible (something of the sort that english majors would take–in fact, two out of four in the class were not only taking it for english credit but also were english majors themselves). also, the professor (having been a biblical hebrew professor of mine previously and also having been a professor for one class on judaism and the origins of christianity–another class which involved methods of higher criticism) was more familiar to me.

            according to a student in another class i took this semester,the class offered on the hebrew bible (not the literary approaches to the hebrew bible class) wasn’t all that great any way.

        • Daniel Fisher

          Andrew, I hear what you’re saying… But I’m curious: If every single one of Christ’s words about God’s vengeful judgment should not be understood literally, then how can one accept as literal or otherwise authoritative his words about the forgiveness and kindness and love of God?

          Similarly, if higher criticism / redaction concerns mean that I cannot conclude that Jesus spoke about hell and God’s wrath, then I should be similarly dubious that he ever spoke about God’s mercy and eternal life.

          Otherwise, it starts to look like arguing,”those teachings of Jesus that I personally dislike are hyperbolic and/or negated by higher criticism, and those which I do like are literal and/or confirmed by higher criticism.”

          (Besides, Jesus’ beliefs about hell and God’s vengeance are so ubiquitous throughout his teachings, and attested by the multiple hypothesized sources (Q, Mark, etc.) that if we can’t conclude that Jesus embraced this idea, then there is very little whatsoever that we can have confidence in that he taught at all about anything.)

          • newenglandsun

            you are responding to andrew but are replying to my comment. and i came to the conclusion that god was not wrathful not through higher criticism or redactionist theories but through the understanding of the church.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “Similarly, if higher criticism / redaction concerns mean that I cannot conclude that Jesus spoke about hell and God’s wrath, then I should be similarly dubious that he ever spoke about God’s mercy and eternal life.”

            The “well if I can’t trust Jesus said this, how can I trust anything” is a sloppy throw-away argument and doesn’t understand how scholars and critics make the decisions they make regarding layers of tradition, redaction etc.

            First off, “hell” is found not anywhere in the Gospels; Gehenna and Hades are. They show up in 14 different passages in the Gospels. Of those 14, a whopping 9 are in Matthew. They are never mentioned in John.

            So a relevant question is . . .does Gehenna-which isn’t ECT in Jewish thought BTW-constitute a “ubiquitious aspect” of Jesus’s ministry and theology either barely mentioned or ignored altogether in certain recollections of Jesus’s ministry? Or is it more a component of Matthew the evangelist’s theology (esp. since he loves to tack on references to gnashing of teeth and Gehenna to sayings/stories which lack that redaction elsewhere)-again more illustrating a thirst for justice/judgment for oppressors via metaphoric language than a literal “seer” version of the afterlife- which later became more fully developed by Christian writers into the ‘hell’ concept common to orthodox Christianity?

            I know what sounds more probable to me.

          • newenglandsun

            yes…i think i do understand (at least to the extent it can be understood) what higher criticism is. “is it more a component of Matthew the evangelist’s theology”

            it is the process of interpreting the bible based on, “this is this individual’s theology and should not be the church’s theology”…

            um…can you at least try to understand high and mighty god who knows all there is to know about higher criticism (andrew dowling) as to why there are a considerable amount of christians who have difficulties accepting higher critical methods of biblical studies?

          • Andrew Dowling

            No, HC is not interpreting the Bible based on personal theology. It’s assessing an ancient text using similar methodologies to how other ancient texts are assessed. It also doesn’t make a judgment call on what ‘the church’s’ theology should be. Ironically many scholars hold formal church positions, so your dichotomy is a false one.

          • newenglandsun

            and equally, many scholars do not hold to formal church positions…

          • Andrew Dowling

            Also I notice I’ve made several responses to your comments. Please know I respect your willingness to defend your viewpoints in a forum with a lot of prope who disagree with you.

  • Mark K

    As a confirmed ‘post-evangelical who already knew something was “off” and can always benefit from more confirmation that faith has not been wasted or lost’ I very much appreciate this interview and book. Taken with the Bright Yellow Book by Pete Enns (TBTMS), this is a knockout combination for the Christian-ish mere churchianity that dominated my life for decades.

    And they’re both written in a way that I can share them with anyone at all–no technical knowledge needed.

  • Michael Hardin

    I find it striking that there is such a knee jerk reaction from the Evangelical community to books like Brad Jersak’s A More Christlike God. One would think that a community that calls itself after the ‘evangel’ , the good news, would really seek to actually have good news. If there is one thing I think can be said about the past fifty years of theology is that the Augustinian/Calvinist default position has been challenged as to its presumption, a presumption that the ‘Evangelical’ alone has the ‘biblical viewpoint’ or engages in ‘biblical theology.’ Jesus has thankfully returned to modern theology as the lens by which we read Scripture, tradition and experience.

    One can, if one so chooses, spend an inordinate amount of time seeking to claim a heritage that traces itself back through the Reformed tradition to Augustine and, if one is avant garde, argue that one is in fact ‘in line with the early fathers.’ The question that gets begged is whether this trajectory itself has already been compromised. So for someone to say, Irenaeus is the first great biblical theologian (as Mr Shepherd does) is disingenuous for it assumes that the apostolic churches and figures were themselves not models of how to read Scripture. Rather, Jesus is our model for how to do a biblical theology and this hermeneutical trajectory is followed in the New Testament especially by Paul (especially in his later letters), the writer of the Gospel of Luke and both the evangelist and the redactor of the Fourth Gospel, not to mention the incredibly subversive writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

    I have sought to show (in my book The Jesus Driven Life to which Brad Jersak contributed the chapter of the Apocalypse of John) that early second century Christian apologists made certain critical hermeneutical errors that have plagued Christianity now for almost 1,900 years. We are just starting to see those errors in the light of the good news of the gospel and, further, learning to read the biblical texts, not as divine downloads (as Evangelicals do) nor as religious texts (as liberals do) but rather as texts in which we see an authentic wrestling with God, So, in the Bible we do not have a book which is a book of theology (as Evangelicals aver) where we simply have to do word studies or trace themes, nor is the Bible simply a book about ancient religious beliefs which we may or may not accept depending on our current existential situation. Rather, the Bible is a book that teaches us how to wrestle with God; the Bible is a book on how to do theology (and from ancient times to the present this is how Jews, especially their rabbis, read Holy Writ). Personally, I have found great merit in the work of Rene Girard in learning how to read the Bible from an anthropological perspective, something I first learned from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a viewpoint which is sorely lacking in Evangelicalism inasmuch as it has bound itself to a ‘theology of glory’ or power in its view of Scripture.

    Jersak’s book, A More Christlike God, is a direct challenge, a gauntlet thrown down, to the Janus-faced God of Evangelical Christianity. The fact is that Evangelical doctrines of God, of scripture, of atonement and of eschatology all imbibe of sacred violence and to deconstruct any one of these doctrines is to deconstruct them all. And the Evangelical fears this more than anything else. They will resort to ad hominem arguments often accusing those who do so as being Marcionites (even though it is apparent they know little about Marcion’s theology), or of creating a nicey-nice god in their own image; or they will proclaim themselves the ‘defenders of the true faith’ as though Paul or even Jesus was somehow an Evangelical when nothing could be further from the real historical situation.

    • Jerry Shepherd

      Hi Michael,

      It is quite remarkable, in this post of yours, how long it is on rhetoric, while at the same time being so short on substance. Just a few quick replies.

      In referring to Irenaeus as the father of biblical theology, I was, of course, referring to him as a post-biblical figure. And in no way was I implying that “apostolic churches and figures were themselves not models of how to read Scripture” (how on earth did you jump to that conclusion?). However, that being said, in terms of the basic contours of Irenaeus’s canonical, covenantal theology, I believe it is in perfect accord with the theology of Jesus and Paul.

      You will not, because you cannot, take account of Jesus’ biblical theology in which he expressly, concretely, unequivocally (how many more adverbs I could use here!) describes both himself and his Father as engaging in acts of wrath and retributive violence against the wicked. Paul understood this perfectly, as evidenced by passages like 2 Thess 1:6-10. And the early church fathers understood this perfectly. As Kevin Vanhoozer notes, the early church consistently included the eternal punishment of the wicked in its rule of faith (pre-Augustine! pre-Calvin!). Your refusal to deal with this material is simply an act of denial.

      As far as Marcion is concerned, please feel free to add substance to your remarks by showing how evangelicals have misunderstood him, or how I misrepresented him in my post. And feel free to show how modern-day figures, such as yourself and Jersak, can avoid the charge of being at least semi-Marcionite.

      • Jerry,

        I think you might be a little opaque because sometimes you use the phrase “biblical theology” to refer to “the theology / theologizing activity present in the Bible” and sometimes to “the branch of exegetical theology concerned with the historical development of revelation over time.”

        It might make your points clearer if you distinguished between when you were talking about theology that comes from the Bible as opposed to, say, exegetical patterns noted in Pauline Eschatology.

        • peteenns

          It might also be helpful to distinguish between BT as the (alleged) “unfolding” of the revelation of God through “redemptive history”/Scripture–which is how Jerry and others in the conservative Calvinist and inerrantist evangelical orbit use the term) and how the term is used more commonly outside of that tradition, where the focus tends to be biblical books or isolated themes (e.g., Childs). As a graduate of WTS, as is Jerry, I was thereafter quickly confronted with the idiosyncratic definition of the term compared to most of the rest of the scholarly world.

          • That’s what happens when you let your Kerux subscription lapse.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Pete, I think you are right to some extent, but I think you’re also making too fine a distinction. It is common in the literature to refer to what Irenaeus is doing as biblical theology. What Gabler initiated 1600 years later soon degenerated into the history of religion. And I believe your statements about Childs need nuancing. While it is true that his Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context and Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments do tend toward the thematic side, nevertheless I don’t think he would have denied the possibility of a history of redemption approach, as long as the “discrete witness” of each testament was respected.

        • Jerry Shepherd

          Hi Phil, I appreciate the suggestion, and I think you are right. But actually the problem was caused when Michael Hardin said that when I claimed that Irenaeus was the father of biblical theology, I was therefore ignoring the biblical theology of Jesus and the apostolic church. So I agree with you that the two aspects should be kept distinct. Nevertheless, I also agree that the biblical theology of the post-biblical church is a continuation of what Jesus and the apostles did.

          • That incident is exactly what I meant. You were trying to say Irenaeus was the father of a particular branch of exegetical work, not that he was the father of theology that is biblical.

