Thursday, May 23, 2013

The God of Love and Wrath Are the Same God in the Bible

This is another conversation I had on Dr. Enns' blog. I don't comment that often, largely because they often turn into huge debates and I don't want to dominate a post, but sometimes I just feel the need. I do think that Dean calling my post "weird" displays, not only an ad hominem, but an unconscious uneasiness about even seeing the Bible outside of the comfortable paradigm of liberal folk religion, specifically in seeing Jesus' love as the same as God's love in the OT, which is to say that both are in the context of wrathful exclusivism. 
Bryan Hodge 6 days ago

I think one of the most frustrating things about this debate is that our modern concept of love, and whether it accords with the biblical concept, is never questioned. God's love in both the Old and New Testaments is in the context of God destroying one's enemies, as a parent would kill a snake that threatened his or her child. It is exclusive toward those who repent. Hence, the idea that one is accepting the God of love in the Old and New Testaments but not the God of wrath and retribution stems from ripping the word "love" out of context, gluing our modern understanding of it onto the word, and then shoving it back into the puzzle where it no longer fits. We then see that it doesn't fit and continue to argue why the rest of the puzzle is wrong and needs to be altered as well.
The truth of the matter is that there is no such thing as true Marcionism. Marcionism is a rejection of the God of the Bible en toto. It replaces the God of the Bible with a more philosophically-domesticated version of God that sees Him as loving in the context of inclusivism. But that's no longer the God of the Bible, whose love functions within exclusivism (which is why all of the examples of God forgiving someone is in the context of forgiveness and not apart from that).
So I would reject the notion that there are views of God that present Him as a God of loving inclusivism verses a God of wrathful exclusivism. The context(s) of the entire Bible presents His love as exclusive. Hence, those who reject the God of wrathful exclusivism are also rejected the God of loving exclusivism. Ergo, they are rejecting the God of the Bible en toto.
If people want to do that, that's fine, but the frustration is that there seems to be this constant claim that the dichotomy is found within the Bible itself when, in fact, it seems clear that such is only true when one reinterprets what the Bible is talking about when it talks about God's love.

Howard Pepper Bryan Hodge 2 days ago

Bryan, you rightly observe that the same kind of what you call "wrathful exclusivism" shows up in the NT as well as the OT. But other commenters have rightly identified, to my view, that in the OT some of it (in addition to internal cleansing of Israel as Pete focused on here) was a form of genocide. Their justification was the "command of God". I don't believe God ordered that nor that an even greater mass destruction will be sent by God in "the end times", as in Revelation.
One insurmountable problem (as to any "solutions" I've seen proposed) with the view you seem to present is how any of us really knows if we are or might (unintentionally) become one of the rejectors of "the God of the Bible".... If our theology gets modified (as any growing person's will), was perhaps our prior theology such a rejection? Or might even our new theology be? What are the clear criteria by which we can come to and then keep the "right" concept of God over time? ("Study of the Bible" is not a complete enough answer to what I'm asking, valuable as that can be.)
In other words, if it takes a certain belief/faith, what if that belief or faith changes, weakens or is even basically gone (at least temporarily, saw after a major loss)? These are not concerns I have for myself, as my prior "orthodox" theology HAS changed to one of a deeper kind of trust and love, but I know sooo many with such concerns or having had and then buried them without real answers.


