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.”
“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.