            Like Pete said, “biblical theology” only has a particular methodological connotation to a very narrow audience.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Phil, I think we may be talking past each other on this one. It would be wrong to relegate Irenaeus’s biblical theology to a particular branch of exegetical work. Rather, his biblical theology is the framework, of which his exegesis would have been the narrower “branch.” And again, I do not think that biblical theology only has a “particular methodological connotation to a very narrow audience.” This is too skewed for me. See the recent book by Klink and Lockett, Understanding Biblical Theology, as well as James Mead’s Biblical Theology: Issues, Methods, Themes.

          • Ok. I was misled by your citation of Vos, who quite explicitly defines it the way I did. Nevertheless, if you use the phrase “biblical theology” out and about in Christianity at large, my guess is that the overwhelming majority of people will assume you mean, “theology that comes from the Bible.”

          • peteenns

            And for Vos, but mucg more so for how Vos has been interpreted at WTS, “biblical theology” is a tamed version of Heilsgeschichte–minus the historical criticism.

          • newenglandsun

            you can write big german words but not spell “much” right? i feel better about my own englishe grammar 🙂

          • peteenns

            I assure you, the issue is typing quickly, often on my iPhone, not difficulty in spelling “much.”

          • newenglandsun

            well then i’m glad we both have issues with touch-screens then 🙂 countless times, the touch-screen on my own phone has tricked me into sending blank text messages to my friends 😳

          • Andrew Dowling

            Auto-correct is the devil

          • newenglandsun

            try playing correspondence chess with typos…one opponent of mine recently tried to move his knight on f6 to h4…I was wondering if he meant g4 or h5 as moving a knight on f6 to h4 is an illegal move. of course, it gets really confusing when he forgets that algebraic notation designates a knight as an “N” and the king as a “K” so sometimes he will say Kc3 for his first move as white and i’ll be like, WHAT?!?–your king is on e1 behind a wall of pawns!

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Understood, Phil. Thanks.

    • Michael, I agree that the Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) theory leads to a “Janus-faced God of Evangelical Christianity.” I do not believe that the NT teaches PSA. However, I do believe that it teaches that sin is an evil disease that is killing us, and that God’s wrath is directed toward the disease of sin, and that the Atonement in Jesus’s death on the cross is God’s way of removing sin from our lives.

    • By the way, I think your “Janus-faced God of Evangelical Christianity” is a truly great line.

    • Daniel Merriman

      It isn’t all that easy to find things out there on the net that critically engage with Girard. His is a great mind, and his way of reading texts is powerful. I first encountered his work by reading Violence and the Sacred at the insistence of a friend back in the 1980’s. I have since read Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, some interviews and several articles by his acolytes. One article that does engage with the theological aspects of his work, though in a more polemical fashion than I would prefer, can be found at

      My own opinion is that Girard’s views have been adopted too uncritically by some who are predisposed toward them. Just based on my own reading of his works and the interviews with him that I have read, I would never call him a Marcionite. However, there is another term that I fear describes many of his more recently converted followers– gnostics, in the sense of that term as used by Eric Voegelin.

      Girard’s readings of scripture are certainly provocative and when situated in the broad stream of over 2,000 years of struggles to interpret Jewish and Christian sacred texts by some pretty powerful minds can, I think, be helpful. But some of his followers seem to be so anxious for something new and radical that would allow them to discard what they think those mean old right wing evangelical Christians believe, that they display no appreciation for the plain and simple historical fact that the Church has struggled with issues, such as a violent God, since the earliest days. I would hasten to add that Girard himself, in more than one interview I have read, is very careful to position his work in the context of Church tradition, and some of his longer term Catholic followers seem equally respectful. Perhaps my unease is only with the more recent of his devotees, who seem to be either Anabaptists or refugees from the perceived oppression of evangelical Christianity.

      • Jerry Shepherd

        Daniel, I resonate a lot with what you have said here. There is no doubt that Girard is brilliant and has some great insights. I have read a great deal of his material, as well as that of a number of his disciples. My own opinion is that as insightful as he is from a anthropological and sociological perspective, it’s harder to take those insights and apply them to the biblical text, at least in terms of exegetically attempting to understand what the biblical authors themselves were trying to communicate. I believe it can contribute to our understanding of the text; but it cannot a provide a viable theological theory as to what atonement means in the biblical text. And there are many who concur in that judgment: evangelical, non-evangelical, and Jewish scholars. The book of Hebrews, in particular, is simply unaccounted for in the Girardian construal. Thanks again.

        • Daniel Merriman

          Jerry, I think your point about whether or not Girard’s anthropology can provide a basis for a theological rethinking of things like atonement is best answered by saying ” not yet” rather than a flat negative. Kind of like ripping up a tropical plant by its roots and taking it from its home in Hawaii to Alaska. If you expect it to grow, you had better have a greenhouse ready.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Daniel, thanks for this perspective. But I’m still going to go with the flat negative. All disciplines, and certainly anthropology among them, can help us nuance things more precisely. But I don’t see the possibility of Girard’s theory ever representing the theology of the biblical writers as some kind of overarching theory of atonement. Can it contribute?–yes. Can it become the new paradigm?–I don’t think so. Thanks again.

          • Daniel Merriman

            Jerry, new paradigms don’t always mean everything from the old paradigms get thrown out the window. Geologists who were trained before anyone had ever heard of tectonic plates (late 60’s) still had jobs afterwards.

      • Bev Mitchell


        This is not meant as a critique of your insightful comment. I too would like to see more critical, less polemical engagement with Girard, and certainly have not read as much of him as you have. But there are caution flags that need to be considered when raising the challenge of gnosticism, à la Voegelin.

        As far as I can understand him, Voegelin sees gnosticism as a drive to define the beginning and the end. That is, to control God by understanding him, which is to remake him in our image. Related, and this time in Voegelin’s words, “Gnosticism as a counter existential dream world can perhaps be made intelligible as an extreme expression of an experience which is universally human, that is of a horror of existence, and a desire to escape from it.”

        From this can emerge, it is true, a hope for self-salvation, but other hopes and fears as well, also contrary to more measured traditional Christian theologies.

        So a real danger lies in either extreme taking too much hope from the charge of gnosticism levelled at the other extreme. “…… no fundamental critique of left-wing gnosticism is possible without blowing up right-wing gnosticism in its course.”

        So maybe calling Girard a Marcionite is safer 🙂

        Quotes from Chapter 3 “The New Science of Politics”

        • Daniel Merriman

          Hey, Bev, good to hear from you. Thought the Voegelin reference might get a rise! He’s the only political scientist I know that folks doing theology ought to have at least a nodding familiarity with. And you are right, looking at things from that point of view can cause discomfort to more than just liberals, progressives, neo-Anabaptists, etc.

          My deeper concern, though, is that Girard is a really serious thinker on a lot of levels, certainly one who challenges many traditional readings of Scripture, but who may not be as completely original as some think nor whose overall point of view is beyond a doubt correct. 10 or 15 years ago, the sense I got was that this sort of engagement was happening, but now, not so much.

          The link I posted is an example. While the author makes some valid points, his polemical agenda over shadows them. Most everything else I have read lately is completely over the top the other way. If Girard ends up becoming a political football, it will be a sad day, particularly since my sense is that my fellow Protestants will be largely responsible. I would hasten to add that I am far from an expert on Girard (or Voegelin, for that matter), but that makes my frustration all the greater– there comes a time in the layman’s life when he can benefit from others’ informed opinions of what he is reading.

          • Bev Mitchell

            I hear you Dan. Thanks for that bit of elaboration. We layfolk maybe get to root around a bit more, especially if we are retired (me) and don’t have to account so much for either time or the company we keep. I agree that it’s always a concern when individuals become gurus. We have enough of that already.

          • Daniel Merriman

            Bev, similarly situated in retirement. Not trying to keep this OT part of the thread alive, but I try to read your comments here and at Prof. Olson’s blog whenever possible, and I appreciate your efforts to keep things irenic.

  • Dan Arnold

    I have a lot of sympathy for a position such as portrayed here, especially the idea that God “is always for us.” And I have no interest in the wrathful God that seems so often portrayed by American Evangelicals. But I have to question the idea that God does not appear to actively act against sin, but instead, it’s just the “intrinsic, tragic consequences of our own defiance.” Now I’m not denying there can be intrinsic consequences. But isn’t one of the laments of the Psalmists (and Qohelet) that all too often, from their perspective, there aren’t consequences? And if God is not actively involved in the consequences of sin, why think that God is actively involved in the natural consequences of doing justice and righteousness? In other words, if all that happens is basically been set in motion by the natural law of creation, how is God actively involved in his creation? To me, it starts to look a lot like the deist God.

    The question boils down, what kind of justice is portrayed here? For those of us who live a fairly comfortable life, it resonates that retributive justice is unhealthy. But what about those who live with persecution and injustice? Those recently martyred? What does rectifying justice look like for them?

    Shalom uvrecha

    • Bev Mitchell

      Dan, your questions are ones I would like to have answers to as well. And, with you, I am favourably disposed to much in this book. I do wonder if direct action of God is actually doubted, for judgment or for blessing. Or, in making a strong case for the importance of recognizing ‘natural’ consequences and the God-given/sustained freedom of his creation, the author simply does not call on judgement and intervention as often as many critics would like. The pendulum has been way over on that one side for a very long while, after all.

      Yet, it would be good to have a clear statement of where the pendulum is in works like this. The same question applies when discussions on the nature of evil come up. On both subjects, the critics of this general view are very clear in their position, often overdone and even unacceptable, in my opinion, but clear.

  • cvictor

    after reading all the good dialog, here is the dilemma that I see:

    By rejecting PSA, we accept the fact that Jesus did not pay the penalty for our sin, but rather took on our sin and destroyed its power – leaving it in the grave after the resurrection so to speak. So far, so good. But, in my entire life I have never seen a Christian live like sin was destroyed from their life (myself included). In fact, there is very little difference in the way a Christian lives, and just an ordinary, plain old neighbor down the street. So, if Christ dealt with sin, removing its power, I don’t see that it actually worked – if someone can explain that, I would be all ears!

    So, that brings us back to PSA – it at least explains the fact that we still sin, and will sin until the day we die. Because, what Christ did was not remove sin from us, but actually paid the penalty for our sin.

    I think one reason people accept PSA is that it explains our current situation – sinners who continually sin, who are not going to be judged for our sin at the final judgement.

    • But, in my entire life I have never seen a Christian live like sin was destroyed from their life (myself included). In fact, there is very little difference in the way a Christian lives, and just an ordinary, plain old neighbor down the street. So, if Christ dealt with sin, removing its power, I don’t see that it actually worked – if someone can explain that, I would be all ears!

      My first suggestion would be to read 2 Tim 3:1–5, noting that some will have “the appearance of godliness”, but actually be “denying its power”. Next, I will note that Jesus expected his followers to be able to churn out good works:

      In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Mt 5:16)

      Now, every Protestant should tell you that these good works are not what saves one—Eph 2:8–10—but simultaneously, faith (trust) which is alive does produce good works: Ja 2:14–17. Jesus also says to judge trees by their fruit: Mt 7:15–23. God can judge people by their hearts, by whether they have faith in his Son, but our own best guess—and it is always a guess—is via the actions of others. Good trees produce good fruit, period.