Bryan Hodge Howard Pepper 2 days ago

Thanks Howard.
My point above is not merely that one is rejecting the God of the Bible because he rejects the God of wrathful exclusivism, but that such wrathful exclusivism is a function of God's loving exclusivism. What that means is that God's love and wrath are one in the Bible. To reject the God of wrathful exclusivism, then, is to reject the God of love as it is defined by the Bible.
Again, if one wants a God of loving inclusivism, that's fine, but that's not the God of the Bible. What we are left with is the scenario you are left wondering about above--namely, if one does not have the Bible to go by, by what beliefs do we judge other beliefs (whether found inside or outside the Bible)?
Either one must argue that revelation comes to him, or his community, unmediated or through some other mediation. In my view, this ultimately ends up being a confusion of the Holy Spirit with the zeitgeist, which is what you have in modern liberalism. Hence, I believe the Bible's view of love to be wrong because my, and my culture/subculture's view of love is right and contradicts it.
Of course, everyone wants to claim Jesus, often in disregard of context, so our cultural concepts are glued back onto Jesus' words even though He often has completely different referents in mind, as evidenced by the contexts in which He is speaking.
In essence, I would answer your question by saying that if one dismisses the biblical witness, either outright or via reinterpreting it to where it ends up contradicting its original intent, he does so either by claiming another revelation external to himself (e.g., the Koran) or, as is more often the case, by making himself, a mixed soup of his cultural experiences within his world, the arbiter of truth and good.
Of course, everyone must include himself in that conundrum, but when one's theology is absent of an external authority, the song goes from a duet to a solo, which I think is the key difference between orthodox "theologizing" and liberal "theologizing." I realize a lot of people won't like that statement, but I think it can be adequately described as such.


Dean Bryan Hodge 2 hours ago

What a weird post. You are setting up all sorts of false dichotomies in just these brief few paragraphs. Just admit that the Bible says a lot of things that seem to contradict each other. When you say something like "The context(s) of the entire Bible presents His love as exclusive.
Hence, those who reject the God of wrathful exclusivism are also
rejected the God of loving exclusivism. Ergo, they are rejecting the God
of the Bible en toto.", my response is says who?
Your mistake is that you are reading the Bible as if every verse and every book has equal epistemological or spiritual weight/value. I simply reject that proposition. It flattens out the scriptures and causes precisely the confusion that your comments reveal. The Bible clearly says that the words of Jesus Christ have primacy, in fact Jesus says that himself. He said, you have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you, do not resist an evil person, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. What he basically said was I know what the old testament says, but I'm here to give you a greater revelation. Paul also does this throughout his letters. He takes versus from the old testament and completely reformulates them in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ.
It's not Marcionism, it's not "theologizing" or inserting philosophy into the Bible, it's not taking our cultural prejudices and forcing them on the Bible, it is simply understanding that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything, particularly our understanding of the God of the old testament. Let me tell you this, the old testament prophets were working with the revelation they had. Why you would take their word for what God is like over what Jesus says is beyond me. You've got it totally backward is what I'm saying. The God that Jesus revealed to us allowed himself to be tortured and nailed to a cross, THAT is how he revealed his love, his glory, his justice.
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Bryan Hodge Dean an hour ago

Thanks for your input. I'm afraid you've completely bypassed (and misunderstood) my argument, and by doing so, have merely begged the question. My point is that Jesus isn't contradicting the OT in His view of God's love. It's just as exclusive.
"Say's who?"
Well, Jesus does. He tells us that His teaching does not nullify/contradict any of the Old Testament, even down to the last yod and tittle.
And beyond that explicit statement, I would say the context gets to dictate that, lest we end up with the "Life of Brian," unhinged speculations one often sees put forward in these types of debates.
But if you want to argue that the biblical vision of God is contradictory, then please provide examples of Jesus' concept of love as being inclusive, rather than exclusive. Give me an example where Jesus is offering God's love to the unrepentant, regardless of whether they place themselves in the group of the repentant. I'd be happy to look at that. As of right now, I'm completely unaware of any passage within the entire Scripture, primary or secondary, according to your tier, that presents God's salvific love as inclusive. Hence, I'm not taking the word of the Prophets over what Jesus says. I'm taking what Jesus says and comparing that to the Word of the Prophets, and they end up being the same thing in context.
If everyone is so concerned about evangelicals being honest with the text, one might ask the same of the non-evangelicals critiquing them. There is no inclusive Jesus in the Bible, and hence, wrathful exclusivism is the other side of the coin of loving exclusivism. Ergo, to reject the God of the one is to reject the God of the other, which is why one doesn't have the God of the Bible anymore once that is done. That seems pretty basic, but I realize that would rock the paradigm in which many fleeing evangelicalism have found comfort.


