Critique My Sermon on Wrath


(a sermon based loosely on Romans 1:18-32, delivered at Hyde Park on 9/22/13)

The topic for today is wrath. More specifically, the role of God’s punishment in understanding the gospel. This is a topical message, and I hope that you will bear with my ramblings, listen critically, and judge for yourselves whether or not I am being faithful to the witness of Scripture.

The gospel is summarized by John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16) The gospel is good news of love and life. But there’s a flipside to that in certain gospel presentations, that if you reject the good news, there will be “hell to pay.” Sometimes that flipside becomes the main story. As in that famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which depicts the non-believer dangling over a pit of hellfire, held up by only a spider’s web which can break at God’s whim. The message is that, unless and until we believe in Jesus, we are the objects of God’s wrath. ”For God was so ticked off at the world that he gave his one and only Son…” Now some people will say that the Church has gotten too soft, that we have become morally lax and ineffective in our witness because we’ve stopped confronting people with their sin and no longer warn them about God’s wrath. And others will say that we should stop up talking about wrath altogether, because it gives an ineffective and misleading picture of what the gospel is about.

Being raised as I was in the Roman Catholic Church, wrath and divine punishment were very much a part of my childhood education. I was taught that if I committed a mortal sin (such as missing Mass on Sunday) and then died before going to confession, my soul would go straight to hell. In the evangelical world, I heard that God is love, but he is also wrathful; he wants to forgive us of our sins, but he also has to punish every sin, so he decided to punish Jesus instead of us, which satisfied both his love and his wrath. Love and wrath were the opposing sides, the opposite poles of God’s character, as were grace and truth, and those opposing sides were brought together at the cross. Bingo! Problem solved.

That explanation sounded logical, and it was good enough to keep me from worrying about it for a long time. But after two decades of assuming that I had this gospel thing all figured out, I began to have doubts, and I started to notice some deeper contradictions. As I became more honest with myself, a terrible truth started to dawn on me. The truth was: I didn’t love God very much. All along, Christians had been telling me that the gospel brings people to “a personal relationship with God” and “a love relationship with God.” But I began to admit that I didn’t really have that. Don’t get me wrong; I was deeply involved in church activities, I was doing lots of things for God. I was carrying out my Christian duties. But I wasn’t in love with God in the sense that I wasn’t liking him. I wasn’t longing to be with him, to see him, to worship him, to know him. For the longest time, I had just assumed that the problem was me. I supposed that I had failed to grasp the deep truth of the message that was given, that I just hadn’t believed it enough, that I hadn’t tried hard enough, and so on. I put all the blame on myself, thinking that I, as an individual, was deficient. But as the years wore on, I began to notice that lots of other Christians – evangelical Christians, the ones who supposedly “knew the Bible” and had gotten the gospel “right” – were in essentially the same boat as I was. For all our talk about having a personal relationship with God, our experience of God was impersonal, driven by rules and principles and teachings; our worship was intellectual, abstract and sterile; all of that wonder and joy and heavenly sunshine that we promised people they would experience if they “just accepted Jesus as their personal savior” wasn’t fully there; it wasn’t being realized in our lives and in our community.

So I went back to fundamentals. I asked myself some basic questions like, “What is love?” and “Is it possible to love someone if you don’t actually like them?” I decided that the answer to that second question is “No.” If you claim to love someone but you don’t actually like them, then something is fundamentally broken; that love is retarded, it is stunted, and it can’t be fixed by reinforcing the status quo and doing more of the same. And I came to realize a truth I had never known before. That truth is that love requires freedom. If an expression of love isn’t given freely simply because the giver wants to give it, then it’s not love. Many of the gospel presentations that I’ve heard have more than a hint of coercion. “God loves you, and he has a wonderful plan for your life. And oh, by the way, if you don’t accept his offer, you’re gonna burn in hell for all eternity, so you might as well say, ‘Yes.’” Picture a man proposing to his girlfriend. He gets down on one knee, takes out a diamond ring, and says, “I love you more than anything in this world; I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me? And oh, by the way, if you say no, I’ll find ways to punish you and ruin your life.” Would that marriage be off to a great start? If the purpose of the gospel is to bring us into a loving relationship with Jesus the bridegroom, then how could such a relationship be established by threats or by force?

The understanding that love requires freedom has enormous implications for how we live out our faith. One of my spiritual breakthroughs, a real “Aha!” moment, came when I read the classic book True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer. Early on in that book, he makes a point that is profoundly profound. He say that if you are a Christian, it is not good enough for you to simply do the right thing; you have to do the right thing in the right way and for the right reason. What he means is this. It is possible for any of us to generate good behaviors by our own human strength and willpower. But that isn’t how God’s kingdom operates. To a pragmatist, motives don’t matter. A pragmatist would say, “What does it matter why you do something? As long  as somebody is doing something good, there’s no need to worry about why.” (Some will even support this with Scripture, as Paul wrote in Philippians 1:18: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.”)  But in Christianity, the why really does matter. In God’s kingdom, the good works that we do are of no value unless they are being brought forth through the living person of Jesus Christ who has made his home in us – or, in other words, by the active work of the Holy Spirit who is alive in us. The outward fruit that Christians bear must be the visible manifestation of the inner fruit that comes from the Holy Spirit, and according to Paul in Galatians 5:22, the most basic fruit of the Holy Spirit is love.

What I’m saying is this. Whatever we do as Christian life, the motive for doing it must be love. Not a sense of honor or duty. Not a sense of fear. Not peer pressure or groupthink or pleasing mommy or daddy. Not to make myself look like a leader and gain acceptance by people because I do what’s expected and follow the rules. My motive must be pure affection for God and pure affection for others, the pure affection of Jesus that flows like a river from the throne of God into our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. That kind of pure love is not generated by our efforts; it is simply a gift. If the reason why we do what we do is not love, then what we are doing is not gospel work. This isn’t rocket science. This is Christianity 101. This is the language of the new covenant (Jer 31:31-34). This is part of what Jesus meant when he said that all the law and prophets, in other words, the whole teaching of Scripture, hinges upon love for God and love for our neighbor (Mt 22:40). The authentic Christian life is motivated by love, powered by love, experienced in love, consummated in love. Love reigns supreme.

I used to think that love was one of the many excellent qualities of God. In western Christianity, there’s a tradition of defining God by listing his attributes. God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-sufficient, all-holy, and so on. Who is God? “Well, God is a being with all those attributes. If your walking down the street, and by chance you encounter a being with all those attributes, you have found God!” That understanding of God can be helpful up to a point. But it is impersonal and it falls short when we come to love. The Bible doesn’t merely say that God has love. Scripture says that God is love (1Jn 4:8). Love is not an abstract quality or attribute that a single person can have in isolation from other persons. Love manifests itself in relationships. Love is an other-centeredness that is realized only when others are present.  Unless multiple persons are involved, there is no love.

This is why it’s so important to understand that God is not a single person but a Trinity – three persons, distinct but co-equal, each one fully free and fully God, but living together in unity and dwelling in one another and delighting in one another. When some people imagine God, they picture him as one white haired guy sitting on a throne completely in love with himself and demanding that everyone love him too. But the God of the historic Christian faith is a Triune community of love. So when the Apostle John said, “God is love,” he really meant it.  God’s missional purpose, his plan for us and for the world, flows from who he is. His intention is to draw us into his loving community, to delight in Father Son and Spirit and be delighted in by them as they delight in one another, participating with them to the extent that we can as earthly human beings on in that amazing dance that has been going on in the heavenly realms since before time began. That was the reason why we were created. That is the reason why the kosmos  was created. That is the reason why God incarnated himself to become part of the kosmos to redeem us and all the kosmos. “For God so loved the kosmos that he sent his one and only Son…” (Jn 3:16)

If we want to explain the gospel well, we need to start in the right place. Some gospel tellings start with Romans 3:23, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Sin is a huge part of the story. But we won’t be able to understand sin unless we go father back to see what God was in the process of making before sin broke it. It’s hard to come up with a definition of sin that internally resonates with everyone because, although everyone has some sense of good versus bad, the way people understand good versus bad varies greatly from one culture to another. Western understandings focus on guilt: people sense they are bad when they as individuals break a rule or violate an objective moral standard. But Eastern understandings focus on shame: people sense they are bad when they fail to live up to the expectations of their group and bring dishonor to the family or community. In a guilt society, order is maintained by explicit rules and punishments for breaking the rules. In a shame society, order is maintained by marginalizing and ostracizing people who step out of line. These differences make it very hard for Easterners and Westerners to agree on how to deal with unethical behavior, or even on what constitutes unethical behavior.

The manner in which we understand sin will deeply affect our understanding of biblical terms like justification. Evangelical Protestants tend to explain the gospel in legal or forensic terms. We imagine a courtroom where God the Father is the judge, and we are on trial for everything we have ever done. The evidence is presented, and we are found guilty and sentenced to hell. But just before we are handed over for eternal punishment, Jesus bursts in and says, “I died for his sins! The price is paid!” and we are set free. In this framework, justification means that God declares us as individuals to be innocent of the crimes we have committed. Children of the Reformation tend to think in terms of law, because the Reformation was carried out by lawyers. Zinzendorf, Melanchthon, and Calvin all studied law. They inherited the Western tradition of Lex, Rex (“Law is King”) which supposes that people of all standing, even rulers and kings, must submit themselves to legal principles and be punished in a fair and impartial manner if they disobey.  Now if you take this western legal understanding of the gospel and bring it to eastern cultures which operate on a system of shame and honor, a great deal will be lost in translation. This is one of the issues that the UBF ministry has been wrestling with, and we need to better understand what is happening here if we are going to develop a workable ecclesiology, a system of church governance that sets the ground rules by which we operate. But I digress.

Kingdoms of the west maintain the social order by rules, guilt and punishment. Kingdoms of the east have developed elaborate systems of honor and shame. So what about God’s kingdom? How does it operate? If the kingdom of God is the realm of the Father, Son and Spirit, it must function as the persons of the Trinity relate to one another. Is the Father ever ticked off at the Son? Does the Father say to the Son, “Don’t ask questions, boy, just obey”? Do the Father and Son draw up rules for the Spirit and say , “Holy, we want you to go into the world and do this, because this is safe, but don’t ever work that way, because that way is too unpredictable”? In the first three centuries after Christ, the Church Fathers had passionate, heated debates about this, sometimes resulting in fistfights, because they sensed they needed to get it right. They were not arguing over esoteric abstractions. They were grappling with the most basic question, “How does the kingdom operate?” They looked carefully at the apostolic tradition, including the writings of Paul and the Upper Room discourse of John 13-17. They struggled to find just the right words to describe who the Father, Son and Spirit are and how they relate to one another. What they said, in essence, is that the persons of the Trinity never bind one another, never lord it over one another, never impose rules or obligations or guilt trips or manipulations of any kind. Their relationship is one of complete equality, complete freedom, complete openness and honesty, complete unity in the midst of creative diversity, to the point where they are not simply admiring one another from a distance but actually getting inside of one another and indwelling one another in an atmosphere that can only be described as pure joy.

The persons of the Trinity are doing the “happy dance.” As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Their delight in one another is so infectious that it bursts out of them in creative energy that produces new life. Think of what happens when a husband and wife who delight in one another and come together in freedom and just do what comes naturally; their passion leads to babies. Babies are amazing.  From the moment they come out of the womb, they are an explosion of joy and wonder. The are little autonomous beings who want nothing more than to just be with people and thrive on the receiving and giving of love.  We are the children of God, the babies of the Trinity. God’s whole purpose for us is to draw us into his everlasting happy dance and experience a baby’s pure love and joy and wonder.  The dance that God intends for us is not on some pie-in-the-sky heavenly cloud, but right here in this world, in this physical, natural environment that he created us for and that he created for us. Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

In light of this understanding of how the kingdom operates, we start to realize that the views of guilt and shame that dominate the cultures of west and east fail to describe the full scope and tragedy of what sin has done. Sin is something like a cancer which has metastasized, twisting and distorting and injecting hurt and pain into every aspect of that happy dance for which the children of God were created – our relationship with Father, Son and Spirit; our relationships with one another; our relationships to ourselves; and our relationships to this created world. In our fallen state, we come together and try to perform damage control in these various areas using the tools of social engineering that our parents handed down to us. Some of our solutions are quite creative and work better than others. But in the end, none of our treatments can cure us or truly heal our relationships. And may I suggest that many of our deficient understandings and outright misunderstandings of the gospel stem from taking our personal and cultural ideals of what a good, orderly human society or church ought to look like – all of our creative strategies for sin management — and forcibly projecting those views onto God’s kingdom, rather than stepping back and asking God with open hearts and minds, “Lord, how does your kingdom operate? Reveal yourself. Show me how you work.”

When we ask that question and go back to Scripture, we gain insight upon insight. There are so many ways to describe about how God brings his kingdom to us and us to his kingdom.  Those insights from the Bible tend to come not so much in the form of doctrinal statements that we are told to just accept, but as colorful stories, narratives and parables that we hear and chew on and discuss with one another until they take root in us. The key figure present in all those Scriptural stories and parables is a single character, a man named Jesus, who has been revealed as the Messiah by virtue of his suffering, death and resurrection. When we approach Scripture as Jesus and the apostles taught us – a method that can be described as “forward and backward” – when we read it prospectively in its original historical context, and then re-read it retrospectively in light of the historical experience of Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension – then we gain glimpses of how that kingdom is already breaking into this world and into our experience if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

God’s kingdom is already fully realized and fully present in the person of Jesus. Jesus is fully divine and fully human. He is all God, all man, all the time, and two natures in one person, and the divine and human are always in harmony, never in conflict. Where Jesus is, there is the kingdom of God, insofar as human beings can experience it. Since Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, he is no longer here in bodily form. He has promised to return to us in the flesh, and when he does we will be together with him and experience the full reality of the kingdom in our spirits and our bodies. Until then, while we wait, we have his presence among us in the body of the Church through the activity of the Holy Spirit, whom Paul described as a seal, a downpayment , an arrabon (engagement ring), a foretaste and sure promise of the kingdom life that is to come (Eph 1:13-14).

