December 14, 2011

A Response to a Friend

This post is in response to my friend Andy's questions over on his blog. You can read the original post with questions here.

In response, I have a few preliminary things. First of all, I’m not a follower of Platt or Driscoll so I can’t speak for them or their views. However, I do consider myself theologically Reformed (or Calvinist – in the historic 5 Solas sense), probably more so than Driscoll (not sure about Platt).

With regards to your final note, if you had simply characterized Platt’s presentation as “pastorally irresponsible” then you probably wouldn’t have received anywhere near the responses you did, and I know I wouldn’t have objected to it. Whether it’s pastorally responsible is a discussion worth having, but let’s face it, you argued for bad exegesis and bad theology, so your objection is not merely pastoral responsibility.

Second, I’m not sure why you addressed this post to Calvinists as if this were a Calvinist vs. arminian issue. In fact, I know many evangelical arminians who would have taken no exception with the things David Platt said in the video (leaving aside for now the issue of pastoral responsibility). I’d love to engage you on your views of Calvinism and actually address the substance of what we believe. The only thing you said in your response to the video that would seem to be directed to Calvinists was the insinuation that Calvinists either don’t believe that God is loving or have a deficient view of the love of God, which is risible. The reformers have proclaimed the true love and beneficence of the Father as revealed in Christ more than any other group in history of theology. The rest of the criticisms would have landed much wider than Calvinists.

You dismissed the doctrine of Total Depravity, and in doing so you left behind not only Calvinists but most historic Protestants. With that move you have gone beyond well-beyond arminianism into some form of semi-pelagianism. Unfortunately, you’ve seem to have done so with a caricature of the doctrine. This is another area where discussion may be fruitful.

Thirdly, the line of questioning below hangs on the supposition that God’s hatred and his wrath against sin are not synonymous (or at least very closely related). This is an assertion which you have made but not demonstrated, but as you’ll see from my answers below, I do not grant the premises.

Finally, before answering the questions, I’d like to share with you a dialogue between Charles Simeon (18th Century Calvinist) and John Wesley (the original ‘Wesleyan’ Arminian):

SIMEON: Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

WESLEY: Yes, I do indeed.

SIMEON: And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

WESLEY: Yes, solely through Christ.

SIMEON: But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

WESLEY: No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

SIMEON: Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?

WESLEY: No.

SIMEON: What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother's arms?

WESLEY: Yes, altogether.

SIMEON: And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

WESLEY: Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

SIMEON: Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things where in we agree.


Question 1 

I believe it’s important to let the Bible define the words it uses. In the Psalm, David expresses that God:
- Does not approve of evil
- Does not have evil people dwell with him
- Does not have boastful people stand in his presence
- Hates all who behave wickedly
- Destroys liars
- Despises violent and deceitful people
However you want to define the words ‘hate’ and ‘despise’ here, it must be compatible with the notions that he disapproves of this class of people, removes them from his presence, and destroys them. Certainly the words convey the sense of active opposition and an unfavorable disposition. If you think the translation of ‘hate’ and ‘despise (or abhor)’ carries the wrong connotation in our context, then propose an alternate. However, even if you replace the word ‘hates’ with ‘rejects’ and the word ‘despises’ with ‘looks away in saddened disgust,’ I’m guessing that you will do nothing to remove the stumbling block and offense to our modern sensibilities. There’s no need to import 21st century notions of seething resentment, disproportionate anger, and sinful malice into the word to make it offensive – the concept expressed in the passage is offensive, no matter how you translate it.

There are two types of people in Psalm 5, the wicked and the righteous. These are not defined as those who are morally deficient and those who are morally upstanding. Rather, the wicked are described as those who oppose God and are actively opposed by him. The righteous are those who call upon the Lord, who rely on his steadfast love for entrance into his presence, and most importantly those who take refuge in him. That phrase “take refuge in him” is almost certainly intended to allude back to the Lord’s Anointed in Psalm 2:12, where we are warned to “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” I would suggest that the concepts expressed here are very “New Testament” and that Psalm 5 is hardly an isolated occurrence. The risk in 2:12 is that King will become angry, and you will perish in the way because of his wrath. This motif is not swept under the rug in the New Covenant – the Messiah who sits enthroned at the Father’s right hand (Ps 110:1) and who intercedes as an eternal high priest (Ps 110:4) is also the one who will shatter kings on the day of his wrath (Ps 110:5) and will execute judgment among the nations filling them with corpses (Ps 110:6).

