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Jesus Creed


The Truth of Wrath

posted by xscot mcknight

God’s judgment, Paul says in Romans 2:2, is based on truth, and that truth is God’s standard for judgment. Those who do not respond to that truth, Paul says, are storing up for themselves wrath. But, these two points sandwich the gracious generosity of God: do you realize that God’s patience and kindness in the present life “should lead you to repentance”?
On the final day God’s just judgment will become clear.
There are many today who shy away from this theme in Paul’s writings, and some even suggest this theme is catastrophic for grace or something we should today tone down since it is so incredibly aggressive. Perhaps so, perhaps so. But is there any way to read the Bible, and you can begin with Deuteronomy 28 at least, and not see that a fundamental and unvarying warrant for getting the attention of humans is to warn them of finality? Is there any other way to read the prophets? Even if the focus of many of the OT passages, perhaps even most, is historical judgment, is there not in this something invisible being revealed through the visible? Is there not a clear and enduring strain in the Bible that says we will ultimately be accountable to God?
Now, some would like to pass this off as OT prophetic-type stuff and Pauline rabbinic-stuff and Johannine apocalyptic-stuff. But reason with me on this: Does anyone talk about judgment, and final accountability before God, more than Jesus himself? Read the Sermon on the Mount, read the parables of Matthew 13 (or Mark 4), and read those last chps in the Gospels before the death of Jesus and observe how he speaks to those who are not responding to his kingdom vision. And what of a passage like this? He who denies me before others I will deny before my Father; he who confesses me before others I will confess before my Father (Matt. 10:32-33).
The truth of the whole Bible is that wrath, however you might define it, is true. There is no reason now to run out and starting playing the part of the senseless fool and pitching our voices up high and screaming our heads off about hell, but there is no reason, if we are reasonable about the Bible and Paul’s letter to the Romans, to suggest that final judgment is somehow wishful thinking.



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Charles Roberts

posted May 30, 2006 at 7:09 am


Justice, without judgement, is just a word.
Mercy, without judgment, is unnecessary.



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Existential Punk

posted May 30, 2006 at 1:52 pm


Scot, i see where you are coming from, but people like Pat Robertson and calls of God’s judgment and wrath at every turen sickens me. Have you heard the latest from him? He says a catastrophic tseunami will hit the pacific northwest and will be God’s judgment. What do you think about this and the other things he has said regarding God’s judgment. Aren’t we all deserving of his wrath due to our sin? How does grace play into this. i am really interested to hear your thoughts on this. Thanx! Adele



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BeckyR

posted May 30, 2006 at 2:40 pm


It must be hard for Pat R to live in Pat R’s skin. These things that we hear coming from him, is what he turns toward himself, are the internal voices going on inside of him. God have mercy.



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Kent

posted May 30, 2006 at 3:03 pm


Unless the hard words of the law and prophets have a connection with Jesus then his words in Matthew 5 about fulfilling not abolishing the law have a different meaning than I am aware of. Yes there is mercy and grace, but if there is no wrath, no judgment, then what do those words mean? And much of the language of punishment is restorative. God is not just looking to whack people because he’s angry and fed up, those words and punishment are always to call his people back, to get their attention and respond to his call.



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Anonymous

posted May 30, 2006 at 3:19 pm


The Protestant Pub | The Truth of Wrath

Remembering wrath
Preachers are tempted to keep our congregations happy, both by what we do in and out of the pulpit. I prefer preaching grace to wrath (more flies with honey and such). Preaching grace is not only happier, less threatening to entrenched sin in the con…—–
[...] Scot McKnight, one of my favorite bloggers, has posted a quick post about Romans 2 and the true reality of final wrath. He has started a series of posts on Romans and they have been short and sweet. Check out his blog, here. [...]