Now when the Holy Spirit comes to us, his intention is not to throw us into a fog of guilt and shame. Nor does he want to terrorize us with fear. Nor does he come to us chains of slavery, with long lists of rules and conditions that we need to fulfill before we measure up to God’s standard. Scripture is very, very clear on that point. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Sonship, the polar opposite of fear, the one who unites us to Jesus and enables us to cry out, “Abba, Father” (Ro 8:15, Gal 4:6).

To conclude this sermon, I want to return to the subject of God’s wrath. That word, which basically means anger, appears in the Old Testament (NIV) 152 times, and in the New Testament 29 times. I believe Scripture is divinely inspired, and I believe that word is an accurate reflection of how human beings in our fallen state experience God as he works to reveal himself to us in our context. I find it extremely fascinating how often the psalmists use wrath in ways that, in light of the teachings of Jesus (for example, in the Sermon on the Mount) are distinctively unchristian. For example, in Psalm 79:6: “Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the kingdoms that do not call on your name.” And Psalm 69:24: “Pour out your wrath on them; let your fierce anger overtake them.” And Psalm 6:1: “Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.” The psalmists appear to be totally in favor of God pouring out his wrath, as long as God does it on other people and not them. This is often how we feel, and it is an accurate reflection of how fallen human beings sometimes pray. But this is not the teaching of Jesus; he commanded us to love our enemies. I have found a similar spirit at work in certain kinds of gospel preaching: the idea that God’s wrath is being poured out on other people, on people outside of the fold, on people who are not seen as God’s people by virtue of their beliefs and behaviors.

But when we turn to the New Testament, we see a distinct shift in the frequency and manner that wrath appears. In the NIV gospels, Jesus used the word only twice: Once in Luke 21:23 when he predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, and again in John 3:36, when he’s speaking to Nicodemus: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”  Colorful and intense preaching about God’s anger, the kind that appears in Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, is very rare in Jesus’ proclamation of the gospel. In Jesus’ parables, he does occasionally speak of God’s judgment, but it tends to be against God’s people who refuse to forgive and reconcile with one another (Mt 18:34), those who claim to be Jesus’ followers but refuse to show love and mercy to people in need (Mt 25:46), and against hypocritical religious leaders who misuse their positions if authority and abuse people under their care (Mt 24:51). I have not yet found anyplace in Scripture where Jesus applies wrath and anger against nonbelievers, pagans, Samaritans, Gentiles, tax collectors, public sinners, or anyone who lies outside the boundary of those who were considered God’s people at that time.

The most systematic development of God’s wrath that I see in the New Testament appears in Romans 1:18-32, where Paul declares, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness…” I won’t take the time to go over the details of that passage, but I will comment on the big picture. Paul says that God’s wrath “is being revealed.” He uses the present perfect tense to indicate that it is going on now. How is God now revealing his wrath? Is he bombarding us with pestilence, famine, earthquakes and tsunamis? As the passage progresses, Paul explains how God is pouring out his wrath. Three times – in verses 24, 26, and 28 – Paul says that God “gave them over.” In response to human wrongdoing, God gave them over to sexual impurity, to shameful lusts, to a depraved mind. The response is not an active, willful punishment by God, but a removal of his protection that allows people to go out from his presence to experience the consequences of sin on their bodies, their minds, their families, their society. If God’s loving design is to draw fallen human beings into joyful relationship with him, with one another, with themselves, and with the created world – and if love requires actual freedom — then it makes sense that God’s wrath would be to give wayward people what they are asking for, to remove his hand of protection, and allow the forces of sin to metastasize in them and in the world, leading to horrendous and deadly consequences.

I believe this picture of God’s wrath, a wrath that is more like the passive flipside of love than the active retribution, is fairly consistent with how God dealt with sin throughout the Bible. [Note to self: I don’t think it explains everything in the Old Testament; there are still difficult problems in the OT that none of us seem to understand very well.] I can see this picture in the Levitical system of animal sacrifice. Animals offered for human sin as a picture of atonement, but the animals were simply killed; they weren’t tortured to death. Above all, our understanding of God’s love and wrath must be shaped by what happened at the crucifixion. At the cross, God allowed Jesus to experience the full cup of suffering, to taste God’s wrath and experience human death. At the cross, I do not see the Father actively meting out punishments against the Son. I do see a Father who has apparently forsaken the Son, removed his hand of protection from him, and allowed the forces of darkness to take their course, as sinful human beings do unspeakably cruel things to Jesus.

In conclusion, I do believe that a violent form of wrath that we perceive as punishment is sometimes part of our human experience. It is how fallen people often deal with one another. It is how we may perceive (or misunderstand) God’s working as he breaks in to our lives. I do believe that God gets angry, but his anger flows when things and people he loves dearly are being devalued and destroyed. God is love. He is not equal parts love and wrath. His wrath flows from his love.

Our tendency to think of God as equal parts love and wrath may also stem from our tendency to “flatten” the Bible, to read the Bible as though every part of Scripture is equally important, that every verse no matter where it is reveals God’s character to the same degree and with the same clarity. We tend to suppose that every psalm, every chapter in Leviticus and Numbers and Judges and Jeremiah, carries the same kind of surface-level revelation of God’s character as, say, Jesus’ teaching in the Upper Room.  The Old Testament passages about holy war and genocide are read the same way and given the same weight as Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. But that is not the way that most Christians have always approached the Bible. Many Christians throughout history have understood the Bible as God’s progressive revelation of himself. As the story progresses, the portrait of God being painted through his written word becomes clearer and clearer, and culminates when he himself shows up as Jesus, the living Word.

And [I owe this insight to pastor Greg Boyd] we need to remember that the Bible is a story with a surprise ending. In a typical movie, the story marches along, and the plot takes various twists and turns. But some movies hit the audience with a big surprise at the end. A good example of this kind of movie is The Book of Eli. As you watch that movie, the plot unfolds, and there’s plenty of excitement and action. But in the final moments of the story, the last sixty seconds, something is revealed that is totally unexpected, and that revelation causes you to go back and reframe and reinterpret everything that came before.

The Bible is that kind of story. The Bible shows in human language how God works through the nation of Israel to reveal his salvation plan. But when the Messiah shows up, some things happen that are totally unexpected. First, he looks like a very ordinary man. Then he is rejected, he suffers and is put to death on a cross. Then he rises again; his body comes to life and bursts out of the tomb. He appears to his disciples and then ascends bodily into heaven. Then he sends the Holy Spirit upon the Church and the good news is spread to the Gentiles. All those happenings were totally unexpected, and what you then see in the epistles is the early church trying to make sense of what just happened; and  the authors of the New Testament go back and reframe the entire Old Testament in light of the historical realities of Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension and Pentecost. If we stop flattening the Bible; if we stop treating all passages in the same way regardless of their historical setting and genre; if we realize that God’s ultimate revelation of himself is not in the written word of a document but in the living Word who is a person; and if we believe that the kind of love that characterizes God is defined by the cross; then God’s wrath and love start to come into proper focus.

In closing, I believe, as the Scripture testifies, that the death of Jesus is a substitution; he died for us (Ro 3:25-26). But that isn’t the whole picture. Scripture also testifies that it is a union; at the cross, he died with us, and we died with him; on Easter he rose with us, and we rose with him (Ro 6:1-14). The Christian rite of baptism, the initiation into the family of God, has always been seen as a baptism into his death and resurrection, an initiation into a relationship where we die with him and rise with him. The atonement is“for” us but it is also “with” us. So that we may be “in” Christ and Christ may be “in” us. So that we may join with one another in that everlasting union, that eternal happy dance, with the Father, Son and Spirit. Glory be to God.


  1. Thanks, Joe. I’m reading this the 2nd time, the 1st time after you shared it at Hyde Park. For sure, our image and impression to others and to the world should certainly be expressed as love, rather than anger, irritation, desire to shame, guilt-trip and punish others. Sadly, Christians are more known for the latter than for love, while insisting that they are being loving, often quoting Jesus who angrily turned the tables in the temple, or rebuked the Pharisees very severely in Mt 23:13-39.

    But as you correctly pointed out, Jesus expressed wrath primarily toward the religious community, the religious leaders and not toward the immoral, cheats, crooks, gangsters, prostitutes, gays, etc, while sadly the church is well known for expressing wrath and anger toward those who are not like their own tradition in their own church.

    When I read about the divine dance in Tim Keller’s Reason for God, it helped me realize how little I thought of the Trinity. I felt that all of our flawed expressions of faith and Christianity comes from our lack of grappling with who the Trinity is, probably because we have no clue how do you apply the Trinity to our own lives as a Christian. So we resort to guilt, shame and punishment.

    I resonate most with this: “What (the patristics) said, in essence, is that the persons of the Trinity never bind one another, never lord it over one another, never impose rules or obligations or guilt trips or manipulations of any kind. Their relationship is one of complete equality, complete freedom, complete openness and honesty, complete unity in the midst of creative diversity, to the point where they are not simply admiring one another from a distance but actually getting inside of one another and indwelling one another in an atmosphere that can only be described as pure joy.”

    • Joe Schafer

      Thanks, Ben. I was anticipating a little bit of pushback from you, because this idea of wrath is a departure from what some popular Reformed teachers would say (Keller being a much welcomed exception). I think Piper would frown upon it; Driscoll and J-Mac certainly would. When I gave this at Hyde Park, the vibes I sensed were mostly positive, but there were some puzzled looks. A few seemed perturbed. I imagined they were wondering, “Is it okay for Christians to talk like this? If we say this, aren’t we going soft on sin?”

  2. Well, Joe, I am still a “pro-God’s wrath” Christian with strongly Reformed Calvinistic inclinations.

    But I also well know that my final word must be the love of God. So, unless my final utmost communication, preeminent and predominant point and impression–both subjective and objective, both cognitive and emotional–is the love of God, then I basically failed in communicating the Trinity and the gospel of God’s grace and love.

    Bryan Chapell, author of Christ-Centered Preaching, stresses that unless sin, along with its devastating consequences (including God’s wrath, anger and punishment), is clearly and vividly portrayed, then the gospel of good news and of God’s love becomes shallow and meaningless. He calls it FCF: fallen condition focus. I tend to agree with this.

    The problem I believe is that when we Christians (who teach or preach) address sins and God’s wrath and judgment, we sadly often do so like the Pharisees. We present sin (and God’s wrath) as though it is “out there” and not “in myself and in my church as well.” This is when the love of God is obscured and very badly misrepresented.

    • Joe Schafer

      Yes, Ben, I agree that this is a big problem. We are all in favor of getting tough on sin, as long as it’s other peoples’ sin.

      But regarding what Chapell said — it seems to me that the apostles didn’t always follow his advice. If you look carefully at how the apostles preached in Acts, there are some hints of anger and punishment, but I can’t say it is clearly and vividly portrayed. And I won’t say that their preaching was shallow and meaningless.

    • How about, “You killed the author of life! (Ac 3:15)”?

    • I fear that if you wait until the last word to give a word of love you will have already closed the ears of almost everyone. What do you mean by “your final word”? And is there really such a right, and clear, and ordered way to present the gospel? Sounds too formulaic to me.

  3. Or “you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Ac 2:23)?

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, that is a perfect example of what I mean. Peter stated it as a matter of historical fact, that the people of Jerusalem and the Gentiles rejected Jesus as their King and had him killed. But does he then go on to clearly and vividly portray any of the consequences of God’s wrath and punishment that would result from that? Not at all; he goes on to talk about the resurrection and ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit. This is a consistent pattern throughout Acts.

  4. I have many thoughts on God’s wrath, but no time to share right now. I like much I what I read in your sermon Joe.

    Ben, I wholeheartedly reject the “fallen condition focus” and I don’t care what label that earns me: “Bryan Chapell, author of Christ-Centered Preaching, stresses that unless sin, along with its devastating consequences (including God’s wrath, anger and punishment), is clearly and vividly portrayed, then the gospel of good news and of God’s love becomes shallow and meaningless. He calls it FCF: fallen condition focus.”

    Surely Jesus “clearly and vividly portrayed” the gospel with no wrath at all in several of His invitations? I would say Jesus’ portrayal of the gospel was anything but shallow and meaningless.

    I’m convinced the “wrath of God” presentation of the gospel found in the 1920’s American evangelicalism is at the root of the current shattered and unhealthy Christendom.

  5. Likely, Jesus spoke these words with love, meekness, brokenness and grace, but he did say, “unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Lk 13:3,5).

    • Ben, I don’t see the “wrath of God” in Luke 13:1-5. And was Jesus presenting the gospel in that teaching? It seems Jesus was teaching about the nature of sin in response to Luke 13:1 “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.”

      Jesus went on to tell a parable about a tree that would be cut down if it did not bear fruit. I don’t see this teaching as “the way to receive the gospel”. We get some dangerous cocktails if we mix up these teachings and bind them incorrectly to the gospel.

    • In that passage, Ben, I hear Jesus saying that we should not be talking about sinning less or sinning more. We shouldn’t consider certain sinners worse sinners than other sinners. That is an incorrect view of sin accoriding to Jesus.

