Last week was rather eventful at the blog. I wrote a post openly criticizing David Platt for preaching that God hates sinners, and took some heat for it. Admittedly, I didn’t pull any punches, and several people read that as being judgmental. While I don’t think I was being judgmental, my criticism was strong. So why did I do it?

Some people commented that I should have gone directly to him with this issue, with Matthew 18 serving as a biblical model for this. There are plenty of reasons why I didn’t do that, the most obvious being that this is not about sin, and I am not a part of his local faith community. However, because of his celebrity and the prevalence of social media, he is a part of my local faith community. His teaching, and the teaching of many of the most famous pastors, reaches into almost every evangelical church in the country. In fact, many Christians trust preachers like Platt or Driscoll more than the pastor in their own church!

For these reasons, I thought it was appropriate to offer my thoughts on this particular message, which had come up in a previous conversation within our community. I expressed these thoughts privately before blogging them, but since this is the second famous preacher I’ve heard say this stuff, I thought it worthwhile to speak out publicly against it.

One of the problems of pastoral celebrity is that these preachers often have influence within a congregation that is infinitely disproportionate to their participation, being that their participation is zero. Of course, any healthy congregation will be open to influences from the broader Church, but when one of those influencers goes awry in some way, it is the responsibility of the local pastor to offer a correction for the sake of that particular congregation. That was what I attempted to do in my posts last week.

The discussion on the “hatred” of God has generated quite a bit of buzz, at least relatively so to the scope and reach of this blog. My post from a couple days ago, Does God Hate Sinners?, is already the fourth most read post at The Sometimes Preacher. My interactions with some folks have lead me to this post, which is an explanation of how I read the Bible.

We all approach the Scriptures carrying particular baggage and with a particular framework. Most of us come to the Bible knowing very little about it, and it all seems so overwhelming. How can I make sense of this? What relevance does this have to my life? I call this the Biblical Fog, but it’s really biblical illiteracy, and I fear that the overwhelming majority of Christians, today, fall into this category. We simply have not been taught how to approach the Scriptures, how to interpret them and apply them for our lives today. So we wander about in a fog, never really picking up the Bible, and when we do, never grasping God’s word. It doesn’t have to be that way, and I can help, but that’s another post for another time.

Another approach to the Scriptures is called Systematic Theology. In this approach, the Bible is a wellspring of doctrine and theology (as well as practical issues for life) ready to be categorized into an ordered system of belief. This is, generally, the approach that the scholars of the Church have taken for the past 200 years or more. “What do you believe about X?” “Well, let me go to Book A, Chapter B, Verse C and I’ll tell you, after I follow up on all the cross-references.” This approach has many strengths, but it is fundamentally flawed because it does not consider the manner in which the Bible was created.

God sovereignly directed the Bible to be written by dozens of authors over almost 1500 years under wildly divergent circumstances.
I believe that the Bible is God’s Redemptive History. It extends into the deep past, to the very beginning, and anticipates the end of the present age to a new beginning. In the middle is all that God has done to redeem humanity, destroy sin and evil and death, and become the true King of the Cosmos. The Bible is the story that invites us to become participants. It is not Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth so much as it is a play in search of actors–the play that is, in fact, the truest reality, to which all the other stories of the world are mere shadow puppetry. The Bible is the Story that defines my life–past, present, and future–because it is the story of how God made all that exists, how it went wrong, what he has done to make it right again, and what he will do to finally consummate that process of making-all-things-right.

For this reason, I must pay the utmost respect to the manner in which God created the Bible–its authors, its times, its contexts, its audiences. God sovereignly directed the Bible to be written by dozens of authors over almost 1500 years under wildly divergent circumstances. I cannot dishonor this incredible work of the Holy Spirit by disregarding the historical nature of Scripture and still hope to fully understand the end result of the Spirit’s work. That is an arrogance of the worst order.

So I pay attention to the history of Scripture. I seek to understand it within its own context before I try to apply it to my context. I believe that the Bible was the Word of God to someone else before it became the Word of God for me. As I’ve said elsewhere, two principles that guide me are:

The Bible cannot mean what it never meant.
If we don’t understand the Scriptures in their historical context, we’ll never understand them at all.

I try to immerse myself in the Scriptures by entering the world of it’s authors and first readers. Besides prayer, this has been more profitable than anything else I have done in my studies. So that’s how I read the Bible, and that’s why I write the things I do on this blog, and preach the things I preach at Ember. My aim is always to honor the Scriptures for what they are, to enter the world in which they were written, and to participate in the new world they are creating.

