Ephesians 1

My wife, Breena, is in a Bible study at church on the book of Ephesians. The study material is written by a famous Calvinist, and Ephesians 1 is one of the key passages that Calvinists use to develop their doctrine of predestination/election. Neither of us are Calvinists, and so we interpret Ephesians 1 significantly differently from our brothers and sisters who believe that God has chosen before time began those who would be saved. Last week, I published a post in which I explained how I interpret Ephesians 1, but I got caught up in technical language, and didn’t produce an article that would be beneficial to most people. So I hope that this post will be something a bit more accessible.

Jesus and Abraham

Breena and I had a long conversation about Ephesians 1, and she found a couple of things very helpful. First of all, when New Testament authors talk about Christians being “chosen,” they aren’t inventing a new concept. The Jewish people were God’s chosen people. Christianity came out of Judaism, and almost all of the first Christians were Jewish. So when someone like Paul talked about being God’s chosen people, or how Christians are chosen in Christ, he was building on a long standing Jewish idea, using terms that were very familiar to him.

The Jews were God’s chosen people because they were the descendants of Abraham, the man that God uniquely chose to form a new nation that would bless all the nations of the earth. They weren’t chosen in the sense that God picked a bunch of individuals out of a crowd of humanity; rather, they inherited Abraham’s chosen-ness like a birthright. They were born into being chosen.

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This morning, my old friend Nate left an insightful comment on the Facebook post of my review of David Platt’s book, Follow Me. I think he raises many valid points, and I would like to take the time to address them. I’ve chosen to do that here, on the blog, rather than on the Facebook thread so that I can better interact with his comments. To see what he is commenting on, please click here, and scroll down to the section titled, My Criticism. Nate’s comments will appear in the gray boxes, with my responses to each immediately following.

My first contention is with your statement that basically God initiated our salvation at the Cross and now he’s waiting for us to “make that salvation available.” What does the Holy Spirit do? Isn’t he the one who convicts and convinces of sin (John 16:7-8) and also the one who initiates our spiritual birth (John 3:5-8), or are these verses “metaphorical” as well? What is his mission? To wait around until we build up the gumption to surrender to Christ and then he moves in? That’s not Biblical in the slightest.

In my attempt to be brief, I left out a lot of important information, as you have pointed out. Certainly, the Holy Spirit is actively wooing nonChristians to Jesus through a variety of means, particularly convicting of sin. God is not sitting back in his heavenly arm chair waiting for us to accomplish his mission. But here’s the point I wanted to make–neither are we sitting back in our sinful arm chairs waiting for God to save us and everyone else. We are active agents in the Great Commission. We were told by Jesus, “Go. Make Disciples. Teach. Baptize.” (And surely he is with us, always.) God did what only he could do–pay the price for the sin of humanity on the cross, then destroy death through his resurrection. Then, as Matthew 28 makes explicit, he told his first disciples to tell the rest of the world about what has happened, and in that telling they would bring the message through which all could be saved. (Acts 11:14) God has partnered with his people to bring about salvation for all who will believe. Paul makes the point most clearly, I think:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:9-15)

To sum it up:

  • We are saved by calling on the name of the Lord;
  • We call on the name of the Lord because we believe in him;
  • We believe in him because we have heard of him [and the Gospel];
  • We have heard because someone has preached to us.

I’m not saying that you or I can save anybody. Nor am I saying that God has nothing whatsoever to do with our salvation, now that the crucifixion and resurrection have happened. What I am saying is what I think both Jesus and Paul are saying, which is that God has sovereignly chosen to make his disciples active agents in his plan of salvation. Isn’t that what missions is all about? I think Platt would agree with me on that, at least.

Regarding your statement about the parable of the treasure; I think you’re missing an important component. Namely, how does this man know the treasure has value? I know that seems simplistic, but seriously, what tells this man “this is worth my life savings”? If you say it’s obvious that it’s valuable, then why don’t some people see this value? Why do many people who are saturated with the Gospel never see its worth? Are they not as smart as us? Not as spiritually sensitive? Are they simply more in love with their sin than we are? If you say the difference between them and us is anything but the grace of God (and the work of the Holy Spirit), then you have just added works/merit to our salvation and stepped into potential heresy (I’m not accusing you of intentional heresy, simply that you are treading on thin ice).

I thought this was a great point, and I thought about it for a long time. Then it struck me that Jesus may have had something to say about this.

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred,sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

[Jesus then goes on to explain the parable.] “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13)

It seems to me that Jesus is describing four types of people that characterize four different responses to the Gospel. Jesus says that there are three reasons for why people reject the Gospel: 1) They don’t understand it, and so Satan has snatched away the message that was sown in their heart; 2) Trouble and/or persecution comes upon a new believer who has no root, and so they give up; and 3) The worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke out the Gospel, so that it fails to bring forth fruit. The fourth soil–the only one in which the Gospel bears fruit–produces a thriving crop because, as Jesus says, someone heard the word and understood it. Jesus did not say that this was because of the grace of God or the work of the Holy Spirit. He says that the Gospel took root in them and was fertile because they heard and understood it. So I will say what Jesus said: The difference between those who receive the Gospel and those who reject it is that the ones who receive it understand it.

