What if God loves Esau?

jDuring my arranged marriage process, someone asked my wife, “Do you want to marry a man like Jacob or like Esau?” My wife said Jacob, of course. And so I was deemed her “Jacob”. I suppose my wife didn’t realize I am probably more like Esau than Jacob, but that’s a story for another article. Last year I began reading some of the classic books by authors who have contributed much to the kingdom of God, due to my participation in two different cohort study groups. I am reading a range of authors from Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Brother Lawrence to John H. Armstrong, Lesslie Newbiggin and Henri Nouwen. I’ve also read numerous un-fundamentalist bloggers, such as Benjamin Corey and Rachel Held Evans. These authors challenged me to expand and refine my notion of “church”, the love of God and the grace of God. Through all of this reading, the Holy Spirit impressed various words on me, and guided me through hundreds of Scriptures.

One question surfaced lately is this: What if God loves Esau?

Ever since my marriage 20 years ago, I’ve been wondering about this question. But until now I didn’t do anything about it. I just dismissed the question. But could God love Esau? Why am I any different from Esau? Does Jesus choose only “Jacob” and despise “Esau”? Does the gospel only apply to “Jacob”?

This week the question surfaced again as I read “The Household of God” by Newbiggin. He asks piercing questions about the nature of the church and the boundaries of the church. My way of stating Newbiggin’s thoughts is like this: Does the boundary of the church only extend to Jacob?

No way!

So I searched the Scriptures for what God would have to say about Esau and Jacob. And I was continually drawn to Romans 9. I know the immediate reaction to my question: No way! Romans 9:13 states: “Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'” End of story. “Jacob” is God’s chosen people, Israel who became the Christians and “Esau” is everyone else who does not believe and stands condemned under the wrath of God. Others will also expound further and claim (and perhaps rightly so) that Romans 9 declares God’s sovereignty in the predestination of the elect. Much has been said about this subject.

Many have expounded on Romans 9. I am ill-equipped to discuss their writings on election. And election is not my subject today. I will only say that at this point I agree with St. Augustine: “Hence, as far as concerns us, who are not able to distinguish those who are predestinated from those who are not, we ought on this very account to will all men to be saved… It belongs to God, however, to make that rebuke useful to them whom He Himself has foreknown and predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son” (On Rebuke & Grace, ch. 49). And I agree with Spurgeon: “All the glory to God in salvation; all the blame to men in damnation.” Jacob and Esau sermon by Spurgeon

My question again is, “What if God chose to love Esau?” Why do I ask such a question? Well it is a question asked by God through Scripture for starters. And it’s because I am drawn to the end of Romans 9, to the verses that seem to have been either overlooked or not delved into. Specifically I refer to Romans 9:22-33.

Objects of wrath and mercy

22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

Clearly there are two groups of people here: objects of wrath (“Esau”) and objects of mercy (“Jacob”). Clearly Apostle Paul is making his grand point here that Gentiles (“Esau”) are also included God’s salvation along with Isreal (“Jacob”). What if God chose to bear Esau in order to show Jacob his glory?

And to make this grand point, the Apostle points us to Hosea the prophet:

25 As he says in Hosea:

“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people;
and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”

26 and, “In the very place where it was said to them,
‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’”

Does this mean that God loves Esau (those who were not God’s people)? Does this mean that Esau, along with Jacob, is now “God’s loved one”? Why or why not? Thoughts or criticisms?


  1. As a “heady” person, I love your post. Thanks, Brian. The quotes by Augustine and Spurgeon regarding predestination and salvation/damnation, and our heart’s attitude of love and graciousness toward all people (including those “darn, disgusting” “Esaus”) resonate well with me.

    It reminds me of what Fr. Richard Rohr said in a talk/lecture I heard on the Two Halves of Life. He said something to the effect (paraphrase), “In the first half of life we Christians are proud that we are the chosen people of God (the “Jacobs”). In the second half of life we realize that God wants everyone (even the “Esaus”) to be chosen people.”

  2. Note to Ben: This does not mean I am anything more than a 1 point Calvinist :) I just happen to agree with a couple quotes.

  3. Joe Schafer

    Brian, thanks for this post. This is an extremely important topic. It was only in the last couple of years (through some of the authors you mention, especially Newbigin) that I learned the election that Paul writes about is not necessarily election to personal salvation, but election for a specific mission in God’s redemptive plan. Many respectable scholars (Ben Witherington, Roger Olson, to name just two) hold that view.

    I firmly believe that God loves Esau and all people of the world.

    And I don’t believe that we ahould assume that any individual who lies beyond the visible boundaries of a group that self-identifies as God’s people (Israel or the church) is automatically unsaved.