Corey, who I hate, posted a comment in yesterday’s post about biblical hatred. What is it? Why is it there? What’s it all about? Well, the short answer is this: “Shut up, Corey! Don’t let me ever see your stupid face around these parts again!” (For those of you who don’t know about my friendship with Corey, our love language is hatred. It’s complicated.)

According to a quick search on, the English word “hate” appears 127 times in the NIV. (“Love” appears 686 times.) The majority of these passages do not have God as the subject of the verb, to hate. But there are some that do, and the object is occasionally human beings.

As I wrote yesterday, I don’t believe that God hates sinners. The biblical evidence is, in my opinion, overwhelmingly in favor of the position that God loves sinners. The whole arc of redemptive history leads us to the cross, where God’s agape love is most clearly on display.

What, then, are we to do with these hatred passages? Hatred is the intense or passionate dislike of someone or something. But the term has deeper connotations in our culture, implying oppression, ridicule, and antagonism. The imagery that gets conjured in our heads when we say, “God hates [whomever]”, is of fiery destruction and torment–which is to say, of hell. But is that biblical hatred, properly applied to God? I don’t think so.

Throughout the Scriptures, God relates to people through covenants. A covenant is basically an agreement between two parties, one greater and one lesser. God made covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David in the Old Testament. When God chose someone with whom to make a covenant, this person was seen as particularly loved, blessed, and accepted. When God chose to not make a covenant with someone (Esau, for example), this person was viewed as rejected, hated, and cursed. I believe that biblical hatred, with God as the subject, is covenant rejection, and does not imply divine oppression, ridicule, or antagonism.

God’s hatred is exclusively linked to his covenant-making choices. When the Psalmist proclaims that “God hates liars”, it is because liars and evildoers and murderers are actively breaking the stipulations of God’s covenant with Israel. “Thou shalt not lie. Thou shalt not kill.” And so on. When you break the stipulations of a covenant, you stand to receive the curses, or punishments, outlined within that covenant. Which is to say, you will receive the wrath and judgment of God. This doesn’t mean that God hates you, in the 21st-century American sense of the word, but that you must suffer the consequences of breaking his covenant.

Fortunately, we live under a new and better covenant, the one made by Jesus through his spilled blood and broken body. This is a covenant of grace that comes to us through faith in Christ, and it was made because of God’s deep love for humanity. And this new and better covenant depends on the faithfulness of Christ, and not our own perfect obedience. Praise God we live in such a time!

A friend of mine pointed me to this video of a sermon by David Platt, author of Radical. In this sermon, Platt argues that God both loves and hates sinners. You can watch the video for yourself, and then read my response below.

The first point I would make is this: Platt commits an exegetical fallacy by relying on the Psalms to make his theological point. The Psalms are Israel’s Prayer-Song Book. They were, as Fee & Stuart point out in their classic book on exegesis, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, “addressed to the mind through the heart”. (207) The Psalms use emotional language in order to draw out an emotional response from the worshipper. More from Fee & Stuart:

The psalms themselves are musical poems. A musical poem…is intended to appeal to the emotions, to evoke feelings rather than propositional thinking, and to stimulate a response on the part of the individual that goes beyond a mere cognitive understanding of certain facts. …While psalms contain and reflect doctrine, they are not intended to be repositories for doctrinal exposition. Thus it is dangerous to read a psalm as though it taught a system of doctrine. (207-8)

I’m not sure who taught Platt how to do exegesis, but the fact that he doesn’t understand this basic exegetical concept, and relies exclusively on the Psalms to make a rather bold and daring theological claim, troubles me deeply. This is a man with a wide reach within the Church, but he doesn’t seem to know how to handle the Scriptures. This, by the way, is a major reason why I didn’t like Radical, and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. In my judgment, Platt simply, and consistently, fails the exegesis test.

The second point I would make is this: The Hebrew word we translate “hate” means rejection, and particularly rejection according to the covenant. While it can also mean “despise” or “abhor”, we must be careful with this word, particularly when we apply it as God’s heart toward human beings.