At this point, it may be tempting to ask, “Why did they understand it?”, and then to answer, “Because of the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.” But that’s not what Jesus said. He left it at “someone who hears the word and understands it.” To explain the mechanism of understanding is to eisegete the text. You said, “If you say the difference between them and us is anything but the grace of God (and the work of the Holy Spirit), then you have just added works/merit to our salvation and stepped into potential heresy.” But this is precisely what Jesus has said. I would argue that if your theological system puts you in the position of accusing Jesus of “potential heresy,” then it is time to abandon your theological system.

Your treatment of Ephesians 2 is confusing. If Paul didn’t mean that we are spiritually dead, then what exactly did he mean? Paul used the word nekros there, and while I don’t know Greek perfectly, that means dead. A corpse. Without life. You mentioned that it may be metaphorical. Honestly, if he were referring to our physical bodies, you would be correct because obviously the reader was alive and able to read. But our physical life isn’t what he had in mind, he was referring to our spiritual self. This isn’t Gnosticism, this is Biblical. Gnosticism is that the spiritual and the physical are unrelated so what happens to one is independent of the other. That’s not what he was teaching.

Also, I don’t think I need to go into detail that the Bible considers unsaved people to be dead. That is clear. To think that when I was unsaved I was ALMOST totally dead, but I had a spark of divinity that could choose God is semi-Pelagian at best. I don’t want to get aggressive here, but it concerns me that every time a passage is presented that contradicts your theological view, instead of trying to reason it out within Scripture, your default response is that it must be metaphorical. You’ve done it with both creation and prophecy in the past. I don’t argue those because they are not critical to the faith. But to say that the clear Biblical teaching that we are helpless corpses in our sin is simply metaphorical is untenable. If we start throwing this word around then we run into problems such as was the virgin birth simply metaphor? What about the miracles? What about the nature of the atonement? Was the resurrection metaphorical or literal? The Second Coming? I’m not trying to be belligerent, and I’m not questioning your fidelity on these issues, I’m simply saying you enter a slippery slope whenever you throw the word “metaphor” around loosely when the Bible doesn’t intend to be taken metaphorically.

You’re correct in identifying the basic teaching of Gnosticism. John saw this Gnostic storm brewing in his church at Ephesus, and so we got the incredible book of 1 John, which just so happens to be my favorite book in the Bible. But if Paul is saying that the spiritual can be dead while the physical is alive, isn’t he saying the same thing (though with the opposite side being dead or useless) as the Gnostics? Isn’t this kind of division of the spiritual and physical Gnostic, in and of itself?

As for Ephesians 2, perhaps I ought to go back to Ephesians 1 to help explain why I think Paul is using a metaphor. Ephesians 1:12-13 says this: “…we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…” (I’ve italicized the portions I think are relevant to this discussion.) Can dead people put their hope in Christ? Can dead people believe? Platt argues that dead people can’t invite Jesus into their hearts. In fact, dead people can’t do anything! But Paul says that these people, whom he calls “dead in your transgressions and sins” in chapter 2, believed in Christ. Paul does not say, in chapter 1, that they were infused with belief by God. Rather, he plainly states: When you believed. They were dead in their sins, and then they heard the Gospel and believed. (This sounds quite similar to the parable of Jesus I quoted above.) This, as well as the contrasting vocabulary Paul chooses in chapter 2 (You were dead in your…sins in which you used to live), leads me to believe that Paul is using the term dead metaphorically.

As for your concerns about interpreting Scripture, I try to remain as faithful as possible to the text, which, for me, means understanding the text within its original context, however much a thing is possible. I’ve used this quote from Fee & Stuart again and again, and I live by it: The Bible cannot mean what it never meant. What it meant when it was written is what it means today, though obviously we apply the text in a vastly different context. I’m not afraid of becoming liberal anymore. Many people believe that I’ve already arrived there. No, my greater fear is being unfaithful to Jesus and the Scriptures. The reason that I rail, at times, against certain Calvinistic doctrines is because I believe that they are, in fact, unfaithful to Jesus and the Scriptures.

Finally, (and this is turning out to be longer than I expected) while I agree with you that Genesis 1&2 are eternal and will return someday, the fact is that Genesis 3 distorted that image, like it did everything else. Certainly, Christ began the reversal of the curse on the Cross, and someday he will reverse it completely when he returns, but until then, sin rules this world and blinds the eyes of the lost. Before I was saved, I was dead, blind, and useless. When God gave me life and raised me from the dead spiritually, I was able to enter a relationship with him again. Not because I’m better than anyone else, but because God is gracious.

I agree with so much of what you write here, but I would say this: sin does not rule this world, Jesus does. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Jesus, not sin, is Lord. Jesus is presently reigning from the right hand of the Father, that glorious place of cosmic authority from which he is presently putting all his enemies under his feet.

The core of our disagreement, I think, is that, in my opinion, you give sin too much credit. The creative act of God is more powerful and more enduring the destructive acts of Satan or humans. If Jesus is Lord, then sin, death, hell, Satan, or anyone or anything else is not. The Genesis 3 world is passing away, and the Revelation 21-22 world (which is really just the mirror image of the Genesis 1-2 world) is coming. Jesus has already defeated sin, evil, and death. He is defeating them. And he will defeat them.

I hope that I have sufficiently answered your concerns, and I look forward to continuing this discussion.

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.

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