So what about David? Did he speak lies and act treacherously? Was he a man of bloodshed? Most definitely. So how is that he could enter the Lord’s house, boast in his name, be blessed and covered with the Lord’s favor rather than disapproved, cast out of his presence, and destroyed? How else, other than approaching him with an acceptable sacrifice and taking refuge in him? David’s case helps us to better define the classes here. The righteous are positively defined as those who fear the Lord and take refuge in him. The wicked then are those who are not righteous, and who are enemies of the righteous. It is against these enemies of the righteous that (post-Calvary, mind you) “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you...when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints” (1 Th 1:7-10).

So does God hate (in the sense above) the wicked? The answer would be yes, both in this passage and elsewhere in the Scripture. And it would also be true that the way this hatred is defined is very closely associated with his judgment and his wrath. If we can agree that the psalmist’s use of hatred is dependent upon the notion of God’s wrath and righteous judgment, then this discussion will be much easier.


Question 2

In this case, you’re equivocating on the word ‘sinner.’ The way it’s being used by Platt (and presumably Driscoll, though I haven’t heard him) is the way psalmist uses it – i.e. ‘sinner’ = ‘the wicked as opposed to the righteous’ (as defined above). You are using it in the sense of ‘sinner’ = ‘those who have sin.’ So my answer, and I only speak for myself, is no – God does not hate those who put their faith in Christ. Again, this underscores the key relationship between the concepts of wrath and hatred with God. In Christ, God’s wrath is removed and therefore it cannot be said that he hates someone in Christ.

By the way, your exegesis of 1 Tim 1:15 is suspect. In the context of 1:12-15, Paul is not saying that he is presently the worst of all sinners in the sense that he sins as bad as anyone else, but that his former role as blasphemer, persecutor, and opponent of the church makes him the worst of all sinners and therefore the biggest display of God’s perfect patience and mercy towards sinners.

So, did God hate (as defined above) Paul when he was a persecutor of the church? Yes. Did God love Paul and send Christ into the world to save Paul? Yes.


Question 3

First, we must remember that when we are speaking of God, we’re speaking analogically because that’s the way that he has revealed himself to us.

When speaking of God, hate is not the opposite of love. Neither is it on the same plane or in the same category. God’s love is essential to who he is. Our God is loving Father, beloved Son, and loving Spirit. His love is perfect beauty, perfect goodness, and perfect holiness. If God had never created, he would still be loving, gracious, and holy. The Father and the Son have always existed in loving communion by the Spirit.

God’s hatred is the manifestation of his pure love in the face of evil (which is another reason it is close synonym to wrath). True love must hate evil. That’s why the mark of genuine Christian love includes an abhorrence or evil (Rom. 12:9; Heb 1:9). So, remembering that we’re speaking analogically, it is absolutely possible for God to both love and hate an individual. While we were yet sinners…while we were enemies…Christ died for the ungodly. Those who were objects of his wrath, those who were his enemies – it is those on whom he set his love and for whom he sent his Son to die. Furthermore, in this sense, his beloved Son did at the same time experience both love and hatred as he bore our sins in himself on the tree.

Question 4

This is pure sophistry. But I may post some additional thoughts on Romans 9 at another point.

Question 5

This is a ridiculous either/or. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world because the world is already condemned. The wrath of God is already kindled. He sent his Son into the world to save them from the coming wrath. I disagree with the person that said God can love us because Christ died for us - absolutely not! Christ died for us because He loves us. But neither is it true that the wrath of God is no longer a reality after the cross. Why else is it significant that we who are justified will be 'saved from the wrath to come.' Whatever way you want to interpret the symbolism of Revelation 14:9-10 or texts like Matthew 13:41-50 and 2 Th 1:8-9, this much is clear - there is a "wrath to come" and the Lord is very much an active agent in it.

The flood of God's wrath is coming on the earth, and it already came upon Jesus, and he came out the other side into the new creation. Those who are united to Christ by faith have already passed through wrath and entered the new creation with him as well. However, for those not on the ark the flood waters are still a real and present threat.

The apostolic preaching contains both elements - Good News, the Messiah has come, atoned for sin and conquered death, and taken his seat at the right hand of God! The Holy Spirit has come and the new age dawned! The exile is over! Yet they also warn that the Messiah has been appointed judge of the living and the dead - and God commands all people everywhere to repent because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness.