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Bryan

posted May 30, 2006 at 5:14 pm


Existential Punk and BeckyR have made good points and I want to carry it further, but in a different direction.
I think we’re too simplistic about “truth” and “wrath” and judgment. I used to believe in “heaven” and “hell” as our “final” resting place… or at least that life on this earth was the only time we’d have a chance of “getting ourselves right”. But, I’ve thought about it and I can’t buy into it any more (at least the traditional notion of it).
Suppose there is a lesbian (call her Leslie) who lives a decent life. Leslie is invited to church by her friend, who she trusts. Little does Leslie know that her friend (call her Judy) is setting her up to hear the pastor (Pastor Edwards) preach a sermon against homosexuality, titled “Flaming Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God”. Pastor Edwards, whose mind is filled with data and statistics from Focus on the Family and American Family Association, starts preaching about how homosexuals are damaging the country through attacking “traditional marriage”, advancing secularism, molesting children, and spreading disease. He then goes on to say that these “abominations” (his words) will burn in hell. The congregation says their “amens” and nod their heads in agreement with Pastor Edwards.
Ever the good evangelical pastor, however, Pastor Edwards gives the standard evangelistic alter call (you know, “Give your life to Jesus, start a relationship with him”). By this time, Leslie is pissed. The LAST thing she wants is to learn about Jesus. If this is what it means to be Christian, why even bother? Their god hates her anyway. After the service, Judy gives Leslie a few tracts discussing how to break away from homosexuality. Leslie throws the papers back at Judy and walks away, never to consider Jesus again. She then begins to notice that the ONLY people speaking against her lifestyle in a hateful way are Christians. So, basically, every encounter she’s had with a Christian is negative. Why should she even consider “the truth”?
Based on that example (which is a true example… the names have been changed), and considering that Leslie never comes to the faith, is she responsible for rejecting the truth about Jesus? She did hear the gospel. Is God just in meting out wrath to someone like Leslie?
I hope I haven’t given a straw man argument here. But, I do see this every day. The people I run into don’t reject Christianity because they don’t believe in God or hate the moral requirements. But, like Gandhi, they reject Christianity because of Christians. Ironically, they despise Christianity because they love what Jesus stood for. Therefore, if we fail to represent Jesus, then are those who reject Jesus responsible and thereby incur God’s wrath?



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BeckyR

posted May 30, 2006 at 5:56 pm


Hi Bryan. I just don’t believe, at this point, that each of us, as individuals, are that much a victim. I think the victim thing is being done when we can point and say “I’m not because so and so or such and such did x and y.” I believe each of us has the chance to go to God. When we are before God, I don’t think he’s going to buy the excuse that so and so and such and such were hypocrites or didn’t love well, so that’s why I didn’t believe. I think God will say “but what about you, you had choice, how did you exercise your choice.” Chose to blame others for not having to bow.
Combined with that, as sinners, I think the last thing we want to do is turn to God. We can point fingers and use other’s as excuses, but I think the bottom line comes down to that the battle lies at not wanting to bow to God. I think the blaming others is a mask for that.
I think there are probably many instances where the good stuff of God comes through now and then when in this world, and it is easily pushed out of the way so to be able to blame others for what is our choice. There are many grand and wonderful things God and humans have created and done. We have to turn a blind eye to those in order to blame imperfect christians being imperfect.
I am beginning to think, and wonder, if there needn’t be discussions of how the church, or churches, can change to better get people into the fold. I’m not sure it’s our job to do that. I think it’s God’s job to woo a person, and our job to follow what God is doing in a person’s life. I’m not sure those things hinge on better church programs or outreaches or styles.
This isn’t exhaustive of what I think. Keep that in mind. Just a glimpse into thoughts on this.



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danB

posted May 30, 2006 at 7:38 pm


Good thoughts, BeckyR, and Brian, I’ve heard horror stories like the one you shared throughout the years. But then I’ve also heard wonderful stories of people who have been ‘confronted’ by the Gospel and turned out extremely well. If P Robertson is a ‘bad’ example how to speak about the wrath of God then do any of you know of any good examples of how to speak well of the wrath of God and the eventuality of our ultimate accountability before our Creator and his judgment of our lives as individuals and as societies?
Is, perhaps, our unwillingness or inability to speak of wrath and judgment and accountability a symptom of our unwillingness to discipline our own lives according to the gospel and the whole council of God in Scripture?



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Simon Fowler

posted May 30, 2006 at 9:38 pm


This is a great and clear post. It really is impossible to read the Bible responsibly without concluding that the God’s judgment is true. That fact isn’t changed by Robertson/Falwell-type statements, nor apparently gospel-less sermons. As with all these truths of God, bad examples or expressions of them need to be countered by truer, gospel-tinted expressions, not by rejection of them.
With accountability, God’s judgment also establishes, once and for all, the thing that the world seems to be screaming for: significance, or meaning. After 12 chapters of “Meaningless, Meaningless!”, the author of Ecclesiastes concludes, “Fear God and keep his commandments … for God will bring every deed into judgment.” It’s as though judgment finally says, “what you did/said/thought really really matters!”. Judgment is the ultimate due respect for what we do, declaring them, “including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil”, to be truly significant.



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danB

posted May 30, 2006 at 11:07 pm


excelent post, Simon



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danB

posted May 30, 2006 at 11:09 pm


excelent post, Simon. Who I am, what I do, say, even think truly does matter! Some good food for thought.



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danB

posted May 30, 2006 at 11:10 pm


excellent post, Simon. Who I am, what I do, say, even think truly does matter! Some good food for thought.