    If we take the Lordship of Christ seriously, then we believe he is Lord of the whole world and everyone in it, and he is working in the lives of all nations and peoples in all sorts of ways that we cannot see or imagine. The Bible gives many examples of individuals who were not among God’s chosen people and yet appeared to be in a right relationship with God: Melchizedek, Abimelech, Jethro, Job, and so on. There are longstanding traditions about these “holy pagans” that many evangelicals appear to have forgotten. The Catholic church wrestled with this issue and clarified its position in Vatican II, explaining that Jesus is the only way to God, but Jesus may be working very powerfully outside the boundaries of the church in ways that that we do not comprehend.

    I’m partway through an interesting book that was written on this very topic. The title is “A Wideness in God’s Mercy: The Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions” by Clark Pinnock. The book was published in 1992 and seems to have been overlooked. But it’s worthwhile reading and provides a solidly biblical basis for believing that God’s mercy could extend to many individuals like Esau.


  4. Joe Schafer

    Some food for thought…

    Modern Protestants (especially western ones) tend to look at verses like Romans 9:13 and think that they are about individuals. But when the Bible (both the Old and New Testaments) speaks of God’s judgment and salvation, more often than not, it’s doing so in a corporate sense, envisioning societies and people groups. Concerning the eternal destiny of individuals, Pinnock writes (p. 151):

    “It is true that the Bible does not address this issue as often or as specifically as we would wish. This is because the Scriptures are more familiar with corporate thinking in regard to judgment than we are in Western culture. We think more in terms of the individual. It is instinctive for us to think immediately of the eternal destiny of individual persons, while the Bible prefers to address larger issues of justice and restitution…”

  5. Joe Schafer

    Another interesting tidbit from Pinnock’s book.

    Regarding the widespread view among conservative evangelicals that “outside the church, there can be no salvation.”

    Pinnock traces this view to the thinking of St. Augustine, saying that the pre-Augustinian church fathers (prior to the 4th century) tended to be more optimistic about the possibilities of people being saved outside the church. Augustine took his pessimistic stance after the bitter Pelagian controversy, as a harsh reaction (some would say, an overreaction) to Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism.

  6. Hey Joe when you say people outside the church can be saved are you referring to those who do not profess faith in Jesus? Or are you referring to something else. Just wanted clarification.

    • Joe Schafer

      Hi Andrew,

      I guess that I’m using “people outside the church” and “those who do not profess faith in Jesus” interchangeably.

      The possibility of salvation for some who don’t profess faith in Jesus is a widespread belief. If an infant dies, does he or she automatically go to hell? Many Christians would say no, even though they don’t have strong biblical foundation for it. Pinnock’s book tries to lay that biblical foundation. I can’t say that I fully agree with him; I haven’t even finished the book yet. But he does make a lot of excellent points.

    • Hey Joe,
      thanks for clarifying. I was curious what are some of the points pinnock brings up to back up his claim? I understand the issue regarding infants, but I was curious about adults. Is he trying to make claims for those who have never heard the gospel?

    • Joe Schafer

      Hi Andrew,

      Pinnock speaks about infants because they are a logical place to start. St. Augustine took a very hardline stance that all unbaptized infants who die will go to hell for all eternity. Most Christians would never say that, because it violates our sense that God must be fair and merciful. So if we think that some of these infants may be saved, then what about people with severe mental disabilities who cannot make the “decision for Christ” that many assume is the criterion for salvation? And what about the untold millions who never heard the gospel presented in a way that they could understand? Or what if their only encounter with the Christian message is through nasty people whose behavior is so deplorable and unChristlike that their witness is implausible?

      There are many, many people who are in a “premessianic” state. They have never encountered the messiah. And yet the Bible does classify some of these people as saints. For example, all of the men and women of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11 fall in this category. None of them explicitly heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, and yet they experienced salvation. At the same time, the whole book of Hebrews proclaims the uniqueness and supremacy of Christ as the only way to salvation. If the author of Hebrews doesn’t see those two positions as contradictory, then why should we?

      Pinnock is not a universalist. He does not claim that everyone who does not profess faith in Jesus will be saved. But not everyone who professes faith in Jesus will be saved either. There are many who say “Lord, Lord” but Jesus does not know them. Basically, Pinnock is saying that we have solid biblical grounds to be optimistic that many could be saved outside the boundaries of the visible church. He says that the default evangelical Protestant view (which he traces to Augustine) that most people are going to hell is too pessimistic and doesn’t reflect God’s desires for humankind.

    • Joe Schafer

      Some of these arguments by Pinnock are fairly common. I came to many of these understandings long ago on my own just by reading the Bible. But Pinnock says a great deal more than this. His book covers a lot of ground, both historically and theologically. For example, he devotes a lot of discussion to the question, “If some people can be saved without hearing the gospel, then what is the purpose of missionary activity and evangelism?” That’s a really good and important question.

    • Joe, I could not agree with you more about these things. I was asking myself these very same questions, already when I was in UBF. I never really accepted the fundamentalist concept of salvation and never understood why some Christians accepted it so easily. They seemed to have a very different image of God. I met people who were sooo offended when I was using strong language to condemn the abuse by leaders like Samuel Lee, but at the same time had no issues believing that most of the people in the world will burn in hell forever just because they don’t profess Jesus in the way good evangelicals do or because they are too lazy for UBF style mission. So sensitive on the one hand, but so cold and unempathetic on the other hand. To me that’s a schizophrenic world view. Anybody who wants to know God and His ways must start from 1 John 4:8.