The truest thing about you is not that you are a sinner, as the neo-Reformists would have us believe, but that you are created in the image of God.
The third point I would make is this: The truest thing about you is not that you are a sinner, as the neo-Reformists would have us believe, but that you are created in the image of God. The work of Satan cannot completely undo the work of God. He is not that strong. The first thing that was ever true about humanity was not that they were sinners, but that they were created by God in his very own image, and no amount of sin or temptation unleashed by the forces of hell can rewrite that history.

The doctrine of total depravity spits on the work and power of God because it makes the tacit point that Satan’s de-creative acts are stronger than God’s creative acts. False. God’s creation is stronger than Satan’s attempts at de-creation. Has the devil perverted God’s work? Yes. Has he distorted it? Yes. Has he broken it? Yes. Has he undone it? Has he completely destroyed it? No. We are created in the image of God, and that is a fact of redemptive history.

The fourth point I would make is this: God is agape love. At least according to John the apostle. If God is love–the love that lays down its life, surrenders its rights, and forgives all offenses–can there be any room for hatred? If love is something that God fundamentally is, at the core of his being, how can he hate?

The fifth point I would make is this: Platt makes another exegetical fallacy by not working out his theology within the larger biblical context. In other words, Read the New Testament! Here are just a few samplings:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:8
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. -John 3:16-17
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. -1 John 4:10
We love because he first loved us. -1 John 4:19

I don’t know how to make this point any clearer: God loved us with the strongest force in the universe, with the agape love that resides at the core of his being, with that unbreakable bond which binds the Trinity together, before we believed in him. God loved us before we loved him, and his love is not so flimsy or wishy-washy as to leave any room for hatred. God loves sinners, and his love is too big, too full, too rich, and too deep to leave any room for hatred.

So I make this conclusion: No, David Platt; No, Mark Driscoll, God does not hate sinners. He loves them. He loves them enough to send his Son to die as an atoning sacrifice for their sins. What is lacking in the cross that makes you think that God hates anybody? What is lacking in all that God has done for us that would leave room in your heart and mind for a hatred of sinners coming from the heart of God? What else does he need to do to convince you that he doesn’t hate you, or anybody else for that matter?

And, for the love of God, who taught you how to read and teach the Scriptures?! Your misunderstanding of basic exegetical principles and misapplication of Scriptures is astounding. It would be comic if your reach weren’t so vast. But it’s tragic. Please pick up Fee & Stuart’s book and read it. Your churches, and evangelicalism in general, needs you to get the Scriptures right.

Last week I preached on Titus 2:11-15, which, as I wrote yesterday, is such an incredible passage you could preach it 8 different ways and still not exhaust its richness and depth. I wanted to spend some more time with some themes I touched on briefly, and perhaps put them a better, more understandable way.

According to the text, we live between two appearances: the past appearance of the grace of God, and the future appearance of the glory of God. Meaning, God has broken into our world in a significant way through the Incarnation of Christ, and his subsequent death and resurrection. This is the appearance of the grace of God. But God will also break into our world, again, in an equally significant, if not more magnificent, way when Jesus returns to judge the world and take his place as its rightful king. This is the appearance of the glory of God.

We live between these appearances, but that doesn’t mean that we’re just sitting around reminiscing about the past and waiting for the future. The middle isn’t empty–it’s full! Now is the only time and here is the only place we’ve been given to work out the past (the appearance of the grace of God) in the hope of the future (the appearance of the glory of God). It’s in the middle that we are transformed by the power of the Gospel, of Christ working in us through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

So what do we do? We prepare for the return of the king by ruling and reigning in his name and according to his purposes. This means that we take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, not merely to bring salvation to all people, but also to extend the rule and reign of Jesus the King to every heart and home on earth. We’re not simply in the heaven-assurance business, we’re also heralds of a new kingdom–a kingdom that is crashing against the kingdoms of the world. We are the ambassadors of this kingdom, endowed with authority by the king, and commissioned with a message of good news for all mankind.

As ambassadors of the king, then, we must see to it that his rule and reign is extended to every corner of our own hearts and minds, and that it is evident in every aspect of our lives. Not only are we heralds and ambassadors, we are also citizens of this new kingdom, and our lives must reflect this new citizenship. So, in all things, we surrender to the King who surrendered the benefits of divinity to become like us in every way, dying for our sins, and rising again in power.

He is coming again, so don’t just wait around. The time between appearances is full of opportunity and challenge and adventure. I challenge you to orient your mind and heart between these appearances, and live accordingly, in the power of the Holy Spirit who is within you through faith in Christ.

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