Question 6

As I argue above, I don’t think you can make such a distinction between wrath against sin and hatred when speaking of God.

Question 7

As I said above, our God is love.

4 comments:

erica_elise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
erica_elise said...

Jacob,

I have been following this discussion on Andy's blog and appreciate the continuation of it on yours as well. Jesus has been my Lord and Savior since I was a toddler,and I enter this discussion as a Christ follower who craves spiritual food and yet strives to maintain faith like a child. :) My questions/comments are for my own understanding/clarification and in no way intend to support one side or the other (up until recently I didn't even know the difference between Calvinists and Arminians). I've only ever known Jesus and that is who I follow :)

2. So if God hated Saul and loved Paul, what happened in between? (Aside from the premise that Paul believed in Jesus as the son of God) How does God go from despising, abhorring, and wanting to remove sinners from His presence to loving them, welcoming the redeemed into His presence and desiring a personal relationship with them? How can the switch occur if He does not first and foremost have a desire for them to know Him and that He reveals Himself to them, pursuing their heart with His own? If God truly hated Saul, then why did he blind him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9)? If God could not withstand the presence of a sinner, absolutely detesting him - why would God meet him where He was, provide safe passage for him and then open his eyes to the Truth? Either something must change, which is what you allude to in your last comment, or something must be constant from the start.

5. This ties in with my comments in 2 w.r.t. "something must change". Here you say "Christ died for us because He loves us!", which I agree with whole-heartedly. So if you claim that Jesus is the "something must change" in my last comment of 2, which again I will agree that Jesus is the "way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through him" Jn 14:16, that must also mean that God sent Jesus to die for us because He loves us (Jn 3:16-17). Since Jesus and God are one (Jn 1) and both exist from the beginning of creation, God=Jesus must love sinners from the beginning of time as we know it, correct? Therefore, there is no change in God's love for man from the hell-bound-sinner to the redeemed-by-the-blood-of-Christ. There is, however, a change for us historically (Jesus' existence, crucifixtion and resurrection on earth), spiritually (Rom 3) and positionally with God but I would disagree that God has changed His attitude/feelings toward mankind.

I realize that there may be several assumptions within my logic that I have not listed here, so if this doesn't follow as well as I intend, I will gladly elucidate.

Thanks for your time and thoughtfullness!
-Erica

Jacob said...

Erica,

Thanks for taking the time to read and weigh in on these discussions. I think two things are fundamental to understanding why I am arguing this way.

First, God's hatred (biblically defined) and his wrath against sin and sinners cannot be two completely separate things as has been assumed throughout this discussion. The things that are described as incurring God's hate are the same things that incur his wrath. The things that result from his hate are the same things that result from his wrath. The same goes for his anger, fury, etc. These are all descriptions of how our loving God is towards that which is by nature unloving (biblically defined).

Second, when we speak of human hatred, it's hard to conceive of a situation where hatred and love coexist towards the same person. However, when we're speaking of God, we're speaking by way of analogy. It's possible to say of God that he hates the wicked person (since that is his righteous wrath against evil) while at the same time saying that he loves that same person (since it is his character to love).

Now, your question was "what changed?"

With regards to his love, my answer would be "nothing." God's love for Paul did not change from the time when he was a persecutor of the Christ to the time when he was a servant of Christ. God shows this love in that while Paul was still an enemy that Christ died to reconcile him. It was because of the great love with which he loved Paul that God, who is rich in mercy, made him alive together with Christ. Likewise, it was in order to deliver Paul from slavery, to become the great high priest interceding on behalf of him, and to be able to call him brother, that Christ partook of flesh and blood and suffered in his place.

With regards to his hate, my answer would be "Paul was united to Christ." In Christ, the wrath of God has been satisfied.

There is a short book called "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love God" by D.A. Carson, which I would highly recommend if you'd like to pursue this a little further. Though I may differ with him on some aspects of his presentation, it is a generally sound treatment. You can download the PDF version here:

http://s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-documents/carson/2000_difficult_doctrine_of_the_love_of_God.pdf

Again, I appreciate your willingness to engage and consider these issues together.


Jacob

andy said...

Jacob,

Thanks so much for writing your thoughts. Here is my response, which was also very long!

http://thesometimespreacher.blogspot.com/2011/12/response-to-response.html