    • Yes Joe I would agree with the points referring to infants and adults with severe mental disabilities. I take these as the exception due to their mental capacity. In regards to those saved in hebrews 11 in the ‘pre-messianic state’ I understood that as them having faith in God. Now that Jesus has come and was crucified and rose again, we are now saved through faith in Jesus.
      If people could be saved without the gospel, then the worst thing we can do is present the gospel and give them the chance to reject it.
      But I definately agree that not everyone who professes faith in Jesus will be saved.
      What my heart desires is that those who haven’t heard the gospel could still be saved since we feel it is unfair for them, but if they are not, I would still accept it since who am I to judge or understand the mind of God and we have all sinned against God and deserve eternal wrath.
      I think this void of gospel to certain people groups should compel us to go out and preach the gospel.
      I’m still open in my views regarding this tough topic, and please let me know if there is anything I may have wrong or needs clarifiaction.

  7. This is a great discussion topic:

    “outside the church, there can be no salvation.”

    This depends heavily on how we define “church” and “salvation”. If our view of church is too small, we miss the point of passages such as Hebrews 13:11-13 where salvation is ONLY found outside the “church”.

    I’m at the point where my view of “church” is increasing, pushing the boundaries rather wide. In fact, could the “church” be “every human being”? Accuse me of being a dreaded universalist or a humanist if you want, but I am a human and I don’t see any reason to exclude anyone from salvation, if salvation is referring to “entering Heaven”. This changes if you defined salvation as “life to the full here on earth”.

    Like Joe, my thoughts are not conclusive here yet on this point, but I’m leaning toward the “God so loved the world” view.

  8. Joe Schafer

    For the record, Pinnock is optimistic that many who do not profess faith in Jesus may be saved. But he is not a universalist. Nor is he a pluralist who says that “all religions lead to God.” He upholds all the orthodox teachings of the incarnation, the Trinity, and the unique role of Jesus as savior of the world.

  9. Joe Schafer

    Brian, I’m not sure what you mean when you distinguish “entering heaven” and “life to the full here on earth.”

    In my understanding, our hope as Christians is to be part of God’s new creation, which involves a true bodily resurrection and eternal life on this earth, which becomes united with heaven — the new heaven and new earth depicted at the end of Revelation.

    • In my mind, there is no distinction. Salvation as I understand it, is to enter that “eternal moment”, based on the guarantee of the Spirit.

      I am eluding to the salvation definition that some hold to, namely that salvation means all these: justification, sanctification, and glorification. I was also eluding to our experience of our “one hope”.

      George Koch’s book “What we believe and why” expresses my belief that salvation is only referring to justification, and that sanctification and glorification are separate processes that our salvation does not depend upon.

      Having said that, we certainly have one hope. Our hope in Heaven is no less than our hope for a full life on earth. Hope comes from one source. Yet our experience of that hope is often different.

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, I like Koch’s book very much. But the part to which you refer, where he equates salvation with justification, is the one part that really confused me.

      Christians of different theological traditions use those words in different ways. But there is no guarantee that our understanding of those terms corresponds to how they are used in the New Testament, especially the writings of Paul.

      I’m not an expert in this area. But I do know that current scholarship (for example, the work of NT Wright, which I’m trying to digest) suggests that those terms meant different things to Jews in the first century than they mean to us today. I’d like my understanding of those terms to be somewhat close to what Paul meant, so that when I read Romans or Galatians I have a decent shot at understanding what those books are really about. I don’t yet understand whether and how Koch’s uses of those terms maps onto the Apostle Paul’s.

  10. “But the part to which you refer, where he equates salvation with justification, is the one part that really confused me.”

    Oddly that part clarified a lot for me! I guess we all have our perspectives and various writings impact us in different ways.

    I think you’re right, there are different theological traditions, and I believe those traditional differences as well as doctrinal differences are pieces of the whole, that there is something each can contribute. Protestants, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have a contribution to make. I wish those differences would yield mutually beneficial debates and dialogues rather than fracture the body of Christ into smaller and smaller pieces.

    As I wrote earlier, my mind is not conclusive when we enter the salvation realm, and I don’t think it ever will be or should be. Salvation doctrine should not hinder but enrich our “working out” of our salvation, whether individually or corporately.

    The one primary thing I am conclusive about is the grace of God, and the view that the spheres of “living by the grace of God” and “living by the law of God” should be kept as separate spheres of living.

