My wife wrote a post on her blog yesterday about a conversation we had with our kids at breakfast. The kids were talking about living to be 100 years old, and Breena told them that she would be dead when they were 100. That kind of freaked them out, so she reassured them that we would all be together in heaven if we love Jesus. Then she turned to me and asked, “Is that right?”

One of the things we value in our family is telling our kids the truth. That’s why we don’t do Santa Claus in our house at Christmas. Sure, he’s a fun story, but he’s portrayed as though he’s real, and he most certainly overshadows Jesus during the Christmas season. It’s not that we’re opposed to fiction or fun stories, it’s that we’re opposed to fiction portrayed as truth to the point that the real truth is suppressed beneath the fiction. So what does that have to do with going to heaven?

I believe that the truth about heaven gets obscured by the fiction. The popular image is that we become angels when we die, playing harps on clouds and looking out for our loved ones who are still alive on the earth. This is not the biblical image.

So when Breena asked me, “Is that right?”, I said, “Well, actually Jesus is going to come back here and reign on the earth.” Of course, my little ones don’t know what the word reign means, so Breena had me explain it.

“That means Jesus is going to come back and be the king over all the earth. And do you know what else, we are all going to be kings and queens with him!”

I have never seen my kids eyes light up so bright in my life. They could not have been more excited about becoming kings and queens with Jesus. This led into a much longer conversation about how we live on earth, but it was that spark in their eyes and voices that hit me with this epiphany: The truth is life-giving. We tell our kids the truth, not simply because it’s the right thing to do, but because it breathes life into their souls. The truth is always better than fiction.

Jesus is better than Santa Claus.

Reigning with Jesus is better than the popular, saccharin picture of heaven.

The truth is better than fiction. Trust your kids. Tell them the truth. They can understand more than you probably realize.

What sort of life are you pursuing? A life of pleasure? A life of purpose? A life of significance? A good life? A quiet life? A family life? What sort of life are you pursuing?

Or are you just sitting back and letting life come at you? Are you passively and blindly accepting your every circumstance? Are you just trying to get by? Are you keeping your head down, hoping to stay out of trouble? Are you trying to become invisible?

Those who follow Jesus, those who are his friends here on earth, have received a specific kind of life. God’s life. That’s right. In Jesus, you have received the life of the one who created life, and created it with no stain of sin or death. Now the question is: How do you live that life?

One of the least read books of the Bible is 2 Peter. Be honest. When was the last time you read 2 Peter? Did you even know there was a 2 Peter? Could you find it in your Bible in less than a minute? It’s okay if you can’t.

Here’s a powerful statement from one of the least read books of the Bible: His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Everything we need. God has given it to us through his divine power.

You already have everything you need to live God’s life. You don’t need to be more spiritual, you just need to pay more attention to the Spirit that already lives within you. You don’t need to be more mature, you just need to apply the wisdom of the Scriptures–which you already have access to–to the trials and failures of your life. You don’t need to know more, you just need to press more deeply into the knowledge of God fully revealed through Jesus Christ.

You don’t need more hit points. You don’t need to level up. You don’t need another heart-piece. You already have all you need to live God’s life, the godly life in Christ Jesus. You have it through faith in Jesus. You have it because God called you to it, according to his own goodness and glory. You have it because the Holy Spirit lives within you, and he is talking to you all the time. You have it, because as Peter says in the very next verse, God has given you his very great and precious promises. What are those promises? They are Jesus himself!

As if this wasn’t enough, Peter goes on: [God] has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. You can participate in the divine nature, right now, on earth, in the same clothes you’re wearing today. That’s the invitation of God through the fulfillment of his promises–to live his life, to escape the corruption of evil desires. And you don’t need anything besides what God has already given you. That’s the beauty and power of the Gospel. So go out and live God’s life today, and live it without fear or insecurity. When you have Jesus, you have everything you need.