      Above, I included Eph 2:10 along with vv8–9 on purpose: it says we are God’s “workmanship”. The Greek word is poiēma and it is used one other place:

      For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Rom 1:20)

      I don’t think it’s a mistake that Paul uses the same word in both places and only those places. In 1 Cor 11:7, we have that “[man] is the image and glory of God”. Jesus himself gives the world two evidences to the world that (a) certain people are his disciples; (b) that God sent Jesus: Jn 13:34–35 and 17:20–23. These are empirical evidences; they depend not merely on the convincing power of the bare words of the Gospel, but the lived lives of people claiming to be Jesus disciples. See also 1 Jn 3:16–18, which ends: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”

      My belief is that a huge part of the problem exists in an individualistic conception of Christianity which embraces the “we have no need of you” and “they have no need of me” of 1 Cor 12:12–26, pushing the ‘until’ of Eph 4:13 to the eschaton, and embracing the opposite of “it shall not be so among you” in Mt 20:20–28. We refuse to be fully, truly unified with those not like us, making ourselves like the tax collectors in Mt 5:43–48. We refuse to give priority to those passages about reconciling with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, like Mt 5:23–24, Mt 18:15–20, and Eph 4:25–27.

      Jesus was said to be “mighty in word and deed” in <a href=" 24:19, Paul witnessed “by word and deed” in Rom 15:18, and John adjures us to love not [merely] in word, but [also] in deed in 1 Jn 3:18. I end with this:

      But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. (1 Cor 4:19–20)

  • Bev Mitchell

    On “A More Christlike God” by Bradley Jersak

    I’ve reached the end of Chapter eight, just over half-way through. There are already 99 highlights on my Kindle. Do read this book, then talk/write about it!

    Don’t miss the Bill Maher quote early on. It will cause your head to nod, eyes to roll or stomach to churn, depending.

    Brad’s interview with Jess will cause some to throw the book across the room. Pick it up later, and read on.

    It will provoke. “Do we ourselves need hell to keep our envy of sinners at bay?” “Were these questions a sign of heresy or sanity?”

    Miss, under no circumstances, the Revivalist-Pharisee-Santa.

    Don’t skip over the politics “Genuine freedom is a gift of Christ’s sacrificial love, not the vacuous promises of grandiose political movements or sabre rattling politicians.”

    Enjoy clever wordplay “Freedom can ‘make babies’, but only love raises them!”

    Be amazed at what is still controversial in Christian theology “Love is not merely one of God’s attributes. Love is who God is in his very nature.”

    Consider an old/new view of the scope of redemption. “We cannot allow that the sacrifice of Golgotha has proved powerless to redeem the world and conquer hell. Otherwise we should say: creation is a failure, and Redemption is also a failure.” Quote from Father Alexandr Turnisev.

    Enjoy pages of supporting quotes from Scripture and relatively few one liners.

    One of my favourites (so far) “The Cross reveals God’s person (who he is) but also his kingdom (how he reigns).”

    Get ready for lively, hopefully loving, debate “…. if consent comes with an ultimatum tied to a deadline — if lack of surrender is threatened with eternal conscious torment — then the offer is devoid of real love.”

    Enjoy a grave illustration about who is to blame when bad things happen “Gravity perfectly consents to God’s law, and gravity can kill, but when it does, we don’t say God did it.”

    Think about God’s sovereignty, and divine action as well “Yes! Christ does reign — he reigns in heaven and in the world, even over secondary causes. There is no question that he reigns; the question is, how does he reign?”

    Consider weighty issues such as the meaning of how we are the ‘image of God’. “What if the image we carry is that of omnipotence laid down?” Read that one carefully, and don’t jump to conclusions without further exploration.

    Consider how simple and easy Adam and Eve’s obedience (and ours) could be, and marvel at how we never can pull it off (on our own). “We are not even called to do anything! We are simply asked to refrain from something while being filled with innumerable delights.” Gen 2:16.

    Wondering if we can save ourselves? “I am not suggesting that we were partners in Christ’s foundational work of salvation. Christ was the only human partner who, because he is also divine, could provide for the redemption of all.” …….. “Our participation is mutual but not equal. He is the Gift-giver and we are the recipients. He is the Saviour and we are the saved. He is the Lover — we, the beloved.”

    What about prayer? A short but very powerful section gets to the heart of the matter. Here’s what I took away from this part. Praying “Thy will be done” doesn’t mean that we think God may do nothing regarding the matter. It does mean that we are not going to dictate what he will do, while fully expecting him to actually carry out his will in the matter. It especially means that we stand ready to be the vessel through which his will in this specific case will be realized.

    And finally, the central theme of the book (as seen from the first eight chapters). “If God’s consent allows necessity (the secondary causes of natural law and human freedom) to work — to our joy and sorrow — God’s grace participates (by the Holy Spirit) in the world wherever willing partners (first and most of all Jesus Christ) actively mediate his reign of love and care into the world. The Incarnation is God’s supreme act of grace — of participation, partnering, sharing — in the world afflicted by secondary causes.”

    • peteenns

      Thanks for stating the obvious, Bev: read a book before you think you can pronounce judgment on it.

  • Daniel Fisher

    Something seems to be missed in this larger discussion… Many comments I’ve read here seem to suggest that evangelicals who embrace the idea of a wrathful God do so out of some religiously-motivated desire to feel superior, or out of some defunct or otherwise inferior morality.

    Can I humbly point out that many of us who embrace the idea of hell and the wrathful God who will send people there do so not because we personally like the idea or that it fits some preconceived notions, but do so simply because we feel bound to follow the teachings of Jesus? I think C.S. Lewis put it well:

    “There is no doctrine [i.e., hell] which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of Our Lord’s own words.”

    “I know that many wiser and better Christians than I in these days do not like to mention heaven and hell even in a pulpit. I know, too, that nearly all the references to this subject in the New Testament come from a single source. But then that source is our Lord Himself…. These overwhelming doctrines are Dominical.”

    • peteenns

      Daniel, I understand your point. I really do. But take hell for instance. This has been deconstructed for a long time by many people, and for good reason, not simply private preference. (1) Hell is not mentioned in the OT: it is derived from post-OT developments, the historical context of which is well worth investigating; (2) The question is not whether or not to ACCEPT hell but how to understand it. In fact, the question is whether “hell” is even the right word to use, since that English word is an interpretation of “gehenna” and “hades”; (3) If we look at what Jesus says is deserving of Gehenna in Matthew 5, we’d better hope he’s not talking about eternal conscious torment, or all of us are going there for thinking how stupid the other commenters here are.

      Similar thinking can be applied to “wrath.” No one here, I am sure, is saying there is no wrath but what does wrath mean. I do think that is a very viable point of discussion.

      Another issue is Christology. The way some have spoken here (I’m beyond you comment here, Daniel–just on a roll), Incarnation is irrelevant for how Jesus thought, as if he was somehow immune from his cultural context and spoke pure transhistorical thoughts (a particular problem among the neo-Reformed, by the way). Add to this the very real conundrum of the Gospel writers each interpreting Jesus differently, for their settings, and it becomes much more difficult to simply lift some verses out of the Gospels as trump.

      • Mike H

        YES, it’s a matter of acceptance or rejection of particular understandings and meanings.

        And so much of that (at least for Protestants) boils down to starting points – particular and nuanced understandings of the bible and what it is, and the different lenses or meta-narratives that make sense of particular pieces.

        I think there’s often this underlying suspicion (or not so underlying) that anyone attempting to address (a particular understanding of) divine wrath (just an example) would be doing so for no other reason than they don’t like the “traditional” view. Forming a “god in their own image” as it were. So “I am the true objective observer of the text, you alone pick and choose. I accept the “plain meaning” and you manipulate it to say what you want.” I find that presumption to be utterly false.

        It’s a conversation killer from the get go. You lob one bible verse, I lob two back. And if I don’t, I’m throwing out the bible.

        With that starting point, any argument that doesn’t (seemingly) immediately address a particular set of verses or tradition that’s obviously problematic (true for any topic) just proves the predetermined conclusion that they’re merely throwing out what they don’t like.

        • peteenns

          This reflects my own thinking precisely, Mike. The Bible is simply too hermeneutically and theological complex for biblicism. Otherwise we wouldn’t be talking about it.

        • Daniel Fisher

          “So “I am the true objective observer of the text, you alone pick and choose. I accept the “plain meaning” and you manipulate it to say what you want.” I find that presumption to be utterly false.”

          Mike, I appreciate the sentiment here… But I am wondering where the limit is. I share a skepticism with those who believe they have THE one and only correct understanding of any viewpoint or Scripture.

          But on the other hand, if someone tells me they read the Gospels and they understand from them that what Jesus “really” meant was that he was espousing hard atheism, that he was teaching that there is no God, no miracles, no angels, no supernatural, and no afterlife…. then I think I would quite appropriately say that their understanding is faulty, manipulated to make it say what they wanted, while mine (understanding Jesus to have believed in God and the supernatural) is the correct one, based on the “plain reading.” I think I would be correct in saying to this hypothetical interpreter, ” in this case of finding Jesus to be an atheist, I am the true objective observer, and you are picking and choosing.”

          So, if I’m not mistaken, it is more of a spectrum rather than a black and white… There are going to be some concepts and doctrines which genuinely do come from a “plain reading of the text” because they are so presented so clearly and repeatedly, and others that are open to various levels of interpretation, no?

        • Daniel Fisher

          Mike, an additional observation, if I may. I think the charge of selective reading (or picking and choosing) may well be justified in instances where an interpretive method is clearly used selectively. for example, when I read Rob Bell’s “Love Wins,” I recall him going to great lengths to explain that “eternal” (aionion) in “eternal punishment” in Mt 25 doesn’t really mean “eternal,” but is better understood as a discreet, limited period of time.

          That is all fine and good…. But he completely neglected to apply the same interpretive principle to the phrase “eternal life” that comes just 5 words later, using the identical Greek word (aionion). I don’t need to disagree with him or even have a position to objectively observe he is simply being selective by applying an interpretive principle to the phrase “eternal punishment” that he chose not to apply, with no discussion or even attempt at justification, to a near identical construction 5 words later.

      • Daniel Fisher

        Peter, this is a very good observation – though I wasnt (here) speaking about anyone else’s views, just trying to defend my own and point out what i’d think should be crazy obvious – that evangelicals’ views on this subject are not coming out left field as many here seem to imply. I can at least to some degree respect those who read the New Testament and, for whatever reason, understand all of Christ’s frequent warnings in a significantly different way. I personally find such an interpretation significantly lacking for numerous reasons, but i can certainly listen respectfully and try to understand others’ thoughts on the subject.