      Jesus’ words do plant the fear of God. But Jesus plants the fear of God in such a way that fear leads to knowledge as in Proverbs 1:7. And that knowledge might just open our minds a bit to re-consider our quantitative view of sin and also our desire for vengeance on people like Pilate who did a terrible thing.

    • Ben, I don’t hear Jesus saying Luke 13:1-5 with “love, meekness, brokenness and grace”.

      I “hear” Jesus saying these words with authoritavie fierceness and whimsical sincerity.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, that’s another example of what I mean. That “repent or perish” teaching was given to the disciples in response to their shocking news reports of Galileans killed by Pilate. The way I read that passage is that Jesus is warning them that unless they (the people of Judea) reject the kind of political and revolutionary activities that were associated with the messianic/kingdom movements of that time — unless they follow Jesus’ example of loving and forgiving their enemies, including the Roman oppressors — that the results would be blood running in the streets and collapsing buildings in the city. Jerusalem didn’t heed that warning, and what Jesus predicted came to pass in 70 AD. Others might read that passage differently. But nowhere in that passage does Jesus explicitly say “God will actively punish all of you if you don’t repent and change your attitude.” That message could be there. But it is at least equally plausible that the message is “You, as individuals and as a nation, are on a path whose natural consequences lead to utter destruction.”

    • Joe Schafer

      Lest anyone read too much into my last comment: I am not denying that God will ultimately judge all things and make things right. I am not denying that people will have to stand at the judgment seat of Christ. But many of the gospel passages that we have assumed are about the future second coming of Christ have alternative interpretations rooted in historical events of the first century. Modern evangelicalism has tended to downplay those in favor of purely eschatological readings. I find many of those first-century interpretations very plausible.

  6. Sharon, By “last/final word” I do not mean “pile on the sin and sprinkle God’s love at the very end.” What I mean is that my entire teaching, preaching, presentation must/should be permeated with the love of God for sinners, that definitely includes me, the worst one!

    If you care to, I welcome your critique on my extemporaneous sermon on obedience last Sun:

  7. First of all, some kudos. This is hilarious ”For God was so ticked off at the world that he gave his one and only Son…” and “. “God loves you, and he has a wonderful plan for your life. And oh, by the way, if you don’t accept his offer, you’re gonna burn in hell for all eternity, so you might as well say, ‘Yes.’” That is precisely how the “gospel” has been presented so often and has led to massive division because this prentation then necessitates narrow, precise definitions of numerous things which then marginalize the gospel and its messages.

    This is an excellent articulation of the current metamodern world: “Now some people will say that the Church has gotten too soft, that we have become morally lax and ineffective in our witness because we’ve stopped confronting people with their sin and no longer warn them about God’s wrath. And others will say that we should stop up talking about wrath altogether, because it gives an ineffective and misleading picture of what the gospel is about.”

    I don’t think we should err on either side but use “third option” thinking.

    Kudos for the transparency: “I didn’t love God very much.”

    Great observation! “But when we turn to the New Testament, we see a distinct shift in the frequency and manner that wrath appears. In the NIV gospels, Jesus used the word only twice: Once in Luke 21:23 when he predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, and again in John 3:36, when he’s speaking to Nicodemus”

    And a big kudos for not taking this passage of Scripture and misuing it to slam all homosexuals. This passage has almost nothing to say about such matters.

    Secondly, some thoughts to expand on. You mention guilt and shame as who great human problems from which to preach the gospel. I agree with your thoughts here. In addition, I see five vantage points to preach the gospel messages from:

    –shame (from a sense of honor, resolved by glory)
    –sin (from a sense of morality, resolved by grace)
    –guilt (from a sense of the law, resolved by kingdom)
    –curse (from a sense of love; resolved by peace)
    –death (from a sense of God/life; resolved by salvation).

    I think you hint at this in this excellent paragraph: “Now when the Holy Spirit comes to us, his intention is not to throw us into a fog of guilt and shame. Nor does he want to terrorize us with fear. Nor does he come to us chains of slavery, with long lists of rules and conditions that we need to fulfill before we measure up to God’s standard. Scripture is very, very clear on that point. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Sonship, the polar opposite of fear, the one who unites us to Jesus and enables us to cry out, “Abba, Father” (Ro 8:15, Gal 4:6).”

    Thirdly, further thoughts. You mention “And [I owe this insight to pastor Greg Boyd] we need to remember that the Bible is a story with a surprise ending.” I agree! I contend that the surprise ending is indeed mysterious. Can anyone say with certitude what that ending is? I think however we can know something about the nature of that surpise ending. I will trust the promises in the Scriptures that point to this: God forigves His enemies.

  8. …just had to share my comments during lunch, couldn’t wait :)

  9. Joe Schafer

    Thanks, Brian. How many stars?

    • This is clearly a 4 star sermon once again!

    • Note that my raiting system is purely about how well the Scriptures are portrayed in light of the gospel messages and gospel content. My rating says nothing about how well any particular audience would recieve it or how “moved” anyone would be from it. I only seek to gauge how well a sermon opens my mind, heart and soul to the gospel.

      A 5 star sermon must literally melt the soul of humanity, as Chris Brown and Andy Stanley did at the 2013 Global Leadership Summit or how some of Spurgeon’s sermons have done.

  10. When I read Ac 2:23; 3:15, I hear “I killed Jesus” out of my rebellion, selfishness, sin. I am the one who should have been killed. God should have held me to account and justifiably so.

    Yet, through the death and resurrection of Christ, God demonstrated and proved to me without a shadow of a doubt that he does not count my sin and rebellion against Him, but fully, completely and perfectly vindicated me out of his unfathomable love for me and for the world.

    I am not saying that this is the only way to present the gospel. But this is the gospel of grace and love that I hear that moves me to love, submission, surrender, gratitude, and willing obedience to his revealed will for me.

    • If you hear “I killed Jesus” Ben, and that moves you toward the gosple, then that’s fine in my book. But such a thought has a problematic downside. Such a thought however becomes highly problematic when you preach “You killed Jesus.” When Peter said this, he was being honest because some in his presence did in fact kill Jesus.

      But I did no such thing. None of us killed Jesus. The only way to make such a foolish claim now is by cognitive dissonance, where we hold the fact that I did not kill Jesus in tension with the thought that I did kill Jesus in some spiritual sense.

      This teaching then causes us to have numerous contradictions in our relationship with God and with others, and even to have contradictory thoughts when we preach the gospel.

      To be honest, Ben, I’ve noticed this contradictory nature of your articles and comments all over ubfriends. I think it stems from the thought “I killed Jesus”. Perhaps you didn’t kill Jesus?

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I’m sympathetic with that reading. For most of my Christian life, that’s how I would have explained it. Ultimately that’s where we have to go with the gospel message, a personal challenge to me.

      But it seems that you made an immediate jump from Peter’s “you” (meaning the Jewish people as a whole, who corporately committed the heinous crime of rejecting Jesus the true God of Israel as their king) to your “I” (meaning you as an individual, who are guilty of all sorts of personal infractions). Before making that quantum jump, I think it behooves us to pause and linger for a while in the actual historical context, to think more about what Peter’s words meant to him and to that specific group of people at that specific time. If we do, it may shed some new light on (a) the corporate nature of sin, (b) the historical flow of God’s redemptive plan at that time, (c) the nature of Jesus’ kingdom and kingship, how/why the people rejected it, and many other things that we (as individualistic postEnlightenment western evangelical Protestants) have tended to skip over. It seems to me that, in a split second, your mind took a passage that is squarely about “the King Jesus gospel” (in the McKnightish vein) and switched it over to the language and framework of “the plan of personal salvation.” When we make that switch uncritically and quickly, many important gospel themes can get lost in translation. It can get over-spiritualized, losing many of the immediate space-time implications.

    • “Such a thought however becomes highly problematic when you preach “You killed Jesus.””

      See a concrete example in this testimony. Quote: “They kept saying, ‘Curtiss, it was your sins that did this to Jesus. You crucified him.'”

      (No, I’m not commenting again, just providing a relevant link ;-)

    • Thanks for the link Chris. I’ll make time to read this later, but I highly suggest ubf people read what ICC former members have written.

      This stood to me from the link: “I was in the hospital for a suicide attempt and stayed for ten days.”

      A related teaching based on the wrath of God presentation of the gospel is that suicide is the “unforgivable sin”. I contend that suicide is NOT the unforgivable sin, for the same type of reasons that I reject the “I killed Jesus” thinking. Both are wrong and harmful as far as I can tell.

  11. Joe, I have a couple of comments and perhaps a question regarding your sermon.

    Firstly, I deeply appreciate your treatment of the trinity and how it helps us to understand not only the love of God but who God is. After about four years of being a Christian and basing everything around the SA model, Christianity began to become dull and predictable (though this is probably more of a reflection of my shallow understanding of SA at the time, but still, after hearing SA ad nauseam, I had this nagging feeling that there should be more). Around that time I began listening to Mark Driscoll’s doctrine series. Driscoll made the first lesson about the trinity because he realized it’s importance in helping the church to frame it’s attitude aright toward God and one another. This began a pivotal point in my Christian life.

    Shortly after this I learned of the term “perichoresis” or the divine, happy dance as you put it. Then there was the “unio mystica” which you describe as the God head indwelling us and us indwelling it in some mysterious and glorious fashion. These truths blew my mind at the time and still do when I meditate on them.

    The doctrine of the trinity also made SA complete, at least for me, in a sense. It informed me that there was much more to Christianity than Jesus’ death and resurrection, though these are unquestionably indispensable truths as well as the necessary starting point of our union with the Triune God. I love hearing sermons and illustrations that unpack the trinity; it never gets old. To me, apart from the crucifixion event, it is one of the most breathtaking and beautiful aspects of Christianity. It also helps us to understand the true devastation of sin; it separates us from this Triune God who’s love, joy and fullness are incomprehensible. So when we break faith with God we are missing out on so many levels.

    Anyway, enough of my gushing about the trinity. I also have a comment about your treatment of wrath. While I agree that what Paul is describing in Romans 1 is the passive wrath of God, we also clearly see his active wrath, not only in the OT, but also in the NT as well. If we turn to Romans 2 we immediately see language that is indicative of active wrath (Rom 2:5-9). Also, if we have a problem with God’s active wrath in the OT, then we will have major problems with this in Revelations, namely Rev 19:11-21. Presumably, Jesus metes out justice upon his enemies with finality in that passage.

    I would argue that God’s active wrath is actually an attribute of his love. I’m never one to say that “yes God is loving, but…”. No, anger and love are part and parcel of one another. God shows his active wrath toward his enemies in order to take pernicious and entangling evil completely out of the presence of those he loves. From another point of view, his wrathful judgment against those who are evil is actually a mercy to them for if he did not completely destroy them then they would live in an eternity of anguish and separation from him. This paper gives a decent treatment of both God’s active and passive wrath:

    • lol, no question after all, just assertions I suppose. Anyway, hope this will spur some good dialogue.

    • Joe Schafer

      David, your distinction between passive and active wrath is a good one, and something that I still wrestle with. In the sermon, I never asserted that there is no such thing as active wrath. If God really loves us and creation, the I think it is only logical that he will have to take out the enemy (Satan) and those who fight alongside him with some form of active wrath. But I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of proclaiming God’s automatic active wrath against everyone who has not made a verbal confession of faith in Jesus (or not been baptized or whatever criterion you apply) because there is something intrinsic to the gospel that subverts all our human criteria for deciding who is in or out. Your reference from Romans 2 is an example of that. Jews assumed they were in God’s family and exempt from wrath because they were law abiding Jews. But Paul shattered that notion and said that the dividing line cuts through the Jewish nation as well as the Gentiles. It seems apparent to me that Paul is saying that we cannot easily tell from any outward criteria who is saved and who is not. And the Roman Catholic church specifically points to Romans 2 as evidence that some who have not confessed faith in Jesus are not under God’s wrath.


    • Joe Schafer

      So David, you very astutely honed in on something that I deliberately left out of the sermon, because I didn’t quite know how to deal with it, and the sermon was already too long.

    • Joe, thanks for your explanation. It’s difficult for me to frame a follow-up question because as I think about it, I realize that I don’t have a concrete answer about the active wrath of God either. I surely don’t want anyone to experience this and part of me wants to think that it’s not going to actually happen the way the Bible says it will. But at the same time, it is there in the Bible and it seems to be one of the main features of the gospel proclamation in Acts and most of the epistles.

      The exception is 1 John (which most believe was written after Revelation) where he seems to focus more on the love of God as well as the love of believers toward one another. Could it be that since he wrote this letter after the destruction of Jerusalem his gospeling came from a place of deep reflection upon God’s ability to rescue his people even in the midst of cataclysmic destruction? And with all of the dust settled (though Christians were increasingly being persecuted), he felt secure because he drew deeply from the well of God’s love. He realized that the one thing that trumps any and all kinds of fear is God’s divine, perfect love. That the most important aspect of the fellowship of believers, despite persecution from within and without as well as the impending return of Christ, is love for God and love for each other. When all else passes away, love will endure for all of eternity.

      And perhaps wrath is a key feature of Paul and Peter’s preaching because they had this idea that Jesus was returning very soon and that God would judge the world with finality? Maybe a huge part of the good news of Jesus’ message, to them, was that it was not only a way to reconnect with the Triune God but in so doing also a way to escape his divine wrath.

      Anyway, despite the prominence of surprise endings, the Bible seems to be clear that if we don’t harbor love for the Triune God and one another then we cannot say that we truly belong to him. Could this be a criteria for salvation? I think that our proclamation or confession of Jesus as Lord should come from genuinely experiencing his love. This is what convicted me from your sermon; that if we truly experience the love of the Trinitarian God, then it will so radically change us inwardly that it will yield some outward manifestation, namely in how we acknowledge God on a daily basis as well as by how we love others. Any thoughts on this?