This post is a response to Jacob’s post, which was a response to my post on questions for Calvinists. If you haven’t been following the discussion, it all started with this post, in which I criticized something that David Platt said in a sermon about God hating/abhorring sinners. There is a long thread of comments in that post, which then precipitated a follow-up post on biblical hatred, and then a post called How I Read the Bible. Finally, I offered my reasons for criticizing David Platt here. That’s a dizzying trail of links, to be sure. But it’s been a fun and fruitful discussion. Before you read what I’ve written here, you should probably have Jacob’s post open in another tab, and it might even be beneficial to have my questions post opened in yet another tab. Now to it.

Jacob, thank you for such an insightful and well-written response! I think you’ve articulated your position expertly.

While I certainly could have characterized Platt’s sermon as “pastorally irresponsible”, I didn’t think that would be sufficient. Moving to the other end of the evangelical spectrum, I spent a great deal of time working through Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, which I also thought was pastorally irresponsible, but which deserved a fuller treatment. I felt the same with Platt, since he is so revered by a great number of evangelicals, particularly of the young and conservative persuasion. As I’ve written elsewhere, I am not in Platt’s faith community, but, because of his celebrity, and through the miracle of modern social media, he is in mine. Obviously, I felt strongly enough about what he said here, combined with the level of his influence within my own congregation, that something more needed to be said.

I addressed this post to Calvinists/Reformed folks because every person who offered a critique/comment/question holds to that framework, insofar as I know. I could only assume that what I wrote rubbed them the wrong way, and that it had something to do with their overarching theological framework. (Or maybe it’s just because Calvinists love to argue theology. Admit it. It’s true!) My questions arose because two popular Reformed preachers taught that “God hates (abhors) sinners” (David Platt), and “God hates you” (Mark Driscoll). Furthermore, I find that those who hold to a Reformed framework, with the exception of Tim Keller, emphasize God’s glory and his holiness, but not his love. Perhaps I haven’t read broadly enough. (I’m not saying they don’t believe in God’s love or talk about it at all; I’m just saying, from an outsider’s perspective, it’s not something that seems to characterize Calvinist/Reformed teaching.)

Regarding total depravity, perhaps I haven’t understood it correctly. Here is my understanding of total depravity: Human beings are utterly and completely sinful from birth, incapable of doing anything good whatsoever, and incapable of choosing to follow God or ever worship him. Perhaps I haven’t got that right.

My perspective is that we are originally created in the image of God, that we rebelled and invited sin and death into God’s perfect world. Furthermore, the image of God was broken and perverted in us. We are completely incapable of restoring both that image and the relationship we once held with God. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot redeem ourselves. We need God to do that for us.

Maybe I’ve gotten total depravity wrong, but I know there are some circles that teach that nonChristians are incapable of doing anything good whatsoever. This is clearly false, in my opinion. Now, do those good deeds earn them salvation, or a little bit of God’s favor? No. The “good deed” God wants from us is to believe in his Son, and it is only by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, that we are saved. I believe this puts me well into the Reformed camp. Perhaps I have merely rejected a caricature of total depravity, as you say. But the caricature is a reality in many circles.

As for God’s hatred and wrath, I have done my best to define the former, at least. I wrote in my post Biblical Hatred, “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.” Perhaps I should have also defined wrath, which I take to mean “the eschatological judgment of God unto condemnation.” As I understand it, the wrath of God is a picture of the coming judgment of all humanity, and will be poured out upon all who have rejected Jesus. The overwhelming picture from the Scriptures–mostly the prophets and the NT–is that God’s wrath is a future event, the only escape from which is to find salvation in Christ himself.

But both Platt & Driscoll used “hate” in the present tense, meaning God hates you (or sinners) right now, in the present. This is not God’s coming wrath, as the Prophets and Jesus and the apostles talked about. This is God’s present extreme dislike–his open and full antagonism and oppression today. That is what, in the light of the cross and the overwhelming witness of the NT, I simply cannot believe. I believe that God, like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, is actively and fully running toward every lost soul in the world, and he is doing it in the person and work of his Son.