        But what i was getting at was this: given Jesus’ frequent descriptions, can we not all agree that a relatively objective, straightforward reading of his words is rather consistent with how evangelicals understand Jesus’ words? Sure, perhaps the straightforward, literal reading is not the correct one; it may not be the only understanding. but can’t we all allow that it is a pretty obvious and straightforward one? One that evangelicals are in fact getting by reading the (red letter?) words of Jesus, and not from some convoluted and perverse desire to embrace a God of wrath? (Andrew Dowling below even criticized my view of hell and God’s punishment on the grounds that I was, after all, taking Jesus too literally and reading the gospels in too straightforward a manner!)

        But instead, I find in many of these comments the intimation that we evangelicals believe these concepts for various less-than-honorable motivations: we “need” them, we aren’t seeking to have “good news,” evangelicals “portray” God as wrathful (presumably because we repeat verbatim what Jesus said), etc. to me, this gets tiresome, especially as with Lewis, I would rid the faith of this doctrine if it were entirely up to me. I believe it not because I at some level like it (I seriously don’t) – but because I think I it to be true -because I trust the authority of Jesus who taught it.

        • peteenns

          That’s fair, Daniel. Please don’t take it personally. I was melding together a few things I’m seeing on this thread.

          • Daniel Fisher

            I’d never take it personally! 🙂 i visit your page as i like to have my ideas challenged, so im always appreciative of anything that forces me to think deeper through these things. Either way, if it furthers the discussion in a constructive way, here are some reactions to your thoughts, I’d appreciate further critique from yourself or others:

            (1) I genuinely do appreciate the larger issues around the point that Hell is not mentioned in the OT. But neither is eternal life in paradise/heaven to my knowledge, but I don’t find people similarly lining up to deconstruct this idea or the underlying foundational concepts of God’s kindness, grace and mercy that would invite sinners to go there.

            Similarly, regarding the incarnation: I generally concur with your thoughts, but if Jesus NEVER had any unique transhistorical insight whatsoever above any other human being, then again, his thoughts of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and offer of eternal life in heaven would be just as culturally dependent as his belief in God’s wrath, justice, vengeance, and threats of hell… And if we consequently can dubious about the one we ought to be equally dubious about the other.

            (2) concur w/ the importance of HOW to understand hell; but I’d start with Christ’s own explicit descriptions of it: “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched”, “outer darkness”, “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, “in torment”, “in anguish in this flame”, “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”, “eternal punishment”, “fiery furnace”, etc. However these descriptions are specifically understood (metaphoric, symbolic, analogous, hyperbolic, literal), it isn’t pretty. I concur that (3) is scary, but it lines up with his teaching elsewhere, so I can’t simply discount all his other teachings about hell on the grounds that I find his warning about it in Mt 5 terrifyingly sobering.

            Finally, given that Jesus’ teachings on this topic are pervasive, multiply attested by and consistent across all the proposed sources of the Synoptics (M, L, Q, and Mark)…. I’m not quite as concerned about the effect of one author’s interpretation as I might be if it were an isolated idea from a single source.

          • peteenns

            I definitely hear you, Dan. But –there’s always a but 🙂

            On #1, you are putting your finger on a really important issue, which is, where did these ideas come from, distinct as they are from the OT? Scholars routinely point to extrabiblical influences, whether DSS, Zoroastrianism, or just creative Jewish theology. For me this raises interesting notions of “progressive revelation” (actually don’t like the term) the sources of which are utterly outside of the Bible.

            Likewise, if we look to scholars like A-J Levine, Mark Nanos, and others, there IS very very little distinct about Jesus’s teaching, i.e., you find all sorts of talk of mercy, God’s love, etc. IN Judaism at the time.

            It’s get to be quite a complex mess, which is why these sorts of things can’t be solved on the “verse” level. (Not that you’re doing that.)

        • Andrew Dowling

          That interpretation is only “straight-forward” because that’s what you grew up with (along with presuppositions that conflate with words used for translation). Your “straight forward interpretation” would be puzzling to 1st century Jews.

          • newenglandsun

            just to be a devil’s advocate as usual…you know for fact his interpretation would be puzzling to first century jews because you went into a blue telephone box and asked first century jews what they thought like and how they interpreted things (despite their own massive disputes amongst themselves) and didn’t invite me along as a time travelling partner with you? man, that’s effed up.

          • Daniel Fisher

            An example, if it helps clarification: by ‘straightforward’ I mean, e.g., that when Jesus said, “Fear him who after killing the body has authority to cast into hell,” he didn’t mean, “You have nothing to fear from God whatsoever.”

          • Mike H

            That one verse isn’t spoken as some generic mass condemnation to the general public. It’s spoken to Jesus friends, about to go on a mission and are afraid of those who hate them.

            Also read the next two verses please.

            “The only one that you should fear is the one who cares for sparrows. You are more valuable. God knows the number of your hairs. Therefore, don’t fear”.

            Maybe it’s just me, but that seems important.

    • Mike H

      (1 of 2)

      Hi Daniel,

      I appreciate your thoughts. I’m going to put a few quotes below, and I’ll add some comments in a 2nd post.

      You said: Many comments I’ve read here seem to suggest that evangelicals who embrace the idea of a wrathful God do so out of some religiously-motivated desire to feel superior, or out of some defunct or otherwise inferior morality.

      Can I humbly point out that many of us who embrace the idea of hell and the wrathful God who will send people there do so not because we personally like the idea or that it fits some preconceived notions

      I appreciate your concern here.

      It’s hard to overstate the impact of Jonathan Edwards. He’s considered by some to be the greatest American theologian. The great Jonathan Edwards quote below relates to his “biblical” and theological thoughts about the final word of existence – the destiny to which God is bringing creation and willed before time began:

      “When the saints in glory … shall see how miserable others of their fellow-creatures are, who were naturally in the same circumstances with themselves; when they shall see the smoke of their torment, and the raging of the flames of their burning, and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and consider that they [the saints] in the mean time are in the most blissful state and shall surely be in it to all eternity; how will they rejoice!” (Edwards 1834, sec. II [available online])

      “How will you bear to see your parents, who in this life had so dear an affection for you, now without any love to you … How will you bear to see and hear them praising the Judge, for his justice exercised in pronouncing this sentence, and hearing it with holy joy in their countenances, and shouting forth the praises and hallelujahs of God and Christ on that account?”

    • Mike H

      (2 of 2)

      Regarding the idea evangelicals don’t have a desire to feel superior, or have a defunct or otherwise inferior morality, or that evangelicals don’t “like the idea” (or won’t “like it” in their “perfected state”), is this quote evidence enough to recognize what others see? Really read that quote. I could provide quote after quote.

      I recognize that this is just one quote (a horrible one IMO, but not a weakly developed one) – a quote that many might have no knowledge of. But this is from a theologian of tremendous influence – representative of an entire branch of theology. A theologian whose particular definitions of concepts like original sin, judgment, atonement, salvation, WRATH, hell, holiness, justice (as retributive punishment) – lead inexorably to the quote above. While it might be “speculation” – it can’t be so easily dismissed. It’s taking certain theological ideas to their logical conclusion – and people like Edwards and Piper demonstrate that natural progression well and unapologetically. Even if some of the particulars in this quote are dismissed, the theology that naturally leads to it remains. This quote isn’t some out of the blue belief that isn’t consistent with the underlying theology that supports it.

      Now I have no doubt that Edwards argument here is “biblical” – based on carefully selected individual bible verses and “themes” from the OT, from Revelation, from the lips of Jesus himself (probably parables). But IMO, the amount of scripture and theology (in terms of an overall picture of the character of God and God’s disposition towards his creation) that has to be ignored, dismissed, or thrown out – the number of words that have to be redefined to the point of rendering language meaningless – is simply staggering.

      So while I recognize the biblical language of wrath and judgment, I also recognize that some interpretations of theological ideas inexorably lead to places that are flat out contradictory with other pervasive biblical themes. That is my “lens” – and I don’t apologize for that. And while it might seem that any mention of wrath and eternal conscious torment are naturally so terrifying that they become theological trump cards – that God’s wrath is the more fundamental attribute and the very subject of the gospel – I’m willing to rewind, rethink, and look at them critically. I’m willing to hear what Jersak has to say and certainly won’t dismiss it before reading the book.

      There IS something very, very, very dark and twisted, morally superior, and morally defunct about this Edwards quote and the commonly held theology that generates it – and I don’t hesitate at all to say that. An easy question – does this Edwards quote sound like Jesus? If an unquestioning, “objective” and amoral approach to the scriptures, religion and the themes of “biblical theology” leads us here, we have a really, really big problem.

      Again, thanks for the conversation. And a good night to all.

      • Daniel Fisher

        Mike, thanks for the thoughts..A confession to start with: first, I’m not a huge fan of Edwards myself – among other reasons I don’t find him to be a clear communicator…. Case in point the quote you put out…. If I read him right (and I had to read it a few times), the first section seems to be saying that the righteous will be rejoicing when they hear the cries of torment, not because they are so happy other people are suffering, but they are rejoicing when they fully realize what they were saved from themselves? I could be wrong, but that’s how I’m reading it. The second quote (or part of the same?) I don’t even understand at all, who is doing the praising and of what specific sentence. Ill look up the rest of the context and try to get back to you. But I would not be so quick to assume that Edwards argument is “Biblical”, I find him to go far beyond the Bible on occasion.

        In brief, one thought and ill try to get back to you more….First, If God takes no pleasure in the destruction he brings to the wicked, then we shouldn’t either. There may be a place for rejoicing in seeing justice finally done, in the vindication of it, the satisfaction of seeing justice done, but that is different to me from finding “pleasure” in the death/destruction of the wicked.

        Let me look up those Edward quotes to get a better feel for them, and ill get back to you. in the meanwhile, let me give you two quotes back, relevant to this larger question, and you tell me if this sounds like Jesus:

        “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”

        “As for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’”

      • Daniel Fisher

        I read the rest of the Edwards work you quoted from, and my original instinct appears correct, he was not saying that people are rejoicing because they get to watch others suffer, but rejoicing 1) for seeing justice done and 2) with a sense of recognition of what they escaped. He specifies in the same work:

        ” [the rejoicing of the saints] will not be because they delight in seeing the misery of others absolutely considered. The damned suffering divine vengeance will be no occasion of joy to the saints merely as it is the misery of others, or because it is pleasant to them to behold the misery of others merely for its own sake.”

