Thomas Paine once wrote ‘Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man’. It is really sad that some of the evangelical thinking about the Gospel has turned many people off God and Christianity. Many non-Christians encounter the core belief found within Evangelicalism, one celebrated this time of year; of an angry God, mad at humanity who had to vent his rage, eventually finding enjoyment in the murder of His own Son and are repulsed.
Disillusioned with this kind of thinking and the defensiveness displayed by the Evangelical wing once questioned about it, many have left Christianity in the search for something less sinister. Most do not even bother with it in the first place finding solice in more peaceful things like meditation, yoga or Zen Buddhism.
It is sad that most people do not even realise that the Penal Substitutionary Theory of Atonement, which depicts the wrath of an angry God coming down upon his own child is only one view of atonement among nine which express the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Penal Substitution is one of the most recent theories and was born in a time of legalism, cruelty and Empire as Britain sought to control the world through its ruthless reign.
Other theories throughout the last 2000 years of church history, theories which have never been labelled as heresy by the way, uphold the Goodness of God and focus on His forgiveness while avoiding Penal Substitution’s ‘cosmic child abuse.’ So while some people like Steve Chalk or others in America, have felt the brutal force of the Evangelical world by rejecting Penal Substitution, they would not be labelled as heretics by the Church Fathers, or by any Church Council that has been organised over the last 2000 years.
He’s Good but not Theologically
One of the things that God has been revealing over the last 15 years is a revelation of His Glory, His ‘Goodness’ as Exodus 33 puts it; how Good God really is! Lots of charismatic ministries have focused on the Glory for some time, with places like Bethel in Redding even having Supernatural encounters with the Glory of God. It is no surprise then that theological structures like Penal Substitution which are at odds with a God who is ‘Good all the time’ (which instead depict an angry God) would start to buckle.
Many people have a relationship with a God who is ‘Good all the time’, who is loving and kind but yet have a theology which shows a God who was angry, filled with wrath and takes his temper out in His children.
There is a mismatch; a confusion going on here. Not only are people’s experiences of God kinder than their theology but people themselves are actually far kinder than it too!
Penal Substitution is actually at odds with what most Charismatic Christians actually think God is like. And yet because of a theological void within the Charismatic Church and the volume with which the Evangelical Church shouts, these Christians are not aware of these contradictions or that there is an alternative.
God is Good all the time. I can say that knowing it through a relationship with him and also through a theology which is filled with this revelation.
What is beginning to happen, and what will get stronger as time goes on is a gradual exodus of the church away from current evangelical thinking towards a more orthodox view of atonement. Many have already found refuge from the anger of the Evangelical Church in the Eastern Orthodox Church, people like Brad Jersak who I had the privilege of meeting a few years ago.
People will begin to discover a theology which doesn’t contradict God’s Goodness as Penal Substitution does but one that displays it as Orthodox Theology does.
This is part of a reformation that is happening in the Body of Christ.
The Gulf War: Word vs Spirit
Smith Wigglesworth, who saw his first healings in the city I live in, gave a famous prophecy about the power that will be released when the ‘Spirit and Word’ come together (Google it of you are not aware of it.) I don’t believe this is talking about young zealous Christians who are ‘into the Word and the Spirit brother’ but is talking about the gulf that has existed over the last few hundred years between theology and the manifestation of God’s Presence.
It has not just been a gulf but a war between theologians and the charismatics. Charismatic Christians couldn’t be in to ‘The Word’ or theology because they met a God in Penal Substitution who they didn’t like and didn’t know! Therefore they stuck to their experiences and allowed the gulf to exist between the Spirit and the Word (so today most Charismatic Christians wouldn’t even know the term Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory let alone realise their church adhered to it!) But yet Smith saw something of the potential Power of two streams coming together.
