Rethink:Who was the disciple whom Jesus Loved? Part I

 

Note, this is a personalized abridgement of David B Curtis sermon. I’ve taken the whole thing and reshuffled it a bit, adding my own thoughts, removing some of his words, quoting him verbatim at length, and and in short essentially bastardizing what is a brilliant sermon and observation to suit my blog better. It is an amalgamation of both our minds [mostly his] using his sermon as the template and as the source material and my own intellectual endeavours to fill in the rest  [And yes, I have contacted David Curtis and he has given me his blessing and permission to do this]  To get a better, fuller and clearer picture that what you will read here, you can see the original which was preached on November 30, 2008, and which the full transcript can be found here; [http://www.bereanbiblechurch.org/transcripts/john/4th_Gospel.pdf]” 

I’ve historically attributed two things which will tie together in these next two posts. One, that the disciple “whom jesus loved” was John, and that that very same John wrote the Gospel of John. I’ve recently been challenged with both of those traditions and presuppositions. In light of that  I decided that I would make a case to suggest that neither are true.

Its probably worth mentioning up front that the historical idea that John was the disciple whom Jesus loved is not found in the Bible nor are we told in the scriptures that John was the one who wrote the Gospel of John. Strictly speaking the Gospel of John, like all the Gospels, are anonymous. Instead we find information regarding the authorship in the early Church fathers and traditions, primarily via Eusebius, Papias and a few others. I find it best to leave that alone for now and concentrate strictly on the biblical evidence, as there will be time enough to discuss the questions of tradition later on. At this point its probably a good idea to re-read the quote from J.I Packer that I posted yesterday, before we continue.

So putting aside tradition for now, we are told who wrote this Gospel in the book itself.

Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” [John 21:20]

Here the writer mentions “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and then states that this is the disciple that wrote this letter:

This is the disciple who bears witness of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his witness is true.    [John 21:24]

So we know who wrote this Gospel- it was “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Now all we have to do is to figure out who that was. My whole life I have heard that John was the one whom Jesus loved, being part of his inner core with James and Peter.  But here’s the thing; nowhere does the Bible say that John was the “disciple whom Jesus loved”. We are not told that anywhere in the scriptures. Instead we see that only one person is explicitly named in the Bible as being “loved” by Jesus.

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.    [John 11:1-2]

Here for the first time we are introduced to Lazarus. Now notice carefully what we are told about him:

The sisters therefore sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”    [John 11:3]

Lazarus’ sisters refer to him as a man who Jesus loved. That tells us something very important about Lazarus. But while that could simply be his sisters’ opinion, even more revealing is what the Spirit tells us through the inspired text

Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.    [John 11:5]

Please notice carefully what this says, “Jesus loved…Lazarus.” So Lazarus’ sisters said Jesus loved him, the text says Jesus loved Lazarus and notice that even the Jews said that Jesus loved Lazarus:

And so the Jews were saying, “Behold how He loved him!”    [John 11:36]

We are also told that Lazarus was Jesus’ friend, and knowing that Jesus had great affection for his friends, it seems to me that the Spirit of God is going to great lengths in John 11 to make it known that Jesus loved Lazarus. And recall, while we are told that Jesus has great love for his people, Lazarus is the only man named in the Bible that is specifically identified as being “loved” by Jesus.

Because of this love it should be obvious that Jesus and Lazarus have known each other for a while and must have spent some time together building and developing their friendship.  We don’t know when exactly this was, possibly during their childhood or even later in life, but the first we hear of Lazarus is in John 11. Or is it? That is the first time we hear of him by name anyway, but I think it is arguable that we see Lazarus very early in this Gospel, and possibly that he was a disciple of John the Baptists:

Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked upon Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.    [John 1:35- 37]

Here we have two of John’s disciples leaving him to follow Jesus. Who are these two?

One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.    [John 1:40]

Here we see that one of the disciples was Andrew. The other one is never named.  This would be consistent with the author’s practice of not naming himself! It seems safe to assume that when the Writer makes any reference to another, unnamed disciple, he has in mind this one particular disciple whom Jesus loved. It is hard to believe that the writer has a number of different disciples that he is committed to keeping anonymous. Returning back to the resurrection scene;

And when He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” He who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings; and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”   [John 11:43-44]

Here we see the good friend of Jesus, the one he loved being raised from the dead. In terms of his miracles up to this point, this was quite spectacular, especially for Lazarus. Seeing as how they were good friends before he died, how much more would their friendship be cemented and their affection for each other deepen in light of this? Do you think that this resurrection had a profound life changing effect on Lazarus? I can’t help but think it must have. But being raised from the dead made Lazarus a celebrity of sorts which everyone wanted to see.

 The great multitude therefore of the Jews learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. [John 12:9]

This large crowd is not gathering just because of Jesus, they also wanted to see Lazarus.  Lazarus was causing such a stir that the Jewish leadership wanted him dead and wished to have him executed, a detail I hadn’t considered before or thought about when I considered what happened to him after his resurrection.

But the chief priests took counsel that they might put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away, and were believing in Jesus. [John 12:10-11]

And we learn something interesting here. The crowd was there because of Lazarus:

And so the multitude who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb, and raised him from the dead, were bearing Him witness. For this cause also the multitude went and met Him, because they heard that He had performed this sign. [John 12:17-18]

Lazarus had become a big celebrity; everyone was talking about him and wanted to see him. Some even wanted to kill him. It makes sense that this is reason that the author of the Fourth Gospel wanted to remain anonymous and why instead of naming himself and putting himself out there, he calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, “the beloved disciple” and the “other disciple”. In fact, we see the disciple whom Jesus loved, or “the beloved disciple” is mentioned five time in the Book of John, and then we don’t hear a single mention of him in any other of the Gospels or anywhere else in the New Testament.

And this is something that strikes me as particularily significant. John 12 is the last time we hear of Lazarus. While he is being raised up and spoken about as to become a major character in the continuing narrative, after chapter 12 this man disappears from Scripture. This good friend of Jesus, this man who Jesus loved and raised from the dead suddenly disappears.

Notice where we see him last:

Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. [John 12:1-2]

The last time we see Lazarus he is reclining at a table with Jesus. Then he disappears from the pages of Scripture. What is really interesting is right after Lazarus disappears someone else appears that we have never heard of before:

There was reclining on Jesus’ breast one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.   [John 13:23]

The last time we see Lazarus he is reclining at a table with Jesus and the first time we see the “disciple whom Jesus loved” he is reclining at a table with Jesus. The only man named in the Bible as being “loved” by Jesus abruptly vanishes from this Gospel and then the only disciple singled out as being “loved” by Jesus abruptly appears in this same Gospel. It is my contention that this “disciple whom Jesus loved” is Lazarus. This seems so clear from the text but we miss this because the title of this Gospel is, “The Gospel According to John” so we assume that John is the disciple whom Jesus loved. But the inspired text tells us that “Jesus loved Lazarus”.

We also get to see another glimpse of the great affinity that Jesus had for this disciple. We see that after Jesus makes a comment about his betrayal that Peter, one of his inner core, does not ask Jesus directly who he is speaking of but rather appeals to the disciple whom Jesus loved and uses him as an intermediary to clarify what Jesus meant. This both disqualified Peter from being the one whom Jesus loved and reiterates the deep sense of intimacy, friendship and love shared by these two men must have. If anyone is going to know, its going to be the one Jesus loved.