        “They will rejoice in seeing the justice of God glorified in the sufferings of the damned. The misery of the damned, dreadful as it is, is but what justice requires. They in heaven will see and know it much more clearly than any of us do here. They will see how perfectly just and righteous their punishment is, and therefore how properly inflicted by the supreme Governor of the world. They will greatly rejoice to see justice take place, to see that all the sin and wickedness that have been committed in the world is remembered of God and has its due punishment.”

        And then on to the larger section from which you quoted, it seems more clear that the rejoicing Edwards expects is simply a sense of appreciation of what the saints were saved from:

        “It will occasion rejoicing in them, as they will have the greater sense of their own happiness, by seeing the contrary misery. It is the nature of pleasure and pain, of happiness and misery, greatly to heighten the sense of each other. Thus the seeing of the happiness of others tends to make men more sensible of their own calamities; and the seeing of the calamities of others tends to heighten the sense of our own enjoyments.
        When the saints in glory, therefore, shall see the doleful state of the damned, how will this heighten their sense of the blessedness of their own state, so exceedingly different from it! When they shall see how miserable others of their fellow-creatures are, who were naturally in the same circumstances with themselves; when they shall see the smoke of their torment, and the raging of the flames of their burning, and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and consider that they in the meantime are in the most blissful state, and shall surely be in it to all eternity; how will they rejoice!”

        Given this larger context, do you still see the same problem you did initially? Let me know your thoughts there and we can discuss further.

        • Mike H

          Hi Daniel,

          Thanks for your thoughts and taking the time to read the quotes and full context – I recognize that many wouldn’t take the time to do that.

          I have to say, though, that the full context as provided doesn’t change my opinion. It reinforces it and adds meat to it. And Edwards is far from the first to make such a claim.

          I recognize that part of the feelings of the “blessedness of their own state” is because they avoided that fate (I say part because to Edwards it’s unavoidable that the righteous ARE going to like watching the punishment because it represents “goodness” and “justice”). So it’s more like “relief” that “Dad’ doesn’t punish us too. Given Edwards views on election, this is simply because God chose to save some and not others. We’ll just be happy that we avoided it. Individual verses aside – does this sound like Jesus?

          Edwards seems to recognize what any decent human being will recognize – that such punishment is horrid – so there is some lip service to it being “dreadful”. Yet he also recognizes that it is “just” and “righteous” and that in heaven when perfected, when we “see and know it much more clearly than any of us” do now, that something will change in us and that we’ll recognize it as good! We will “greatly rejoice to see justice take place.” We won’t see it as dreadful then! Unless, of course, you’re suggesting that Edwards believes that there will be some part of us that will live in constant repulsion and dread when in our perfect state (as any decent human being would look at a person being burned alive in this life now, no matter how wicked). We consider such revulsion to be a good moral thing – the absence of which doesn’t seem to be a virtue at all. We’d consider a person who felt no revulsion to be morally deficient.) This sort of delight – brought about when we have been perfected and can see MORE clearly and are MORE “moral” – does this sound like a teaching about the God revealed in Jesus? I recognize that a person could get there “biblically” – but there is a lot that must be given up “biblically” IMO to do so.

          The 2nd part has to do with the fate of loved ones – a challenge to any thinking of hell – and how loved ones worship and delight in the justice of the torture of other loved ones. I’m pretty sure that it comes from (ironically) Charity and Its Fruits. Again, from a big picture perspective, does this sound like Jesus? If yes, you’ll have to give things up biblically to get there – or hold them in tension in a very forced and ultimately untenable way.

          I find Edwards argument to be based on “biblical” arguments via the following:

          1) A teaching on the length and nature of hell (conscious, punitive, etc).

          2) That #1 is perfectly just and good.

          3) We’ll recognize it as just and good when “perfected”, and not be revolted by it. We’ll rejoice in it, both because it is so perfectly just AND that we avoided it.

          4) As it is a good & beautiful thing according to Edwards, there is no reason to hide it. God isn’t going to wipe out our memories so that we forget loved ones, and why put the torture chamber out in the countryside somewhere so that we won’t think about it? Given points #1 – #3 what possible reason could there to be to do so?

          I recognize that some would appeal to “mystery” to avoid the implications here. And I think that’s right, let’s absolutely acknowledge where there is mystery, but not as a way to avoid the natural progression and implications of the theology.

          Overall though Daniel, my purpose isn’t to argue over the nature of hell, whether it’s a “free-will” thing or not, etc. It’s to demonstrate that some WILL see that people do in fact take a certain pleasure in pondering the punishment of others and avoiding that fate themselves (some now for sure, but if not now, then later) precisely because that “rejoicing” is a natural manifestation of specific beliefs about the nature of “justice” and heaven and hell and so on. And by any human criteria imaginable, such rejoicing at what Edwards calls “dreadful” seems to have an element of being morally defunct. To question this isn’t based purely on emotion or making a god in my own image (wouldn’t a god in our own image actually BE vindictive rather than forgiving, punishing our enemies?) – it’s to take seriously the biblical text as it points to the person of Jesus as the revelation of God (again, not minimizing parables that demonstrate wrath – I really think that you have to be careful the way that you use those by the way – but not seeing them as the ultimate theological trump cards either).

          Apologies for distracting from the overall purpose of the original post. I won’t be around the rest of the day. Have a good one.

          • Daniel Fisher

            Mike, very much enjoy your thoughts and discussion – I’ll try to keep my thoughts organized and (relatively) brief (always a challenge for me):

            1. “…Dewrathing potentially looks much different than decompassioning.”

            Why, exactly? To play devil’s advocate – If Jersak can use Christ’s compassion as a lens and “re-define” the wrath and punishment words, forms, and how they fit, why exactly would I not be equally justified if I chose to start with the ubiquitous and pervasive overarching themes about God’s judgment, jealousy, wrath, etc. throughout the NT, not to mention the OT, and from there simply say I am “re-defining” God’s love, mercy, and compassion, and argue similarly that ‘just highlighting a verse or parable that demonstrates the use of the word love or mercy doesn’t prove the nature, form, or purpose of these things’?

            2. “Everyone uses [theological trump cards] it because it’s absolutely necessary. ”

            I’d prefer to say ‘unavoidable’, as is granted we can’t avoid it but we should still try. We all have our theological blind spots, our unseen and unknown prejudices that make some scriptures jump off the page at us and others we just prefer not to think about. Doesn’t mean this is a tendency we should not try to fight and overcome, though.

            3. “It’s a matter of – where does one start?”

            My own thought: Start with a commitment to embrace EVERYTHING that Jesus taught in its fullness, whether I like it or not or whether I understand how all the different aspects fit together, intentionally choosing not to redefine one in light of another. if Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, and expresses God’s tender love for the worst of sinners, I embrace it. If he warns that I should fear God who has authority to cast me into hell, I embrace it.

            Moreover, start by trying to overcome our blind spots by intentionally gravitating to the harder doctrines or those I’m not as comfortable with. To borrow from my hero C.S. Lewis:

            “Obviously the doctrines which one finds easy are the doctrines which give Christian sanction to truths you already knew. The new truth which you do not know and which you need must, in the very nature of things, be hidden precisely in the doctrines you least like and least understand.”

            4. “Given Edwards views on election, this is simply because God chose to save some and not others….. We’ll just be happy that we avoided it. Individual verses aside – does this sound like Jesus?”

            I’m not sure how to say if anything sounds like Jesus if we leave individual verses aside, as all we know about Jesus is from a large collection of various individual verses, no?

            But if you’re asking me if it does sound like Jesus? Well…

            “Shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that town…. it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”
            “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
            “All that the Father gives me will come to me.”
            “Many are called, few are chosen.”
            “No one can come to me unless the Father draw him.”
            “No one knows the Father but the son and those to whom the son chooses to reveal him.”
            “False prophets will arise and show signs and wnders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.”
            “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And whe will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
            “And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”
            “For those outside everything is in parables so that they…. may hear and not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

            So if you’re asking me, I’d have to say, yes, the recognition that God chose to save some and not others, and the joy that those elect have in having avoided said fate, doesn’t seem terribly foreign to Jesus own teachings on said subjects.

            5. “…the fate of loved ones – a challenge to any thinking of hell – and how loved ones worship and delight in the justice of the torture of other loved ones…. from a big picture perspective, does this sound like Jesus?”

            “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter….”

            “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”

            (…”Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”) And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

            “I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’”

            “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”…. (pointing to his disciples)… “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

            “…everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake…”

            From a big picture perspective, yes, I am again forced to say it does not sound foreign to Jesus. Much of these are not in the specific context of the final judgment, but I’d certainly find them applicable. I say this carefully and with hesitation and care, but yes, Jesus simply did not seem to put a particularly high value on our commitment to loved ones, if this interfered with our commitment to his kingdom. This is probably the part of the Bible that I am most tempted to be ashamed of, that I am tempted not to read, preach about, etc. But it is all in the Bible (and all in red letters), so I am forced to acknowledge that yes, this does sound to me not unlike Jesus.

            All that being said, though, I don’t want to come across like an apologist for Edwards – I have some major issues myself that significantly resonate with your criticisms, though probably not in the same way I think you’re conceiving. I’ll save my full details for a separate message if you’re interested, but in short, my issue with Edwards is not so much with what he does say (which I generally find consistent with the teachings of Christ and the Scripture, as I noted above)…. it is what he neglects to say. In fact, I’d go so far as to use him as my “exhibit A” to demonstrate the way that, however unintentionally, Calvinists can get so wrapped up in their own preferred doctrines to the neglect of those that don’t sound as “Calvinist” and end up with a very, very warped perspective, that almost borders on (if not crossing entirely into) a false gospel, and a downright lie. Packer I believe said “A half-truth, masquerading as the whole truth, is a whole lie.” I would carefully accuse Edwards of exactly that – not because I have any significant issue with the way he preaches the wrath of God, but because of the way he seems, at least very often in my limited reading of him, of allowing his focus on God’s wrath to almost totally eclipse other very core biblical themes.

          • Mike H


            We could grab verses and do this all day.

            “If I’m lifted up, I’ll draw all men to myself”

            In my mind, going with limited election – saying that God doesn’t want to save all – is intentionally “redefining one in light of the other”. Not going to do this whole dance though – it’s pointless.

            “Obviously the doctrines which one finds easy are the doctrines which give Christian sanction to truths you already knew.”

            From whose perspective? In Jesus day those doctrines that demonstrate forgiveness (not the wrath ones – the Jews knew wrath was fully deserved and wanted it on their enemies!) and inclusion and forgiveness for pagans (not just the Jews) would have been hard doctrines. I find this to be best exemplified in Paul’s arguments in Romans. Paul had to argue why it was just to pass over previous sins! And hint, it wasn’t because he was just going to pour out all his wrath on Jesus at a later date. It’s because a different vision of justice is being presented.

