Friday, March 14, 2008

Wrath, reconciliation and opposition (the X-Media cross/hell discussion continued)

Sometimes you get the feeling that whatever you say you're not really getting anywhere. A wiser man than me might give up, but I can't quite resist yet here's three more thoughts.

1. Is God wrathful towards us, therefore needing to be reconciled to us?
Or, is the problem all us?

Stanley writes at x-media:

"And here you have said it yourself: Christ takes us back to God by justifying us, He does not bring God back to us by changing God's attitude toward us. God does not need to be reconciled to us, but we to Him."
Erm. I said, he justifies us and he is just by putting Jesus forward as the hilasmos (which I'm translating as propitiation) for our sins. Because God takes punishment upon himself in the death of Jesus he acts justly toward our rebellion and so he is no longer wrathful towards us but instead favourable.

2. Is the context of the word hilasmos in Romans 3 one of wrath and justice?
Or, is God only loving towards us?

"The context of Romans is about wrath and justice needing to be satisfied" And that, as far as I can see, is your stumbling block, because that is not the context given by the Holy Scriptures, nor by Holy Tradition, both of which clearly state a context in which Man must be reconciled to God, not God to Man."
I'm not saying man doesn't need reconciling, but that both are required and that both are achieved. Romans 1-5 say that God is demonstrating his wrath, his righteousness and his love towards us. That's the context for hilasmos in chapter 3 of that letter. That's not a bad context more broadly from the rest of the Bible, though there is much more to be said than a revelation of those things.

God is vast in love for man and God is opposed to man (for example his cursing of man in Genesis 3? Or, Ephesians 2 - man as the object of God's wrath?) which is a tension through the Old Testament, only resolved when he shows how he can be both just and the justifier. At the same time, man is opposed to God and not even remotely interested in seeking God. To form relationship God must be reconciled to man, which is what the cross secures - AND man reconciled to God, which is what the cross makes possible by faith in Jesus.

The cross presents good news to us by saying that God is rightly angry with human sin and that by the cross that anger is turned aside from us on to God and so God is abundantly and unwaveringly loving towards his people. You could say that that's saying nothing - and prefer to say only 'God loves us' but that's a lesser message. It's one that we could reply to with apathy. When we hear of wrath deserved, wrath averted, favour secured and favour enjoyed we have a substantial gospel which cannot be lightly dismissed but is always either rejected or accepted. See a little more on that in my recent talk on Amos 7, I may write further on this soon.

3. Does opposition prove anything?
Or, 'Was Hitler a gospel-preacher?'

Stanley continues, and demonstrates that he's now a regular reader (hello!):

"Well. all I can say is that if having people get angry with you proves your Apostolicity then Hitler, Stalin and the likes must have been great Christians!"
This is in reference to my recent comments about Christians being rejected and opposed when they preach peace (Luke 10). I didn't argue that persecution proves apostolicity, rather than apostolicity leads to rejection and acceptance - which is self evident in the world as some people accept the apostolic gospel and others reject it. Thus response is proof of nothing.

I cited the example of the anger provoked by my talk as an illustration because I think I was basically being true to the gospel and so though I am saddened by it not being received, I wasn't surprised by the opposition.

I didn't immediately conclude this however. My first approach was to go back to my notes and check whether I'd spoken carelessly or in ways that didn't match The Bible. I also asked others who had been present for feedback (and received some fairly extensive constructive critique, mostly on structure rather than content and manner). I also examined my heart to see whether I'd been aggressive or rude. I really don't think I was but it wouldn't surprise me if I wasn't as kind, clear and humble as I'd want to be, and as I should be. Sadly evangelicals like me don't always express the gospel we proport to love as well as we should. I found it to be one of the most heart-wrenching subjects to speak on and sat in Coffee Express the morning before wrestling with my notes.

It's my view that my content was basically Biblical and my attitude gentle, though any listener is free to disagree about both of those. Those listening were also free to ask questions (and some did) and to search the scriptures to see if what I said matches up. Stanley no doubt thinks his view derives from scripture and that his own motives are positive. I don't deny that. What is left to do is to be Berean, and to search the scriptures and see what The Bible teaches teach about the cross of Christ.

The whole process has made me want to speak more thoroughly and has reminded me how much it matters for me to come at God's word with humility and to teach persuasively and with much kindness, without wavering from teaching hard things. As I think I said in the talk, it'd be convenient to not talk about wrath but it seems unavoidable.


  1. 1. Is God wrathful towards us, therefore needing to be reconciled to us?
    Or, is the problem all us?

    Hi Dave,

    I agree with the root of what you are saying. God is angry towards the world but loving towards those in Christ. His wrath towards us is real and needs to be dealt with if we are to live in his presence.

    However, it is interesting to read you saying that God is reconciled to us, and that this is important.

    It has been often remarked by scholars that Paul only ever talks about US being reconciled to HIM, and never HIM to US (see here). It is actually important that we follow Paul in this because otherwise you could lead yourself down a track where God is changeable and untrustworthy.

    God never changes his mind about sin, or about sinners. He has always loved Christ and hated the world in rebellion towards him. He is only 'reconciled to us' as we change identity from in the world to in Christ, but he hasn't changed in doing that - we have.

    In addition I think that by overemphasising God's reconciliation to us (unpauline as I say) Evangelicalism has skirted with antinomianism and a view that sees (bare/legal) forgiveness and not the glory of God as the goal of salvation.

  2. Yeah, but surely it's to talk of God changing towards us, as indeed the bible does. Obviously, what that means is to do with our experience of the maximally alive-immutable-omnipotent Creator God. But it must be ok to talk in bible ways.

    And in that sense I do think the bible talks of God being reconciled to us, in that the idea is encapsulated in propitiation. His wrath is genuinely averted. He counts us friends instead of enemies. In our experience his 'stance' towards us changes.

    I agree that the bible uses the reconciliation word more often for us to him though. If we're asking who 'changed sides' in the cosmic struggle then it's definitely us and not God. But that's because God transferred us into his kingdom from Satan's, and he did so by the propitiatory death and life-renewing resurrection of his Son.

  3. that should read 'it's ok to talk' in the first line. sorry.

  4. Hi Pete,

    I don't think we really disagree all that much.

    Still, I do think there are dangers in talking about 'God being reconciled to us', and the paganising of the atonement that Stanley is objecting to is as big a danger as a denial of PSA.

    So I agree it is ok to talk about God being reconciled to us (although as far as I know the bible never uses that language, although it says very similar things), but we must keep our change as the fundamental thing, and God's 'change' as a result of that - while affirming that Jesus is the author and perfecter of that change.