When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.” The disciples began looking at one another, at a loss to know of which one He was speaking. There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. So Simon Peter gestured to him, and said to him, “Tell us who it is of whom He is speaking.” He, leaning back thus on Jesus’ bosom, said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” [John 13;21-25]

Now some will argue that only the 12 were at the last supper and Lazarus was not one of the 12. But where did the idea come from that only Jesus and the twelve were at the Last Supper? Most likely from DaVinci and his paintings and not the Scripture. The Scriptures never tell us that Jesus and “the twelve” were alone at that last Passover. In terms of the last supper, in Mark 14:13 Jesus sends two of his disciples off to find a venue, and then later arrives with the twelve apostles. There is no suggestion that the two who went ahead were from the twelve, and so they, at least, would probably have joined him for the supper in addition to the apostles.

As a matter of fact they were probably very rarely alone. Acts 1, tells about the time when the eleven remaining Apostles named a replacement for Judas. They began by selecting two men. But notice what is said about the group from which these two came

“It is therefore necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us–beginning with the baptism of John, until the day that He was taken up from us‑‑ one of these should become a witness with us of His resurrection.” [Acts 1:21-22]

This text teaches us that Jesus had many loyal disciples who accompanied him throughout His time here on earth. Is it hard to believe that some of them would have been at the Last Supper? Something Jesus says also indicated the presence of others at the Last Supper. Jesus tells them that one of them will betray Him and when they ask who He replies:

And He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who dips with Me in the bowl.  [Mark 14:20]

The twelve” is a specific designation to refer to the twelve Apostles:

And when day came, He called His disciples to Him; and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles:    [Luke 6:13]

The term “disciple” is a broad term that refers to any follower of Jesus. If Jesus and “the twelve” were the only ones at that last Passover, then why would Jesus need to say “one of the twelve”?  If “the twelve” were the only ones present, wouldn’t Jesus have said, “One of you”? And given that, doesn’t this further indicate that the “disciple whom Jesus loved” was not one of the twelve, as a delineation of sorts is drawn between the twelve and this man who leaned on Jesus?

Food for thought. I’ll be posting the conclusion to this very soon.

Great J.I Packer Quote

“We do not start our Christian lives by working out our faith for ourselves; it is mediated to us by Christian tradition, in the form of sermons, books and established patterns of church life and fellowship. We read our Bibles in the light of what we have learned from these sources; we approach Scripture with minds already formed by the mass of accepted opinions and viewpoints with which we have come into contact, in both the Church and the world. . . . It is easy to be unaware that it has happened; it is hard even to begin to realize how profoundly tradition in this sense has molded us. But we are forbidden to become enslaved to human tradition, either secular or Christian, whether it be “catholic” tradition, or “critical” tradition, or “ecumenical” tradition. We may never assume the complete rightness of our own established ways of thought and practice and excuse ourselves the duty of testing and reforming them by Scriptures. (J. I. Packer,Fundamentalism and the Word of God, [Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1958], pp. 69-70.)

When Truth And Unity Collide

Suppose you met some people who told you they were believers. They stated they believed in the God of scriptures, believed that Jesus was his Son, that he died for their sins and that he rose from the dead. They believed salvation was by faith and grace, and that loving God and loving people were of supreme import. They were in close community with each other, attended their church weekly, loved their families and friends, served each other in sickness and in health, were openly evangelistic, took care of the widows and orphans, and created a loving environment in which they were able to thrive and affect the community around them. They only had one idiosyncratic belief. They believed that you could only be saved if you followed the OT dietary laws and restrictions. Other than that they were all good.

Could you be in unity with them? Would you let them attend your Church and mix and mingle with you and your friends?  Would you consider them brothers and sisters in Christ and give them an audience as they explained their beliefs? What sort of actions would categorize your love and affection for them? Would you welcome them with open arms? Have ecumenical Church services with them? Would you draw them into your community and give them free reign to integrate themselves into your own service? Would you let them teach you about why they had their unique beliefs about how salvation relates to the dietary laws? Would you let those beliefs get in the way of unity, or would you dismiss that as ultimately a non-issue that you refuse to let divide the two groups?  How united do you believe you could be with them?

Paul certainly answered that question for us. Swap out circumcision for dietary laws and you are essentially painted a picture of the Judaizers. These were men who believed that unless you has your genitals cut as a sign of your obedience to the ancient mosaic laws, you could not be saved. And so far from acquiescing to that particular theological nuance and dismissing it as simply a difference in opinion, a non-issue- something that did not matter in light of their love for each other, Paul warns people about them and ferociously attacks both them and their theological particulars.  He writes in Phillipans 3:2 Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh” He further goes on to castigate them, declaring that they were not even true Christians, saying  “Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in–who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery– to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” Galatians 2:4-5

Paul and his team did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour. Why? So that the truth of the gospel would remain with them. While some people may have suggested that they remain united with these people and that we ought not to let theological differences divide, Paul is quick to dismiss that. He understood that they posed a serious threat to the gospel of grace and the universality of the Christian mission. For this reason his very goal was to divide. He called them evil men who were dogs and unbelievers. He purposefully disrupted and destroyed any hope of unity that people on either side may have desired because he recognized that unity at the expense of truth is no unity at all. It is nothing but shallow and meaningless symbolism which breeds superficiality.And while some people may have argued that this was unfair because the Judaizers were kind to others and were well liked and respected in the community, or that the world might see these divisions and judge the Church for that, Paul didn’t make their benevolence,  kindness or generosity the dividing line of unity and Christian acceptance, but rather made their theology and their proper understanding of soteriology the issue which divided and consequently defined them.

So again I ask, in light of this, how united could you be?

How then should we view the Fort McMurray Alliance Church? Part III of III.

The last few weeks I have been working through Brad Jersak’s January 15th sermon at the Alliance Church. As has already been documented in the prior two posts, [Part I and Part II]Brad introduces and argues several heterodox and anti-biblical positions to the congregation, and every indication seems to be that he was able to do so without correction or reproof. I contacted the Alliance Church with a few questions about the sermon. I’ve been listening to their podcasts for several years now and there was no indication that the Church believed or taught these things, and I wanted to ask whether or not they agreed with Brad Jersak and were in the process of advancing these theologies and biblical hermeneutic. They chose not to respond back and as they don’t believe there can be such thing as a godly critic, they don’t intend to ever.

In light of this, the last part of these posts is some points to ponder, as well as the thought of how should we treat the Alliance Church in light of them giving a platform and a voice to what I would consider an extremely toxic and poisonous sermon.

1. I still don’t know how the Alliance Church views this sermon and whether or not they agree with the content. The Alliance Church kept the sermon posted for over a month. It was only in the last week or so, after I posted part II of my review, that they took it down. It you go and look for it you’ll see it missing from their website. This suggests to me that either they do not ultimately support it, or that they do support it and removed it to minimize the controversy. If something is false teaching and heresy, you don’t leave it up for a month. If you don’t agree with it, you don’t post it in the first place! This demonstrates a severe lack of wisdom.

I also note that even though the sermon was preached and posted publicly, that there is no public confession of error. There is no accompanying sermon, message, blog post, or update indicating why they removed it or whether or not they are against it. Have they apologized to their congregation after the fact? Did they take the time the next Sunday to do the research I have done, and set the congregation straight on the Trinity, Church fathers, view of heaven, hell, the character of God and the atonement of Christ? Did they teach on this as a rebuttal to Brad Jersak? It does not seem so, and this is a problem. If you post something publicly, you should denounce it publicly. The fact is that they have not done so, which may lead many conclude that they do indeed support this message and the theological content.

2. The Alliance Church leadership showed a lack of wisdom in inviting Brad Jersak to speak in the first place. Assuming they do not agree with it, they should have done better research on this individual to see what he teaches and confesses. The preaching of the word of God is a sacred duty, and it must be done correctly. It took me only an hour or two to do some preliminary research on the man and the red flags were coming fast and furious. The fact that they exposed the flock to this false teacher without knowing his theological proclivities and idiosyncrasies is extremely troubling and suggests a lack of care for the pulpit and the sermon.