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Patrick Fodor

posted May 31, 2006 at 9:53 am


The difference between the wrath of God and the love of God is found not in God but in man. God doesn’t change, He is, as C.S. Lewis put it, “love straight through.” What those not joined to Christ experience as wrath, those who are joined to Him realize is the burning love of God that embraces man. Whether or not God’s more intimate Presence is unspeakably horrible or unspeakably beautiful depends on whther or not one has been acclimated to Him.
Please note that the greatest amount of fire and light imagery is connected in Scripture not to hell, but to the Presence of God. The angels around His throne are the seraphim, the “burning ones.” Theologians as far removed from each other as Bishop KALLISTOS (Ware) and George MacDonald have some very fruitful writings on this.



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danB

posted May 31, 2006 at 4:49 pm


I wonder, Patrick…. is the God of the Bible immutable?



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Patrick Fodor

posted May 31, 2006 at 5:09 pm


The Christian Church has historically understood Scripture to say so. Passages such as the following come to mind. Malachi 3:6 “‘For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.’” Or Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.” Or again James 1:17, “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
Certainly a God who needs to vent His spleen in order to feel better about His creatures provides a variety of problems theologically. A God Who changes His mind about people presents serious problems, if not leading necessarily to this.



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danB

posted June 1, 2006 at 10:29 am


ah, i see you take this directly to the concept of uncontroled anger and wrath which is of course the topic of this post… however, I can also point out text that indicate that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ does change his mind- the classics: The God of Noah relented that he had made humanity; the God of Jonah changed his mind about destroying Ninevah, the God of Abraham was willing to change his mind about Sodom and Gomorah if certain conditions were met in those cities… And then of course there is the whole story of Job which certainly points out God’s freedom to make choices. I’m not disagreeing with the historic orthodoxy of the church, but some ideas of immutability do not have there source in the Biblical text but in the philosophical tradition of the Greeks some of which is misapporpriated into Christian theology and sometimes mistaken for Christian Orthodoxy.
Anyway just some thoughts…



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Patrick Fodor

posted June 1, 2006 at 10:09 pm


I would suggest that the texts describing God’s repentance (sometimes called anthropomorphisms, though this langauge is, I think, misleading) involve a change from the perspective of the author, not an ontological change in God.
I would also suggest that the popular accusation of Christianity’s “corruption” by Greek philosophy is not only a convenient and superficial analysis of the facts of the case (based on the adoption of contemporary terminology in Christians speaking to the world around them), but is actually the opposite of what historically happened. See, eg, Jarislov Pelikan’s Christianity and Classical Culture. One classic example is the crtiticism of (Pseudo) Dionysius the Areopagite. He has been accused (most famously by Luther) of being a neo-platonist with a Christian veneer. But see the careful analysis of Vladimir Lossky (The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church), Andrew Louth (Denys the Areopagite, London: Continuum, 1989, esp. the summary pp.130-134), John Romanides (â??Notes on the Palamite Controversy and Related Topics.â? Greek Orthodox Theological Review 6:2 (1960/61), pp. 186-205 and (1963/64), pp. 225-270 (Available online at http://www.romanity.org/htm/rom.15.en.notes_on_the_palamite_controversy.01.htm), and by Alexander Golitzin. Golitzin has very powerfully set out both the mystical Christian logic of the Pseudo-Dionysian corpus and its sources in the monastic spirituality of the Syrian desert. Cf. Et Introibo Ad Altere Dei: The Mystagogy of Dionysius Areopagita, With Special Reference to its Predecessors in the Eastern Christain Tradition. Thessalonika: PATRIARCIKON IDRUMA PATERIKWN MELETWN, 1994; â??Dionysius Aeropagita: A Christian Mysticism?â? Pro Ecclesia XII:2 (Spr 2003), pp. 161-212; â??Liturgy and Mysticism: The Experience of God in Eastern Orthodox Christianity,â? Pro Ecclesia VIII:2 (Spr 1999), pp. 159-186.
It is the spirituality of the Old Testament found in places like Jerusalem and Syria that most informs the categories and presuppositions of the earliest patristic writers as a whole.
To play off texts that suggest God changes His mind about destroying repentant people against those that say pretty clearly that God does not change seems to me to take the first set of texts outside of their original context. It is rather like suggesting that God’s question to Adam “Did you eat of the tree from which I commanded you nto to eat” was actually a question in search of information, rather than a paternal question designed to elicit a repentant response (on the order of the parent’s question: “Who broke this lamp?).
But it IS the whole matter of different perspective on the same thing(s) which is precisely involved in the discussion of God’s wrath. God’s wrath and His mercy aren’t two different things, but one (very real) thing seen differently.



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danB

posted June 2, 2006 at 12:16 am


I do not disagree with what you say here and am certainly not implying that Christian Theology was corrupted my Greek Philosophy, per se, for the development of Christian theology is a unique phenomenon guided by the Hly Spirit and the devotion of some very powerful minds and deeply devoted disciples of Jesus. Thanks for your thoughtful replys.



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