            “Jesus simply did not seem to put a particularly high value on our commitment to loved ones, if this interfered with our commitment to his kingdom”

            I hear you, but my goodness. The point isn’t to undermine and destroy the idea of family and loved ones as “Worley” (a false dichotomy), but to emphasize going beyond family and tribe. To break down “walls of hostility” as I believe Paul would put it. It’s expanding, not eliminating. This seems quite obvious to me. Not going to go dueling Scriptures on this.

          • Daniel Fisher

            I think we agree more than we disagree here – I understand Lewis’ referencing any one person’s (or culture’s) ‘difficult doctrines’, not some particular doctrine that is understood as difficult from some absolute vantage point… hence you are absolutely correct – for us who find retribution problematic, this would be our difficult doctrine, while in other centuries, the whole forgiveness of these vile enemies might have been the ‘difficult’ doctrine.
            Also, I of course concur with you Jesus’ point isn’t to undermine family. But his words must have meant *something*, and to my larger point in this whole discussion, I would recommend we take **BOTH** what Paul said seriously about breaking the walls of hostility **AND** all these horrific things Jesus said about division, rather than defaulting to picking one in order to trump the other.

          • Daniel Fisher

            (Also, regarding the verse grabbing, I tossed those since you specifically asked if Jesus sounded like Edwards…. If you’d asked me if Jesus sounded like, say, John Wesley, I would have said, “yes,” and listed a whole different set of quotes from Jesus!)

            In other words, yes, I would take serious issue with anyone, Edwards or any other Calvinist, who chose to “go with limited election” in such a way that allowed them to “redefine” all the passages that, as you note, communicates God’s wanting to save all.

            I of course grant that everything Jesus said gives us insight to better understand everything else he said, but to me this is different than dismissing, ignoring, or otherwise completely redefining some concepts based on others.

            (In fact, this is exactly the main problem I have with Edwards that I referenced earlier – I take no issue with his focus and attention to the verses about God’s wrath and the like; it is just he seems, to me, to use those verses to trump – ignore, redefine, or dismiss all the others that have a different tone.)

        • Andrew Dowling

          I don’t know how anyone can read that and not simply see a twisted justification for utter moral horror . . “we rejoice not at their tormet, but at God’s display of justice and how much better we are than them” . . .are you frikkin’ kidding me?

          • Mike H

            Yep – the justifications and logic start to get quite dark IMO.

          • Daniel Fisher

            I’m not just on a kick to defend Edwards, but I don’t see the problem in the logic itself. If I discovered that even, say, my adult child had committed an atrocity (murder, serial rape, etc.) and learned he was to be sentenced to life in prison, I could accurately say I was not “rejoicing at his torment/misfortune,” but I might still be able to rejoice, perhaps even along with his victims, that justice was being served. And, after paying visits to him in the prison, every time I left I could find myself rejoicing at my own simple freedoms.
            This doesn’t sound utterly crazy – so I don’t think it is the actual logic itself, but the **degree** at which we are dealing with it in the context of eternal judgment, and perhaps the question of the justice of such a more extreme punishment for seemingly less significant crimes, where the tensions lie, no?
            But as to the core logic itself, I’m not seeing the problem about rejoicing when seeing justice done, rejoicing in recognizing I am not suffering the same fate as the criminal, all while not rejoicing **at** the criminal’s (just and deserved) inconveniences in prison?

          • Mike H


            Good conversation man – it’s good to be able to discuss some things in depth and figure out where differences really lie. Nothing I’ve said is meant personally – I hope you recognize that. Last post for me.

            Regarding “degree of punishment”, no that’s not my hold up (at least not as it relates to our conversation). I recognize that all kinds of arguments can be employed here – we can get in to “sin against an infinite being” requiring an infinite punishment (a forced explanation with 0 biblical support IMO). Imagine if a human justice system was based on such a principal! Or the “seriousness of sin” – and again I think we view what it means in practice for humans (or God) to take sin “seriously” very differently. If someone steals my watch – “justice” isn’t merely punishing the person that did it as if that solves the problem. It must be restorative – get me my watch back! Tell me, what does the “justice” of the infinite torture of Hitler do for those he murdered – probably not “believers” (who ironically enough, many Christians believe are also in hell)?

            Your example of “rejoicing in justice along with the victims” at your child in prison for a crime committed really proves my point – I freely admit that I could not rejoice in any way at such a situation. And not only my loved ones. You could? No – I can’t prove it’s theologically right, but I couldn’t and I’m willing to look at my 20 month old daughter and the words of Jesus (yes I know there are also violent parables) and stand by it.

            Forget about winning a theological argument for a minute – you could do that? That’s a very detached and analytical way of looking at it – and I know you don’t mean it to. But recognize how that will be heard. You seem to argue that you can separate the nature of the punishment from “justice” itself – as if they’re just separate abstract ideas. That you can like one part and remain neutral on the other. That seems…..problematic.

            So getting back to the original post of yours – your reaction that you aren’t just making up wrath, Gehenna, and outer darkness because you like it – and that you resent accusations of being a moral monster and that you “like it”. I get that and I respect it (although let’s be honest and admit that some do like the thought of it for their enemies). You may not be “making it up” because you like it, but you’ve admitted that those perfected WILL indeed “like it” because it will represent manifestation of justice – the grand finale of where God is taking his human creations, the work of his hands. That’s the position you’re in – and it’s easy to recognize that this view is necessary given certain underlying theologies to concede that it will be “liked”. I’d ask Edwards if I could – given his views on justice and the active wrath of God against Jerusalem, why did Jesus weep over it?

            Making a distinction between “loving justice” and the punishment itself (as if you can give glory for one without loving the whole package) seems…..I don’t even know. Untenable I guess. Academic only.

      • Daniel Fisher


        Aside from the specific quotes, though, and back to your larger and deeper point which is very important and insightful… You used the term “trump card,” a important concept to think through…

        It would be one thing if there were only isolated passages about Gods wrath, and isolated passages about his kindness, allowing us to pick which we felt was the more “foundational” theme and using that to trump the other. But these themes are constantly intertwined. Consider the famous OT statement that the Lord is both “slow to anger, abounding in love…. yet does not leave the guilty unpunished.” Or consider both the extravagant grace, yet terrifying judgment, all wrapped together in the parable of the wedding banquet:

        “Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

        I would think it wrong to use the extravagant grace (they accepted those off the street both good and bad) to somehow “trump” the warning of the one who was cast out into the darkness – just as wrong as it would be to use the horrific sounding judgment at the end to somehow override the very real extravagance of Christ’s kindness and open invitation to all. Given teachings like this, maybe Jesus wants us to believe both things, and not try to choose one to trump the other?

        Reading Jersak’s book (I’m about 1/3 through) and the interview above, he seems quite intentional in using some biblical themes to trump others, and (far worse to me), using certain of Jesus’ words and actions to dismiss other of Jesus’ words and actions. This seems as problematic a method to me as what you see in Edwards (of which I agree with you to at least some degree) – both approaches, while opposite in nature, end up using certain biblical themes in order to ignore, dismiss, or otherwise throw out (to borrow your words) other large parts of the Bible. As you said, “the number of words that have to be redefined to the point of rendering language meaningless – is simply staggering.” I find that an apt description, whether we’re talking about “dewrathing” God as Jersek intentionally wants to do or “de-compassion-ing” him as Edwards (however unintentionally?) seems to end up doing.

        • Mike H

          Daniel, yes regarding “trump cards” I think it is an important point.

          Everyone does it because it’s absolutely necessary. I don’t fault anyone for doing it. But I think it’s 1) necessary to simply acknowledge that it happens across the board in theology and that 2)it’s a complicated process where “plain meanings” are often not so plain – and that’s across the board.

          It’s a matter of – where does one start?

        • Mike H

          I think that much of this comes down to definitions (I’m not as far as into the book as you).

          But when we talk about wrath and punishment, I think it’s more (re)defining these words and the forms that they take and how they fit into the big picture. Just highlighting a verse or parable that demonstrates the use of the word wrath or outer darkness doesn’t prove the nature, form, or purpose of these things. Dewrathing potentially looks much different than decompassioning.

          I hear you though.

          • newenglandsun

            i wouldn’t even as classify it as redefining. i would classify it as emphasing and reiterating that god is transcendent and we can’t expect to fit god into a box in which human language used to define is a perfect match.

  • peteenns

    Folks, as the grand overlord of this blog, might I suggest that we keep in mind that this is the internet and no one is going to convince the other of the bankruptcy of their theology. So when we comment, let’s try to make it more statement of our own theological convictions rather than claims to absolute theological knowledge. I mean, doesn’t this get tiring?

    • Peter,

      I knew it was only a matter of time before you moved from attacking traditional evangelical positions to attacking traditional evangelical Internet discussion tactics.

      First of all, the point is to win, not assist each other via a dialogue in coming to know Jesus better. If you’re going to win, you need superior weaponry, and our best weapon is, of course, the Bible – a book specifically designed to win arguments.

      How this works is I cite all the verses out of context I can that support the narrative of my point. Then, you do the same (or don’t and lose by default – let God be true and every man a liar).

      Then, I point out how you have to use clear passages to interpret the less clear passages (which are only less clear because of our own sinfulness, not because the Bible is difficult and sometimes unhelpfully ambiguous), and that’s what I’m doing. I probably lob out a few more passages to nail the coffin shut and maybe an early church quote or two for icing. Then you do the same, but it doesn’t matter, because you don’t really understand the Bible.

      We keep this up until someone gives up, which means that the other person wins. Then we both go back to thinking what we thought in the first place, except way more emotionally agitated about the whole subject.

      The whole mechanism is about endurance. Does this get tiring? You bet, but if the other person tires out before I do, then I get to host my own personal Philippos Victor parade, the euphoria of which will last me only as long as I find someone else who is wrong on the Internet. I like to use those plastic champagne popper confetti things.

    • Jerry Shepherd

      Hi Grand Overlord. I really appreciate this plea for and civility and modesty of goals in the discussion. I really do. But there is also a bit of problem with regard to your point about how “no one is going to convince the other of the bankruptcy of their theology.” The problem is that this is the very thing which the book is about, and one of the things which I find so objectionable. The book is about the “other side” of having a bankrupt theology. In the foreword to the book, Zahnd accuses the other side of holding a theology which is “repellent” and “pagan.” Hardin denigrates his detractors for worshiping a “Janus-faced deity.” Jersak attacks a theology which he says “reeks” more of “Molech” than of Abba the Father of Jesus. The bar for civil conversation was, from the very start, set pretty low. It should surprise no one if the ensuing conversation continues in the same mode.

      • peteenns

        I meant my comment “for all concerned.”