To sum up, God’s wrath is the eschatological judgment unto condemnation; God’s hatred is the present antagonism and passionate dislike of sinners. I affirm the former, but reject the latter.

The conversation between Simeon & Wesley is very appropriate. Truly, Christ is our only hope. But that does not mean we do not have the responsibility to persevere and obey, by the grace of God and in the power of the Spirit. Surely, at the very least, the book of Hebrews and the seven letters of Revelation affirm this.

Question 1

What role, if any, does the Abrahamic/Davidic covenant play in these expressions in the Psalms. Are the wicked those Israelites who reject YHWH, or would that also include the Gentiles? Are the righteous David and his followers, or is it the covenant people as a whole?

Here, as with Platt, I would argue that you’re overlaying a cognitive framework on the Psalms that they were never intended to accomodate. The theology within the Psalms, while true of course, is expressed in extreme terms because the Psalms are written in the language of the heart. To expound them in search of a literal dogma is to miss the point of the Psalms.

For instance, using Platt’s exegetical method, I could make the following case, which I believe would be fully “biblical”:

Psalm 137:8-9 • Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. If you want to be happy in life, go to Babylon, which is modern day Iraq, and throw some infants off a cliff. Kill as many babies as you can find, and you will be happy–blessed, even. In fact, this verse is proof that God has commanded the United States Army to invade Iraq, and kill as many civilans as possible, especially children. If we want to be happy, we’d better go to war!

Absurd. Offensive. Horrifying. But my method is the same as Platt’s. Ahistorical. “Literal”. And, quite frankly, ignorant of proper exegetical methods and the differences between varying types of literature found in the Scriptures.

Question 2

I don’t think I’m being vague here at all. A sinner is someone who sins. That seems self-evident. But it seems you don’t agree with the premise. Fair enough.

I stand by my exegesis of 1 Timothy 1:15. The verb is in the present tense. His past has humbled him in the present. He knows what he’s capable of doing and being, and is teaching Timothy to live with that same sense of his own sinfulness in order to remain humble.

Question 3

I would argue that God has not revealed himself analogically, as you say, but directly and personally, in the person of Jesus Christ. We know God, not through a roundabout circuit of analogies, but in the person of the Incarnate Son.

Colossians 1:15 • The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
Colossians 1:19-20 • For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
John 14:9 • Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.
Hebrews 1:2-3 • In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
John 8:19 • If you knew me, you would know my Father also.
2 Corinthians 4:6 • For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
John 1:18 • No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

This is really the crux of it, for me. We most clearly know God through Jesus. Whatever we thought we knew about God through Israel’s history and their Scriptures must now be reinterpreted through Jesus Christ, which, of course, was exactly what Jesus and the apostles were doing.

Question 4

This is not sophistry at all. The verse in Romans 9 has been quoted to me on multiple occasions, but I’ve yet to hear an adequate explanation. I put the verses together like that because it seemed especially relevant to the discussion.

Question 5

I agree! Perhaps my clarification above regarding the terms “hatred” and “wrath” will shed some light on this issue. God’s wrath is coming at the eschaton, and all who do not believe/reject Jesus will be eternally condemned. But, in my opinion, that does not mean that God hates us today.

•••••

I’ll conclude by stating my position as clearly as I can.

God loves humanity with agape love, the love that exists within the Godhead, binding him together in perfect unity.
God will judge sinful/rebellious/unbelieving people.
God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to, among other things, spare all humanity from this coming judgment, also known as God’s wrath.
God did this because of his great love for humanity, and the cross of Christ is the clearest and most powerful sign of this love.
All who turn to Jesus in faith and repentance will be saved from the coming judgment.
God is actively pursuing all humanity by empowering his people, the Church, with his very Spirit to make disciples of every people group.
Hatred has to do with present opposition and antagonism, not future judgment unto condemnation.
God does not hate any human being.