3. The fact that no one stood up and said something is a damning indictment. The Alliance Church still has Brad’s weekend seminars up, and listening to them should have been an adequate precursor to let them know that the sermon wasn’t going to be good. I have not reviewed them, and will not do so unless specifically asked, but when you have 45 minutes of a man teaching about mystical, esoteric spirituality with lots of stories and no bible verses, that’s a problem. But as bad as that was, it was no match for the sermon which was theological cyanide.

So why didn’t the pastor stand up and say something? Why didn’t the elders stand up and say something? What a horrific abdication of their duties to their flock and their responsibility towards Christ. They should have interrupted him 5 minutes in, publicly rebuked him, asked him to leave, apologize to the congregation, and used this as a teachable moment to display humility, confession, and discernment. It’s not rude, it’s their job! That would have been extremely commendable. Instead they demonstrated their tolerance for wolves and we get 50 minutes of slaughtering the sheep while the pastors, elders, deacons and even laypeople stayed silent and shut up. This is a complete failure and breakdown on their part and suggests a systematic cowardice that is not in line with their call to be shepherds and watchmen.

In any case, this mess leaves us with two possibilities and one hope. The first is that the Alliance Church and their leadership Terry, Bonnie, and Val support this man, message and new theological direction. If this is the case, then I cannot recommend the Fort McMurray Alliance Church as a good and safe Church to attend, and would desire that everyone attending get out as fast as they can.

The second possibility is that they don’t support the man, message and theological direction. If this is the case then the lack of discernment that they have demonstrated in their handling of this whole affair is so great that it has penetrated and tainted the very ethos of the leadership team and the fabric of the congregation. For this reason I don’t believe they can be trusted to soberly bring the word and rightly divide the word of truth; that they cannot be counted on to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” in a way that befits a congregation supposedly dedicated to Christ and his truth. In light of this, I believe it would be best for Church members look elsewhere for spiritual instruction, as I cannot recommend them.

And lastly is my hope. I would hope that the Alliance Church repents of this little stunt and would return to faithful, biblical preaching. I would hope that they would publicly confess that having Brad Jersak speak was a mistake, that the beliefs he eschewed were dangerous and unorthodox, that he was guilty of just being factually wrong and having poor logic in many of his arguments, and that they failed in their duty to protect the flock.  If this were to happen,  I would reconsider my conclusions that people should cease going, and would suggest that they would be restored as a congregation in which people ought to attend.

Repainting Jesus: Brad Jersak, part II of III

Fort McMurray Alliance Church

Sermon Review. Brad Jersak. January 15, 2012. The Gospel in Chairs

Brad Jersak checks with archbishop Lazurte and Mirsolav Volf, who should be noted are not paradigms of fundamental christian orthodoxy. [In the case of Miroslav Volf, the man is a Post-Modern Moltmannian ] and says

“[I spoke about] …God violently torturing his own son to appease his own wrath, and what Volf said was this, he said ‘to say that the wrath of god needs to appeased by the sacrifice of Jesus would be heresy. This is because because it pits God against God the Father against God the Son and it shatters the Trinity in a way that they’re no longer one. And the fathers would have never allowed for that. Because in our creeds, in the ones we believe, God is forever indivisible, united, one God, three Persons. So along came the gospel in chairs. Let me show you another story, where I’m like, I need to upgrade my story.

An understanding of the way in which human and divine agency operates simultaneously in the events of history is critically missing at this point. Any description of the atoning work of Christ that portrays the death of Christ as anything less than God’s intention for the Son’s coming into the world is seriously flawed. Even as Jesus agonizes over the approach of his death he prays: “And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour” [John 12:27]

I spoke of this in the first post, but the death of Jesus was not simply a tragedy perpetrated through acts of human violence; it came about by God’s intention. There’s plenty of reasons why God intended Jesus to die but that he did so is unquestionable. In regard to that intention, its paramount that we always keep in mind the unbreakable harmony between the three persons of the Godhead. Some may complain that it was abusive for the Father to inflict such suffering upon the Son, but this completely misconstrues the mutual commitment on the part of Father, Son and Spirit to every aspect of the Son’s work.

 Jesus came to die not simply out of a will to be obedient to the Father but because he was as committed to the redemption of a great host of human beings as was the Father and the Spirit. The Father loved Jesus because, as the Good Shepherd, he laid down his life for the sheep, but Jesus did this of his own accord, no one took his life from him [John 10:17–18 . Brad Jersak clearly does not understand the Trinity, and so all his mention of Jesus being pitted against God is nonsense. We will delve into it a pit further later in the post when he makes a clarification of sorts. 

He quotes a particularly gruesome quote from Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the hand of an angry God and says that Edwards was his hero and that this is what he believed, but then states we can do better in the 21st century and can go back to the early Church fathers and ask what did those men preach.  [notice that he has appealed several times now to the" Church fathers" authority without mentioning any of them, or without elaborating on what they believed or how they would agree with him]

Whereas in the substitutionary gospel that the overwhelming majority of protestants preach we have the chairs pointed away from each other, Brad’s restored version of the atonement always has the chairs towards each other. He paints a picture of history by pointing out various biblical vignettes where God comes looking for people. He begins by speaking about Adam and Eve in the garden, then mentioning  the woman with 5 husbands, and says that because Jesus is God in the flesh, that God comes and sits by her at the well. He says “we know from Church history that her name is Photina and she became an evangelist and a martyr.”

Note that this is a terrible use of “Church history.”  What are the facts surrounding St Photina the Martyr?  She is not mentioned in any early Christian writings. Augustine’s Treatise on the Gospel of John [Tract. 15, 10-12] doesn’t mention her name, neither does St. Chrysostom in his Homilies on the Gospel of St. John, [book 32, chapter 4.] I’ve read a handful of early Christian commentaries and not one mentions her. It would seem that Byzantine hagiographers developed the story of the Samaritan Woman, beginning where Saint John left off, and that the story and name of her was compiled during the 8th century, probably from local traditions, martyriologies or overzealous scribes and commentators. Why should we consider that to be historically accurate? We have no good reason to, and if that is what counts as “Church history” I would hate to consider who he believes the “Church fathers’ are.

He states that in both stories God came looking for these biblical characters because God is always towards them. He offers a few more examples such as Jesus seeking Zaccheus, the woman caught in adultery [Brad says that she was cornered as a way of tricking Jesus, because they couldn't stand the message of mercy he had. Where in the Bible does it say that that the reason they wanted him dead was because they couldn't stand his message of mercy?] The man possessed by the legion of demons that Jesus sets free, and the paralytic man who comes through the roof that Jesus heals and forgives his sins.

“See, we take this very Jesus and we put him on the cross, and St. Stephen the Martyr says “God sent him but you murdered him. And we killed his one. We killed him. We tortured him. We abused him. We sent him down into death and the Father- the Father you know…gives Jesus access to death. This is important. Jesus goes down into the grave in what the early Church taught… that even [in] the grave, Jesus begins preaching the good news. Some of the early Church sermons says that he went down through death to conquer death and he went down into the very pits of hades and he found Adam and he took him by the hand and he walked him out and as he walks out of the grave as his father raises him up from the dead, a train of captives like a parade follow him out of the grave. And we see this in the epistles of Peter, we see it people who have been dead for a long time wandering around Jerusalem because Jesus had led them right out of the graves. And you know even, even when those of our friends and our loved ones, even when they enter the grave- when we…run into the penalty of sin which is death, and we all experience that still, what does the Psalmist say? Even in sheol I am there. He comes down and he makes himself one with humanity and he says “die with me so that you will rise with me”, and Jesus once said there’s coming a day when all who are dead will hear the voice of the Son of Man and be raised, and in that place those who return that love with hatred for as long as they want…have their backs turned on him, the torment of God’s love feels like hell. It’s his love. Have you ever resisted love to the point where it tormented you? Have you ever had your conscience  punish you for rejecting perfect love? And for all eternity if we’re able to say no to that love we would experience the profound regret and the punishment of our conscience, but for those who turn to him and return that love with love it feels like heaven.

