Mark Driscoll’s God of Hate – An Alternative

 

 

Not surprisingly Mark Driscoll’s heart warming sermon on how much God hates some of us stirred up quite a few emotions.

It should. The issue of who God is and what God is like is fundamental to not only Christianity, but any faith.

Like any other issue of such importance, this one deserves some serious reflection. So, as a follow up to stirring up the pot yesterday I thought I would try to get to the heart of this debate over wrath and love, and hopefully offer an alternative to, what is for many of us, Mark Driscoll’s unpalatable God of hate.

But first a story.

A few years ago I was with my youth group at our denomination’s quadrennial youth conference in St. Louis, MO. It’s a “big to do” in our little denomination. Lots of teens from all over the world, dozens of speakers and activities, and of course top tier Christian music artists, because you’ve gotta keep the people entertained.

One night the guy that spoke was the head of a major student evangelism ministry. This organization challenges and “equips” students to proselytize (I’m not convinced its really evangelism) to their friends and strangers walking down the street. If you’re a youth pastor you get their mailings on a weekly basis.

The opening was pretty good, a couple of funny stories to get the students engaged and interested in what he was saying. But then things made a strange and disturbing turn.

In his attempt to get the students to better relate to Jesus he made reference to Jesus’ experience on the cross. The basic premise was essentially “Jesus feels your pain.” Of course he does and that’s one of the beautiful aspects of the faith. It was how the speaker said Jesus understands our pain that I found incredibly problematic and which I think is at the heart of Mark Driscoll’s misunderstanding of the nature of God.

According to the speaker, and I feel safe in assuming Mark too since they’re both part of the Reformed camp, God the Father turned his back on Jesus while he hung on the cross and abandoned him in order that he could pour out all of wrath on his son.

First of all, even though Jesus echo’s the cry of the Psalmist “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”, I don’t believe for a second that the Father abandoned his son or that he poured out his wrath upon him. However, this is a very nuanced and somewhat technical conversation. So, [shameless plug] if you have way too much time on your hands and you enjoy boring academic papers of margainal quality, then you can read the thesis I wrote on the subject, literally as a result of hearing this sermon at the youth conference.

That being said, this is standard Reformed theology. It’s an interpretation of how we are saved called “the satisfaction theory.” Essentially, it is the idea that Jesus dies to satisfy the Father’s wrath. It’s a widely held belief by many Christians whether they consider themselves reformed or not.

I think it’s not only theologically incoherent, but that it also creates a God which I am not convinced is even worthy of worship.

If as that speaker and Mark argue the cross is a moment in which God the Father commits an act of unbridaled hate while Jesus performs an act of self-sacrifing love and yet we as Christians are to believe in “one God”, then what we are left with is a God with a serious multiple personality disorder. A God who, at least in one personage, we should hate and despise. This simply will not do.

I think at the heart of the problem in Mark and that youth conference speaker’s theology is that they don’t understand who or what we are being saved from. Likewise, I think this issue of “being saved” is at the heart of the conversation we’ve been having over the past day or so about God’s wrath.

There are only 3 possibilities here. Only 3 people from whom we could possibly need saving.

Our first option is the obvious culprit: Satan. Lots of Christians believe that this is who we need saving from. This is another theory of the atonement called “ransom theory.” In this view, God uses Jesus as the ransom to buy us back from the devil. There’s a big problem with this idea, however. If God has to bribe Satan to hand us over, then Satan is not only really powerful, he is, in fact, on par with God. Though that sort of dualism may have life in our popular conciousness, it’s certainly not biblical and definitely not orthodoxy. God and Satan are not co-equals. So, this theory is out for me.

Our second option is the culprit Mark and the youth conference speaker have chosen. According to them, God is saving us from Himself. This is called the “satisfaction theory of the atonement.” As we mentioned before, in this theory Jesus’ love saves us from the Father’s wrath and we are left with a God in need of a psychotherapist to help him work out his multiple personality disorder. Seriously, though, I find this theory to be incoherent, repugnant, and confusing. From a logical point of view, how does God save us from himself? Before you answer that too quickly, please note that that idea of God the Father pouring out his wrath on Jesus while he hung on the cross is not found anywhere in the Bible. It is read into the Bible much later. Even if this were true, then we are left with a God whom we should at least hate in part for his fraticide of Jesus. If it is the case that the Father is a murderer, then I am confused as to why he is worthy of worship at all? So, again, this theory is out for me.

Which leaves us with our third and final option. For me, I think we are saved, not from a godlike Satan or a murderous Father, but from ourselves. It all goes back to sin. If we think sin is simply “missing the mark” or breaking the law, then we don’t understand sin or therefore salvation at all. Sin is idolotry. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve aren’t guilty of stealing fruit. They’re guilty of trying to steal godhood away from God. In other words, they were trying to put themselves on the heavenly throne as an act of self-worship in the attempt to be lords of their own lives. We are guilty of sin, not because Adam stole fruit, but because like Adam we continue this pattern of trying to be god’s of our own lives.