And there you have it.

On Tuesday I posted a critique of David Platt’s sermon on why God hates sinners. (Mark Driscoll recently said much the same thing.) I contended that God does not hate sinners, a position I still hold.

This post generated, by far, the most conversation I’ve ever had on this blog. Many folks with a Calvinist/Reformed/neo-Reformed perspective brought some great questions and challenges to what I wrote in that and the two subsequent posts. I did my best to answer those questions and challenges within the comments, and in the course of the conversation, some questions began to formulate in my mind that I would like to ask of Calvinists. What follows is a series of questions and challenges for any Calvinist/Reformed readers related to the discussion at hand. Please feel free to post your replies in the comments on this post, and please also use the numbering convention I use here so that we can keep track of the discussion.

Question 1

It seemed to me that, in the challenges I received to my post, God’s hatred of sinners was equated with his judgment of sinners. Is this true? If so, why must God hate sinners in order to judge them? And I know this sounds sarcastic but it’s not meant to be, but do you really believe that God hates people? Do you believe that God is actively, objectively, and fully (with all divine power) antagonistic and oppressive toward those who have not put their faith in Christ?

Question 2

If God hates sinners, as Platt (and Mark Driscoll) argues, does he hate you? 1 John 1:8 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” We all have sin, and we are all, therefore, sinners in a very real sense. Does that mean that God hates even those who have put their faith in Christ? Please bear in mind the words of Paul, written at the end of his life, to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:15, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (Note the present tense.) Did God hate Paul?

Question 3

It is often said that hate is not the opposite of love. Perhaps it’s not, but they are certainly on the same plane–of the same order, or belonging in the same category. Is it possible for God to both love and hate an individual? Can love and hatred exist within God’s heart for the same person at the same time? At the risk of leading the witness, it may be helpful to reflect on what Paul writes in Ephesians 3:16-19.

16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Question 4

The verse from Romans 9 came up in the discussion: “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.” This is a quote from Malachi 1. I’d like to put a few of the relevant verses together and have you give your comments on them, please.

Genesis 27:19 • Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”
Psalm 5:5b-6 • You hate all who do wrong; you destroy those who tell lies. The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, LORD, detest.
Malachi 1:2b-3a • “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.”

Jacob lied to get Isaac’s blessing. God hates liars. God loved Jacob. How do you explain this series of verses?

Question 5

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the conversation we’ve been having is that nobody took the time to address the New Testament passages I mentioned, and how they were relevant to the discussion, and how they should have influenced Platt’s exegesis. I’ll repost the verses here for your reflection.

Romans 5:8 • But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
John 3:16-17 • 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.
1 John 4:10 • 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 4:19 • We love because he first loved us.

So, does God hate sinners, or does he love them?

Question 6

If God is love, how can there be any hate within him? Keep in mind, I’m not talking about judgment. I’m not talking about wrath against sin. I’m talking about hatred, the passionate disliking of someone to the point of active oppression and antagonism.

Question 7

Jesus says, in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” If the world recognizes the disciples of Jesus by their love, what does that say about Jesus? What does that say about the Father, the one about whom he said in John 5:19, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

•••••

There are probably other questions that have been floating around in my mind this past week, but this will do for now. Some of these are meant to clarify, some are meant to challenge. Perhaps they won’t do either, I don’t know. But I would like hear from you.

One final note, which may explain, a bit further, why I’ve written what I have.

I think it’s important to point out that, when you or David Platt or Mark Driscoll or whomever says “God hates sinners”, you’re not saying, “God judges sinners apart from Christ.” You may think you’re saying that, but you’re not. Judgment and hatred are not the same thing. So even if what all this boils down to is semantics, the semantics are crucial, particularly for an unbelieving world that already believes God hates them because the Church has done a terrible job of loving them. If it’s just semantics, then to say, “God hates sinners” so smugly as Platt said it is pastorally irresponsible.

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.