So the way we preached it in the past is almost like ‘well he’s got two places and you can go there or you can go there’. How the early Church taught it was that there is a river of fire, the glory of God, his perfect love that flows from the throne and to those who rejected it feels like hell, to those who receive it feels like heaven. It’s a lot like the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness. To the…to the…. Pharaoh and his armies, the very same cloud of glory that gave warmth and light and comfort to people of Israel felt like darkness and something fearful. So this is not about God threatening us, its about him welcoming us into his incredibly wide, deep, rich, long, wide, you know, love and saying you know, ‘who’s in?’ And he’ll say it for as long as he need sto say it. He says ‘I’m the ressurection and the life’, and he conquers death and I’m the one who lives and I was dead and behold I’m alive forevermore. And I  hold the keys to death and hades.

Here’s a seed for you. If Jesus holds the keys to death and hades, and he is perfect love, what do you think he’ll do with them? And it just feels to me like there’s a wideness here that is just always wanting to push our boundaries about whos in and who’s out like we know.  And what if..what if he loves you period.? So that’s a bit f the restorative version. Did you notice the direction of the chairs? The God chair is always towards you. On days when you’r being good he’s towards you. On days when you’re being really, really bad he’s towards you. Romans 5 says this “even when you were his enemy, Jesus made you god’s friends. “

There is much to be said about those three paragraphs. First notice that he is speaking on heaven, hell, eternal damnation, punishment, the rewards of heaven, salvation, justification, glorification, and there is no scripture to speak of. There’s nothing there. He is not exegeting scripture. He’s not examing Matthew 25:29-30, or verses 31-46. Or Mark 9:43-48, or Mathew 13:41-50, or Luke 16:19-31. He is merely tearing down the traditional, historical understanding of these things and asserting new definitions and understanding. None of this is biblical and at this point its evident, 35 minutes in, that he’s not even trying.

He makes more assertions about the early Church and what they supposedly taught. I’m guessing his idea of Church fathers are a few scattered 7th-9th century Eastern Orthodox mystics. That would make sense, especially after seeing his assertions about “St. Photina”. In any case,  here is an extremely brief survey of some of the ante-nicene Church fathers and their views on hell and the eternal punishment. While you read these ask yourself; is what Brad Jersak’s saying about what the Church fathers believed true? Did the early Church really believe there was no eternal hell? Did the early Church really believe that even after death God was still calling people, and if they would only start to love him they would be free to go to heaven? That there is the possibility that eventually all will be saved? That “there is a river of fire, the glory of God, his perfect love that flows from the throne and to those who rejected it feels like hell, to those who receive it feels like heaven”?

Second Clement. If we do the will of Christ, we shall obtain rest; but if not, if we neglect his commandments, nothing will rescue us from eternal punishment (Second Clement 5:5 [A.D. 150]).

Justin Martyr. No more is it possible for the evildoer, the avaricious, and the treacherous to hide from God than it is for the virtuous. Every man will receive the eternal punishment or reward which his actions deserve. Indeed, if all men recognized this, no one would choose evil even for a short time, knowing that he would incur the eternal sentence of fire. On the contrary, he would take every means to control himself and to adorn himself in virtue, so that he might obtain the good gifts of God and escape the punishments (First Apology 12 [A.D. 151]).

[Jesus] shall come from the heavens in glory with his angelic host, when he shall raise the bodies of all the men who ever lived. Then he will clothe the worthy in immortality; but the wicked, clothed in eternal sensibility, he will commit to the eternal fire, along with the evil demons (ibid. 52).

The Martyrdom of Polycarp. Fixing their minds on the grace of Christ, [the martyrs] despised worldly tortures and purchased eternal life with but a single hour. To them, the fire of their cruel torturers was cold. They kept before their eyes their escape from the eternal and unquenchable fire (Martyrdom of Polycarp 2:3 [A.D. 155]).

Irenaeus. The penalty increases for those who do not believe the Word of God and despise his coming. . . . It is not merely temporal, but eternal. To whomsoever the Lord shall say, “Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire,” they will be damned forever (Against Heresies 4:28:2 [A.D. 189]).

Hippolytus. Standing before [Christ's] judgment, all of them, men, angels, and demons, crying out in one voice, shall say: “Just is your judgment!” And the righteousness of that cry will be apparent in the recompense made to each. To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to the lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment. The unquenchable and unending fire awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which does not die and which does not waste the body but continually bursts forth from the body with unceasing pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no appeal of interceding friends will profit them (Against the Greeks 3 [A.D. 212]).

Cyprian of Carthage. An ever-burning Gehenna and the punishment of being devoured by living flames will consume the condemned; nor will there be any way in which the tormented can ever have respite or be at an end. Souls along with their bodies will be preserved for suffering in unlimited agonies. . . . The grief at punishment will then be without the fruit of repentance; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late will they believe in eternal punishment, who would not believe in eternal life (To Demetrian 24 [A.D. 252]).

Make no mistake, Brad Jersak, while not teaching full-fledged universalism, [or dogmatic universalism] does believe in a similar eschatology as Rob Bell does. He is a proponent of hopeful inclusivism, whereby death and hell is not the end. Even after death God still calls and woos people. He would posit that people still have the ability to freely deny the love of God in the afterlife, which seems like hell [thought it actually is not] or freely accept the love of God in the afterlife, at which point it would feel like heaven. This is the culmination of several ideas, such as God is a non-violent being who does not enact violence upon his creatures, mankind does not have original sin, God is never angry with people and has never been, God has no enemies, God is always facing people, and because God’s primary and overriding characteristic is love, he will always offer that love to people, in this world and in the next, at the expense of any judgements he might have.

Also, notice the false dichotomy he offers. In his restorative version of the atonement and God, his gospel in chairs, he points out that in his version God always seeks after people, and that his stories are proof positive of that. But doesn’t God do that in the former satisfaction view of the atonement? We too believe that God came to seek and save the lost. Him pointing out those few instances are not proof that his view is the correct one, and that ours is too small and needs and upgrade. He presents it as “In my view God seeks after people.” And as if ours doesn’t!? This is really bad argumentation. And so really, what arguments has he made that his new way is better and is the “real gospel”?  He never used scripture, he made vague references to the “Church fathers”, he disparaged the other side using mindless caricatures… he ignored all the scriptures that directly contradicts him, and that’s about it? It doesn’t stand up to even the most basic examination and it would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous.

After this, Brad offers a brief commentary. He says there are two really critical revelations from this message, from upgrading our gospel to the gospel of a God who never turns from us. 1. This message never pits god against Christ. God never changes, and God is perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ. in short; Jesus shows us perfectly what God is like.

“Christ did not come to change the Father. Christ did not come to appease the wrath of an angry judge. Christ came to reveal the Father and to show us exactly what God is like. Let me put it this way- “God is like Jesus ” You know, we’ve tried to say “Jesus is God” for a long time, and that’s completely true, but what our world needs to hear is ‘our God is like Jesus’. He’s exactly like Jesus, he’s always been like Jesus and he will always be exactly like Jesus.”

and

“Paul said on the cross, its not that he was punishing Jesus. Paul says God was in Christ on the cross. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. How? Through punishment? No, through forgiveness. I forgive you.” . Zacahariah 12 says “Yahweh, God says this “you will look at me the one you have pierced. That’s God on the cross and when we committed the worst sin in history, the worst sin in the universe to kill our own God who had come in the flesh just to show us his love …when we did that what was his response? Did he pour out his wrath? No, he poured out his love and his forgiveness. Its like “I forgive you.”