As Christians we believe that God is the source of all life and that apart from him there is only death. So then, if we try to live apart from him, making ourselves god, then the inevitable result is death. This is why Paul says “the wages of sin is death”. This isn’t because God stands by ready to be judge, jury, and executioner whenever we make a mistake. Rather, death is the inevitable consequence for following our own path which leads away from the only source of life.

So then, when Jesus dies on the cross he is not saving us from Satan and he is certainly not saving us from himself. He is saving us from our own destruction. Hell isn’t simply God’s punishment for people that make him mad. Hell is our attempt to create our own kingdom, an alternative kingdom to the kingdom of God. Because of God’s love, not his wrath, and because he took the risk of giving us free will which allows to establish our own alternative kingdom.

The cross, therefore, is not an act of wrath at all. It is an act of love in which God saves us from our own destruction and opens the gates to his kingdom allowing everyone, sinner and saint alike to dwell with him forever.

God certainly has wrath, but if we look at the direction it’s pointed at in scripture, instead of simply counting how many times it appears and assuming we know what that means, then we see that God’s wrath has a very specific target. God’s wrath is stirred, almost exclusively in Scripture, when we worship other gods, especially when that god is us. And it is stirred again when we ignore and trample on the marginalized, persecuted, and oppressed.

God is one. He does not hate his son, nor has he ever, “this is my son in whom I am well pleased.”

And God doesn’t hate you.

Does he hate it when we try to take control of our own lives? Absolutely, but only because he hates the thought of living apart from us.

God loves us, that’s why he sent his son, and that’s why he died on the cross.

Telling the world that God hates them isn’t just fear mongering, it’s bad theology, and because it repudiates God’s fundamental nature, I find it to be rather blasphemous.

God loves you. His people should love you. And I’m sure Mark Driscoll can find a way to really be Christ-like and love you too.

Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt

  • http://mshedden.tumblr.com mshedden

    According to Julie Canlis in the brilliant “Calvin’s Ladder” this isn’t really the reformed Calvin. One of the important arguments she makes is that Calvin thought that God had to love the world to see it is as something worth dying for first.The move towards atonement is move that begins out of love and then moves towards restored koinina or fellowship.She argues Calvin’s vision of descent isn’t really for the sake of showing how withr Jesus through the Spirit we go back towards the Father.
    I’m not a reformed person that seems much better then Driscoll’s “God hates you, personally.”

  • chickenman

    Isaiah 53:8
    10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the LORD makes[c] his life an offering for sin,
    he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
    11 After he has suffered,
    he will see the light of life[d] and be satisfied[e];
    by his knowledge[f] my righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities.

    acts 4 27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
    acts 2:23
    This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

    2 Cor. 5 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

    “It bears repeating: All love, all real, life-changing love, is substitutionary sacrifice. You have never loved a broken person, you have never loved a guilty person, you have never loved a hurting person except through substitutionary sacrifice…

    …I read some years ago in National Geographic that after a forest fire in Yellowstone National Park, some forest rangers began a trek up a mountain to survey the damage. One ranger found a bird of which nothing was left but the carbonized, petrified shell, covered in ashes, huddled at the base of a tree. Somewhat sickened by this eerie sight, the ranger knocked the bird over with a stick – and three tiny chicks scurried out from under their dead mother’s wings. When the blaze had arrived, the mother had remained steadfast instead of running. Because she had been willing to die, those under the cover of her wings survived. And Jesus said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Luke 13:34). He did indeed gather Jerusalem’s children under his wings – and he was consumed. All real, life-changing love is costly, substitutionary sacrifice.”
    - Tim Keller

    • chickenman

      And honestly, if you don’t like blasphemy, please, by all means, get that graven, false, and blasphemous image that has been commonly used to represent Jesus throughout the centuries by pagans off your website. How God-honoring it is to name your website “theamericanjesus.net” and plaster his “face” in an uncle sam outfit. Jesus is not American. He is the King and Lord and Creator, sovereign over all.

      • http://theamericanjesus.net Wes

        It’s almost as if that’s the point, huh?

      • Brian

        Carp, do you know what sarcasm is?

  • Justin

    Thanks so much for your commentary on all of this, Zach. Very helpful, bro. I’m glad you highlighted the nature of sin. It’s apparent that an essential building block in Discoll’s theology is deeply inherent sin, which is a crucially important piece that many of my brothers and sisters in the mainline have softened to our detriment. In that sense, Driscoll is a very helpful reminder that sin isn’t at all “cute or funny.” Nonetheless, I appreciate your navigating the nuances and perspectives surrounding it all. Props!

