Breakfast with Brad – Q & A: Is preaching God’s all-inclusive love capitulation to ‘the world’?
In which Brad prepares a ‘normal’ breakfast and answers an important question: Is preaching God’s all-inclusive love capitulation to ‘the world’?
See text beneath the video for the extended Q & A.
Question: I love your book (A More Christlike God) because it rings true that the “through line” of our theology must be love and radical self-giving. But how do you guard against the idea that God and/or Jesus may be more wrathful and judging than we like to believe?
Response: Great question! First, I notice you’re assuming that the problem is that God be more wrathful than we’d want him to be. It may be a surprise to know that quite the opposite is true (observably so). It’s not really that we want God to be more loving. Usually, it’s that we are resentful that he isn’t more wrathful! I’m sure this isn’t true of you, but for most people and even (or especially?) most Christians, what we really want is vengeance, they want wrath and they find Christ’s teachings on peacemaking and forgiveness naive and embarrassing.
Take me for example. I am personally not inclined towards the all-inclusive love of God. Like most of the human race–and the ‘world’ system–I deal with malice, violence and vengeance in my heart. And that is exactly what Christ came to save from. That is the Cross we hung him on. I am offended that he doesn’t wrath (as a verb) people like Hitler and Stalin and all the rapists and child abusers and murderers. But God obviously doesn’t stop them or smite them … so then what? If we convince ourselves that God is wrathful, we nominate ourselves to be the ‘righteous agents’ of God’s wrath … hence, the crusades, both ancient and modern, where the most zealous Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and even Atheists believe they are the chosen instruments of wrath.
This, of course, is precisely opposite to Jesus actual teachings (forgive, pray for, love and bless your enemies) and actions (on the cross, God forgives rather than smites his murderers).
To summarize that point, preaching the all-embracing love of God is not capitulation to ‘the world’ The meta-ideology of the world system (from the theological fundie to the cultural progressive) is by default retribution. That’s what’s in my fleshly heart and what lies at the heart of the world.
So if our gospel of God’s unfailing mercy does not derive from the world or the flesh, from where does it come? Our vision of God as cruciform love comes via the revelation that Christ is the full and final revelation of God who demonstrates love rather than wrath, particularly on the Cross. On the Cross, Christ endures every human evil and responds with unequivocal grace, and then he goes to the very root of the problem–death itself–and overcomes it in his resurrection. As 1 John says, God is love–without remainder.
But I also lean into Ephesians 3 where Paul proclaims that the love of God will always be higher, wider, deeper and longer than I can grasp, surpassing human knowledge and forever greater than we could ask or imagine. If I can somehow imagine God’s mercy as wider than I do now, I MUST, because Paul says it is always infinitely bigger than that. Anything less is less than God, so the wrath-based vision of so many Christians seems terrifically deficient.
Indeed, the early church warned against human conceptions, projections or anthropomorphisms of God as literally ‘angry’ or ‘wrathful.’ Through the lens of the Christ as cruciform love, they saw words such as wrath and anger as phenomenological … that is, descriptions from our perspective about the self-destructive consequences of our own sin. In other words, sin punishes and God saves, but because God issued the warning, the ‘wrath’ gets assigned to him. I shouldn’t rewrite my book here. For indepth discussion on this, see part 2 of A More Christlike God.
Question: I’ve also been reading about the idea that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher, where does that stand in terms of your idea of Christ?
Response: Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher, that’s true. The question is, what is apocalyptic preaching? Taking the prophet Daniel as our prototype, apocalyptic preaching is a common ancient genre in which the prophet describes current events using cosmic imagery to critique the empires of their day, comfort the people of God suffering beneath their tyranny, assert that God is nevertheless faithful to his covenant, and give whatever hope and warnings they think will help get them through.
In the case of Jesus, his preaching covered many themes and genres, only one of which was apocalyptic. But when he goes there, it is for these reasons:
1. That Rome is the Beastly oppressive empire,
2. That if God’s people reject Christ’s way of peace in favor of a political insurgency (which they will), then,
3. Rome will come destroy them.
It’s not that God sends Rome to destroy them–Christ wants to avert this tragedy by calling them to the follow the Jesus Way of peacemaking way, as described in the sermon on the mount, but,
4. Knowing they will reject his Way of peace, Christ weeps over Jerusalem and prophesies the signs that indicate it’s time to flee.
So Jesus’ apocalyptic warnings are not threats of God’s wrath, but strident calls to avoid Rome’s wrath. Sadly, in the end, Jerusalem is destroyed in AD 70 because they reject his preaching.