    • Joe, from the paper I linked to, I found this to be a simple and helpful illustration which explains the legitimacy of God’s active wrath:

      The Relationship of Love to Evil. We can safely begin by saying that any teaching about God’s ultimate dealing with sin and sinners must be consistent with His love. The problem for us humans is how to bring together everything we know about God without creating unacceptable contradictions. How should love respond to evil? Does love always sit back and wait for evil to resolve itself by itself, or does love at times intervene actively to prevent evil from carrying out its harmful designs? I propose that active intervention may be the most loving thing that a loving being, divine or human, can do. Several years ago I heard a couple of stories that illustrate the point well.

      The first story is about a family in which the father sexually abuses his daughter. One day he goes into the girl’s bedroom, and a few minutes later the mother hears the daughter crying out, “No, Daddy, No! Please, Daddy, stop!” So the mother goes to an adjoining room, kneels down, and prays for God to intervene.

      In the second story, the teenage daughter of a black sharecropper gets pregnant, but she hesitates to tell her parents, because she fears that her father will kill her. Finally, however, it becomes impossible to hide the evidence, so before her father guesses the problem, she approaches him on the front porch of their cabin. When he learns that she’s going to have a baby, he attacks her violently. In the midst of her screams, the front door to the cabin bursts open. The girl’s mother leaps out, points a rifle at her husband, and shouts, “You strike my daughter one more time and you’re a dead man!”

      The question is, which mother showed the most love for her daughter—the one who prayed passively or the one who intervened actively? I think the answer is obvious. In the face of severe abuse, active intervention is the most loving thing that a loving being can do. Not to do so would be unloving.

    • Precisely DavidW, thanks for sharing those quotes.

      “In the face of severe abuse, active intervention is the most loving thing that a loving being can do. Not to do so would be unloving. – See more at:

      I cannot process the “passive and active wrath of God” presently. As someone mentioned here recently love is usually presented as an action. The trickly part is staying within the definitions in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.

    • Joe Schafer

      David, my only comment is that I like your way of thinking. The active wrath example makes a lot of sense.

      I want to take scripture seriously. I believe it is divinely inspired. And yet it is a human document that was produced by historical human cultural processes. One of the processes that occurred during the first century is a rapid evolution of understanding about what Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension and Pentecost meant, what they revealed about God, and what they revealed about the church and Jewish-Gentile relations and how God’s kingdom plan is unfolding in history. Since we don’t know precise dates for the books of the NT there’s a lot that we can’t tell. But that evolution of understanding must be reflected in the NT. This kind of discussion can be unsettling for people who hold certain doctrines about Scripture because they tend to think that acknowledging any elements of ordinary human cultural processing would only detract from the divine inspiration and inevitably plant unhealthy doubt. But I tend to think that models of inspiration that don’t allow for natural cultural processing will inevitably produce a kind of unhealthy faith.

    • Joe, I was lurking in the back of the Westloop service when you gave your sermon on biblical inspiration. I remember at the end of your sermon, you gave a heartfelt prayer to understand scripture as God would have us to. This prayer and your sermon then stuck with me since. It reminded me that the church is such a long way away from truly understanding scripture and that we must not be afraid to keep having dialogues about even if it results in something that is personally unpleasant or unsettling to us.

      It’s interesting that most evangelicals attempt to define exactly what scripture is as if they have fully understood the intention of God when he inspired the Bible. My hunch is that many hold this stance out of fear. Like you said, it is a jarring notion to think that we don’t have all of the answers, that to have our view of scripture augmented will somehow snatch the footing of our faith from underneath us. I’m reading History of Interpretation by F.W. Farrar. It’s a considerably long overview of theories of scriptural interpretation/inspiration throughout history. He quotes one scholar as saying:

      “If you ask me, for a precise theory of Inspiration, I confess that I can only urge you to repudiate all theories, to apply to theology the maxim which guided Newton in philosophy, hypothesis non fingo, and to rest your teaching upon the facts which God has made known to us.”

      I think it’s an audacious statement to say that we’ve figured this thing out. Also, whenever we settle staunchly on one view, we tend to make an unnecessary wall of hostility out of it thereby excluding others who don’t hold said view.

      One example is the insistence on the theory of verbal plenary inspiration by evangelicals. While this sounds very plausible, I don’t think it’s an airtight theory. For instance, why do other valid Christian faith traditions, Catholic and Easter Orthodox, include different books in their cannons? Also, it seems as though we have to greatly massage some bible passages which seem to say factually, and sometimes theologically, different things in order for VPI to hold. What do you personally think of VPI theory?

    • Joe Schafer

      David, I don’t know much about VPI specifically. But the evangelical world (the nonisolated part of it) is in a state of upheaval about this stuff right now. One of the things that we are realizing is that with the Bible, we are often dealing with oral traditions that have been put down on paper. The traditional theories of inspiration are mainly about the written texts, but say little or nothing about the underlying oral traditions. Not good. Leaves much to be desired.

      Did I get to talk with you at West Loop? I’ve got an awful memory. If the apostles had memories like mine, there’s no way they could write inerrant accounts of Jesus.

    • Joe, I had to leave right after your sermon was over so we didn’t get a chance to talk. I wanted to email you some objections I had over a few things in your sermon. Specifically, it had to do with your assertion that the psalms contained sectarian or tribalistic ways of thinking as well as black and white thinking. Instead I decided to mull over these things in my mind seeing if I could look at these assertions from different angles. Ultimately I decided to read Warfield and Farrar because of your sermon; it resurrected some nagging questions about inspiration that I had put on the backburner of my mind for a while. I remember NT scholar ben witherington making the statement that when david wrote about God’s wrath toward evildoers in the psalms part of the emotion was David’s own, so in some sense he was being overly dramatic or exaggerating what god intended him to write (let me double check this though; I know he said something akin to this). This raised some serious questions for me concerning how we should read or interpret biblical texts.

      Vpi theory is one way to reconcile human agency mixed with divine inspiration. Its framers assert that the holy spirit guided the biblical authors to write ( verbal) absolutely everything (plenary) that god wanted them to write all whilst communicating this through their respective cultural lenses. Sounds plausible but as I said, not airtight. For instance how then would witherington or yourself make sense of this knowing that david inserted some of his own ideas about god, that were perhaps wrong or exaggerated, into what was to be inspired text? I suppose you could say that since the bible is a progressive revelation it’s to be understood that we wouldn’t see crystallized, orthodox theology until later on in the bible. Perhaps this is a satisfying explanation to some but it still leaves me feeling a bit uneasy. And you know that what most evangelicals would do with the psalms is try to crowbar some gospel or crystalized theological meaning into it. They would begin by saying, “Oh no, no, no this is what david actually meant…”.

    • This is from witherington’s blog where he’s giving an indictment against a southern baptist pastor who grossly misused the psalms:

      “This pastor has urged his congregation to pray imprecatory prayers against some folks that blew the whistle on his violations of the separation of church and state laws (i.e. he endorsed Mr. Huckabee on letterhead church stationery and urged his congregation to do the same).

      His supposed Biblical precedent for this is the imprecatory psalms of David. I don’t know what seminary this pastor went to, but boy has he misunderstood those psalms. They don’t reveal the will of God in such matters, rather they shed God’s light of truth on what is in the wicked heart of human beings, including in David’s heart, that old murderer and adulterer. Praying for someone to bash the Edomite babies’ heads on the rocks ought to even give Brother Dobson the willies.”

      Correct me if I’m wrong but witherington seems to imply that God inspired David to write the imprecatory psalms partly so that future readers could be given a negative example of prayer.

      If so my follow-up question is that since david is the shepherd of Israel how is it that he could have disseminated bad theology? We could see that it’s errant in light of the gospel, but how would David’s contemporaries know that? I suppose that this is one of the tragic implications of israel’s reluctance to accept god as their true king.

    • Gosh, sorry if this comes off as me thinking out loud more so than us having a dialogue, but I’ve thought about the imprecatory psalms from another point of view. Some might say that these prayers are actually a symbolic foreshadow of God’s judgment or active wrath in later times (perhaps revelation 19). So in effect david was not theologically wrong but was expressing God’s burning desire to purge the world of evil down to it’s very genesis (babies being a symbol here). This sounds very unpleasant though and is perhaps quite a stretch. But at the same time it sounds plausible. I’m pretty conflicted at this point, as you can tell.

    • Theopedia gives some contemporary, albeit greatly massaged and perhaps even forced, views of the imprecatory psalms. Example:

      “They [these hard sayings] are not statements of personal vendetta, but they are utterances of zeal for the kingdom of God and his glory. To be sure, the attacks which provoked these prayers were not from personal enemies; rather, they were rightfully seen as attacks against God and especially his representatives in the promised line of the Messiah.”

      That statement is a bit of a stretch to me. Also I didn’t realize that Jesus and Paul made some imprecatory statements: Matt 26:23-24, 1 Cor 16:24, Gal 1:8-9, Gal 5:12 and even a personal one in 2 Tim 4:14. In light of these verses arguing from the point of view of progressive revelation appears to become a somewhat untenable stance. This opens up an entirely new way of looking at scripture though. Am I thinking rightly here?

    • Brian, if you’re still in this convo, rightly defining love is a major component of understanding God’s actions in the bible as well as our interpersonal actions of love toward one another, our enemies included. I wonder if we could understand Jesus’ and Paul’s imprecatory statements in light of true, Trinitarian love which “does not delight in evil…” Perhaps this holds part of the answer. What do you think, david? I don’t know yet but I’ll reply back to myself in a minute. Lol

    • Joe Schafer

      David, you are asking some excellent questions. Please do not apologize for thinking out loud, for conversing with yourself, etc. I think it’s very refreshing.

      As I look back over the intense conversations going on here over the last 2 days, I’ve noticed how often we address one another by making declarative statements. It seems to me that, as ubf members, as modern evangelicals, and as men, we have been socialized to talk to one another that way: by stating our positions (posturing) as if our statements are truth. We speak to one another with authoritative voices and project a degree of certainty in our positions which we do not actually possess. And we often forget that we are addressing real flesh-and-blood people in the context of messy human relationships. So the “dialogue” becomes: Person A states a position as if it were hard fact. Person B feels intuitively that what A said isn’t right, so B responds with a flurry of declarative statements and presents them as hard facts. The back-and-forth conversation between people is a highly personal interaction, but on the surface it appears to be impersonal, all about abstract ideas and principles. The strongly personal elements are there, but they are hidden below the surface. I think this is one reason why this forum is male dominated, and why (regardless of the topic being discussed) some readers feel intimidated and are afraid to join in, because they haven’t become fluent in our language, the language of positions and facts and principles.

      David, sorry for that digression. The reason why I said those things is that I think there are lots of people who, like you and I, are actually quite confused by a lot of what we see in the Bible. The models of divine inspiration that we were given don’t (to use a scientific term) have the predictive validity that they ought to have; they don’t do a very good job of describing the texts that we actually have before us. We didn’t notice that before. The reasons why we didn’t notice that might be a mixture of fear (as you pointed out yesterday) and huge amounts of confirmation bias. When something comes along that loosens us out of our firm position (like a mildly unsettling sermon by Joe Schafer at West Loop) then a tiny crack opens in our minds and suddenly new information, evidence that doesn’t support our previous too-strong beliefs, starts to pour in. We find ourselves in a an awkward state of liminality (an awesome word, one of my new faves) that allows us to engage in thinking that is exploratory rather than confirmatory. The liminal state is very scary. But in my experience, it’s where we can really learn to walk by faith, trusting in God, in ways that we never did before. And when our minds are in that liminal state, the floodgates of learning are opened, and we can learn so much and grow at a much faster rate than ever before.

      Personally, I think that the liminal state can be very good for discipleship. It’s the time when we are most open to God. Unfortunately, the popular models and methods for Christian discipleship seemed designed to get people out of liminality as soon as possible and into a state of premature certainty and premature commitment.

    • Joe Schafer

      David, in response to your questions about Scripture, I don’t have everything worked out in my mind, and I hope I never will think that I have.

      One thing I do believe now rather firmly is that there are multiple, faithful ways to approach Scripture within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy and the Christian tradition. Some of these sit well with modern conservative evangelicals, and some don’t. None of them is airtight. None of them is uniformly better than others. I think it is possible (even necessary) to learn how to read the Bible critically as well as religiously. By critically, I mean that we should be willing to not take everything that we see (especially in the OT) at face value if we see images of God that are distinctly unChristlike. We need to seek alternative explanations if necessary. There’s a long tradition of that in the church going way back to the early church Fathers and, I believe, to the apostles and Jesus himself. That kind of restructuring of the OT is an intrinsic part of the gospel. If we are preaching from the pulpit, I think we can do this in ways that truly honor Christ.

      If you have time, here are a couple of sermons by Greg Boyd that attempt to do this. I don’t think Boyd has all the answers or even the right answers. He is careful to say that he doesn’t. But I find his approach very helpful and compelling for many people who cannot understand why so much of the Old Testament and even parts of the New Testament are, at the surface, inconsistent with what Jesus reveals about the character of God. Some people will push back against Boyd, and that’s ok. But I think we ought to at least hear him out. He’s an important voice in the conversation.

      A sermon about how to understand imprecatory Psalms and violence in the OT:

      A sermon about how to understand male-dominated rules and slavery in the NT:

    • Joe, your statements about communication are spot on. I think that I have a naturally dialogic personality. In my childhood years my father said that I should have written a book of questions because I would ask the most off-the-wall things related to nature, life and so forth. In school and later in church I received a fair amount of pushback because people either espoused pragmatism or they were too afraid to say that they didn’t know the answer.