  11. Brian and Joe,

    A while back I read a book by David Peterson entitled “Possessed by God”. In his book, he aims to show that Paul’s usage of the word “salvation” (σωτηρία – sōtēria) encompassed justification, sanctification and glorification. So when Paul spoke of our salvation, in his mind, he considered all three aspects as one whole, completed package and that currently we are awaiting the full attestation of this reality, which will take place on the last day. He puts forth a pretty plausible argument but honestly, it’s been a while since I’ve read it so I can’t present a fleshed out summary of it here. But I mentioned this just to say that such a view is in circulation among legitimate scholars; the book appeared in a journal edited by Don Carson and the foreword of said book is also written by him. When I have the time, I’d like to write a review of this book as well as a synopsis that could be posted on this site. Here’s Peterson’s site which gives the gist of the book – http://davidgpeterson.com/sanctification/possessed-by-god/.

    I’d also like to add my two cents on Brian’s article. I would say that God certainly desires that Esau-like individuals or people groups be saved (1 Tim 2:4). However, if they remain like the person Esau as written about in the Bible, then they will not be received into an eternal relationship with the God of the Bible. My basis for saying this is Hebrews 12:16, 17:

    “See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.”

    It appeared as though Esau had reached a point of no return as far as his trust in God, or lack thereof, was concerned. The author calls him godless because he rejected the blessing of his birthright, a right that would have identified him with God’s plan and purpose (as told to Abraham and passed on to Isaac) as well as included him in the lineage which ultimately produced the savior of mankind. Most likely Esau didn’t know that the Messiah could have potentially come through his bloodline had he accepted his birthright. However, he seems to know enough to be held liable for the consequences of rejecting God’s purpose for his life.

    • Joe Schafer

      David, thanks for these insights.

      Does Peterson’s understanding of “salvation” (as comprised of justification, sanctification, glorification) focus on the status of the individual person? This is how I always understood it. But NT Wright makes the case that in first-century Judaism, people didn’t tend to think in those terms; rather, they thought of salvation as being included among the people of God. It’s this corporate versus individual distinction that is shedding new light on my understanding of the gospels and epistles.

      The reference to Esau in Hebrews 12:16-17 is interesting. But is it making a definitive statement about this man’s eternal salvation or damnation? I’m not so sure.

    • Joe, as far as I can remember, Peterson focused on the individual. I think that his main concern was sifting through the Greek in a linguistic manner, as opposed to a historical-contextual one, in order to shed light on what Paul might have meant when he spoke of salvation. He compares his findings to other historical views (mainly contemporary western) on individual salvation. I appreciate the fact that Wright tries to carefully recover what was lost in translation when the church shifted its focus from an eastern context to a western one.

      Also, you make a good point about Esau’s salvation. Perhaps the author is primarily using Esau’s attitude, as illustrated in that particular passage in Genesis, as an antithetical example for the sake of believers. The author says that Esau was rejected even though he sought the blessing with tears. However, this does not rule out the possibility that he could have repented based on something other than his own desires or feelings of personal anguish or loss, which would namely be God’s effectual call to genuine repentance.

      But in a contextual sense, it does seem as though the author is alluding to Esau’s eternal destiny. For later he writes in 12:26:

      “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?”

      One major aspect of the letter of Hebrews is the author’s use of OT examples of both unbelief and faith to spur believers on to keep the faith, so to speak, and thus enjoy God’s presence for eternity.

    • Hi DavidW!

      I’m glad you brought up Hebrews 12:16. Indeed the man Esau himself was unholy. Esau the man represents ungodliness, and we are not to follow his example in the cases mentioned in Hebrews 12:16.

      I remain unconvinced however, that those verses have anything to do with the eternal state of his soul. I once feared that passage like living hell. I no longer do so.

      What you propose about repenting of sin sounds to me like the hamster wheel gospel, which I reject. I see no reason to suddenly bind repentance with sin when sin is clearly tied to forgiveness in the Scriptures.

      I have been following the “Esau narrative” throughout the bible. Clearly Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, were enemies of God and of Israel. The prophets Micah and Obadiah testify to that! I would not want to follow Esau the man’s example nor would I want to be one of the people in Esau the community/nation of Edom.

      However, will God judge a man on one event, selling his birthright? On earth, surely there are drastic consequences. But is not forgiveness the point of the gospel? Would it not be possible for God who sent His Son to the cross to forgive not only the Jacobs, but also the Esau’s? Would not God forgive His enemies?

      I hope to expound on the Esau narrative in a way that exudes the gospel. The key is forgiveness, not fear. Anyone who knows the Esau narrative likely knows where I’m going with this. Forgiving our enemies, not repentance of sins, is the gospel.

      Esau the man is really an example of all of us, for are we not all ungodly and fallen short? Who among us is actually a Jew (Jacob)?

      Esau the nation is also a grand example of the gospel, the one-sided, rich and glorious grace of God. I hope to show (in my book) how God clearly and absolutely forgave his enemies, the Edomites and also forgave Esau the man.