The gulf between the Presence and Theology has not been there within Church history. The founding Fathers of Christian Theology, people like St Thomas Aquinas, St Augustine, and Church Doctors like St Theresa of Avila were not just theologians; they were mystics and miracle workers. To get the title ‘saint’ they had to perform miracles; even some while they were dead! And we are not talking about a quick blessing over someone with a cold but extreme miracles like levitation, witnessed by hundreds of people. The early church theologians were known for their power and miracles. The theological revelation they walked in, that has stood for hundreds of years was matched by supernatural displays of power.
But yet for many Christians there is a mismatch. They have not been able to find the compassionate God that has been revealed to them in His Presence, within their own theology.
The mismatch is causing some to walk away, it is keeping others from entering in the first place. Many people who have had encounters with the love of God in a Supernatural way outside of a church context are completely turned off the Evangelical Church by its depiction of an anger filled, child beating deity.
However this is changing. Jesus is leading people down the ancient path, to encounter the Church Fathers of old, and to lay aside theological views which shut down the Presence of God for orthodox theology which reveals the Presence of a compassionate and loving Father, filled with kindness for His children, slow to anger and rich in love; a God who is for us, who reaches out towards us and has not hidden His face from us.
Jesus is leading people to the place where the two streams meet, the vision Smith saw years ago. A river of Power. No mismatch, just the revealing of His Glory.
I believe God is revealing just how Good He really is and this is at an unprecedented level. This is happening in a supernatural way – through the physical healings, supernatural encounters, through the miracles signs and wonders we are seeing but also in a theological way through the discovery of an orthodoxy which supports all this.
Our theology is catching up with our revelation of His Glory so that we can’t shut it down but release and display it to the world!
What i’m not saying is that everyone needs to join the Orthodox Church however. I’m saying that there is an older and more authentic version of the Gospel, a wine with more whack than we’ve known which has been preserved by the Eastern Orthodox Church which is now being revealed.
So what does the Orthodox Church teach about God’s Goodness?
Jesus was not sent to appease the anger of a violent God. He had no need as the issue was not with God’s attitude towards us but our attitude towards God. So God did not pour out His anger against Jesus. It was not God who had turned His back on us because of our sin but humanity that rejected Him. It goes right back to Genesis; God searching out Adam who was hiding in the garden for fear of an anger that didn’t exist. This fear caused darkness to reign in the heart of man, blinding us from the Love of God. In this darkness His Goodness was hidden from us. But when the fullness of time came God came to walk with us again. Christ revealed the heart of the Father… When you have seen me you have seen the Father… Jesus sought out those infested with fear and invited Himself for dinner at their house, or spoke to them at the well, he stopped the religious from stoning them to death, healed them, or taught them to love their enemies.
But when we came face to face with the pure undiluted Love of God It was too much for our hatred to take. We murdered God and through this act, our ultimate rejection of God, God brought our Salvation.
Brad Jersak does a great presentation of this called the Gospel of Chairs:
When hanging on the cross the heart of God is fully revealed as Jesus declares “Father forgive them!” He did what we couldn’t do and loved those that hated Him.
The final act of Christ’s ministry was to prophetically decree Psalm 22 over humanity. It starts with ‘my God why have you forsaken me’ and ends with ‘It is finished’. God did not hide his face from Jesus while he was on the cross; Psalm 22.24 even states this! ‘Neither has He hidden his face from Him but when He cried to Him He heard…’
The only anger God had was towards sin itself because it had corrupted His very image within His creation. We had forgotten where we had come from. So in the death of Christ we find our corrupted nature, our sinful self, the old man crucified with Christ and the New Creation raised to life and filled with Light. This is the true meaning of the word ‘wrath’ – ‘God’s love in action’- Christ was sent to stop the corruption of death and bring us to life… while we were dead in our sin…
Neither humanity nor Jesus was forsaken by God. He has been with us the whole time. This is the power of the Gospel; God with us, God for us, His Glory surrounding us, His love enveloping us.
An angry God hell bent on killing his Son? No. Instead on Good Friday we can remember God’s goodness that was revealed, his loving kindness, his forgiveness, His Glory, our redemption and acceptance within his Presence; in the face of our anger and rejection of Him.