Identifying and Resisting Satan’s Attack | Part 4 of 5
The Error of Eclipsing God’s Wrath with His Love
In the last post, we saw how one author sought to undermine the doctrine of Christ’s atonement through skepticism and exaggeration of the Bible’s claims. More recently, another author, pastor and activist Steve Chalke, has similarly mischaracterized the biblical doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. His book The Lost Message of Jesus condemns evangelical Christianity as preaching a gospel of condemnation and a God who is a “vengeful despot” (49). Chalke’s book argues that we need to recover the message of God’s affirming, world-changing love.
With that goal in mind, here’s how Chalke characterizes Christ’s work on the cross:
“John’s Gospel famously declares, “God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). How then, have we come to believe that at the cross this God of love suddenly decides to vent his anger and wrath on his own Son? The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement ‘God is love.’ If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil.” (Chalke and Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus, 182)
Chalke argues here that God can either be a “loving” God or a “punishing” God, but not both. He frames the cross for his readers in such a way that pits one truth (God’s love) against another (God’s holiness). To prove that, he quotes John 3:16 and 1 John 4:8 (“God is love”) as evidence that God is loving. We can all agree that God is loving. Nevertheless, Scripture is clear that our holy God is full of wrath against sin, too. Consider the following:
“For a fire is kindled in My anger, and burns to the lowest part of Sheol, and consumes the earth with its yield, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.” (Deut. 32:22)
“Your hand will find out all your enemies; Your right hand will find out those who hate you. You will make them as a fiery oven in the time of your anger. The Lord will swallow them up in His wrath, and fire will devour them.” (Psalm 28:8-9)
The New Testament has equally strong language about God’s wrath:
“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36)
For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-8)
God most certainly is loving; but he is also holy in that he cannot stand sin nor can sinners dwell in his presence (Psalm 1:5; Is 1:28, 13:9, 33:14). That truth seems not to matter to Chalke. If he engaged the entire gospel of John and the epistle of 1 John, he would see that God isn’t merely loving, but righteous. God is so righteous that he must propitiate his wrath on his Son in order to save sinful people.
Chalke also exaggerates the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement in the quote, “How then, have we [i.e. evangelicals] come to believe that at the cross this God of love suddenly decides to vent his anger and wrath on his own Son?” Just like the serpent in the garden, he exaggerates God’s word in the form of a question in order to undermine confidence in it.
In reality, no one claims that God “suddenly” demanded Jesus’ death, nor does the the Bible say that. This quote mischaracterizes God as capricious and harsh. It also ignores other passages that explicitly state that God planned for Jesus to suffer as a propitiation (Acts 2:23, 4:28; Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2, 4:10).
For a more accurate definition of PSA, look at the most prominent confessional statements about Jesus’ death:
“We believe that Jesus Christ is a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek-- made such by an oath-- and that he presented himself in our name before his Father, to appease his wrath with full satisfaction by offering himself on the tree of the cross and pouring out his precious blood for the cleansing of our sins, as the prophets had predicted.” (Belgic Confession, article 21, 1561)
“What do you understand by the word “suffered”? That all the time He lived on earth, but especially at the end of His life, He bore, in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race; in order that by His passion, as the only atoning sacrifice, He might redeem our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtain for us the grace of God, righteousness and eternal life.” (Heidelberg Catechism, question 37, 1576)
The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience, and sacrifice of himself, which he, through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father; and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him. (Westminster Confession, 8:5, 1646)
Each of these statements refer to Jesus’ death as an act by which Jesus willingly offered himself to God to satisfy his wrath against sin and redeem all who trust in Jesus. In addition to the Scriptures we have seen, these historic confessions characterize God as both loving and just, not loving in spite of justice.
What is the “Lost Message” that Chalke finds in his book? “The lost and revolutionary heart of Jesus' message is simply this. God accepts us as we are, without judgement or condemnation and gradually through his love and acceptance, draws us ever closer to understanding and living out his shalom in our lives.” (99) Rather than justifying, sanctifying, and glorifying us, Chalke teaches that God sent Jesus to affirm and enlighten us.
Tragically, in the years since this book’s publication, Chalke has openly affirmed sexual immorality (tinyurl.com/3cj4b66v) and universalism (tinyurl.com/3upt3zdz), and denied the doctrine of original sin (tinyurl.com/2p83a77s). If you throw out Jesus’ work on the cross, you undermine every other fundamental biblical doctrine.
Though others might redefine our Savior’s work to popularize it, we must hold firmly to our confession without wavering. I encourage you to spend a moment in prayer to praise and thank God for sending his beloved Son to be our payment for sin. Christ’s death was a payment of infinite value. We will never grow tired of praising him for making it.
In the final post, we'll return one last time to the garden of Eden to examine the serpents two remaining statements as we prepare for those who use similar tactics today.