    • Hi Brian, thanks for kicking off this groovy shindig around the Scriptures. I’m willing to accept the notion that Esau’s eternal destination is not as clear, from a scriptural standpoint, as I think it might be. However have you considered what the apocryphal literature has to say about his fate? Perhaps that’s more of an aside though. I’d like to continue our conversation in good faith, but I need your clarification on some of the terms you’ve used. For instance, I don’t understand the meaning of your term “hamster wheel gospel”. Could you please explain this? Also, what do you mean when you say that we err by binding repentance with sin rather than tying it to forgiveness? Muchas gracias, senior karcher.

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, I think I understand where you are coming from when you say “Forgiving our enemies, not repentance of sins, is the gospel.”

      But I agree with David that this is really hard to communicate and understand without carefully defining your terms. Otherwise, people who read this will misconstrue your intent. I think you are being intentionally provocative. And I think you are reacting against some superficial, reductionistic ways of presenting the gospel that distort what Jesus and the apostles believed and taught.

      But rather than getting rid of good, useful and biblical words like “repentance” and “sin,” maybe it’s better to go back to basics, rethink and rediscover and re-explain what Jesus and the apostles actually meant by these terms. One of the problems that I see in modern evangelicalism is a debasing of the language, reducing terms that have a rich meaning and history to quick sound bytes and simplistic formulae. I don’t know how other people feel about this. But personally I think it’s better to redeem the words, not discard them.

  12. Hi David and thanks for participating in this “shindig”! Although it may not appear so at times, my aim is to debate and dialogue and learn. I suppose part of my provocative reactions are an over-reaction to the unending flattery we all participated in during my ubf years. Oh how did you like my message? Oh it was sooo wonderful! Praise God for you! God bless you and make you a blessing… ugh.

    In any case, here is my response to your questions:

    “I’m willing to accept the notion that Esau’s eternal destination is not as clear, from a scriptural standpoint, as I think it might be.”

    I’m glad to hear your flexibility in regard to setting boundaries and defining salvation in this case. I am open to learning and working out our salvation, but the dialogue usually ends when we stop working out our salvation and conclude we have salvation all figured out. I don’t make that claim, other than I fervently hold to “by grace alone through faith alone”. And I think from our prior discussions, you believe this too.

    “However have you considered what the apocryphal literature has to say about his fate?”

    This is interesting to me. Do you have any specific references? Does Syrach meantion Esau? I have sensed many promptings to return to my Roman Catholic roots, and would love to find a way to read the apocryphal literature again. Is it online somewhere?

    “For instance, I don’t understand the meaning of your term “hamster wheel gospel”. Could you please explain this?”

    Sure. The “hamster wheel teaching” is a common way I have found for Christians to express the gospel. I should not call it the gospel event though some present it as the gospel. The teaching is this: whenever you know you sin, you need to repent of that sin, i.e. stop doing that sin. Over time this becomes: make sure you don’t die with any known sin unrepented. As long as you have no sin that is unrepented, you are “ok” and “growing spiritually”. I see this as more of a whack-a-mole type game, and actually a refusal to surrender to grace.

    So the teaching ends up putting people on a “hamster wheel” where you sin, repent, sin, repent and so on. The onus is put on us to repent of all our sin or to put it another way “clean up yourself”.

    I define repentance as Spurgeon and others do, simply “change your mind to surrender to grace alone” to accept the gospel. Making up for the consequences of your sin is “penance” and is also valid but is not repentance. Godly sorrow comes before repentance (changing your mind to surrender to grace alone.)

    I should point out what prompted my comment. I think we are closer to being on the same page on these things, and I don’t think you preach the hamster wheel teaching, but still you wrote this: “However, if they remain like the person Esau as written about in the Bible, then they will not be received into an eternal relationship with the God of the Bible.” and then later this “However, this does not rule out the possibility that he could have repented based on something other than his own desires or feelings of personal anguish or loss, which would namely be God’s effectual call to genuine repentance.”

    Maybe we should all share our definitions of: sin, repent, penance, gospel? I understand we are all learning and changing, but it would be helpful to have a baseline of understanding each other’s viewpoints.

  13. DavidW:

    You also asked, “Also, what do you mean when you say that we err by binding repentance with sin rather than tying it to forgiveness?”

    I am referring to two phrases “repent of sins” and “forgiveness of sins”. I don’t find the phrase “repent of sins” in Scripture. Do you find it anywhere? I’m open to learning that I missed something. Always I see “repentance for the forgiveness of sins”, where repentance is a “change your mind to surrender to grace”.

    Sin is a problem. We need a solution. But I hear most often that repenting of sin is the solution. To “turn away from sin” is offered as the “gospel”. I understand we need to say “no” to things and actions that harm us or others, but I don’t see this as God’s solution. How can we turn away from sin when sin is ingrained so deeply in us? We need to be drawn toward someone or something.

    God’s solution in the gospel Jesus preached, as I see it is to be filled with godly sorrow, which produces a surender to grace because the law of God stops up every alternative except full surrender to grace. This then produces indigation, alarm and an urgency to pursue God and make things right (penance) as much as possible, as well as to reconcile with others as much as possible and to live in peace.