Brad says “Christ did not come to appease the wrath of an angry judge” and yet we see God revealed as an angry judge over and over through scriptures. See Ezekial 7:2-9 

“And you, son of man, thus says the Lord GOD to the land of Israel, ‘An end! The end is coming on the four corners of the land. Now the end is upon you, and I will send My anger against you; I will judge you according to your ways and bring all your abominations upon you. For My eye will have no pity on you, nor will I spare you, but I will bring your ways upon you, and your abominations will be among you; then you will know that I am the LORD!’

Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘A disaster, unique disaster, behold it is coming! An end is coming; the end has come! It has awakened against you; behold, it has come! Your doom has come to you, O inhabitant of the land. The time has come, the day is near—tumult rather than joyful shouting on the mountains. Now I will shortly pour out My wrath on you and spend My anger against you; judge you according to your ways and bring on you all your abominations. My eye will show no pity nor will I spare. I will repay you according to your ways, while your abominations are in your midst; then you will know that I, the LORD, do the smiting.”

Furthermore, I mentioned this in the last post, but this is a really strange way to view the Trinity. Christians ought to differentiate betwee the terms being and person. There is one being of God which is unlimited and eternal and that that being is shared fully and completely by three divine persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is not one third of the being of God, the Son is not one third being of God, etc. Each shares fully the being of God, and we are able to distinguish between the persons because of particular actions that they take both in relationship to one another, and in relationship to creation. So in other words, when we talk about the Father begetting the Son, the Father begets, the Son is begotten, and the Father and the Son together send the Spirit. And so these are distinguishing actions by which we can recognize the differences between the persons. They also take different roles in redemption. Neither the Father nor the Spirit became flesh, but rather it was the Son. It’s the Spirit who indwells the people of God, not the Father or the Son. So it’s important to be able to distinguish between persons and beings [and the distinction between the immanent and economic Trinities, of which the three Cappadocian Fathers Basil, Gregory and Gregory were largely responsible for carving out ]

Its for that reason that you cannot say “God is exactly like Jesus.” He is in that he is the same being, but not that they are the same person and therefore are not exactly like each other. Furthermore, following Brad Jersaks line of thinking, would it then be appropriate to say that Jesus is exactly like God who was meting out punishment and judgement in the Old Testament? Was it Jesus telling the Israelites to kill every man, woman and child? To raze the Philistines and butcher the Amalekite priests? Was it Jesus talking in Ezekial 7? I would be curious to know how Brad reconciles those ideas, as that seems to create more problems for him than it solves. 

Brad states that the second revelation is that

“It never pits God against you. God is always towards you. He comes not as your judge but as your great physician, as your doctor. And Jesus was not saving us from God, he’s saving us from satan, sin and death. God never turns away from humanity. God is  perfectly revealed in Jesus. When did Jesus ever turn away from a sinful person? Did Jesus ever say “you know what, you’ve gone too far- I’m too holy to hang out with sinners. I can’t look on sin. ” You ever hear that, that God can’t look on sin? Really? Is Jesus God or not? And who did he eat with all the time?

Right? so….the idea of somebody who would turn their back cause they’re too holy to look on sin- that’s not God, that’s the Pharisees. Let me make it really clear, this [two chairs facing away from each other]is not the gospel.  This [chairs facing towards each other] is the gospel. The God that turns towards us calls us to turn towards him as forever and ever he says his mercy endures how long?  Forever. Alright, so we made our two critical sort of…statements about theology. God is not pitted against Jesus, God is not pitted against you. This idea that he can’t look on sin, I’m like “where did we get that from”? And I found out  in the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk comes to God and he says this. “You are a holy God and you cannot look on sin,so why do you?” That’s what it says. And we like took half a verse and made a giant theology about so that people feel like garbage. They feel like God has turned from them, [that] he can’t look at them. “I’m too bad” and even some in this room maybe felt like you’re too bad or some part of your life is like disgusting and deplorable to him. And he cannot look at you and he’s like [I'm not sure who the "he's like" is in this sentence. Habakkuk? That wouldn't make sense as he said nothing about Jesus]  “he’s not like that.” He’s like Jesus.”

Brad Jersak asks “When did Jesus ever turn away from a sinful person?” Using his logic of how Jesus is exactly like God, and God is exactly like Jesus, and his propensity to mesh and distort the uniqueness and distinctness of the persons of the trinity, couldn’t I say that Jesus turned away from a sinful person when he first struck the Sodomites with blindness, then send fire from hell to destroy them? Or how about in Genesis 38:7 when we read “And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD killed him.” Again in our Ezekial 7 verse? Or does executing wicked and sinful people not count as turning away? See the problems this results in? It’s not the penal substitutionary view that pits God against Jesus, but it is Brad’s restorative view which first distorts them pits them against each other. I do give him credit because I agree that God can look on sin, but he instantly takes that understanding and abuses it. 

He states that Jesus did not save me from God, and yet Christ’s death on the cross had to exist precisely because God is against me. Romans 5:8-10 says

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! “

This tells us a few things

1. God has great love for us and demonstrated it in a particular way. 

2. Being sinners necessarily means that we were God’s enemies. God is supremely holy and righteous and our sins are a great offence to him, and those sins result in us being his enemy and being against me. God can see me, clearly, in all my muck and mire and sin, and its because God can see me that I am condemned. ie “while we were God’s enemies”.  If we remain as his enemies, his wrath would be upon us. This is echoed in John 3:36 “Whoever puts his faith in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see that life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” 

3. His wrath is terrible and we need to be saved from it. “we be saved from God’s wrath” We see this throughout the arc of scriptures, and also in Romans 2, where we see that the wrath will involved tribulation and distress and that humanity, due to their sins and being God’s enemies, is storing up wrath to be unleashed upon themselves. Hebrews 10 says “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. “

4. We are saved from God the wrath “through him” . That is, in our present state we were unreconciled enemies of God, our our reconciliation occurred when Christ “died for us” /”through the death of his Son”  We see this also in Ephesians 2 “And we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. BUT God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, though we were dead in trespasses and sins, made us alive together with Christ.” 

5. Even though I was a sinner and enemy of God, and fully deserving his anger and wrath, he demonstrated his love for me by saving me. This is wonderful, precious news. Brad Jersak opines that its a bad to feel that some part of my life is disgusting and deplorable to God, and yet we see that parts of my life ARE deplorable to him. Isn’t all sin deplorable to him? I would not be a sinner and an  enemy of God if this were not true.  But the glory of his mercy is revealed here, and lets me know that even when I am at my worst and most rebellious, God still seeks people and draws them to him and saves them. That is a warm blanket to my soul. I get to have a legitimate awareness of my sin and the horrific way that it offends a being who is perfectly holy, and I get to live with the beautiful awareness that even then, Christ took it upon himself, and that as 2 Corinthians 5:21 says “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” and Galatians 3;13 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”

In any case, there is a lot more that could be said. I wish I had delved more into his bizarre view of propitiation and the way he framed the concept, as well as the relationship between Old Testament sacrifices and how that corresponds to Jesus, the lamb that was sacrificed and slain, and the types and shadows we see in Hebrews 10:1-19. but that will have to be  all for now. I hope I am demonstrated somewhat reasonably that this sermon was rife with strange, unorthodox and heterodox beliefs about heaven, hell, the trinity, salvation, the atonement, god’s disposition and view of sin, wrath and judgement, the gospel, and so forth. I hope that we also saw how he used “church history” and “the Church fathers”- which was in a supremely superficial way which gets them vaguely referenced as evidence for his beliefs and yet never once discussed or brought to bear. Also note that Brad Jersak deconstructed many major theological themes and introduced his own unique spin on them without an appeal to the scriptures or to the word of God. Lastly, it should be noted that Brad’s view of these issues is internally inconsistent, and his non-violent hermeneutic falls apart as soon as the Old Testament is brought to bear.