  • blau

    Zack-

    I appreciate your comments on the nature of sin. I fully agree with your analysis on that topic as well as whom it is that God is saving us from. However, I don’t think that model is incompatible with a God that is wrathful toward sin and even one that hates sin. In fact, I think that the only god worth worshipping is the God that is completely holy and complete holiness demands a complete hatred of sin. Would you want to worship a god that tolerates sin or is indifferent to sin? Dare I say with Paul, “May it never be!”

    In addition, you didn’t offer any response to the passages that chickenman posted other than to show that you’ve completely closed your mind off to other men of God that are earnestly trying to spread the gospel as well as they understand it (that understanding being just as limited as mine or yours since we are all human.) If what chickenman has offered is indeed proof texting then put it into context so that we can understand Scripture better. I would honestly love to hear your take on some scriptures that I believe unmistakably reveal God’s wrath toward sin. Among them are:

    John 3:36
    Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

    Romans 2:5
    But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

    Romans 12:19
    Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

    Ephesians 2:3
    among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

    Colossians 3:5-6
    Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.

    In the least I would like to see what scriptures you would use to back your statements. Your article mentions scripture twice and the Bible thrice (two as the Bible and once as “biblical”) and yet there isn’t a single verse referenced. With all due respect, I am more interested in what the Bible, and therefore God, has to say about these things than what you have to say.

  • q

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding, but are people claiming that sin is not God’s handiwork? Was Creation co-authored?

    • Brian

      I’m no theologian, but what makes sense in my mind is that if there is such a thing as righteousness, holiness or “good,” there has to be something to differentiate it from. What does “holy” mean if you don’t have something “unholy” to compare it to? How could we understand the concept of light without dark, hot without cold? They are mutually exclusive, therefore one cannot exist without the other. Does that make any sense at all? Zack, Wes, clean it up for me.

      • Zack

        I think you’re in the right area, just sort of pointed in the wrong direction. If we believe that sin enters the world via Adam and Eve, then before that moment there was no sin, e.g. all was “holy”. In that sense there was a category of holy without a category of “unholy.” Light/Dark, hot/cold do necessarily need the other in order to make sense, however I don’t think this is true in the case of holiness. God exists for eternity as a holy uncreated being before sin exists, therefore we can speak of holy without needed to contrast it with unholy. In other words, holy and unholy don’t originate together, holy precedes unholy. Sin was a reaction to holiness not a necessary outflow from it. Adam and Eve/we don’t HAVE to sin, they/we choose to. All that to say, biblically speaking we can talk about being holy without needing a category of the unholy because God existed as a holy God before there was anything unholy (even though now they both obviously exist).

        That’s kind of splitting hairs but I think its an important hair to split, otherwise we end up in a place where sin is essentially “necessary” in a way, eg so that we can speak of holy. If sin is necessary then how can it really be “wrong”. I think this idea of the necessity of unholy to contrast holy is more Asian philosophy than it is Christian, i.e. ying and yang, “there can’t be good without evil.” If I’m reading the bible right, particularly Revelation, the hope is that one day there will be good without evil. That make sense?

  • http://morganguyton.wordpress.com Morgan Guyton

    1) God judges us because He loves us.
    http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/article/entry/1575/learning-to-love-gods-judgment

    2) Hell is self-justification.
    http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2011/07/17/from-self-justification-to-mercy/

    3) The cross expresses God’s vulnerability at least as much as God’s outrage.
    http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2011/09/17/the-church-of-outrage-vs-the-church-of-vulnerability/

    4) We are freed from self-justification through trusting in Christ’s atonement.
    http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/justification-by-faith-3-perspectives/

    5) Jesus loves heretics, prostitutes, and tax collectors, but He hates Pharisees.
    http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/whodoesgodhate/

    6) The epidemic heresy of our time is doctrinal Pelagianism in which people think they earn their salvation by agreeing with controversial propositions about God.
    http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/marc-carpenter-and-todays-pelagianism/

  • Julia K.

    Zizek has an interesting take on atonement:

    “This is how Hegelian “reconciliation” works: not as an immediate synthesis or reconciliation of opposites, but as the redoubling of the gap or antagonism—the two opposed moments are “reconciled” when the gap that separates them is posited as inherent to one of the terms. In Christianity, the gap that separates God from man is not effectively “sublated” directly in the figure of Christ as God-man, but only in the tensest moment of crucifixion when Christ himself despairs (“Father, why have you forsaken me?”). In this moment, the gap that separates God from man is transposed into God himself, as the gap that separates Christ from God-Father. The properly dialectical trick here is that the very feature that appeared to separate me from God turns out to unite me with God.?”

    http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/17/zizek.php