    I am open to being challenged. Please correct and debate if you see something wrong or flawed in my thinking!

  14. Joe:

    I agree with your sentiment. I think we need to work through some messy conversations until we reach a point where we understand each other. If we could all prepare a master thesis that would be great :) But for now I think we are left with ongoing and continual dialogue to work though these things.

    “I think it’s better to redeem the words, not discard them.”

    Indeed I agree. I don’t though out “sin” or “repentance”. I have thrown out my prior understanding however and made many adjustments based on reading several books and looking at Scripture from a grace perspective. My hope is to redeem some words through dialogue. I believe it is possible, though messy.

    I have several questions about the material you mentioned, as I’ve not read it. But I need to gather my thoughts first. In any case these are the kinds of discussions/dialogues/debates I long for in order to confirm/deny/challenge my own thinking.

  15. So in regard to Esau being loved and forgiven by God, I contend that Esau could and should reamin as Esau, but become redeemed. Joshua shared an article a while back that expresses my thoughts, namely that Christian life is more than sin management. I would argue even further, but for now that article expresses my core thoughts.

  16. Brian,

    This is how I understand repentance: the Hebrew and Greek definitions of the word itself hold different meanings. In Hebrew, it is associated with feelings of anguish over one’s transgressions usually in the context of one wanting to seek pardon or forgiveness from the wronged party. In the koine Greek language, the word seems to be more neutral; it actually has neither do with sin nor grace. At face value, it is used to signify a change of mind. It derives its significance from the context in which it is used. Probably those who spoke koine Greek in Jesus’ times used the word to talk about even mundane or commonplace subject matter. Such as, “I repented about wanting to eat an apple and chose a banana instead.” Put another way, “I [changed my mind] about wanting to eat an apple…” Of course when put in the context of weighty spiritual matters, such as eternal salvation or what have you, the word has monumental significance. Changing one’s mind to either turn from sin or submit to grace is not something that we can do on our own (Rom 8:7); it’s not as simple as choosing an apple over a banana or vice versa. Rather this kind of mindset change is a supernatural gift from God (Acts 11:18 and 2 Tim 2:25). Also, I believe that the ability to know that we have sinned and subsequently experience godly sorrow is an event which is prompted by the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:8).

    I think that what you’re getting at is that in many Christian circles, the words “repentance” and “repent” are made synonymous with the phrases “repentance for sins” and “repent of your sins”, respectively. You are correct in saying that these oft-used phrases are found nowhere in scripture. Rather the phrase “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” is found in scripture (Mk 1:4). But as I pointed out earlier, it all has to do with context. In many passages that speak of true, life-saving repentance, it seems as though the speaker or writer is talking about a simultaneous turning away from sin and turning to God. And this fits with reality; God prompts our change of mind and we turn from something negative to something positive which is hopefully God himself. I don’t believe that the Christian life is about sin management either and it’s unfortunate that many young people are taught that the gospel consists of continually repenting of your sins. It’s as if we give them half of the gospel which is actually no gospel at all.

    I’m not sure if my explanation of repentance still leaves me on the hamster wheel or not, but I have a very deep sense of assurance that God chose me and that I turned to him in genuine repentance. But daily I have to make the choice to turn from sinful tendencies and acts and turn to God and what he would have me to do. Because of indwelling sin, I have to consciously do this. And I do so in a way that is Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered. I don’t always carry this out perfectly, but I believe that God is working in me to grow into the holiness that he granted me when I initially accepted the invitation to be his son. Thoughts or critiques? (I’m always open to repentance if I’m wrong :p)

    • Thanks David. I like your articulation. I wish we could read more of your thoughts!

      I don’t discern any hamster wheel teaching in what you wrote.

    • David, I agree with you and you’re also fully in line with what Luther thaught about repentance (just read the first of his 95 theses).

      I believe the hamster wheel problem kicks in when you have a wrong understanding about sin. This can happen when you let others manipulate and guilt-trip you instead of listening to your own conscience and the Holy Spirit. For instance, they will tell you that you’re sinning if you don’t invite students and make Bible study every day, or if you don’t follow the “orientation” of your leaders, or for being an “underachiever”. While in reality, you may be sinning because you are too cowardly to challenge the abuse of the leadership and other issues, fearing men more than God. Or because you neglect your family thinking that to be “family-centered” is the opposite of “spiritual”. And this is exactly the problem of UBF. They don’t give you the room and freedom to develop your own genuine sensitivity for real sin, instead they manipulate you and impose on you their understanding of “sin”. With that imposed understanding of sin, you get into the hamster wheel. While in UBF, I always thought, whatever I did, it was not sufficient. Because in fact, not matter how much you are struggling with BS and invitation, you could always do some more. Have a hobby? Have a friend? Why don’t you give everything up for mission? There could always be somebody whom you forgot to invite and who will therefore go to hell because of your lazyness. This happens when you start to believe the UBF man=mission teaching.

