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.

Scot McKnight’s latest book, The King Jesus Gospel, is a revolution for evangelicalism. It is an incredibly important and timely work, one which calls us to leave behind our “salvation-culture” and take up, once again, the “gospel-culture” set forth by the preaching of Jesus and the apostles.

I’ve worked through a little over half of the book on the blog already. My discussion of the first three chapters, which lays the groundwork by establishing the problem McKnight sets out to address, can be found here. The second post on the book, which dealt exclusively with chapter four, in which he lays out the book’s thesis and defines the apostolic Gospel, can be found here. The last post I wrote on the book covered chapter 5, where Scot discusses how salvation overtook the Gospel.

9780310492986-1Here is a brief sketch of the main points of the book:

We evangelicals have mistaken the Plan of Salvation for the Gospel.
We have traded in a gospel culture for a salvation culture.
Our evangelism focuses exclusively on bringing people to a point of decision.
As a result, we do a poor job of making genuine disciples of Jesus.
The biblical gospel is the Story of Jesus, found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

In that last post I promised to cover the final two chapters of the book in a future post. So without further ado, I shall keep my promise.

Chapter 9: Gospeling Today

The way that we “gospel”, or evangelize, today is different from the way the early believers, including the apostles, evangelized. (Scot likes to use the word “gospel” as a verb, so I’ll put it that way from now on.) He sees several points of comparison, the first of which is what gospeling seeks to accomplish. “The gospeling of Acts, because it declares the saving significance of Jesus, Messiah and Lord, summons listeners to confess Jesus as Messiah and Lord, while our gospeling seeks to persuade sinners to admit their sin and find Jesus as their Savior.” (133) He goes on to say, “the gospeling of the apostles in the book of Acts is bold declaration that leads to a summons while much of evangelism today is crafty persuasion.” (134) Ouch!

I’ll skip to the fourth point of comparison between the gospeling of the first Christians and our own evangelism–the problem gospeling resolves. What is the problem that the Gospel solves? Without minimizing sin and the need for forgiveness and reconciliation, Scot frames the solution this way: “The fundamental solution in the gospel is that Jesus is Messiah and Lord; this means there was a fundamental need for a ruler, a king, and a lord.” (137) He says much more on this point, and I want to tempt you to get the book and read it for yourself with this quote:

Gospeling declares that Jesus is [the] rightful Lord, gospeling summons people to turn from their idols to worship and live under that Lord who saves, and gospeling actually puts us in the co-mediating and co-ruling tasks under our Lord Jesus. (142)

Chapter 10: Creating a Gospel Culture

So now what? How do we go about creating this gospel culture that we so desperately need? The first thing we must do is become people of the story. “To become a gospel culture we’ve got to begin with becoming people of the Book, but not just as a Book but as the story that shapes us.” (153) Too many of us are functionally biblically illiterate. We are more profoundly shaped by the doctrines and dogmas that we extract from the Scriptures than by the overarching story God is telling within them; and while there are many dogmas, there is only one Story.

We must also become people of the story of Jesus. “We need to immerse ourselves even more into the Story of Jesus. The gospel is that the Story of Israel comes to its definitive completeness in the Story of Jesus, and this means we have to become People of the Story-that-is-complete-in-Jesus.” (153) We must return to the four Gospels!

Thirdly, we must become people of the church’s story. “We need to see how the apostles’ writings take the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus into the next generation and into a different culture, and how this generation led all the way to our generation.” (155) Christianity was not invented in 1865; it has come down to us through nearly 100 generations of believers. There is much we can learn from them. “We have no right to ignore what God has been doing in the community of Jesus since the day he sent the Spirit to empower it, ennoble it, and guide it.” (156)

There is more to say on these points, and Scot presents two other important points to create a gospel culture, but this is a book review, not a book report. Here is my review: Read this book!

Now I want to say one thing that Scot doesn’t about how to create a gospel culture, and I say this to my fellow preachers out there. Preach the Gospel! Stop participating in the damnable story of American Consumerism & Pragmatism. Stop trying to draw a crowd. Stop preaching the no-Gospel of Success & Self-Improvement. That is not your task. That is not your calling. You are a minister of the Gospel, so preach it!

Your sermons shape your congregation and define its culture, and too many of you are creating a culture that is nothing more than a slightly more moral version of the wider American culture. You’re telling the wrong story. You cannot create a gospel-culture unless and until you preach the Gospel. This will most likely take you down a new path, one that you probably won’t like. You will have to say goodbye to the Story of Success and Fame and Power. But you’ll discover that the Gospel is worth it.

May the Church’s preachers become gospelers, that we all might learn to live out the Gospel, boldly proclaiming that Jesus Christ is King-over-All.

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.

This past week at church I talked about one of the ways that we tend to change the Gospel: We limit the Gospel by thinking it applies to everyone but us. “Sure,” we think, “Jesus died for everybody’s sins. Everybody but me. I still have to work my way back to God. God will only accept me today if I manage to commit little to no sin.”

Do you do this? I do it. Many of the great saints of the past did this. It’s easier to believe in God’s love and grace for others than for yourself. Maybe we think that’s humble, or noble. It’s not. It’s stupid.