      I had unwittingly been conditioned through these various facets to become rigid and declarative rather than open and inquisitive. It wasn’t until I got married that I realized how one-sided my conversation skills were (that’s a funny story for another time). Also, ubfriends gives us a unique opportunity to sift through and review our conversations. It’s been a wonderful insight because it helps me to see just how self-centered my communication often is. We don’t even begin to see this in real time conversations because we’re trying to think on our feet, constantly trying to protect our respective worldviews.

      The reason why I like ubfriends is because we can have dialogues in which, even though we may deeply offend one another, we want to understand this way of life that we’ve been priveleged to be accepted into, which is Christ’s community. It necessarily entails us asking ugly, unsettling and downright upsetting questions. But in the midst of it we find perhaps more questions but also real beauty/glory and and a realization that we share more commonalities than we initially perceived. It is very difficult for me to experience this type of phenomenon in the ubf community for reasons that have been stated ad nauseam here and elsewhere. But my relentless prayer is that someday we may have real dialogue in that community.

      You know, my hunch is that the female readership for ubfriends is quite high but perhaps they are reluctant to comment because the communication style seems one-sided and too abrasive. I don’t like watering down my communication style at all, but maybe as you and brian stated we could do better somehow.

      Also, I appreciate the greg Boyd links you sent. I’ll watch them some time soon and let you know what I think in a manner that is as one-sided as possible, lol jk. I remember listening to a lecture series by Don Carson on the NT use of the OT. He humorously stated that we needed to first get past the huge elephant in the room which is how do we reconcile the fact that almost all of the NT authors seemingly butcher and abuse the OT text without any apology. Anyway I need to relisten to that as well.

  12. If Christians today should not view Jesus’ death as “I killed him” (since it was the Jews who technically and literally did), then I’m not sure what exactly was the conviction of sin in Peter’s audience in Acts when they were cut to the heart. Peter said, “whom you crucified” (Ac 2:36). “When the people heard this they were cut to the heart” (Ac 2:37).

    Also, a segment of the Jewish crowd were not local dwellers who killed Jesus, but were visitors during the Passover. Also, Jesus’ own Jewish band of disciples also did not go along with killing him. So, then “you killed the author of life” did not apply to the visitors, nor to the disciples (the 12 and the 120), the women who followed him, and to all believers for the next 2,000 years to this day.

    I’ve asked this before: but I’m not sure what the conviction of sin would be by proclaiming the gospel as King Jesus being the fulfillment and climax of Israel’s story.

    I’m really not sure how a believer at any time would be cut to the heart if they were not responsible in some real way for the death of the Messiah.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I hear you loud and clear. You said, “I’m not sure what the conviction of sin would be by proclaiming the gospel as King Jesus being the fulfillment and climax of Israel’s story.” That is something that I couldn’t understand for a long time. One of the shortcomings of McKnight’s book is that he doesn’t articulate that. But I think I’m starting to grasp it.

      That is precisely the subject of a fascinating lecture by N.T. Wright. It’s the *third* lecture in this series:
      If you have an hour to spare sometime, listen to it. But be forewarned: for those of us who have been conditioned to think of sin primarily in terms of individual guilt, the ideas are initially confusing and mind boggling.

    • Ben, I see the job of “cutting to the heart” as the job of the Holy Spirit. Surely it is the Spirit who convicts? John 16:8

      In Acts 2:37, how can we be so sure what “this” refers to? Does “this” refer only to “…whom you crucified..” Might it also or instead refer to the Lordship and other teachings Peter spoke?

      My point is not that no one can be cut to the heart from thinking they crucified Jesus. Maybe someone could. My point is that such a teaching is wrong (can someone be cut to the heart by the Spirit through wrong teaching? Maybe.)

      Also we Christ-followers have no right to usurp the Spirit’s role in deciding how to convict. The Spirit is quite creative I think and can surely “cut to the heart” in a million different ways.

      I hear what you are saying. For many years I cowered in fear and guilt thinking that I killed Jesus. But I no longer have such fear or guilt. Perfect love has driven out such fear.

      Peter addresses “Fellow Israelites” and point out a fact (not blaming them) that the Israelites of that generation (not all Israelites) did kill Jesus. Why extrapolate this to make substitionary atonement “work”? In Acts 3 we see the same thing, “Men of Israel”. The “you killed Jesus” message was for the Israelite generation of that time and merely a fact, not meant to be taken so literally that we send a holocaust to all Jews and not meant to be preached to Gentiles.

      Hebrews declares rather boldly that even this sin of killing Jesus does not preclude Jews from the forgiveness of God and does not prevent them from being saved. So because of Hebrews we avoid the anti-Semitic accusation.

      I see no need to go beyond the text here. And if someone preaches to me that I must believe I or my sins killed Jesus, I just laugh.

      So I see preaching “You killed Jesus” to us Gentiles as simply wrong, but not beyond what the Spirit could use to convict. Is there any example of such teaching to Gentiles in the bible? If so then I would have to modify my position.

      My stance is that if God’s love is unconditional and grace is fully unmerited, then we could not possibly do anything sinful enough to be responsible an individual level to warrant the teaching that we Gentiles killed Jesus. The only way to claim we Gentiles killed Jesus would be to put conditions on God’s love and bar up the way to grace with human merit.

      The question then remains could we corporately create enough sin to be responsible? I don’t see how but maybe someone has an argument here.

      I think the point of Peter’s sermon is that God does *not* hold the Jews responsible for killing Jesus. I believe the promises in the OT and NT tell us that in the end God will forgive Jews and anyone who is His enemy, and He will do so in a perfectly just manner.

      And finally I believe the basis for my thoughts here are again rooted in Romans 9:1-33, especially Romans 9:19-26. I really believe none of the events on the cross were directly caused by human effort or sin, though certainly related. The events are rooted in God’s will to demonstrate his love.

    • Just a small correction. The Jewish and Roman leaders worked together here, but it was the Romans who “technically and literally” killed Jesus. So both Jews and gentiles are guilty of killing Jesus.

    • Thanks for the correction, Chris. You are correct. A case could be made that not a single Jew “killed” Jesus because only Roman hands performed the act.

      I’m curious why Peter never addressed “fellow Romans”? Or did he and I’m just missing it?

      Like I mentioned above a case could also be made that an entire community “killed” Jesus, in fact maybe we could say all humanity “killed Jesus”. But I see no case for placing such guilt on individual people, like I once believed.

  13. Joe, Brian, It does not seem to me that this prior comment of mine was addressed: “I’m really not sure how a believer at any time would be cut to the heart if they were not responsible in some real way for the death of the Messiah.” – See more at:

    God made Christ to be sin for us (2 Cor 5:21).

    Christ became a curse for us (Gal 3:13).

    Christ suffered for sins (1 Pet 3:18).

    The entire OT sacrificial system of shedding the blood of an innocent animal to atone for man’s sin was pointing to One who would shed his blood for the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).

    God’s manifold ways and wisdom in saving fallen humanity is surely beyond our comprehension. But countless millions through out the centuries perhaps have come to Christ because they personally felt responsible that their individual personal sin caused Christ death.

    I’m still convinced that presenting this to the world is not butchering the teaching of salvation–both individually and corporately. I’m really not sure what the kickback to this is, as though it is some sort of horribly unbiblical teaching.

    I do not mind listening to Tom Wright and McKnight. But I said in a previous comment that I highly doubt if a secular non-churched Bible illiterate audience will understand their cerebral and intellectual presentation of the gospel to any significant degree. It really does not seem emotive or emotionally engaging to me to cause any sinner to be cut to the heart.

    But to understand that man’s life of willful sin and rebellion caused the death of an innocent One is the simple elementary gospel. This would be shallow enough for a child to swim in and deep enough for the most profound theologian.

    So I’m really not clear what the objection or kickback is, as though SA is an inferior, incomplete, dumbed down or tribal/sectarian or even bad/wrong version of the gospel, or that SA is somehow diminishing or obscuring a better or purer form of the “true” gospel.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, you raise some very valid and important points. And you are correct that we (Brian and I) have not given a cogent answer to that question.

      These questions are difficult but for me they are extremely important. They cut to the heart of what it means to faithfully believe, understand, articulate and proclaim the gospel in these postmodern times.

      Your last paragraph above hits the nail on the head. You said it in a stronger way than I would have. But the answer is basically yes. I do believe that substitutionary atonement (SA) is one way of articulating or explaining some aspects of the gospel. The kernel of SA falls within the realm of faithful gospel preaching. But let me give the harshest version of what I am trying to say. I will make it intentionally harsh, just to make my point. The next two paragraphs contain intentional exaggeration. But they do reflect some of what I truly think and feel.

      Yes, in many circles (e.g. UBF), SA has been seriously dumbed down. Yes, SA has been made tribal/sectarian; there are many tribes within the church that are functionally centered on SA rather than on Jesus Christ and God himself. Yes, SA has often been infused with lots of ideas about God’s character that are misleading or downright wrong. SA fails to explain a lot of what I see in the New Testament and especially the Old Testament. SA doesn’t jump out of the four gospels and Acts as the main story that the evangelists and apostles told. So although SA can be found in the Bible, to say that SA is the overarching story of the Bible seems, well, seriously unbiblical.

      And Ben, even though I will honor your testimony and believe that SA resonates with you at a deep level, there are many of us for whom it fails to touch our souls or capture our imaginations. And that’s not because we haven’t read enough of Piper, Grudem, etc. It’s not because we are ignorant, foolish, stubborn or willfully rebellious. It’s not because we can’t bear to hear the hard truth about ourselves and our own sinfulness. It fails to do for me what many preachers (for example, Francis Chan) are continually promising that it must do, to lead us into a deep love relationship with God. In many cases it has failed to make mature, loving, attractive, irenic Christians. And in many places it has failed to build church communities that are diverse, open, loving, attractive, amazing pictures of the kingdom. It just does not strike me as amazingly beautiful. And it has failed to give me a big-picture imagination and guidance about how to address many of the thorny ethical issues of the day (e.g., homosexuality) that have become flashpoints of conflict and culture war.

      I do not claim that everyone, or even most people, are like me. But I have anecdotal evidence that significant numbers of people sense what I sense, even if they don’t have the vocabulary to explain it. There are self-identified Christians who cannot bear to be told that we have to go back to drink from the SA well again and again because it is the deepest and purest well or the only well. There are self-identified nonChristians who are attracted to Jesus himself but who cannot come into church environments because the SA version of the gospel doesn’t captivate them with beauty. It has failed to give me a faith that truly speaks to me in my own language, a faith that fits who I am and who I want to become. And it has failed to show me how the gospel of universal truth (Jesus is the only way to God) can address the deepest and hardest questions of all people in this pluralistic world.

      So please understand why I sense the need to stop trying to make SA the center of my spirituality for a while and search elsewhere for spiritual nourishment. I don’t want to diss anyone who is deeply satisfied with SA. But I need to look for an articulation of the where Jesus’ vision of the kingdom is at the very center of the proclamation, not an addendum, and where the cross is at the very center of that kingdom vision. McKnight and Wright are helping me a lot in that regard. They don’t have all the answers. But they have shown me that my gospel boat is very leaky; in fact it has lots of holes. I don’t yet know how to plug those holes. But I’m doing the best I can.

  14. Oh Ben, there is so much I would love to be able to say right now. You are cutting to the heart of the issue. But it’s still very hard for me to put into words. I agree that SA is the simple elementary gospel. But I question that it is the one and only, pure, complete, universal expression of the gospel. I question it because there are so many who hold to it steadfastly as such, but still don’t look or act much like Jesus (myself included), or the early church. We can’t deny the reality of this, and I don’t think we should suppose that if only people really knew SA better than all would be well. I’m pretty sure that significant things are missing. I read McKnight and Wright and Newbigin and many others because they also have a deep sense of this problem and are laboring to understand it. I can’t wait to hear more of this discussion.

    • There have been times in evangelical history in which the fullness of the gospel was better understood, experienced and articulated than it is now. SA was balanced by a richer understanding of the Trinity, for example as Fred Sanders suggests. See Joe’s post on the decadence of evangelical culture. Perhaps you are benefiting by these teachers. But that doesn’t account for the reality of this decadence and the need to understand it’s roots.

  15. Here is a story about my Dad. He came to the US in the fifties, a time of huge cultural instability and change. First, he knew about the Scopes trial. My Dad is a scientist and let’s just say that the whole affair left a bad taste in his mouth toward conservative christians. Second, he went down South with a pastor friend of his and was personally confronted with racial segregation and the church’s complicity with it. He met my mother, who had been raised in a legalistic Baptist home. Is it any wonder that progressive Christian teaching resonated with him? Conservative Christians by and large leave me with no way of understanding him accept to shake my head and assume that he is lost, most likely because he never deeply understood himself as a sinner responsible for the death of Jesus. Ok, that may be part of it. But is it all?

    • Joe Schafer

      I hope no one gets the impression from Sharon’s last comment that she believes that “liberal Christianity” (broadly cast) is a viable alternative. We both believe that the conservative/liberal splits of the last century were centered on some very important issues, but times have changed, and to continue to think of everything in terms of conservative-versus-liberal dichotomies is inaccurate and unhelpful. There are many other ways to cut the cake.

  16. Thanks, Sharon. I agree that our decadent culture is problematic. I agree that sinner Christians and sinner Christian leaders use (or teach) SA (and use their authority and leadership and teaching and preaching) poorly, badly, unbiblically, dispiritedly, guilt-trippingly, rudely, condescendingly, arrogantly, predictably, unengagingly and worst of all boringly (the most inexcusable!)!