Dean Bryan Hodge 5 hours ago

Bryan, I wanted to respond to another point in your post which is the concept of retributive justice in the Bible. I've become convinced that retributive justice is read into the Bible precisely because human beings can't get enough of it, we relish it. But I don't think it's Biblical and I don't believe the character of God has room for it. I think the only justice that is consistent with the love of God that was revealed in the person of Jesus Christ is restorative justice. It seems to me that justice without love is revenge, and again, I can't understand the why a sovereign God whose defining characteristic is love would have a need for revenge, in fact, God doesn't need anything. So the problem I see with Christians embracing retributive justice (and the danger I see in Penal Substitutional Atonement in particular), is that it shows up in our daily lives all over the place. We call for criminals to be put to death, children to be jailed for life, countries to be bombed to the stone age for what they did to us, all in the name of justice. It also dovetails nicely with our modern doctrine of hell, which is retributive justice "infinitized". I think it's dangerous, unbiblical, and in direct contradiction with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God works opposite of the kingdom of man. People don't get what they deserve, the sheep get into heaven and don't know why, the father runs out to greet the lost son without him saying a word, random people on the street are invited to the party, Lazarus goes to Abraham's bosom just because he was poor. And all the religious folks said, well that's impossible, that's not fair, what kind of God is this?
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    Bryan Hodge Dean 3 hours ago