        But sheesh, Jerry, if I were so easily offended I’d nener sleep 🙂

        • newenglandsun

          white has moved.
          your move…
          (btw, it’s “never”)

          • peteenns

            You’re such a spelling snob. What unexamined bias do you have against nener?

          • newenglandsun

            just the fact that the “v” and the “n” keys are two keys apart from each other 😉

      • Mike H

        Given the subject material of the book (allegedly since neither of us have read it – I’m 1 chapter in) I actually think that the debate has been pretty civilized and respectful given what I’ve seen elsewhere at times. Certainly most of the talk spirals away from any of the content of the interview itself – which sucks but seems normal.

        I’ve found your thoughts to be fair and challenging Jerry, but let’s not forget that prior to any talk of Molech or Janus there was a certain link to your scathing and detailed review of the book (not going to quote any of the review) – a book which you haven’t read! That sort of sets a combative tone.

      • Andrew Dowling

        Aren’t you a Calvinist? Don’t they believe whether one gets “saved” is solely by the Spirit and not any human volition? In that case what is it to you if one is penning a book critiquing your theology?

        • Jerry Shepherd

          Andrew, Calvinism, while maintaining the sovereignty of God, has never denied human responsibility. And it has always confessed that God does not simply ordain results; he also ordains means. Additionally, it’s not my theology, but the theology of millions down through the history of the church of Jesus Christ. I am not personally offended at all.

  • If God is exactly like Jesus why is that good news?

    See Hector Avalos’ new book, Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2015):

    Also check out commonsense questions raised in this piece (not for people easily offended), “How to Tell Your Friends Jesus was a Dick”

    And if Dr. Jersak is going to cite the gospel and epistles of “John” has he considered that mainstream scholarship tends to view the sayings of Jesus in the gospel of John with greater suspicion than they do such sayings in the earlier three Gospels? John is also a gospel filled with “anti-language” say social scientists. It is not a gospel about “loving one’s neighbor/enemies,” neither of which are commanded nor even mentioned therein, but about focusing on loving fellow believers, and maintaining one’s indoctrination, or in the idiom of cults, “love bombing,” and maintaining in-group thinking.

    There is no command in the fourth Gospel [the Gospel of John] to love neighbors or enemies. Instead, it states, “He who believes not is condemned already” (John 3). The fourth Gospel more so than the earlier three teaches that one is either God’s friend or God’s foe, one must “believe” rightly, or, be “damned.” “Eat the flesh and drink the blood,” or you “have no life within you.” It does not say people will be judged according to their “works” as in Matthew.

  • Brad

    Hi all, just checking in. I would say for the record that much of the debate in the comment section doesn’t reflect the tone, content or purpose of my book … which is fine. But I’m just saying please don’t assume you can infer the content from anything other than the interview above.

    But Peter invited me back to share perhaps where I’m coming from on my views of Scripture (and on Edward’s comment, the Gospels in particular). How to be brief … uh … short snappers:

    1. Read Peter Enns books. He’s very good.
    2. I believe that Jesus, not Scripture, is our final authority for faith and practice, but that the Scriptures are an inspired testimony to this very claim. I believe in the infallible, inerrant Word of God … and he had a beard. Any Scripture that claims to reveal God must bow to the living God when he came in the flesh. I’m Orthodox (as in East) on this, vis-a-vis Liberal or Evangelical, which both seem too much co-opted by modernity for my taste.
    3. On the Gospels, this is an area I teach so I’m expected to follow the most recent and best scholarship on it. Avalos … not so much. In spite of some recent, popular jabs that undermine Gospel authority, they are blasé … old and tired, like the boxers in tonight’s supposed super-fight. The best scholarship is trending toward a greater confidence in the reliability of the Gospel tradition/testimony (cf. Bauckham, Wright, Benedict, et al, or Meier, ‘A Marginal Jew’ if you’re hardcore and appreciate the more critical goods at a post-doc level). Grumpiness about this more conservative typically comes with a rather unscholarly wish for something that seems more edgy, but frankly, orthodoxy (by which I don’t mean fundamentalism) is more radical, less cynical and a much brighter light that, say Spong for example..
    4. On John specifically (which I take to be faithful to the Johannine tradition, even if penned by a protege), there are many good studies on the genius of this book and why it does what it does. Among the ancients, Cyril of Alexandria, and today, Craig Keener. But in terms of the author’s social/historical setting, Rensberger’s ‘Johannine Faith and Liberating Community’ has been the most helpful for me in seeing how he retools Jesus’ hostility to the Judean establishment and Pharisees in the later battles for control of the Synagogues.
    5. As for no ‘love command’ in the fourth Gospel, I’m thinking a. the Gospel is written in pretty clear tandem with 1 John, and b. the Jesus of the Gospel demonstrates love in pretty explicit ways. Samaritans, for example, were enemies.

    One thing I’m finding interesting is that my non-Evangelical friends (Michael and Frank, especially) perceive my book as a real challenge for Evangelicals, while my Evangelical friends are just taking it as good news. I think they’re both right insofar as I’m underscoring the revelation of Christ and the meaning of the Cross as non-retributive. That is both a challenge to Calvinist tradition but good news for everyone.

    Anyway, I hope you’ll all pick up a copy of my book!

    • newenglandsun

      benedict’s name is the only one i don’t recognize on this list you’ve given. are you referring to pope benedict xvi who’s written a trilogy on the life of jesus or are you referring to some other benedict?

    • Brad, this clinched it for me. I had your book on my Wish List, but the thoughtful interactions with source material you posted make me want to just go ahead and pick it up. So, writing that earned you at least 90 cents or however much authors get in royalties these days.

    • Mike H

      “I believe that Jesus, not Scripture, is our final authority for faith and practice”

      Hi Brad,

      Do you recognize how this could be confusing, a bit circular, and provides an easy target for criticism? Is this something that you discuss in your book?

    • wolfeevolution

      “I believe in the infallible, inerrant Word of God … and he had a beard.”

      Best line ever.

  • Ross

    Unfortunately I sort of lost the will to live trying to read all the posts on this topic, but the thoughts it raises for me at the moment are about the pressures I feel.

    There are the pressures within and from churches/pastors/whatever which seem to sum up the gospel as “you are naughty and need to behave” which seem to relate to punishment. Which to me seems to line up with the religious view which hates the modern era and feels it is leading to an anarchy where people are not “behaving” and need to give up on divorce/sex/abortion because it’s leading to destruction. (although they do seem to like the idea of ultimate destruction!). This is the bit where I feel bad about myself….which I feel easy to follow.

    Then there is the forgiveness bit, which is difficult to take on board, which sort of evades the punishment thing.

    I’m confused, does God want to punish me or forgive me, or both?

    • Mike H

      “I’m confused, does God want to punish me or forgive me, or both?”

      Great question. Gets confusing right? Depends on who you ask and which verses you want to grab and what’s needed to prop up a theology. God actually seems a little flip floppy about the whole thing – just like any normal human, but with infinite power and knowledge. But what about this verse? Oh, but what about this verse? Don’t ignore this verse!

      IMO, if the gospel isn’t in the end, after all the theological haggling, about new creation and the gracious heart of a self-giving loving God who is passionately forgiving of YOU (not just reluctantly via legal loophole) then it isn’t about much at all.

      Commence bombardment of verses to disagree.

      • Ross

        Thanks, nice comment Mike, still working on that and hope to come up with the definitive answer within the next two millennia.

  • Brad

    Another check-in: Peter felt it might help some readers if I address “how I handle the violence passages in the NT, esp. by Jesus. , which is both a Christology question and a “What is the Bible” question.” That would take a whole book, which I’m not able to write in these comments and in summarizing, would not be as thorough as I need to be to cover everyone’s ‘what about this’ questions. The best I can do is say, (1) if you want to know what I think, you have to just buy the book, because you cannot know what I think and why in a couple of paragraphs; and (2) aside from this book, which covers a lot of these topics very explicitly, I can suggest particular directions for further study, so here goes …

    1. Re: the so-called violence passages in the NT, we must read everything through the lens of Jesus’ most straightforward teaching and the quintessential revelation of the nature of God: the Cross itself.

    On the former, the Sermon on the Mount provides the core of Jesus’ teaching, in which he explicitly rejects human violence for all those who would follow him, with ‘take up your cross,’ as the end of the matter right up front. But also, within the Sermon, Christ says that perfection = being like the Father, who is kind and generous, even to the ignorant and rebellious. That’s one piece of the puzzle.

    On the former, Christ’s definitive and decisive revelation re: violence is the Cross itself, where God-in-Christ receives, absorbs and transforms the violence of the world in himself through radical forgiveness and enemy love. On the Cross, far from ‘pouring out his wrath on the son,’ we see God renounce wrath as a solution to human sin and instead, returns good for evil, ‘reconciling us to himself, not counting our sins against us,’ … ‘while we were still enemies.’ On the cross, enmity is done away with through the nonviolent response of God, even to deicide. Cf. the 20 essays in ‘Stricken by God: Nonviolent Atonement and the Victory of Christ’ (Hardin and Jersak, eds.).

    2. Re: the so-called violence of Jesus in the temple incident, see my article

    3. Re: the oddly violent images of God in some of Jesus parables, see Derek Flood’s suggestive article here: or better yet, just buy his book, Disarming Scripture. Note, with Benedict XVI, all parables find their punchline in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    4. Re: Paul and the so-called violence of God, see also Flood here, where we see how Paul wrestles with OT violence and repents of it himself:

    5. Re: the Book of Revelation, see my appendix in Michael Hardin’s ‘Jesus Driven Life,’ where the obvious cipher to the book is the ‘Lamb standing as if slain,’ and where the ‘wrath of the Lamb’ is a carefully devised term that plays out Christ’s consent to the four horsemen of our own self-destructive defiance.

    Much of of the above is redundant if people can learn to read the OT along Christotelic lines (on this, google Peter Enns and Christotelic), the whole NT through a Christ-centered hermeneutic (where the Gospels have priority, as they always have in orthodoxy), and even the Gospels are read through the cruciform revelation of a kenotic God … on this, see ‘A More Christlike God,’ which covers ‘cruciform’ and ‘kenosis’ as the premier revelation of God’s nature (a la Phil. 2).

    Once one has done all that leg-work, the ‘what-about passages’ must come into alignment with the clear gospel message that God is love revealed in Christ crucified. This is not a facet of God or one of his attributes. This is his very nature, and every other attribute can only be a facet defined (and delimited) by that nature.

    P.S. Note Luke 9 — 51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them[b]?” 55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; 56 for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” And they went on to another village.