    Might such Christian leaders be any different from the so-called “super apostles” Paul talks about in Corinthians, or about those who preach the gospel out of envy and rivalry and not out of goodwill (Phil 1:15)?

    I agree that the gospel is a bottomless ocean. I agree that many problems in the church is a result of reductionism and reductionistic teachings.

    But I also know that knowing more or better theology does not make one a better Christian, and that some who know very little are wonderful Christians. I’m not advocating that one should not study and know more. I personally love to read and study. But it is so obvious that one who reads and knows more can just as easily fall into sin (pride, arrogance, dismissive of others, etc), as one who does not.

    I really think that many of us who went through UBF (or other churches, such as the recent iHOP article) got screwed up in some way. Now it seems like many things that we were taught or learned in UBF (or iHOP or our original church), we seem to regard as inferior, sub-par, bad or simply downright wrong. I personally don’t think this is healthy.

    UBF implicitly communicates “in or out,” “either/or.” Are we not doing the same thing?

    Once some of us may have tragically idolized UBF, myself obviously included. But are we now idolizing “anything not UBF” to use as ammunition against UBF?

    I’m not trying to be funny. The kickback against “anything UBF” seems to be quite palpably strong on this ubFRIENDS site. This is just my subjective sentiment and opinion.

    Might this be a significant reason why our readership is down?

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, if people think that this thread is mainly about UBF, they are mistaken. If they think that my reading of theology is an infatuation with anything that is nonUBF doesn’t know the first thing about who I am or what I care about. If UBF people want to talk to me personally, they know how to reach me. But in terms of my spiritual journey, I am so over UBF. What happens there is largely irrelevant to me, because the leaders of the organization have made it irrelevant.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben wrote, “knowing more or better theology does not make one a better Christian.” That is true up to a point. But the gospel we proclaim shapes the churches and people that we get, and the churches and people that we are shape the gospel that we proclaim. For me this is not an exercise in idle talk. It is a serious attempt to figure out why the gospel-package that I was sold didn’t do for me what the salespeople had promised, and why my character and faith still has so many holes.

  17. Ben, I don’t think you are characterizing our comments well at all. How could you possibly see us as “idolizing anything not UBF”. We are asking serious questions here. It is a really bad idea to turn to personal attack (just can’t think of a better word though I’m sure there is one) in this conversation. I wonder why you are doing so.

    • Joe, Sharon, Sorry if this came off as an attack. But truly, I am enjoying this dialogue and conversation. It is intellectually engaging and it fully fits with my cerebral disposition.

  18. Thanks, Joe. Your last comment is helpful for me to understand.

    My own experience is that UBF assumes SA, without ever using the term. (Several times when I mentioned “penal substitutionary atonement,” some people looked as though they thought I was trying to show off.) Without using the term, yet for the most part the assumed SA was rarely ever taught well with beauty, mystery and majesty. But when I began reading and listening to Tim Keller and others, I was floored at how SA just completely captivates my soul with beauty, mystery and majesty.

    To my sentiment, SA incorporates eternal life and the glorious hope of the kingdom of God.

    Because of a deep appreciation of SA, I think that I am able to fully embrace homosexuals from my heart without cringing and without being judgmental or critical.

    I believe that all of this is the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I believe you. But would homosexuals actually experience that love and full embrace? If not, is it purely because they misunderstand or reject SA or because they don’t want to repent? Or are there other forces in play?

      I’m not trying to get into a discussion specifically about homosexuality. This is part of a serious question. Who decides what is truly loving? The one who says that he is loving, or the one who is supposed to be feeling that love but might not be feeling it?

    • Ben it didn’t come off as an attack, it was one. You basically called us damaged, proud, idol-worshippers. Now that may be true, but is that what you really want to say to us right now? If so, why? Do you really think we need to hear it? If so, I would say that you aren’t listening very carefully. But then I am damaged, proud, and prone to idol worship….Also, Do you really think this is just an intellectual game we are playing? …that we just need to settle down into simple but deep faith? I don’t think you understand my motivations very well. I’m going to take a break and go visit my parents. Noone has ever denied what the Holy Spirit is doing in your heart through SA. I’m honestly very happy about it.

    • So sorry, Sharon. But I believe you know that I really do not call others what you felt. Yesterday, someone said to me, “Are you going to punish me for not coming to church?” My response, “Absolutely not. If anyone needs to be punished, then it is I.” So without a doubt I am the one who is a damaged, proud, idol-worshipper.

    • Hey Ben, apology totally accepted. On rereading this dialogue I realize I heard criticism where it wasn’t intended. I’m sorry about that!

  19. Joe, based on what I’ve read (but not personally observed so much), the “SA, Reformed, Calvinist, justification by faith alone” people have a reputation of being angry and intolerant of anyone not having their views and perspective. The most offensive element is when some top leaders say, “Mother Theresa is not a Christian.”

    On the other extreme, might be the “do nothing” hyperCalvinists.

    But I really do not think that it is the fault of SA. I regard it as the fault of our fallen humanity that causes us to pervert something true and beautiful into something it is not.

    It’s like John McArthur’s Strange Fire conference where he virtually condemned a half billion charismatics to hell.

    This is just sinners being sinners who misconstrue theology to their own inkling and inclination.

    Would not a “both/and” approach be better than an “either/or” stance?

    • “Would not a “both/and” approach be better than an “either/or” stance?”

      Perhaps, but in this case I would suggest “third option” or trinitarian thinking.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I have never thought that an either/or stance is good. I want a robust gospel faith that draws upon whatever insights are useful, regardless of their source. All truth is God’s truth.

      And I don’t ever want to define my spirituality as a reaction against SA. I am consciously reacting against some aspects of SA, but as I do I want to remain focused on Christ. (And the Trinity. Because the real Jesus is a Trinitarian Jesus.)

      But let me digress for a moment by talking about UBF. There are people who have told me, “Joe, you have some good ideas. Why don’t you help UBF by gently and respectfully bringing those ideas into the UBF community?” When they say that to me, I get ticked off, because you know how hard I tried to do just that. UBF will tolerate some new things to a point. But very quickly, the UBF organism’s immune system sounds the alarm. “Intruder detected! Intruder detected! Foreign ideas present!” The white blood cells identify the intruder, surround it, begin to chew it up and spit it out.

      Or to abruptly change the metaphor: Suppose UBF were a Christmas tree. (Maybe it’s a sick tree. Maybe it’s a scrawny, deformed Charlie Brown tree, but there are Charlies out there who love it and see beauty in it. That’s beside the point.) Some people think that you can dress up the tree by hanging some more ornaments on it. To some extent you can. But many of us have tried and found that, after a point, the ornaments can’t be hung because there are no hooks and no places to attach the ornaments. The tree humors you for a while but soon it says, “No more” and just rejects your ornaments. Some people seem willing and able to spend the rest of their lives hanging around, cajoling the tree into accepting the new ornaments. But others of us can’t or won’t. We won’t spend the rest of our lives trying to beautify the UBF tree because that is not what God really wants of us. Life is not all about UBF! There’s a whole forest of trees, and God cares about the forest, and about the big wide world beyond the forest. Focusing on the one dysfunctional tree and trying to help it when it clearly does not want to be helped becomes at some point a waste of one’s valuable life.

      OK, now I want to switch over from talking about UBF to talking about the gospel. Some people seem perfectly content and happy to hang around the tree of substitutionary atonement. Some can find find a meaningful faith and community within the SA virtual community. (That community is looser and more diverse than UBF.) Some have a satisfying vocation making new ornaments and hanging them on the SA tree. But sooner or later, we encounter very useful ideas, very faithful Christian ideas, that the SA body doesn’t want to tolerate; the SA immune system gets activated and tries to immobilize and expel them. Or we find really nice and beautiful ornaments but cannot find hooks for them or branches to hang them on the SA tree. We get frustrated because the situation is, well, quite frustrating. And then someone comes along and says, “Joe, you have some good ideas. Why don’t you stop criticizing or hurting people’s gospel faith and use your talents for constructively helping people to deepen their gospel faith?” But when they say “gospel” what they really mean is SA because they don’t know that there is anything faithfully Christian besides SA. And I get ticked off because they haven’t got a clue that for a very long time now I have been trying to do exactly what they said I should do, and it hasn’t been working.

  20. Joe, regarding gays, the only ones I know and hang out with are Filipinos who study the Bible in UBF. We get along fine with no problems.

    But being an introvert who is for the most part not sociable or outgoing, I do not engage well with outsiders. Based on Eph 4:11, evangelist is my weakest attribute. But if someone introduces me to gays or non-believers I will not judge or condemn them or “impose my doctrine” on them. I do primarily want to be friends and share life and stories as much as and as far as they want to go.

    • Though I believe this to be true, I think I am no longer the “repent, believe in Jesus or else…” person that I once was. I want to embrace and welcome each person wherever they are at in their own personal life journey without pressuring them to conform to my expectations or beliefs.

    • “Joe, regarding gays, the only ones I know and hang out with are Filipinos who study the Bible in UBF” – See more at:

      Ben, I just cannot believe you are being honest here. You don’t know about the homosexuals in Chicago ubf? Maybe you don’t hang out, but surely you do know who they are?

      Regarding this topic, I’m glad to know that there are some in ubf (such as in Toledo ubf) who are openly admitting they are gay. I haven’t hear the reaction yet though.

  21. Ben, you said no one addressed your comment, but I have replied with my thoughts. Are you saying my thougths should dismissed entirely and have nothing to do with what you say? Or maybe you just didn’t see my reply?

    “Joe, Brian, It does not seem to me that this prior comment of mine was addressed: “I’m really not sure how a believer at any time would be cut to the heart if they were not responsible in some real way for the death of the Messiah. – See more at:

    Here is the first part of my reply in regard to how someone could be cut to the heart apart from the way you mention. I’m not saying your way is bad, just that there are many other ways to be cut to the heart.

    “Ben, I see the job of “cutting to the heart” as the job of the Holy Spirit. Surely it is the Spirit who convicts? John 16:8
    In Acts 2:37, how can we be so sure what “this” refers to? Does “this” refer only to “…whom you crucified..” Might it also or instead refer to the Lordship and other teachings Peter spoke?
    My point is not that no one can be cut to the heart from thinking they crucified Jesus. Maybe someone could. My point is that such a teaching is wrong (can someone be cut to the heart by the Spirit through wrong teaching? Maybe.)

    Also we Christ-followers have no right to usurp the Spirit’s role in deciding how to convict. The Spirit is quite creative I think and can surely “cut to the heart” in a million different ways.
    – See more at:

  22. Ben,

    “Might this be a significant reason why our readership is down?”

    This makes no sense to me. I sent you the statistics from Google. We have a steady average of about 200 unique readers per day. The readership is only down relative to the big spike during the ISBC. Maybe you can explain further what you are getting at here?

  23. Brian, Yes, I did read your comment about the Holy Spirit convicting and cutting to the heart. I guess I didn’t see that as a response to my comment.

    If someone, out of love for me, died for a crime that I deserved to die, it cuts to the heart by the work of the Holy Spirit.

    Yes, no one can dictate how the Holy Spirit cuts to the heart. Yet, shouldn’t there be some plausible explanation or articulation exactly as to how the Holy Spirit cuts to the heart apart from someone dying for you out of their love for you?

    • Ben,

      In the passage you mention, the people present were “cut to the heart”. This is “katenugesan te kardia” in Greek– “severely troubled and made sorrowful.” The Holy Spirit used Peter’s message to evoke a state of mind in which they were ready to respond to the Gospel in faith.

      How could the Spirit do this apart from preaching “Jesus died for you out of love for you”?

      First of all as I and Joe and Sharon repeatedly said, you are correct. The Spirti can and does convict of guilt, showing us that we have broken the law and are in need of the atoning sacrifice in our place, who is Jesus on the cross. The gospel message related to this is that message of the kingdom. This message is very moving to me, and surely this message of the gospel impacted my life and continues to impact me.

      What I find wrong with your articulation above is the individual, personal blame and responsibility for killing Jesus. To say “Jesus died for me out of love” is correct. But to extend that and say “I personally am responsible for killing Jesus” just seems incorrect to me.

      And furthermore, my bigger point is that there are at least 4 other major ways that the Spirit does convict and “cut to the heart”.

      1. The gospel message of Jesus’ glory that cuts to the heart because Prophet Jesus fulfilled the Law/Prophets/promises and touches our shame.

      2. The gospel message of God’s grace that cuts to the heart because Priest Jesus forgives us and touches our sin.

      3. The gospel message of God’s peace that cuts to the heart because Author Jesus narrates our faith and touches our curse.

      4. The gospel message of God’s salvation that cuts to the heart because Messiah Jesus was born and touches our death.

      And yes, as you are saying I agree this is correct:

      5. The gospel message of God’s kingdom that cuts to the heart because King Jesus died for us and touches our guilt.

  24. Joe, I am not consciously aware that I am hanging ornaments on the SA tree. To whatever degree, I understand that the gospel is “Jesus died for our sins” and that this statement is far deeper than what we might conceptually be able to conceive to its full rich extent.

    What I genuinely and truly do not understand is how a believer might be cut to the heart other than by knowing (through the work of the Holy Spirit) that someone loves them to the extent of dying for them.

    • Ben, I like Joe’s analogy of hanging ornaments on a tree. I would say you are taking gospel message #5 and trying to collapes all other gospel messages into that one message. I don’t reject #5, I just reject the collapsing part. I think American Evangelicalism has also done this and many need to understand the articulation of the “gospel content” (birth, life, death, resurrection, etc). vs the “gospel messages” (grace, peace, glory, salvation, kingdom) vs the “gospel themes” (rest, fulfilment, forgiveness, etc.).