You cannot earn the Gospel. The Gospel is a record of historical facts:

Christ Jesus died for our sins, according to the Scriptures.
He was buried.
He rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures.
He appeared to many.

You can no more earn the Gospel than you can earn the American Revolution. It already happened! All that you can do with the Gospel is receive it or reject it. You either receive it as it is or you reject it. Any twisting, limiting, changing, or adding to the Gospel is a rejection of the Gospel. It is disbelief.

The facts of what God has done in the past (the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus) indicate, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God loves you right now. (Unless you go to Mark Driscoll’s church, in which case God hates you…at least according to Mark Driscoll.) So quit trying to be noble and self-sufficient, and quit feeling sorry for yourself. The Gospel has happened! Receive it, and let it be the defining story of your life.

I’ve written extensively about my disbelief in the rapture, so I don’t want to belabor the point too much. The only reason I’m writing about it again is because I mentioned my disbelief at church this past Sunday, and I know that alarmed some folks.

Here are two of the principles that guide me as I study and teach the Scriptures:

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.

God wrote the Scriptures when he did, through whom he did, for his own purposes and according to his sovereign choice. In other words, if Paul, John, Matthew and Jesus didn’t believe in a rapture, then there is no rapture. And if they did, then there will be. We don’t get to come along and change the meaning of any biblical text for any reason thousands of years after the fact. My contention is that there is no rapture in Scripture. So let’s look, briefly, at the relevant passages.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

This really seems to be the perfect description of the rapture, but as I’ve written here, a little bit of historical context will help us to understand what Paul is writing about here. In order for this to be the rapture as we popularly understand it, the second coming of Christ must pause halfway between heaven and earth, somewhere in the sky. Then, all believers will fly up to meet him and stay with him there, in the sky, for either 3 1/2 or 7 years. But Paul calls it “the coming of the Lord”, so we know that he won’t turn around and go back into heaven. He is coming here. There must be a better explanation.

Thessalonica was a Roman colony at the time Paul wrote this letter to the Christians there. Whenever a high-ranking Roman official, or even the emperor himself, visited a colony or a city, the inhabitants of that city would go out to meet him and escort him back into the town. In other words, they didn’t wait until the emperor got to the city walls to throw open the gates. They’re not going to make him ring the doorbell. How much more will we do the same for Jesus, when he returns from heaven? Surely we will go up to meet him (which means we’ll be able to fly! Awesome!) and escort him back to earth, where he will take his place as the rightful king of creation. This, not a rapture or a half-return, is what Paul has in mind in this passage.

Matthew 24:36-41

Okay, this one is obvious, right? Well, as I’ve explained here, no. In this passage, the controlling metaphor is the great flood, where all who suffered the judgment of God were “taken away”. As it was in the flood, so will it be at the return of Christ. In fact, it may not even be a literal “taking away”; Jesus may just be using the language of the flood to talk about the punishment of the judgment of God. Regardless, being taken away is not being rescued from tribulation, but being fully judged by God apart from the atoning sacrifice of Christ.

John 14:2-3

I never thought of this passage in John as a rapture passage, but a friend of mine did, so I commented on it here. It’s a bit too complicated to break down briefly, but I highly recommend you read that post to get a sense for what is going on in this passage.

I believe that I’ve demonstrated that there is no rapture in the Bible. This was an unfamiliar concept to every NT author. In fact, each one of them was intimately familiar to suffering within the various tribulations of their lives. You might even say that suffering, not escape from it, was one of God’s most assured promises.

So much of what drives our belief in the rapture is fear. We are terrified of the Great Tribulation, and we want desperately to escape it. So when someone offers us a rapture out of suffering, we greatly rejoice. But we are not promised escape from troubles. Jesus didn’t get it. Paul didn’t get it. Millions of Christians today aren’t getting it. The power of Christ is most clearly seen in us when we persevere through the suffering caused by trials and tribulations.

Now let me say a word about the book of Revelation.

The book of Revelation is not simply about the future; it is about the past, the present, and the future. Let me put it this way: There have been thousands of antichrists and Great Tribulations, there are presently thousands of antichrists and Great Tribulations, and there will be thousands of antichrists and Great Tribulations. The book of Revelation is about the Great Tribulation that Rome inflicted on the Church, but it is also about every tribulation and persecution that has been waged against the Church because it presents Christ Jesus as Cosmic Victor and us, his Church and Bride, as victorious in him. The book of Revelation was written to encourage all persecuted believers, in every place and in every time, to persevere under the weight of their persecution because, in Christ, we are eternally victorious over the forces of Satan and his antichrists.

You’re not meant to be taken out of the arena; you’re meant to win the fight, kill the beasts, and overcome your opponents because that is what Christ has already done, and what he will do fully when he returns. A rapture would undermine everything. A rapture would surrender the earth to Satan. God has no intention of giving any ground to hell.

I hope that what I’ve presented here both reassures and encourages you. Whether you’re convinced or not doesn’t matter much to me. This is my view. Ember Church takes no official stance on this issue. People of all eschatological persuasions are welcome! But whether you believe in the rapture or not, I want you to hear this: Do not fear the end. The end is glorious. The end is victory for all who are in Christ. The end is bliss. Make sure you get there. Don’t try to escape your trials, but persevere through them.