The purpose of this review is not to make personal attacks against Brad Jersak, who I’m sure is a very nice man and is loved by his family and friends. Rather it is to be a careful examination of what is being said in the name of God to the word of God. I really do mean that this is intended to be a gift to the Alliance Church and to others, that they may come to grow in their discernment and be challenged and edified to be Bereans and examine what is said from the pulpit. I hope this offers concrete examples of how Brad Jersak actively preached false ideas about God, how he spun theological tales and tried to buttress it with human words and ideas instead of the holy scriptures.

This was the worst sermon I have ever heard in Fort McMurray, and I’ve listened to hundreds. I consider it poison; theological cyanide which was fed to the flock. That leads us to our last part of this review, which will be how then should we view the Alliance Church in light of them hosting this man and then supporting the content of the sermon itself. I will be posting that final response on Saturday evening.

Rescuing ‘the lamb that was slain’ from Brad Jersak. Part I of III


Fort McMurray Alliance Church

Sermon Review. Brad Jersak. January 15, 2012. The Gospel in Chairs

I’ve been aware of the ministry promulgations of Brad Jersak for a while now. I first came across it when I read his book “Can you hear me? Tuning into the God who speaks” and then later on when I was looking into all the speakers who would be at Breakforth 2011, I became familiar with and eventually read  “Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hell, Hope, and the New Jerusalem” and “Stricken by God?: Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ”.  I hadn’t thought much about him in the last few years, but then I saw that he had delivered a series of lectures and sermons at the Alliance Church. After listening to the sermon and all of the lectures, I became profoundly disturbed at what I heard. For this reason I have devoted a great amount of time ferociously reading all that I can about him in order to understand him better and attain a better grasp of his theology and the implications of his theology. This includes the entire six years of his blog, a dozen sermons, most of what he has written at the Clarion Journal [including several articles he had written that the site had purged and deleted] , as well as the writings and youtube videos of his close acquaintances and ideological partners  Brian Zahnd and Archbishop Lazurte.

For that reason, this will not serve simply as an isolated sermon review, but hopefully may be a resource to serve the greater body of Christ for anyone interested in this man and the progressive missives that he is promoting. Because of the length of it and the copious amounts of verbatim quotations I have done, I will be splitting this up into three parts. The first two parts will be a sermon evaluation of the message itself,  and the last part will be an assessment of how we should now view and treat the Alliance Church in light of their choice to give a platform to this man and promote the theology of his sermon.

INTRO.

Brad Jersak begins the sermon by sharing his desire to speak on the dimensions of God’s love. He commences by offering a translation of the biblical text that he has done, with the hope that it will be “fresh”. In analysing this particular verse, He states that Paul’s point is that we can’t comprehend how big God’s love is for us, that even as we can’t understand it- we need to. And so Paul prays for supernatural power to receive the good news.

“I’m on my knees, praying to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose family in heaven and earth is named after. I’m asking Father to make a withdrawal from his heavenly bank account and to make a deposit of supernatural power of his spirit into your spirit. Why? So that by faith you would find the living Christ filling your heart with his love. And I’m praying God would sink your roots deeply into the rich soil of  capital “L”  love. Then you’ll have the capacity of saints to know in your knower that Jesus’ love is wider, longer, deeper, and higher than you ever imagined. If you only knew the dimensions of Jesus’ love, the fullness of God would fill every corner of your life. So lets raise a toast to the name of Jesus, the one who hears what we ask for and sees what we imagine and then massively exceeds those expectations. And you won’t believe this part. He does this work through human partners, so let’s be the radiation glory of Jesus who shines through us evermore brightly year after year, and for all time with no end in sight. ” Ephesians 3:14-21.

This segment is the only thing resembling scripture we will hear for the next 25 minutes. In this case we can see it is a poor paraphrase of the actual verse, which reads from the NASB

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.  Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,  to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen”

I don’t understand the purpose of offering his own paraphrase there. Its certainly not a translation as he has claimed, as no actual translation of the original text is apparent. He also changes and tweak much of the meaning, to the point that it does not actually resemble what Paul has said, but rather a self-interested paraphrase.  Why is this a good thing? This sort of thing was satirized in a post called “I‘m writing my own bible version“, but the reality is that you are not getting our best scholarly approximation or exactations of what  Paul said, rather you are getting one man’s “fresh” understanding of the “gist” of what Paul said. Which one is better to have? If its the former, why is the latter so readily accepted?

But despite that, he states that the purpose of this sermon is to speak on  how we can’t comprehend the love of God- that God’s love has been misunderstood and hijacked, and so the intent of this sermon is is that we have a new perspective on that love.  Brad states

“My understanding is that all of your real problems…. come from not knowing how wide and long and high and deep is his love for you. If you knew, you’d  never sin. All my sinful behaviors, all my struggles inside- the suffering of my soul that causes me to stumble, all of that would be solved forever, eternally if I just knew how much he loved me. So we’re working on it, right? It will not help me to try harder, and to put more religious hoops up to jump through, and to grit my teeth and scrunch my forehead. What will help me is that he loves me.  Period. Because it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. And this is not a new message, obviously. Paul preached it “

Where in the bible is that taught? Is is neither a biblical concept or category that our flesh would stop sinning and that we would be walking in perfect obedience to the father if only we could grasp the extent of his love for us. Where does Paul preach it, as he alleges? Is it really obvious that all desire to sin would dissipate and we would stop sinning if we understood God’s love? Using this line of thinking, our problem is not that we have a sinful nature, but rather we don’t have enough knowledge, and that our sin problem would disappear if that knowledge could ever be acquired.

Second of all, what is the purpose of squeezing half of Romans 2:4 into that at the very end “Because it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance”. Romans 2:3-5 reads Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgement of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?  But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgement will be revealed.  It’s to note that he is not using his bible snippet in a contextually accurate way. Realistically, a proper exegesis would show that on multiple occasions the Jews had experienced God’s patience and  forbearance. They supposed that such blessings showed that they were right with God and had no need to trust in Christ, but Paul says the opposite is true: God’s blessings should have led them to repent of their sins. Nowhere does Paul teach that it would enable them to stop sinning if they just understood his love. That is a concept utterly and completely foreign to that verse and to the scriptures.

Brad Jersak then reads the hymn “There is a wideness in God’s mercy”  and says that the love of God is deeper and wider than we thought “Longer, think it terms of time, and how his love can outlast anything , even death.” [Its to note that this is an allusion to his belief as a hopeful inclusivist, and the idea that even after we die God will still call people to him and it should be our eschatology hope that they can and will still be savedIn essence, we’ve made the love of God for this universe way too small.

He lays out his reasoning for using the gospel in chairs,

“Because it’s going to demonstrate what I think has been an anointed gospel message that we’ve taught since the 1500’s or so,  and that many people have come to Christ through it, and its too small and we need an upgrade. Way too small. So I’m going to contrast that with a second version, I think more powerful, more deep, but also more ancient. 500 years is too young for the gospel message because our gospel came through Jesus Christ. And so what I want to do is contrast what I call the  the legal version of the gospel with the more ancient biblical version that I think we could call the restorative version.”

He states that the modern legal understanding of the atonement  was established by John Calvin in 1536, who was an angry young man.

“His version pictures God as an angry judge and that he actually said God’s primary disposition towards you is that you’re his enemy and as an angry judge his wrath must be appeased by a violent sacrifice. And we used to use the word propitiation for that. When I learned that word, its a bible word, when I learned that word I was told its sort or like when the pagan religions would take and throw a virgin into a volcano to appease an angry god.”  