      To force fit all this into one SA theory or one statement just doesn’t work for me and apparantly for a lot of other people. I simply can no longer be convinced that I am personally responsible for Jesus’ death. And right now it is the other gospel messages that cut me to the heart.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, it’s not just a matter of the heart, but also of the head, and the body, which are all interrelated.

      Striving for gospel preaching that tries to cut people to the heart is a laudable goal. But sometimes it falls flat, not because the speaker isn’t passionate, but because he fails to address the points of cognitive dissonance that are serious barriers to faith and discipleship.

      If a person doesn’t understand in what sense Jesus could have died for him, and if the preacher doesn’t have a clear and satisfying explanation but just asserts it with passion (not accusing you of anything here) then pushing for the heart won’t work very well.

      The death of Jesus was an actual event in space and time. To pull it out of its historical context and then proclaim by faith that it now applies to everyone everywhere is a huge leap. To take one historical event and construct universal principles from it and then proclaim those principles as absolute truth is a huge leap. It sits squarely within a western modernist framework that doesn’t resonate with lots of people right now. There are all sorts of objections to making that leap, objections that are quite real and sound and need to be identified and addressed with solid answers. (Just identifying the questions can be extremely hard.) Some of us sense we are called to do that hard work of figuring these things out. These are precisely the things that Newbigin focused on in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. His reasoning is hard to follow but very useful and important. He saw the failure of this western modernist framework in India and brought those experiences back west. These things may be head issues but they are also heart issues.

  25. Thanks, Brian, Do you think a non-church, Bible illiterate audience might understand #5 more than #1-#4? Given you have a few minutes of opportunity to share the gospel with someone who is fairly open (or not open), would you actually choose #1-4 over #5? I’m sure you won’t want to confuse them with all 5.

    I read what you’re saying. I could conceivably agree with #1-4. I’m not saying it is wrong, or unbiblical. But it has no emotive or emotionally engaging sentiment to me. It is rather abstract and impersonal. But someone dying for me in my place out of love for me cuts straight to the heart.

    Maybe #5 gets old to some Christians. (I suspect it is because it is poorly and incomprehensively presented.) My thought is that it should never get old. I am not denying that Christ is my King, my Lord, my Messiah, my Prophet and Priest, my Advocate, my all in all. But the fact that he is my Substitute, Sacrifice and Lover cuts to the heart more than the others. Maybe that’s just me.

    The most moving Hollywood stories involve someone dying for someone else. Sorry for a bad cheesy example, but Titanic comes to mind.

    • Ben,

      “Thanks, Brian, Do you think a non-church, Bible illiterate audience might understand #5 more than #1-#4?”

      I don’t know. I don’t guess at what message will affect any audience at any given time. I just know that #5 has been beaten to death (pun intended) and many people don’t respond to that right now. Perhaps if we explored the vastness of these messages people wouldn’t be leaving churches. I find the churches where people are actually going to (Such as my own Grace Community) are churches with leaders who articulate the other messages well. I’ve been cut to the heart through worship, whereby the glory of Christ is lifted up, for example.

      “Given you have a few minutes of opportunity to share the gospel with someone who is fairly open (or not open), would you actually choose #1-4 over #5?”

      Absolutely :) I would actually listen for the Spirit to direct me what to say, whithout overthinking it. In fact I would speak what the Spirit directs me to say regardless of consequences out of my utmost obedience to the gospel and to the Spirit (as I’m doing now :)

  26. For exmaple, Ben the glory of Jesus gospel message has spoken to me a lot lately. I am cut to the heart realizing I really really want my own glory. I really really want a “good Christian” reputation. I really really want to be like John Piper and gather millions to listen to me, to be able to speak graciously and inspire millions to unity.

    But I am who I am. I am me. I am humbled to the ground because I am compelled to obey what the Spirit is directing me to do, which is to speak the gospel in a prophetic manner with my own “karcher” voice and accept all kinds of disparaging labels and eye-popping condemnations and surprised/shocked looks (those who read my comments here must think I’ve become insane).

    • Joe Schafer

      As Paul showed in 2 Corinthians, there can be a fine line between insanity and apostleship.

    • I was thinking of Acts, as in Acts 26:23-25 (The Message)

      “That was too much for Festus. He interrupted with a shout: “Paul, you’re crazy! You’ve read too many books, spent too much time staring off into space! Get a grip on yourself, get back in the real world!”

      But Paul stood his ground. “With all respect, Festus, Your Honor, I’m not crazy. I’m both accurate and sane in what I’m saying. The king knows what I’m talking about. I’m sure that nothing of what I’ve said sounds crazy to him. He’s known all about it for a long time. You must realize that this wasn’t done behind the scenes. You believe the prophets, don’t you, King Agrippa? Don’t answer that—I know you believe.”

  27. Joe Schafer

    Ben, I hope you don’t mind that I’m beating up on you here. I’m treating you as something of a spokesperson for SA. This is Substitutionary Atonement happening in real time. You are being beaten and pierced for all the transgressions of all SA theorists in order to make peace. And this is also Recapitulation. I am summing up and bringing to a head in Ben Toh all the history of modern western evangelicalism to the present day. All the conflicts are now focused on you. You must carry all this and represent us to God. It’s all on you, Ben, it’s all on you…

  28. Thanks, Joe, Brian, for humoring me. As I read your comments I do basically agree with them. Joe, for sure emotion alone without substance or content or intellectual engagement is nothing but emotional manipulation.

    As I reflect on meeting with people in small groups for life discussion and/or “loose informal Bible study” (I rarely meet people one on one anymore and have not used question sheets for several years), I actually do not force SA down people’s throat. Depending on what we are discussing, I usually quote a verse or start from some life story.

    On Mon we discussed Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death by heroin overdose in a small group. I could have said, “He didn’t accept Jesus who died for his sins.” (Of course, no one knows whether he did or not.)

    But since we were discussing about the tree of life, we spoke about how success, fame, popularity and wealth cannot fulfill us human beings because the tree of life is no longer physically accessible to us in this world (Gen 3:24). Our only hope is to access this tree again by washing our robes first (Rev 22:14).

    I didn’t speak about SA but about how much we humans need to know the life that God intends for us to live.

    Sorry for just rambling. I actually hardly ever use the phrase SA in sharing, teaching or preaching.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I hear what you are saying. I think that you are doing a good job meeting people in your fellowship where they are at. You might not use the phrase Substitutionary Atonement in your sharing, teaching or preaching. But the SA ideas come through loud and clear. Your handling of Gen 3:24 and Rev 22:14 is a case in point.

    • Probably that’s my subconscious default. I obviously assumed this was the most natural reading of these verses. I do not buy “leaving this world and going to heaven” any more. What I want is to live the kingdom life now, by God’s grace and by God’s Spirit, which will continue until Jesus comes again when he renews all things.

      How else might you handle Gen 3:24 and Rev 22:14?

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I’m glad that you no longer buy “leaving this world and going to heaven.”

      I’m not exactly sure how I would handle those verses right now. I am in a state of transition. I am keenly aware of how I used to read into every part of the Bible a message of individual salvation in terms of life after death. But I’m trying to take off those glasses and imagine how the apostles would have read those verses. I don’t have an apostolic eyeglass prescription yet.

      Honestly, I don’t follow what you meant when you said, “we spoke about how success, fame, popularity and wealth cannot fulfill us human beings because the tree of life is no longer physically accessible to us in this world.” I don’t see how the part after the word “because” relates to the part before it.

      Looking over Revelation 22, I noticed that the tree of life is for the healing “of the nations.” I noticed that this was testimony specifically addressed “to the churches” (i.e. for Christian communities) and not simply for all individuals everywhere no matter who they may be. And I noticed that the invitation to come and drink the water of life is in the present tense and has immediacy. Somehow I sense that this passage is not merely giving us hope as individuals for eternal life in the future; there’s something valuable here about our corporate life as God’s people in the present, and maybe about that life playing a role in healing the nations. Going through the gates into the city may be more of a present reality than I have always thought.

    • Joe Schafer

      And I noticed that the dogs are already outside the city (present passive wrath?)

      And that God will actively apply plagues to people who add stuff to Revelation that is not actually there. Maybe a scary warning not to use the book to build elaborate shaky theories about things that God has kept hidden?

      And that God will actively take away a share in the tree of life from those who take stuff out of Revelation. The eternal-security forces can’t be liking that.

      Interpreting the Bible well is really hard!

  29. Thanks, Joe. I agree that the corporate cosmic part of God’s redemption is tough to apply personally, perhaps because we think as individuals rather than as communities, in contrast to the biblical times and today in the Middle East and Asia, which think more corporately as communities, rather than individuals.

    I think a reason why some of us are exasperated with some of our older leaders is that they absolutely refuse to give their personal opinion, because they firmly believe that as leaders whatever they say and do must be representative of UBF as a whole. That’s why it’s hard for some of them to honestly express their own personal opinion.

    I’m digressing of course. I regard the tree of life as the abundance of life that God intends for us to live both individually, corporately, communally, even cosmically (Jn 10:10b). But since we lost access to the tree of life, such an abundant life that God intends for us cannot reach its utmost fulfillment. That’s why famous rich successful people are not necessarily happier that poor struggling masses of people. Sometimes the converse might be truer. Happiness and fulfillment comes from God and from the life that God gives us, which we lost when we could no longer access the tree of life.

    This ultimate restoration of the life God intends for us will happen with the ushering of a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1) when Jesus returns as a Bridegroom to claim his Bride, the church. Till then, we will live with a sense of hopeful anticipation of “already” and “not yet.”

    I don’t think this is a SA articulation, is it?

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I stand corrected. What you are describing is not specifically SA, but some general thoughts about our need for redemption that are not heavily tied to any specific atonement theory.

      If I had been in your group, I would have raised lots of questions though. For example, I would have pressed you to describe your vision of the abundant life and then explain more about how Jesus brings it about. It’s easy to talk about how money and success don’t buy happiness etc. but much harder to set forth a positive vision of the kingdom that can capture people’s imagination and generate powerful hope.

  30. Joe, I think you know that I love to be pressed and to feel pressed and pressured. It makes life fun and exciting!

    You’re quite right that it is hard to set forth a positive vision of the kingdom.

    My short answer for an abundant life is intimacy with the Trinity. How does one attain that? Different strokes for different folks (I was going to say blokes, sorry!). I like to say that we need to avail ourselves to God, so that God might extend his grace to us on his terms.

    • Joe Schafer

      Agreed; we must avail ourselves of God. Your definition of abundant life is a great start. But pesky people like me always want to know more. And we want to know how to actually experience it. Because if we take at face value what some of the salesman-like presentations of the gospel have told us, we should already be experiencing it, because we prayed the sinner’s prayer (many, many times) and accepted Jesus into our lives over and over. So where’s the beef? (I mean, the intimacy?)

  31. Experience it? I would say, the fruit of intimacy/Holy Spirit is Gal 5:22-23. These fruits are gifts from God and cannot be self-manufactured, faked, manipulated or controlled (Jn 3:8), for God does whatever pleases Himself (Ps 115:3; 135:6).

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I’m not sure what you are saying. I believe those fruits of the Spirit should be evident in every Christian life; they aren’t dispensed at random or occasionally or by divine whim. I think that Paul is saying that these are the identifying marks of normal believers in the church. But sadly, often they are not there. If the marks aren’t present, we should ask why.

      And if the Trinity is real, shouldn’t we experience them? The fact is that the doctrine of the Trinity didn’t emerge out of thin air, nor is it merely an analysis of Scripture. The early church formulated the doctrine of the Trinity as their best description of how they actually experienced God.

  32. I was trying to say that the evidence of intimacy with God is the fruit of the Spirit. But unfortunately we might be distracted from keeping this intimacy fresh and living, and we stumble in sin.

    I agree that Gal 5:22-23 should be evident as identifying marks in every Christian life. But why not? Partly incomplete doctrine, poor teaching, all egged on by our three enemies–the world, the devil and ourselves that are ever before us.

    I’m not exactly sure what you’re trying to get at.

  33. “Ben, I’m not sure what you are saying.”

    Since Ben quoted Galatians 5:22-23 I’m sure Ben is trying to say that the OT law is no longer binding on Christ-followers because the Spirit is our “binding” and against the fruit of the Spirit there is no law :)

    Just kidding!

    Anyway thanks for this epic yet messy discourse guys and gal. I’m not sure we know what we are saying but I’m glad we are discussing sermons and a whole range of topics. We just can’t expect to have smooth well-articulated perfect conversations.

    Now I’m going to take a bubble bath with some rum.

  34. Brian, I might articulate or express or present it in ways you might not like or agree, but I actually agree that “the OT law is no longer binding on Christ-followers because the Spirit is our “binding” and against the fruit of the Spirit there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23; 3:23-25).

    I’ve seen that some churches impose the Law on people by enforcing their preferred doctrine, ideology, methodology, liturgy, ecclesiology, eschatology, etc by communicating it as non-negotiable by insisting that “This is what the Bible teaches.”

    This then just makes people like unthinking clones without critical thinking, or it makes them legalistic and moralistic. It also somehow makes them anal, rigid and inflexible in ways that do not communicate the freedom and rest that the Trinity of the gospel gives. That’s why Christians sadly often fail to communicate the abundant life Christ promises to his followers (Jn 10:10b).

  35. Brian, do you know how to get the bible verse scroll over feature on android?

    • Not sure how to get that feature David. We use RefTagger so I’ll check that out to see if there are any options or updates.

