The Gospel of God’s Wrath

My church small group has been going through Matt Chandler’s Explicit Gospel series. The main point of the series is that the gospel message of Christianity isn’t just for evangelism and converting the lost but that it is for sanctification and discipleship. The Texas pastor makes a lot of good observations and points, especially given his more Neo-Calvinistic leanings theologically that I don’t share. I really wish that he did more to tie his messages into the gospel in the texts that he chooses as well as his presentations. His belief in the gospel as penal substitution atonement and justification by faith through imputation of Christ’s righteousness (obedience) to the sinner. While listening to him speak on the topic of eternal security–like a good Baptist would–the following thought entered my mind,

Chandler was speaking from Romans 11:33-36 and Paul’s famous doxology. And from the text he speaks about how fearsome God can be when we think about him. And this got my brain to pondering about how often the theme of fearing God has come up in this series that is about relating the gospel to sanctification and discipleship, not just conversion. This led to thinking about how pivotal a part the wrath of God plays in his gospel.

Chandler’s gospel saves “you” from God’s wrath. That’s his good news. Jesus came to save you from God’s wrath against you because you have screwed up in life, broken God’s laws. These laws might be laws you don’t think are good laws to have, you might disagree with God on an issue. But you’ve messed up and Jesus has rescued you from that wrath. You’ve pissed off God and Jesus came to alleviate the divine wrath.

The lynchpin term to secure this reading of the Bible is the Greek word hilasterion (ἱλαστήριον) found in Romans 3:25 and Hebrews 9:5. In the broader New Testament world it refers to an act in pagan religions where an offering is made to the gods in order to avert their wrath for something. The big word is propitiation. If a Greek wanted to sail from Athens to Alexandria in Egypt, they might offer a sacrifice to Poseidon–the Greek god over the seas and the land–to keep his wrath from destroying them on their voyage and grant them a safe journey. In fact fellow TGC scholar D. A. Carson uses this precise illustration in the third message discussing the New Perspective on Paul.

The penal substitution view of atonement in the Bible depends on seeing the death of Jesus in just this way. It depends on seeing Yahweh, the only true God, the creator of heaven and earth, like one of these pagan gods. To enter “heaven” one must propitiate God. And only Jesus was able to do that, treat God as a pagan deity to ease his wrath against humanity and allow them entrance in to heaven.

I think of the opening to Homers Iliad. Chryses was a priest of Apollo whose daughter, Chryseis, was captured by the Greek armies during the battle of Troy. Chryses offered Agamemnon, the king of the Greeks, a ransom for his daughter’s return but was refused–despite the Greeks generally being in favor of this. So Chryses prays to Apollo to come to his aid. Apollo unleashes a plague upon the Greeks by firing his arrows at them. Achilles leads a coalition to pressure Agamemnon to return Chryseis to her father and end the plague. Agamemnon agrees to release the girl–taking Achilles’ favored treasure Briseis–and thus ends the plague from Apollo.

But the gospel that Chandler proclaims puts God in the position of Apollo. He is punishing humans for their failure to do what he feels is right. He’s firing his arrows at humanity and it will take an offering of some kind to appease his anger. God has been turned in to a pagan deity from the ancient near east (“ANE” from the quote above from twitter).

I just don’t buy this view of God and this reading of the New Testament. Why would Paul, a devout Jew all of his life, suddenly turn the only true God into a deity like the pagans would worship? Why turn Yahweh into Apollo or Poseidon? (And Poseidon is my favorite of the Greek gods; he could take Zeus in a fight if he wanted!)

What do you think? Do you buy this view of God? Do you think Paul and the biblical writers turn their God and Savior into a pagan deity?

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~ by hankimler on November 7, 2013.

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