The Wrath of God in an Age of “Love”

judgementAs Christians we live in interesting times. Western cultural elites and much of public opinion do not much like us anymore. We are stereotypically, supposedly, narrow minded, self-righteous, hypocritical, judgmental, all those traits the dominant culture has programmed Americans to believe about us for decades. It comes as no surprise, then, that many average Americans believe that these character traits now describe most Christians. Mind you, most “average” Americans do not probably know or interact intimately with any or many conservative evangelical Christians, so cannot justly make such judgments. But in this case the actual is much less important than the perceived.

We are especially horrific when it comes to the issues of homosexuality, veritable bigots because, well, we believe about marriage what everyone in the universe believed it to be until about 15 minutes ago. We are commanded to be “tolerant” or we will not be tolerated. And this in the name of love; don’t you know that Jesus was all about love?

It is fascinating that the devil has decided to use love as the latest Christian heresy.

You may remember televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker who built the famous TV show the PTL Club in the 1980s. Their son, Jay, is now a minister himself, and given his upbringing it may not surprise us that he describes himself as “a Christian agnostic, hipster preacher.” As a committed member of the evangelical left, he of course believes homosexuals should be given the right to marry, and accepted as is into the Church. His focus:

He believes in the redemptive power of grace.

“Grace is always for someone I don’t want it to cover,” Bakker told the Huntsville crowd. He charged evangelical Christianity with lacking compassion and tolerance, of being in violation of the love edict in 1 Corinthians 13.

“Love is the most important thing,” Bakker said. “Love is the trump card when it comes to the Bible.”

Repentance, judgment and sin, not so much. As you may have heard, Tony Campolo, a stalwart of the evangelical left for over 30 years, announced recently that he is a supporter of allowing same-sex couples to marry. In his statement on the issue he said, “my responsibility is not to condemn or reject gay people, but rather to love and embrace them.”

Taking one aspect of the character of God and making it the whole thing is a great way to start a Christian heresy. Much like Rob Bell did when he wrote the book Love Wins a few years ago. In it he flirts with the idea that everyone who has ever lived will be saved, thus no need for hell, even though Jesus himself talked about hell more than anyone else in the Bible!

The problem with liberal Christianity, and too much of the conservative evangelical church as well, is that we have lost the stomach for talking about God’s holiness, and his wrath against sin. That is so 18th Century, so “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  But God’s love makes no sense apart from his wrath; the gospel is enervated when we downplay the profoundly damaging nature of sin and God’s judgment against it. Christ’s brutal death makes no sense without it because in Christ’s death atonement was made for our sin, the price paid to satisfy God’s wrath against sin. Lest we forget, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

One reason the love heresy is gaining traction is that modern evangelicals are largely ignorant of the Old Testament, without which the New Testament makes no sense at all. On the road to Emmaus after his resurrection, Jesus tells two of his disciples this:

“How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Notice the critical adjective, “all,” which at that time meant our Old Testament. Every part of it points to Jesus, and why he had to come and die on a cross, accursed by God (read Isaiah 53).

The Old Testament shows us that God’s anger and wrath against sin is terrifying. God promised Adam and Eve that they were free to eat of any tree in the Garden, but if they ate of the tree of the Knowledge of good and evil they would “surely die.” Death is horrible, evil, and ugly, a radical perversion of God’s good created order, but it is something his holiness and justice demands. But God promised from the very beginning that he himself would provide a solution to the problem of sin and death, that he himself would “save his people from their sins,” as we’re told in Matthew 1.

The whole of the Old Testament bloody sacrificial system, established at God’s command in excruciating detail, points to the necessity of payment for sin, i.e. death. I know this is absurd, even offensive to modern sensibilities, and I don’t have time to argue why this makes total sense in a moral universe where any wrongdoing exacts a price, but followers of Jesus must never back down from this fundamental fact of the faith. The love heresy makes a mockery of Jesus brutal death, that somehow God could just willy nilly forgive sin without a price being paid. The love heresy in our 21st Century context relates to sexual morality, but we human beings hate that we are by nature objects of God’s wrath (Eph. 2:3), deserving of hell. We want to believe that we’re pretty good people, doggone it, and that God loves me just the way I am. No he doesn’t, at least if we’re talking about the God of the Bible.

But lest my fellow conservative Christian believers fret, there is nothing new under the sun. Since the founding of the Christian Church, there have always been powerful forces at work seeking to pervert and subvert the faith. Read Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and his powerful defense of the gospel. Those to whom he was writing thought they could attain salvation by adherence to the law, but if this was true Christ died for nothing. There were many and varied heresies in the early Church, and you can read about some of them at The Reformation itself was brought about by a Catholic Church that had lost its way.

Throughout the so called Enlightenment, the Church and the doctrines of the faith were under consistent attack. We also know that the Church struggled mightily in the first part of the 20th Century against what was called “liberal Christianity,” and the social gospel. German high criticism of the 19th Century bought into question the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible, and in due course contributed to what are called the Mainline Churches turning away from the historic orthodox doctrines of the Christian faith. In one of the great books of that era, Christianity & Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen, he argues persuasively that liberalism is not Christianity at all, but a different religion, a book conservative Christians would be advised to become familiar with as we face similar challenges in our day.

It is extremely important in this early part of the 21st Century to again make the case for orthodox, historic Christianity in the face of new challenges to pervert the faith. The most pernicious, because it is the most plausible in a postmodern, relativistic age, is the liberal Christian (I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now) focus on love. This appeal to love is specifically asserted to overturn 2000 years of Christian sexual ethics, but given history and the predictability of human nature it will not stop there.