    Note that the disciples are directly referencing a 1 Kings 10, where Elijah calls down fire to destroy his enemies. The disciples believe they are just emulating Elijah, for surely God had sent the destructive fire, right? After all, Elijah says, “If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men!” Then fire fell from heaven and consumed the captain and his men. But Jesus rebukes their brilliant idea with that cryptic phrase, ‘you don’t know what spirit you are of’ and is pretty clear: the Spirit of God and the Son of Man are about saving, not destroying. Question: what spirit is about destroying?

    Well, there’s nothing cryptic about John 10:10 – The thief steals, kills and destroys. The Son of man gives life. And the Son is a revelation of the nature of the Father: i.e. God is a life-giver; Satan is a death-dealer. The rest is details (which we interpret through the grid of the Cross and Resurrection.

    • cvictor1

      So are you saying that Elijah unwittingly called upon Satan to call down fire?

    • Jerry Shepherd

      Regarding point #1, as I said in my pre-review, one of the tacks that will be taken will be that of dividing Christ from Christ. “Re: the so-called violence passages in the NT, we must read everything through the lens of Jesus’ most straightforward teaching . . . the Sermon on the Mount provides the core of Jesus’ teaching.” All we have to do is read the Sermon on the Mount, and we can safely ignore the rest. The only thing Christ ever actually meant was the Sermon on the Mount. How terribly myopic and projectionist this is. I’m not quite sure why Matthew bothered to write those other twenty-five chapters, or why there are four gospels.

      As far as the cross is concerned, it is important to note that, according to Jesus, the Jewish leaders’ treatment of Jesus will be determinative of the fate of the nation; Jesus explicitly declares that all the blood of all the prophets shed in Israel’s history, culminating with the shed blood of the Son of God will result in the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt 23:33-36; Luke 11:47-51; 20:9-18. This is Jesus, declaring, in the red letters, that his cross is salvation for those who believe; but for those who do not believe, “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” Oh, but I forgot, Jesus didn’t say this in the Sermon on the Mount. Delete.

      • peteenns

        Jerry, would it help if we all just walked away and declared you the winner of the theological internet? We’d save some time.

        All kidding aside, I see you point, but I see Brad’s (and other’s) too.

        So, let me ask you to take off your “defend the Gospel” hat and to cease for a moment justifying your pre-review of a book you didn’t read and the theological system behind it, and put on your PhD in biblical hermeneutics hat.

        With that academic hat on, can you see any positive reason why these deplorable views of Jesus and the gospel keep arising, why people read the same Bible and put the pieces together so differently?

        I can think of a few.

        • Jerry Shepherd

          Thanks for the crown!

          Let me assure you, I am not wearing my “defend the Gospel” hat. But my “PhD biblical hermeneutics hat” tells me that some pretty badly unjustifiable hermeneutical moves are being made.

          I certainly understand the motivations behind some of those moves. I remember, as a ten-year old boy, writing God a letter and accusing him of being a big bully for some of the things he did in the Bible. But I also came to the point where I realized that God is under no compulsion to conform himself to my ideas of what he should look like. For me, one of the tests of any theology worth holding is its surrender to, and worship of, a God who has self-described in ways that may not always be comfortable for the theologian/worshiper. The question, in the end, is “Who is Lord?”

          Your question seems kind of loaded. What “deplorable views of Jesus”? Are you talking about the ones that Jesus gave of himself in the gospels?

          As for the latter part of that question, Irenaeus answered that one a long time ago when, in a famous passage, he described what Marcion and the gnostics did with the Bible–taking the pieces of a beautiful mosaic portrait of a king and rearranging them to look like a dog or a fox, either for the purpose of discrediting the original picture, or to make what they thought would be a better picture, but which, in the end, turns out to be far inferior.

          Vanhoozer — “Marcion’s confusion over the identity of God also led to confusion over the identity of Jesus Christ.”

          • peteenns

            Not the answer I was hoping for.

            I think we’re done here Jerry. You can continue this train of thought elsewhere, perhaps on your ow blog.

      • newenglandsun

        if your position is “gospel truth” then why do you feel a need to defend the gospel? brad is eastern orthodox. he, unlike your reformed view, can actually trace his church’s origins all the way back to the apostles. and yet you say he is wrong?

        • Jerry Shepherd

          I don’t agree with this construal. The Eastern Orthodox church brings forward quite a bit from the Fathers, but has unfortunately downplayed other, very important aspects of their theology. For instance, Athanasius and Chrysostom, just to pick up on a couple of figures, very clearly taught PSA, not in isolation, but as part of multi-faceted view of what Christ’s death accomplished. As for the Reformers, remember that one of the “battle cries” was ad fonts, back to the sources, back to the church fathers. Several studies have shown how Calvin’s theology is very much derived from, and consonant with, not only Augustine, as is well known, but also Irenaeus and others.

          • newenglandsun

            fyi, st. augustine’s theology is considered very heavily ambiguous.

            but no, st. athanasius and st. john chrysostom definitely were not psa advocates. st. athanasius is someone i’ve read quite well.

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Hi newenglandsun. I don’t want to take up space on Pete’s blog to do a quotefest here. But there are fairly extended passages in all three of these fathers where the idea that Christ died for our sins was atoning, substitutionary, and penal is quite evident. Please feel free to contact me privately for these, or just go through all the posts on my blog for the days of Lent this year. And again, I’m not saying they were PSA theorists, only that PSA made up a significant part of their multi-faceted understanding of what Christ did on the cross.

          • newenglandsun

            if it did, then both catholics and orthodox would defend the theory to the point.

          • DeWarrior

            Maybe I’m missing something obvious, but where is your blog? Sounds of interest …

          • Jerry Shepherd

            Hi DeWarrior. The blog is located at the address below. It starts on Ash Wednesday and continues through Easter Sunday. The first day contains a number of passages from Martin Luther, but all the following days contain quotations from church fathers of the first five centuries. Happy reading.


      • Mike H

        “All we have to do is read the Sermon on the Mount, and we can safely ignore the rest”.

        Jerry, you’re too smart of a guy not to recognize that that isn’t what’s going on here.

        • Jerry Shepherd

          No, Mike, that is exactly what I think is going on here. The Sermon on the Mount, as interpreted in a particular way, has become the lens through which all other texts have to be read. Christ is the criterion for what we may believe about God, and the Sermon on the Mount becomes the criterion for what we may believe about Christ. If another text in the gospels seems to go off in a different direction, it has to be reined our so that it corresponds to a particular reading of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ “most straightforward teaching.”

  • Brad

    So that was the long version. Here is the concise one: we must cease from undermining the power of the Cross, cheapening God’s grace, and watering down the gospel through this perpetual need to project our own lust for violence into the very message which utterly extinguished it in the Incarnation. An infinitely measureless love does not need our obsession with retribution. It is finished.

    • Daniel Fisher


      Respectfully, this is exactly the tone I was noting before. Can you at least appreciate that, given such language from Jesus as “as for those enemies of mine who did not want me to be their king, bring them here and slaughter them before me” or “bind him hand and feet and cast him outside where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” ….

      Perhaps, just perhaps, one might allow that if a reader finds some even trace or minuscule amounts of violence or retribution in these words, that this may, just may, have actually come from the text, and is not solely coming from the reader’s need to “project his own lust for violence” into see texts?

      • Barry Murphy

        Daniel, who says the king in those parables is Jesus?

        • Barry, that’s a good question. With Luke 19:11-27, the traditional interpretation sees to be that the nobleman is Jesus. I’m getting this from the rather ancient interpretations available on Bible Hub. Also, Raymond Brown writes in his “An Introduction to the New Testament” that the thrust of the parable “is to challenge the disciples to make profitable use of all that Jesus has revealed to them about the kingdom.” But note contra the Fortress Commentary on the New Testament, which says this is a “parable of a throne pretender who seeks and tries to maintain power,’ and that “Jesus distances himself from such a kingdom.”

          I don’t want to turn this into a dissertation. For Matthew 22:1-14, I’ll turn to the interpretation in Joachim Jeremias’ “Rediscovering the Parables,” where he describes this parable as one of many where Jesus’ critics are criticized. These critics are like the guests who refuse the invitation to the wedding, so “God has called the tax-collectors and sinners” instead.

          I’m not saying that these parables must be interpreted this way. Your question was “who says.”

          I think your better argument here is that we’re dealing with parables. Arguably, Jesus is not calling here for violence against actual people in the actual world. The violence is part of a story he’s telling. The story may not even be wholly original. He may be telling or adapting a then-existing story. True, Jesus does not condemn this violence, but neither does he conclude his story by urging his followers to engage in similar acts of violence.

          We can debate what it meant that Jesus told these stories.

          • peteenns

            A very important point, lbehrendt, if I may chime in. Seeking one-to-one correspondence in parables is tricky, and sometimes ill-advised. When Jesus says that dead branches will be cast into the fire, that doesn’t mean hypocritical Pharisees will burn in hell.

          • Or that they should be used as kindling! ;^)

          • Andrew Dowling

            Have you read Levinson’s “Short Stories by Jesus”? I don’t concur with all of her interpretations but it’s invaluable in exposing the ineptitude of much of traditional interpretation and “christianizing” of the Gospel parables.

          • peteenns

            You mean A.J. Levine, right? I blurbed it 🙂 I agree with your assessment.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Yes . . .Whoops on the name 🙂

        • Daniel Fisher

          Who the king does or doesn’t correspond to is not relevant to my question – whether Jesus was talking about God, himself, justice and righteousness in general, or whatever other interpretation one happens to find….

          The point remains that the violence and retribution in this parables originated in Jesus’ words, not in something I “projected” into the parable. Can we all here at least agree that far?

          Point is, if I may be so bold, I find it unkind, insulting and demeaning to be told that, when I (or anyone else) read such phrases in the gospels and think I’m reading something that sounds like retribution or violence, then this is because I’ve projected my own “lust for violence.”

        • Mike H

          Since so much is made of the violence in parables (as sort of the trump card for retribution) I thought this video from Greg Boyd would be relevant.

      • Jerry Shepherd

        Daniel, I completely agree here with your response to Brad. As I mentioned in my “pre-review.” There are over thirty places in the gospels where Jesus describes either he himself or his Father as engaging in retributive violence and punishment of the wicked. The passage you mentioned is one of the them. As I also mentioned, when Jesus tells a parable (Matthew 18) in which the Master in the parable turns the servant over to the jailers to be tortured, and then Jesus steps outside of the parable and says, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you . . .” it’s hard to understand how taking that passage at face value is the result of a “perpetual need to project” onto Jesus one’s “own lust for violence.” To make this kind of accusation is more than just a little perverse. I think that, so far, my pre-review is pretty much spot on. Thanks, Daniel.

  • Bev Mitchell

    For those not already busy reading Jersak’s book, I’ve put a review of the whole thing up on Amazon. It’s an attempt to summarize what I take to be the message without reading into it too much or skipping over too much.