  36. DavidW,

    “Brian, if you’re still in this convo, rightly defining love is a major component of understanding God’s actions in the bible as well as our interpersonal actions of love toward one another, our enemies included. I wonder if we could understand Jesus’ and Paul’s imprecatory statements in light of true, Trinitarian love which “does not delight in evil…” Perhaps this holds part of the answer. – See more at:

    Surely I’m still here :) This is all a lot to process for me. I’m having much difficulty because the words we use here are all bound up to ubfisms. I need to unbind such things. So far I’ve unbound grace and love and justice, but haven’t gotten much beyond that yet! Danaher’s book “Eyes that see, Ears that hear” helped me quite a bit.

    In any case I agree that we should rigthly define many things.

    For now I just want to point out two word definitions that I think is getting mixed up here. The two words are “bad” and “wrong”.

    Can something be bad and yet not wrong?

    “bad” means failing to reach an acceptable standard. “wrong” means failing to be just or fair; something immoral or unethical.

    Both are failures, but in different ways. So when Joe speaks of “bad theology” I don’t cringe. I think the Law and the Psalms and the Prophets contain some “bad theology” in that lots of the thinking was temporary and foreshadowed the Messiah. They were right to do this, so we cannot way the Psalms, etc are wrong. I’m thinking all parts of the bible can only be best understood today in light of THE standard, Jesus. Based on this approach I have some comments on your comments. I’ll see if I can respond later today sometime.

    (And thanks for your discussion with yourself!)

  37. “As I look back over the intense conversations going on here over the last 2 days, I’ve noticed how often we address one another by making declarative statements. It seems to me that, as ubf members, as modern evangelicals, and as men, we have been socialized to talk to one another that way: by stating our positions (posturing) as if our statements are truth.” – See more at:

    Yes, we tend to be “irons sharpening iron” or maybe just peacocks ruffling feathers? In any case I find these discussions helpful for learning about each other. I’m not really so interested in learning “the truth” about the bible, but about learning who people are.

    The problematic issue for me, Joe, is just as you observed, that we haven’t made a space for others to join in. DavidW or a few other men might push their way in from time to time. But as you say, our “strongly personal elements are there, but they are hidden below the surface. I think this is one reason why this forum is male dominated, and why (regardless of the topic being discussed) some readers feel intimidated and are afraid to join in, because they haven’t become fluent in our language, the language of positions and facts and principles.”

    I wonder how we could make such a space? Do our silent readers even want such a space? Or maybe they are content to be entertained by our knuckle fights? In the end, we won’t know unless someone contacts one of us privately or here with ideas. Until that happens, I think our crazy, messy dialogues will just continue.

    I will say that by being part of this conversation on ubfriends the past 4 years has helped me get to know a little more about you (Joe), Ben, Chris, Vitaly, Gerardo, JohnY, and all our ubfriends.

    • I see Christ lving in each of our ubfriends. Is that not the picture of unity God wants? Christ living in us on the journey of life. Is it necessary to become “centered” around any specific position, fact or principle? Is it enought to build relationships based on dialogue?

  38. This short blog by Tchividjian based on Jn 8:1-11 appeals and resonates quite well with me, but which might prompt some kickback from those in a “deeper state of luminality” (I love this word too, Joe): I look forward to reading your responses and reactions, if any, to it.

    • Ben, I love this. The paragraph that deeply resonates with me is this:

      “Aha!” we cry. “See! Jesus tells her to shape up! He leaves her with an exhortation!” But look at the order of Jesus’ words: First, he tells the woman that he does not condemn her. Only then does he instruct her to sin no more. This is enormous. He does not make his love conditional on her behavior. He does not say, “Go, sin no more, and check back with me in six months. If you’ve been good, I won’t condemn you.”

      I am so glad to hear someone articulate this in this manner. Whenever I hear “go and sin no more” it is in the conttext that condemnation awaits us if we have any “unrepented sin” when we die. I’m certain every human being has unrepented sin at the time of death, and repenting of our sin isn’t the point. The point, as Tchividjian makes well, is forgiveness of sins. How much we repent after that may affect our lives now, but does not affect our condemnation status.

    • Dr. Ben, my opinion is that such a gospel presentation as this one is a sufficient way to initially present the gospel for some. But I’m beginning to think that many Americans are inoculated against these kinds of presentations. I suppose that if one meditated deeply on this then perhaps they can become enraptured by the aspects of God’s holiness and mercy. But at face value the whole thing just sounds a bit cliche. I’m beginning to become more inclined to think that a gospel presentation that starts with a Trinitarian idea of God which also incorporates our separation from him and real community due to sin might be more appealing to this generation. Think about how much people crave community as evidenced by the explosion of social media platforms. Yet people often express that they feel more alone now than ever. I don’t know, but tullian’s presentation doesn’t quite get my blood flowing as it perhaps would have in the past. Maybe the focus on the single individual doesn’t resound with me as much as it did in the past because I’m discovering that there is a lot more to our salvation than simply my self-contained experience with jesus.

      Also, might this be an alternative explanation of what Jesus wrote:

      Lord, you are the hope of Israel;
      all who forsake you will be put to shame.
      Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust
      because they have forsaken the Lord,
      the spring of living water. Jer 17:13

      Perhaps it was a statement of judgment upon the teachers, who would most likely be familiar with this passage. After all, the previous day Jesus offered streams of living water, which was the holy spirit or God’s very own presence and substance. And maybe this is another declarative way of jesus identifying with Yahweh as he often does in John’s gospel. But then why didn’t they stone him for blasphemy? Perhaps they were suddenly convicted by the holy spirit of their abandonment of God despite their intense religiosity. Did they just have a mind-blowing epiphany or someting? Just my speculation.

    • Joe Schafer

      I have liked some of Tchividjian’s writings in the past. This article is a great example of the kind of gospeling that doesn’t appeal to me right now. I presume that it works for some people. I have no problem with it. But we live in a diverse society. People live within vastly different worldviews and plausibility structures.

      One of my concerns is that some in the church (not speaking about you, Ben) regard this kind of gospel preaching — which is rooted solidly in the modern western tradition of law and guilt — as the only kind of preaching that is truly biblical. And then if seekers don’t respond, they’ll assume it’s because the seekers are hardhearted, unrepentant, etc. and write them off.

      Another of my concerns is that I don’t see how this kind of preaching leads to maturity in disciples. Do we measure maturity by how much they smile as they happily and willingly obey laws? By how much they gush about God’s grace upon their lives, about how much they disobeyed and then were forgiven of their disobedience? By how free they feel because they are no longer under condemnation? It seems to me that one of the shortcomings of certain evangelical discipleship programs is that, by presenting the SA based message over and over (far more than Jesus did) we unwittingly ask people to continually return to their conversion experience and dwell in it and make it the main story of their lives, rather then helping them to understand how to live in the radical new economy of the kingdom.

      Are we ignoring the admonishment of Hebrews 6:1-2? “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death,and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment…” It seems to me that Tchividjian’s article is just re-laying the foundation.

    • Joe, I’ve like quoting Hebrews 6 SO many times, as well as the entire book of Hebrews.

      One simple point that is clear to me is this: If we are constantly conscious of repenting of our sin and loving God by obeying commands, then we have blinders on and don’t see the people around us, even right next to us. Perhaps to “keep our eyes on Jesus” means “keep looking at those around you, your enemies, your neighbors, your friends, your family, your strangers, etc.”

      Even though I think Danaher contradicts himself in his book at one point, Danaher nails this thought so very well in this higly provacatve but accurate statement (emphasis mine)…

      “With respect to God, we will always be the beloved, having a human love that desires to acquire rather than to impart and create. Thus, if we are to be like him, and have his kind of love, it must be toward other human beings and not toward God. Although we cannot be God’s lover, we can be the lovers of other human beings and have the same love for them that God has for us. We are the body of Christ, and God uses us to pass on his seed and thus impregnate others with the same words of life with which we have been impregnated.”
      Eyes That See, Ears That Hear: Perceiving Jesus in a Postmodern Context (James P Danaher)
      – Highlight Loc. 934-36

    • Joe Schafer

      Impregnating others? That’s perfectly biblical language. I think that UBF leaders ought to start using that in their prayer topics. “We pray to impregnate 12 Marys of faith…”

      Sorry, blowing off some steam again.

    • lol. Not even I would make that leap Joe :)) Well ok yes I was thinking the same thing.

    • Joe, interestingly, a southern Baptist pastor named James beall wrote a book entitled “laying the foundation” based on those same verses from Hebrews. Its a decent primer on basic Christian theology. His impetus for writing this was because he realized that many long-time ministry members, even twenty years in, were not maturing past a certain point. He also noted that a significant number of new converts were quickly falling away from the faith. Anyway it was a huge crisis moment for his ministry. And so he and the leadership humbled themselves and discovered that they were not moving past key, elementary doctrines.

      I went through the entire book with someone I was mentoring and I thought to myself, “wow even i didn’t know these basic things in detail even after being in ministry for several years.” And to those in ministry older than myself, they also found that it presented some basic, yet challenging and eye-opening truths that had never been taught or which haf been forgotten and under-emphasized.

      I’m not sure if ubfs focus on sa (though poorly articulated) is the main cause for this. I was recently talking to a ministry leader in chicago about a theological issue and one of his concluding remarks was that ubf doesnt take any hard doctrinal stances, so he wanted to take an open-handed approach to what we were discussing. I felt as though this was disingenuous, for ubf is insistent on passing on it’s “scripturally based” heritage points. Might this insufficient system be a primary cause of ubfs lack of creative thinking? I don’t want to set off a firestorm with this comment because I’ve enjoyed our convo sans ubf. Just thought it fit the context here.

    • “ubf doesnt take any hard doctrinal stances,”

      Yes indeed. Talking to an unredeemed ubf person is like nailing jelly to the wall. And that is the problem. They couldn’t give a rat’s patooky what doctrinal stance you have, as long as you buy into the ubf heritage ideology and behavior modification program. (Ok end of firestorm :)

    • I find that I’m still infected by such thinking, that I don’t need a doctrinal stance and that docrtine study is bad. I need to rid my self of that thinking deeply ingrained in me and at the same time remain flexible. Having no stance is dangerous and at the other end of the spectrum having a rigid stance that cannot be challenged is also dangerous.

      I’m still seeking my “stance”, finding my own voice. For now I my stance is “outlaw theology” and “1 point Calvinism.” I still consider myself outside the gates of Christendom. I believe the body of Christ, the one holy catholic apostolic Church is far bigger than Christendom.

      If someone asks me if I am a Christian, my answer is a non-hesitant “no”. I do claim to be following Christ and believe the gospel of grace, peace, kingdom, glory and salvation through the forgivness of sins.

  39. Despite the popularity (or lack thereof) of UBFriends, we just had two contrasting opinions on Tullian’s blog, which is simply great (though I had expected BK to be DavidW’s response, and vice versa!). Wonders never cease! Thanks for sharing.

    Brian, your quoted text from Tullian is my exact sentiment.

    Dave, I hear you, though I still love creative ways of getting to Christ and the gospel, such as his concluding paragraph.

    • lol! I think there is more common ground than we realized. I do agree with what you say as well, David, and especially I feel that cliche at the concluding sentence of Tullian’s article, even though his sentence rings true for me. I think we all just need to get to know each other better. And it is this relationship building process that I consider most valubable to living both individually and communally. Perhaps if we could all just realize that God took care of our sin problem and tells us “Don’t worry about sin, I’ve taken care of that, and there’s forgiveness for that, just go learn how to love each other. Show that you love me by loving each other. Yes My Son was perfect, but he wasn’t so perfect that you can’t actually imitate his way of interacting with various kinds of people.”

    • Ditto, Brian. You know I realize that this passage presents a good opportunity to use a combined S.A.-trinitarian approach to understand what’s transpiring. From a Trinitarian view the Pharisees were in jeopardy of rejecting father, son and spirit in one fell swoop (jeremiah reference and present context of jesus offering holy spirit at feast). They, the self-proclaimed, separated ones were ironically separated from the triune God because they put a higher value on their own myopic, sectarian community than God’s. The woman was to be cut off from her people and God due to her sin. But in an act of mercy, from the God who is love, she is granted entrance into a new community in which the pervading ethic is love; a reconnection with triune God. But the big but is how does she enter in? Through the merciful substitutionary atonement of Christ (I wonder if this last statement made joe pull his hair out). Neither S.A. nor the Trinitarian view are explicit in this passage, so maybe there is freedom to mix or combine articulations of the gospel in this way.

    • Joe Schafer

      David, my hair is intact. I believe that substitutionary atonement is perfectly biblical and good. My gut reactions against it are because I think it’s overused (modern evangelicals seem to use it way more than the Bible does) and it’s often done badly (for example, by making it too legal and too penal).

    • And this is precisely one of the vastly imporant perpectives I’ve gained recently, David: We have difficulty analyzing Jesus as he lives his life. Did Jesus enact SA thinking when he drew on the sand? Did Jesus utilize Trinitarins thinking? We’ll never know. I think Jesus was playing tic-tac-toe with the Holy Spirit…

      In any case, the story of the woman caught in adultery reverberates through my soul every time I hear it. It reveals the beauty of Jesus and I fall in love with Him all over again. It shows me the rush of the ravishing love God displayed when he said “but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Job 1:12.

      So I believe our relationship with Jesus grows in some similar way as young children grow into manhood or womanhood. We indeed needed rules and if we are children we only hear a rule in John 8:10-12, we should realize we have much growing up to do.

    • I hear you, joe. And well put, brian.