    Thanks again Dean.
    I appreciate the attempt to make Jesus the grid through which everything else is pulled. I think all Christians agree with this idea in general. The question is whether we are really pulling everything through the biblical Jesus or through our folk Jesus, which is really nothing more than the Jesus of liberal ideals. This is why, I believe, you continue to appeal to Jesus and make statements about Him that are currently questions on the table.
    As for attributing a bloodthirst to biblical scholars and theologians who see retributive justice as one side of the coin of God's restorative justice, I can only say that humans can't get enough of affirmations that God loves them as well. Does that mean it isn't true? What does the desire of a human for something to be true have anything to do with whether it actually is true? You're attempting an ad hominem at that point. Instead of attributing some evil motive to your opponents at law, I would suggest dealing with contextual arguments if you want to sway them instead.
    I further think the problem is that you've created a false dichotomy between God's retributive justice and His restorative justice, and this has occurred, precisely, because the other question I was addressing is not dealt with--namely, that God's love is exclusive. So the question becomes, "Restorative to whom?" No one argues that God's justice isn't restorative. The question becomes how and for whom it is restorative. God restores order by removing chaos and its agents.
    The removal of chaotic agents is a creative act that restores shalom to God's people. There is nothing more biblical than that concept. It runs throughout the entire canon. It is only by confusing God's love as inclusive that one comes to read the life and teachings of Jesus as contradicting the idea of retributive judgment as restorative judgment. A murderer removed from a community via his execution is a creative, restorative act in the Bible. It is a loving act, as the Bible defines love.
    Hence, the father runs out to greet his lost repentant son, the sheep obey His voice and will not obey that of another, as opposed to those who are not His sheep, people who will respond to the call to repentance come to the party as opposed to those who don't repent and are rejected, and the poor in Luke are identified with those who repent and believe, as opposed to the apathetic rich who are rejected.
    This is not even to mention the context of these passages within books that argue that the faithful go off to eternal life and the unrepentant to eternal damnation. Wheat and chaff, sheep and goats, virgins who enter the wedding feast and those who don't, servants who are rewarded and servants who are cast out, cut into pieces, thrown in prison, etc.
    Your paradigm does not make room for all of this because it puts an inclusive blanket over the biblical concept of love that then ignores the character and trajectory of love in the midst of what threatens who is loved. That's a difficult concept to sustain in real life, and the Bible doesn't attempt to pursue it, as I would argue that to love one group is to "hate" another in terms of what a loving person must choose in a chaotic world.
Dean Bryan Hodge 5 hours ago
Hey Bryan, I think it's pretty clear that the Bible contradicts itself in lots of places, I am well aware of the mental gymnastics that conservative Christians perform to reconcile these contradictions, but those same individuals would never do that with any other text, so I fail to understand why it is required when reading the Bible. It's a historical document written by ancient peoples, I believe it's inspired by God, but to say it's a magic book that needs to read seamlessly is not something my faith requires. That Jesus says his teachings are consistent with the OT law I completely agree with. But where we differ is what that means. You seem to think that means that you still take everything in the OT on face value. I don't think that's possible, and I don't think that's what Paul and the other early Christians thought either.
You should pick up the book The Evangelical Universalist. We can argue all day about what different passages in the Bible mean, but it's pretty evident to me (and I think the history of the Church pretty much proves this beyond any doubt), that you can create a list of Bible versus that support a Calvinist version of salvation where only a limited number of people in history (the so called "elect") are saved, you can come up with a separate list that seems to imply that there a large multitude that will be saved if they but repent, and you can come up with another list of versus that seem to suggest universal salvation.
I guess my question for you is why do you think the Bible is written this way? If your answer is that everyone else who disagrees with you is wrong, then that pretty much ends our discussion, but I don't think any sincere Christian who has studied theology and Church history can really say something like that. The only conclusion I can come up with is that the Bible says a bunch of different things to different people depending on their predisposition.
I think you seem to believe that post-Evangelical folks come up with this concept of God's "inclusivist love" as you call it because we can't stomach the image of a wrathful God, is that what you think? If it is not, then please feel free to clarify. The thing is, that couldn't be farther from the truth. I've been thinking a lot about this lately, and the biggest problem I have with Calvinists (and I'm not saying you are one), is the inherent contradictions in that entire system of thought. Why would God be mad at us if he is indeed completely sovereign? That concept doesn't even make any sense. It only works with what I call "Christian logic", which Christians don't utilize in any other context but reading the Bible. Again, if God were good and loving, why would he create some for the sole purpose of eternal conscious torment? If he did, how would you differentiate God from Satan? What does the word "good" mean if it is used differently when God acts versus when humans act? Maybe we need a different word then because the purpose of language is supposed to convey consistent ideas.
The reason I don't believe in a wrathful God (at least not in the sense that you seem to) is because the Bible seems to suggest that the greatest, most glorious thing that God has ever done in human history is the atonement. It wasn't helping Israel commit genocide against some neighboring people or striking down unrepentant people. It was dying on the cross for us while we were still his enemies. My inclination is to take that image to it's furthest possible logical extremity. If that makes you uncomfortable because of some list of versus you can assemble, then so be it. But I think that's the whole point.
Bryan Hodge Dean 2 hours ago 
I'm not sure who it is you're speaking to at this point, as I argued almost none of this. At this point, I think what is unfortunate about these types of conversations is that you're bringing in baggage from other conversations you likely have had and then supposing that I'm arguing the same thing. So let me clarify a few things here (and I don't really want to dominate this thread, so I'll likely bow out after this).
1. What I've argued has nothing to do with whether the Bible contradicts itself. That line of rebuttal is simply irrelevant to what I've argued. My point is that ALL of the statements concerning God's love, whether made by Moses, Jesus, the Prophets or Apostles are in the context of exclusivism. They are not made in our modern liberal context. So saying that I'm arguing from a list of prooftexts that may be contradicted by other prooftexts, or I believe the Bible is a "magic book," or has to be read as literal history is not paying attention to what I'm saying. All of that has nothing to do with what I've argued.
2. I didn't argue that Jesus' statement that He is not contradicting the OT takes the OT at face value. I simply take Jesus as saying what He does--that He isn't contradicting even the least of commandments in the law and whoever annuls and teaches others (i.e., contradicts that teaching with another teaching) is to be considered least in the kingdom of God. However, since the context of this has to do with His rebuke of the Pharisees for playing with Scripture in order to remove the sting of the commands found therein, I wouldn't feel too at leisure to play with them either. Either way, however, exclusivism is all over the Sermon on the Mount, so the context again does not play out in your favor.
3. You can pick out a list of verses to support anything. What those verses mean in context is a whole different animal. So merely pointing out that you can make such a list does not negate arguments made from the context of those passages.
4. The Bible is filled with diversity, either from authors seeking to refute one another, different emphases due to circumstance or clarification, etc. One's view of inspiration cannot be settled here, but I can turn your question back on you, Why must one read the Bible as ultimately contradictory rather than ultimately complementary, especially if God's voice is spoken through human voices. Must we read the text as though God is merely one of the human voices instead of coming through all of them?
5. Liberals put a heavy emphasis on contradiction, but the truth of the matter is, and this is something I have studied quite a bit, the Bible is far more coherent than many often attribute to it. Often, we are merely dealing with texts out of context, as we are concerning this issue.
6. I don't believe that people merely want to replace the God of the Bible with a more accommodating God for one particular reason. Sometimes it might be out of rebellion (e.g., I often hear people say that they would not worship God if He is the God of wrath, even if it were proven to them that He was indeed); but largely I think a big problem is that our concept of love became confused with acceptance, and because of that, one who views God as loving must now try and fit that concept with a God who seems to be not so accepting of everyone. If love is exclusive then there is no need to force a reconciliation by pulling the rest of the Bible through that grid, simply because it already fits. If love is inclusive and accepting, and God is love, then I need to junk anything in the Bible that rejects anyone and only accepts a certain group. I can do this by saying, as some scholars do, that all of these exclusive passages are just counter examples of what is good and true. The problem is, as I've tried to point out above, is that you can't rid the Bible of these passages without ridding it of the rest, since the rest functions in the context of these others.
7. I am a Calvinist, so bingo on that one. However, it's clear to me that you need to study up a little more on what Reformed theology actually teaches concerning a lot of your objections. They seem to be a lot of caricatures and strawmen rather than evidencing a knowledge of the best of what a Reformed position would say to those things.
8. And that really goes for all of these conversations. You can run screaming into battle and kill the drummer boy, leaving the army untouched, and then proclaim how easy it was to beat your opponents; but in the end, he's still standing and taking out your troops. It's easy to caricature people who have a different view of the Bible than you as employing "mental gymnastics," but in reality, they think the same of you. Rather than trade insults, you should try and see how it makes sense to read the Bible the way they do by engaging their best arguments. Then try to see why yours may not be the best according to their best arguments against your position. After that, everyone should just go to the text and fill their heads with the historical and literary contexts of a passage to make sure they're using it in a way that honors and participates in the communicative process.
8. Jesus dying on the cross and God destroying the Canaanites, ironically, are seen as the same types of events in Scripture. The cross is not a contradiction to that, but the fulfillment of it, which is why it is described as God putting Christ's enemies under His feet. The cross is the most exclusive doctrine in the entire Bible. Only those who obey the Son are saved by it. The wrath of God remains on those who do not. There is really no dichotomy there unless one reads that into it.
If you really want to run through your other questions, Dean, I'd be happy to be your dialogue partner. I think there is a lot of confusion in what you're saying and I can help you at least articulate your own position if you'd like. I would just do it on my blog rather than dominate Dr. Enns' blog.
But, in summary, nothing you presented here contradicted what I was saying. Thanks again.