    • And this is also why I think the way the UBF leadership behaves (never repenting even for obvious, public sins) is the opposite of normal Christian behavior. A genuine Christian is always willing to repent. Therefore I question whether most of the top leaders in UBF should be even considered Christians. They are Confucianists who believe havig face is more important than having faith. Or maybe not even Confucianists, for Confucius said “If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.” The UBF heritage and the authoritarian shepherding teaching and practice was a complete mistake which is obvious to everybody but them, but they are not willing to admit it, much less correct it.

    • Joe Schafer

      David, I like your articulation as well. I would have said it very differently. But I learned a lot from your last comment.

    • Brian, thanks for clarifying the definitions you’ve used; especially you helped me to understand hamster wheel theology a bit more, which is something that I am apt to fall into from time to time. It’s good to remember the errors that we are prone to, especially ones of this nature due to the severity of potential devastation that they hold.

      Chris, I like your explanation of how real repentance should not be based on one’s particular social milieu but rather on immutable ethical principles which are derived from a higher source. Also, I think that often times, in a church setting, we struggle with lots of unnecessary BS and I don’t mean bible study. Thanks for the cool tidbit about Luther and the 95 theses :)

      Joe, thanks and I would very much like to hear how you would explain repentance. I also like your comment in the another thread about sin: a deviation from the Trinitarian God. I’m grappling with this now and trying to articulate how it will modify my view of repentance.

      All of these comments have helped me to sharpen my view on this subject. I’m writing something about it now and hopefully I’ll post it as an article soon.

    • One thing that should be mentioned in this context is how this “let others manipulate your conscience about sin” works and how people get into that hamster wheel mode. I spoke about manipulation in a very general way, but I think the problem can be pinned down more concretely in the case of UBF.

      It’s really not accidentally. I believe the greatest problem here are the mandatory weekly sogam (testimony) sharing sessions. In my observation, their only purpose is to redefine and reshape peoples’ understanding of sin and “spiritualness”, namely in terms of how much they are able to follow the UBF agenda of raising new shepherds and obeying your leaders. In my chapter, the director told us to start the sogam with a review of how we lived up to the things we promised in our last sogam. Since nobody ever really lived up to it, it was a constant source of guilt. He also told us to end our sogam with a promise/goal of how we want to live in the next week, already setting the stage for failure and the next guilt trip, the next rotation of the hamster wheel. The mandatory sogam sharing in front of the whole group had a very strong influence on all of us because it created a momentum where leaders did not even need to manipulate us, we manipulated each other during these meetings, because everybody reaffirmed the group understanding of sin and mission. You all know how the sogams of new members became over time more and more conforming and similar to what all others wrote (and thus also very boring and predictable). Still, these boring sogams influenced us because they were repeated many times in a row, and that every week or usually even several times per week. Through this repetition, subconsciously, we made this mindset our own and became unable to think in other categories. When I mentioned that sometimes these sessions were boring to me, my chapter director told me this only showed my lack of interest in other members and lack of love towards them. This added another source of guilt for me, because I really wanted to love them. On the other hand, leaders never shared their sogams in front of all. This reaffirmed their status as being sinless and more spiritual than the rest of us and thus their right to command us and insist on obedience.

      The mandatory weekly sogam sessions and the way they are conducted are part of the “UBF system” that caused all these huge problems and needs to be abolished or changed radically. Abuse can only happen when people are kept in a state of guilt in hamster wheel mode where they can easily be abused. You cannot abuse self confident and free Christians so easily.

      Some may ask in light of what we said above (that Christians should actually always be willing to repent every day), what’s wrong with weekly “sin confession meetings”. The problem is that sin confession is usually something that needs privacy and spontaneousness, it should not become forced in public and be mechanical and mandatory. It should not be based on group dynamics and pressure to conform.

      Fact is that I don’t know of any healthy church that has similar mandatory sogam sharing meetings. But when reading about the practices in various cults, I always found similar practices. For instance, the German based cult like group “Sisterhood of Mary” has such meetings, they call them “light session”. Reading the reports of group dropouts, I always found such practices to be an element that leads to abuse sooner or later. By the way, the “Sisterhood of Mary” was also lead and founded by a Samuel Lee like personality, Basilea Schlink, who is still adored and praised by the group members, despite of all the documented abuse and poor theology.

  17. Great questions Joe that deserve more discussion:

    “So if we think that some of these infants may be saved, then what about people with severe mental disabilities who cannot make the “decision for Christ” that many assume is the criterion for salvation? And what about the untold millions who never heard the gospel presented in a way that they could understand? Or what if their only encounter with the Christian message is through nasty people whose behavior is so deplorable and unChristlike that their witness is implausible?” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2014/01/08/what-if-god-loves-esau/#comment-11893

    My answer is likely to simplistic for some, but why complicate the pure unmerited grace of God?

    I think Hebrews ch. 4 and 5 provide some insight. For example, Hebrews 4:2 mentions that the Israelites also had the gospel preached to them.