Its to note that he disparages Calvin’s charcater as an angry young man, for no reason and without any evidence. Furthermore, the modern legal understanding of the atonement may have been laid out systematically by Calvin, but it is far more ancient than that, with its roots in the early centuries of the faith.

“The idea is that Jesus saved you from God. Now like I said, there’s an anointing in that preaching. I preached it….I saw people come to Christ and I saw the Spirit honor the message, so I don’t want to be too quick to slam it, but I am saying maybe we’re due for an upgrade.”

Interestingly enough, that’s twice he’s said this modern view of the gospel is either anointed or that preaching that message is anointed, and that the Spirit honored it, and yet later on he emphatically states that its a false gospel. This is patently dishonest. If he truly believe its a false gospel, how can he believe that it is anointed? Why play coy in this manner and give lip service while despising it?  Paul states that those who bring another gospel are to be anathematized, so why say that it is anointed while at the same time seeking to demolish it and casting it as a modern, fanciful, unbiblical postulation?

In fact, Brad Jersak edited a book called “Stricken by God” where he assembled the essays of an ecclectic mix of Christians and pagans and offered their articles as a counterpoint to the idea that God’s wrath was being poured out on Christ at the cross, and that a violent sacrifice was taking place. This is important to note. I would argue that its clear from even a basic lexical understading  that “violence” can refer to the use of great physical force even as  its legal sense is “the unlawful exercise of physical force.” From the standpoint of  Brad Jersak there appears to be no lawful exercise of force.

And yet here’s the reality of the situation. If violence is, by definition, always negative, it is obviously inappropriate for God. However, it is extraordinarily difficult to understand the biblical narrative if such is the case. To use “violence” to describe any exercise of force [lawful or unlawful] leads to unfortunate hermeneutical hoop jumping. How one uses the Bible is a key as to how one will understand the atonement, and it is precisely here that the consequences of making nonviolence the primary hermeneutical lens for reading Scripture become problematic, particularly when “violence” is defined as intrinsically evil.

The place of the Old Testament and its depiction of God in the construction of Christian theology is a very important issue. When you listen to Brad Jersak’s sermon you should be struck by how little the narrative of the Old Testament informed the reflections on the life and death of Jesus, especially as it pertains to justice, wrath, and anger at sin.  Jesus pursued his mission as one who fulfilled the promises of the old covenant [being a prophet greater than Moses, a priest greater than Aaron and a king greater than David], it is cause for concern that a pre-commitment to God as nonviolent produces such disjunction between the Old Testament scriptures which were Jesus’ own Bible and the New Testament scriptures, which unpack for us how God’s old covenant promises were realized in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus

Brad Jersak views this as “too small” and considers it our responsibility to reinterpret the character and heart of God, from that of violent to anti-violent. But from where does this “responsibility” arise and how will we tell when such
reinterpretations become invalid? The goal can be to upgrade our atonement belief by reading scripture through the lens of a peace-loving, anti-violent God, but from what canon is that lens derived as the essential hermeneutical criterion for the bible and its interpretations? It’s not. 

If preserving the absoluteness of nonviolence requires us to ignore the old covenant context of Jesus, too great a price has been paid and the Trinity itself may be at risk, for YHWH of the Old Testament comes to look very unlike the Jesus portrayed in these nonviolent constructions. Certainly, Jesus is the supreme self-revelation of God but the God he reveals to us is essentially continuous with the God who revealed himself to Israel in his great acts of deliverance from Egypt and later through judges and kings and by powerful direct acts, such as interventions of the Angel of the Lord in Isaiah 37:36.

THE BODY

As it were, Brad Jersak continues by saying he wants to upgrade this small idea of God we have into what what he considers the more ancient, biblical version that the Church fathers taught and believed. He says that the Church fathers were the disciples of John, and their disciples, and their disciples that occurred with the first few centuries of the church, which he calls the restorative version.

“God comes not as an angry judge to be appeased, but he comes as a great physician who wants to heal us at the very root of our problem- who can see even beneath our sin into the sorrows that cause our sin. And he comes there, and he treats sin not as lawbreaking that needs a spanking, he treats sin as a disease that needs to be healed. Sort of like meningitis. What if its not just about getting babies to stop crying, what if its about healing them at the root of their problem and what if that’s how Jesus sees us? “

If one starts with the presupposition that violence is always wrong, strange and obtuse readings of Scripture are often necessary in order to absolve God of any involvement in the use of force. Such an approach, for instance, leaves no room for the wrath of God which is viewed as antithetical to divine love. Coupled with the contention that divine justice is always restorative and never retributive, these commitments to nonviolence require us to reject much biblical teaching concerning God’s attitude and action toward sin, which we see Brad Jersak doing. In his case, sin is a disease like meningitis, or maybe like herpes,  and the cure is understanding God’s love. That is an extremely sub-biblical proposition. It furthermore removes the possibility of any divine punishment of sin, particularly of the eternal divine punishment that is generally understood by Christians to be at work in the assignment of unrepentant sinners to hell, and so it could lead to complete universalism , or in Brad’s case, hopeful inclusivism. 

Notice how he claims that this is an ancient belief that the Church fathers taught, emphasizing how it is old and biblical and that these disciples of John and Peter taught this, and yet gives NO evidence for it. He talks it up and goes nowhere with it, and in fact never once offers any evidence or attestation that his understanding is more ancient or even that it was believed by any church fathers, which is extremely deceptive.

Contrary to his assertion, I would suggest that substitutionary atonement was the basis for all of the major models of atonement theory in the early church, including the ransom theory, moral influence theory, deification and recapitulation theory, the atonement from the perspective of the mimetic anthropology theory, the satisfaction theory and penal substitution theory. For this reason almost all patristic literature speaks of some form of substitution, [the majority holding to a ransom theory with substitutionary overtones and underpinnings] with Anselm and later Calvin really centering in on the penal aspect of it, using the exegesis of the scriptures for their basis. I would suggest and argue that an author can be held to teach the Penal doctrine if he plainly states that the punishment deserved by sin from God was borne by Jesus Christ in his death on the Cross, which I would argue that even Justin Martyr did in one of his Letters to Trypho.

It’s clear that his restorative theory is another name for the “Christ as example” theory. [more on that later] But the point ultimately is not what the “Church fathers” wrote- many of them writing several hundred years and a dozen generations after the disciples, but rather what the most careful, best systematic exegesis of the scriptures reveals. Its to note that Brad Jersak doesn’t even attempt to back up his claims biblically, and instead resorts to emotional appeals with a decidedly lack of scriptural basis. In any case, the fact  is that he makes a point about saying its biblical and ancient and that the early church believe it, and yet doesn’t back it up.

The main illustration he uses is the gospel in chairs illustration, where he has two chairs that face each other. In the modern legal version, when Adam sins, God turns [his chair] away from them and kicks them out of the garden.

“They are expelled for all time because he is holy and pure and righteous and cannot look on sin and he turns away from man. In this state, man cannot work his way out of sin. All our efforts to please God and justify ourselves and make ourselves righteous are filthy rags, we’re totally depraved and desperately wicked. But God in his love sent his Son to stand on behalf of humanity, who turned toward God himself and walked in perfect fellowship with his Father, preached good news,  healed the  sick and was perfectly obedient to the father. At the end of his life Jesus is put to death and the father puts all the sins of the world on his Son and he who knew no sin became sin, [on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of Christ] he became a curse, And while he was on the cross God poured out all his wrath on his son in our place. He appeased the fathers wrath and anger. Jesus then rises from the dead, and those that believe in him can have a relationship with the father. At that point the chairs are again facing each other. “

Where does it say in the Bible that the reason God kicked them out is because he could not look upon sin? It doesn’t. God states in Genesis 3:17  that he was kicking them out  “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ and in verse 22lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken”. There’s nothing about God kicking them out because he couldn’t look upon sin.