  1. "The God of Love and Wrath Are the Same God in the Bible"

    Of course!

    What seems a bit odd and off-kilter to me is that these folks who disagree frequently vent their wrath towards orthodox folks such as yourself.

    Keep fighting the good fight, Bryan!

  2. Thanks Truth. I think their line of argument concerning love is a comfort for them, and also supplies a paradigm that allows them to dismiss anything that does not accord with modern notions of pluralism and tolerance. They're love is inclusive, but they still want to identify as Christians because it is who they have always seen themselves that way. It's hard to give up the label, but in truth, having thrown out the biblical view of love, they end up throwing out the biblical God and Jesus as well, and pretty much the actions of true love that require exclusivism by their very nature.

  3. Excellent post. I just recently heard your "Bibliolater" message, which has answered nagging question's I've had about idolatry of the OT and the "Jesus Love Gospel" of our age that you call "Folk Religion". Thank you.

  4. Thanks JUne. I'm glad you were blessed by it. God bless.

  5. I've only been able to locate three messages of yours on line at the Grace Reformed Church, Las Vegas site. Could you direct me to any others?

  6. There are only three that I've preached there, since we've been going there for less than a year. Unfortunately, I've had numerous sermons recorded on tape and cds that have been lost, so these three are the only ones available.

  7. Thanks for your prompt reply. I cant remember how I found your blog.
    It may have been off of Bret McAtee's Iron Ink blog. I am just a layman, but very concerned about not just "liberalism" but the flabby apathy of those under the "orthodox" and "reformed" banners. I find your writing quite coherent by the way, and am learning a great deal from your posts. Keep on battling.