    My contention is that the gospel has not changed over time, but has merely become more and more clear, with fulfillment in Christ being crystal clear.

    If we understand the explicit gospel principles (freedom, fulfillment, forgiveness) and the explicit gospel messages (grace, peace, kingdom, glory, salvation) and most importantly the gospel theme (rest for your soul), then we can understand how anyone in any time frame could be “saved”. We really need to recover these gospel ideas that are in addition to the gospel events (birth, ministry, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, return). This too I hope to make clear in my book.

    Was not Esau exuding the gospel when he forgave his brother Jacob, who saw the face of God in Esau? Was not the gospel preached to Cain?

    • Joe Schafer

      Brian, I understand what you are saying and agree with the sentiment. I prefer to reserve the term “gospel” for the good news of Jesus in history (his birth, life, teachings, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, Pentecost, second coming) and then combine our declaration of those events with rich explanations of grace, peace, salvation, etc. that give the events their Christian meaning.

      I am not a dispensationalist. But here’s a good quote from Charles Ryrie that rings true (this comes from Pinnock’s book, p. 106) and reinforces what you have said:

      “The basis of salvation in every age is the death of Christ; the requirement for salvation in every age is faith; the object of faith in every age is God; the content of faith changes in the various dispensations.”

    • I’m curious, is Lesslie Newbigin a dispensationalist? He mentions various dispensations in his book The Household of God?

      I don’t know what I am yet… maybe a dispesationalist, maybe a 1 point Calvinist. Probably just a sinner :)

    • Fair enough Joe, I can live with your definitions.

      Some of my views may need refinement :) Namely due to the fact that I can no longer differentiate between “peace” and “true peace” or “forgiveness” and “true forgiveness”.

      For my own sanity I just take these words at face value. So if I see something glorious, I consider it to be a gospel expression. I know there are different kinds of glory and Scripture does mention specifically the glory of Christ, yet for now, my brain can no longer process or keep track of all the distinctions. Love is love.

    • Joe Schafer

      Newbigin was definitely not a dispensationalist.

    • Thanks Joe. While I see some validity to talk about “dispensations”, I don’t see that I’m a dispensationalist, if that is possible (but maybe I am).

      It seems like this is another term to define. It seems to me that “dispensationalism” deals with the rapture, return of Christ, end times events.

      In eschatological terms I am an “amillennialist”.

      Here’s a nice summary of various Christain eschatological views

  18. Hi Joe, it seems to me that most UBFers will agree with Ryrie’s great quote, and even strongly believe that they absolutely believe it and teach it (even if they may not realize that they might be adding UBF-related stuff to faith and the death of Christ).

  19. Chris, you mentioned something in your comment that deserves highlighting for our readers:

    “The mandatory sogam sharing in front of the whole group had a very strong influence on all of us because it created a momentum where leaders did not even need to manipulate us, we manipulated each other during these meetings, because everybody reaffirmed the group understanding of sin and mission.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2014/01/08/what-if-god-loves-esau/#comment-11924

    Let me say it again: At some point, we did not need a leader to manipulate us because we manipulated ourselves!.

    This is the beauty of the ubf heritage system– a leader who adopts the ubf heritage thinking has mechanisms to create a self-perpetuating machine that only stops if the self-perpeturators stop perpetuating.

    There are at last three thought patterns behind this self-manipulation system:

    a) I think one form of self-manipulation is back-peddling. UBF people rarely stand behind their thoughts or statements (if they even break their silence). If a UBF person does actually say anything at all in the way of an opinion or actual doctrinal statement, they tend to backpeddle their way into whatever appeases the current audience. The sogam training has a lot of this built in. You are trained in the art of back-peddling until you can transform any book or any thought into the UBF heritage slogans. I did this a lot on my prior blog unfortunately.. I said I “became more prayerful”. But I was manipulating myself.

    b) The ubf mindset is bent on seeking affirmation, looking for ways to be able to say “see we’re not as bad as Brian and Chris and Vitaly claim” or “see we really are Christian group”. They use verses like “the sheep know their shepherd’s voice” to make sure their sheep listen only to them as their shepherd.

    c) And the ubf mindset is always defending other UBF people. The ubf thinking is to speak on other’s behalf to defend what they said or did. Oh they really didn’t mean “that”, they really mean “this”. A ubf infected person tries to justify what anther ubf person said or did, to make it sound better, while that other ubf person remains silent.

    Anyone associated with ubf has these tendencies and this is precicsely why I will not trust a UBF person. I HATE these types of thinking! I HATE the self-manipluation techiniques which I fell for. Don’t fall for this people! Observe how much back-tracking, self-affirming and defending other ubf people goes on! Look at UBF people’s actions behind the scenes to discern their true nature.

    • Two more types of thinking I hate from UBF training: 1) flattery 2) imitation of RW’s voice. Can we drop the fake smile, flattery, soft-spoken, “oh I am so thankful for you!” behavior?