He quotes Martin Luther who he says said “When God looks at you he doesn’t see you. You are a snow covered dung” That’s not true. None who have made this claim have been able to document precisely who originated the phrase, or where it occurs in Luther’s voluminous writings. I would ask for a primary source but he would not be able to provide one, as it does not exist He says that its the idea that God doesn’t really see you, because you’re a mess, but in Christ he sees Jesus.

“For me that’s small comfort. If he could see what I’m really like he would still reject me, he would still turn from me, but lucky me he sees only Jesus,  and the other side of it is if we don’t  believe in Jesus and what he’s done for us we remain in our sin and God must remain at enmity with  us and we’re alienated from God. And if we die in that state, of course we experience the eternal conscious torment of the wrath of God for all times as sinners condemned to hell

“What bothers me about this version is how fickle God is. He is the God who turns from us and turns towards us and turns from and and turns toward us and also he’s a little bit like…. you know…. the one who has to torture his own Son in order to get his anger off his chest. I shared this with Archbishop Lazaure of the Eastern Orthodox Church.. and he goes “that’s not Yahweh, that’s Molech. Molech  was the god who [the] Israelites would try to appease, they would try to suck up to him and try to get his blessing by sacrificing their own children so that his wrath would not come against them. And when in the book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah says ” that’s not ok”. He says this; ” God would never even think of such a thing. It would never even enter his mind.”  That’s odd. what would enter his mind?”

All right. Lets do some comparative biblical work. First of all notice how there is absolutely no exposition of the Bible, and he has been preaching for twenty minutes and making some radical claims. He has not provided any scriptural or textual evidence for what he has said. Its also important to note that neither Brad Jersak nor the Archbishop believe in a literal hell that unbelievers ultimate go to. He will develop this a little bit later, but he has a visceral hatred for the idea that God punishes people in hell for their unbelief, and so the idea of God pouring out wrath on his son is not just an issue of soteriology, but rather effects and affects his hamartology, eschatology,  theology, christology, his view of the afterlife, etc.

That is why he is so against the belief that “if we don’t  believe in Jesus and what he’s done for us we remain in our sin and God must remain at enmity with  us and we’re alienated from God. And if we die in that state, of course we experience the eternal conscious torment of the wrath of God for all times as sinners condemned to hell” for Brad that is a blasphemous false gospel that must be undone.

Brad Jersak also believes that “God is not angry with you and has never been”  That is not limited to Christians, but to humanity as a whole. Let that sink in. God has never been angry with you.  Which is strange, because we hear mention of the wrath of God and the anger of God all the time in the scriptures, particularly in Jeremiah and Ezekial. To offer a brief survey;

Nahum 1:2:  A jealous and avenging God is the LORD; The LORD is avenging and wrathful. The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies.

Leviticus 26:27-30. Yet if in spite of this you do not obey Me, but act with hostility against Me,  then I will act with wrathful hostility against you, and I, even I, will punish you seven times for your sins. Further, you will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters you will eat. I then will destroy your high places, and cut down your incense altars, and heap your remains on the remains of your idols, for My soul shall abhor you.

Ezra 5:12 But because our fathers had provoked the God of heaven to wrath, He gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this temple and deported the people to Babylon.

Jeremiah 7:20  Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, My anger and My wrath will be poured out on this place, on man and on beast and on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground; and it will burn and not be quenched.”

New Testament?

John 3:36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

Romans 1:18  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness”

Romans 2:5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 

Romans 5:8-10 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

So how can he say that God has never been angry at humanity? You can’t, and you must question the hermeneutic he is using to say that he hasn’t. Furthermore, who is painting this idea of a God who is constantly turning back and forth as if he were some bi-polar deity? It is a caricature that Brad Jersak is propping up so that he can tear it down. I don’t know anyone who believes that, and in fact no significant believer in penal substitution would portray the Father’s act as done for selfish satisfaction to get his anger of his chest. The description falls into the common error of ignoring the Trinitarian unity in the willing and execution of the Son’s atoning work. Father, Son and Spirit purposed to bring about salvation and no one imposed or demanded anything of another in this or any other work of the Trinue God. 

Rejection of penal substitution is sometimes put in terms of a choice between either/or when those who affirm penal substitution characteristically affirm both/and. Brad Jersak might say that the cross was a manifestation of God’s love rather than his wrath, but this is a false disjunction from the standpoint of penal substitution, which sees God’s work of appeasing his own wrath against sinners as the supreme demonstration of his love. In responding to caricatures such as these, it’s important not to assume that punishment presupposes an emotionally unstable deity who flies into fits of rage. Penal substitution does not require such caricatures.

There is also a category error in his comparison of Yahweh to Molech and saying that it would never enter God’s mind to kill Jesus. And yet what do we see in the scriptures? Acts 2;22-23. “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—  this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men “

In his sermon Peter combines a clear affirmation of God’s sovereignty over world events and human responsibility for evil deeds. Although Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, showing that God had both foreknown and foreordained that Jesus would be crucified, that it was planned, that still did not absolve of responsibility those who contributed to his death, for Peter goes on to say, “you crucified and killed” him.  Notice how he also includes the phrase “by the hands of lawless men.” Peter also places responsibility on the Gentile officials and soldiers who actually crucified Jesus.

We also read Acts 4:27-28: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”

We are able to affirm both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. The term Whatever” includes all of the evil rejection, false accusation, miscarriage of justice, wrongful beatings, mockery, and crucifixion that both Jews and Gentiles poured out against Jesus. These things were predestined by God. They were part of his and Jesus’ sovereign decree from before the foundation of the world.  And yet the human beings who did them were morally “lawless” and were responsible for their evil deeds for which they needed to “repent” . This prayer reflects both a deep acknowledgement of human responsibility and a deep trust in God’s wisdom in his sovereign direction of the detailed events of history.

In Isaiah 53:10 we readYet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;  he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt,  he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

Again, we see that it was the purposeful intent of the Lord to crush his son. Some versions read “It pleased the Lord to crush him”. “Pleased” does not connote joy or pleasure or happiness, but rather it was the deferential desire and will of the Lord to do so.  We further see that servant’s sacrificial death compensated for human sin by setting sinners free from their guilt before God, and in fact the Septuagint translates “offering for guilt” as “offering for sin,” which explains why Paul could say that Christ’s death “for our sins” was “in accordance with the Scriptures”

In any case, I hope to not be so verbose next time, but I imagine the next post which will go up Wednesday will be similar in length and scope. This post functions primarily as a primer for more truly horrific theology and beliefs which we will review shortly, but for now I would welcome any feedback that you guys might have.

Why are you weeping for Christ?

This is a repost from something I found at Challies.com a few years ago, regarding our weeping for Jesus as we picture him hanging upon the cross, suffering for our sake.

“You need not weep because Christ died one-tenth so much as because your sins rendered it necessary that He should die. You need not weep over the crucifixion, but weep over your transgression, for your sins nailed the Redeemer to the accursed tree. To weep over a dying Saviour is to lament the remedy; it were wiser to bewail the disease. To weep over the dying Saviour is to wet the surgeon’s knife with tears; it were better to bewail the spreading polyps which that knife must cut away. To weep over the Lord Jesus as He goes to the cross is to weep over that which is the subject of the highest joy that ever heaven and earth have known; your tears are scarcely needed there; they are unnatural, but a deeper wisdom will make you brush them all away and chant with joy His victory over death and the grave.

If we must continue our sad emotions, let us lament that we should have broken the law which He thus painfully vindicated; let us mourn that we should have incurred the penalty which He even to the death was made to endure … O brethren and sisters, this is the reason why we souls weep: because we have broken the divine law and rendered it impossible that we should be saved except Jesus Christ should die.” Charles Spurgeon