What’s the Difference?

For God was so angry at the world that He sent His Son to punish Him so that whoever repents and says the sinners prayer can go to heaven instead of hell when they die.

My previous post contrasted two different views of the gospel. It is convenient to refer to them as western and eastern although there are probably better labels for the two views.

When Scot McKnight posted the orthodox chair video, he said, “I am not entirely sure this view is that much different than the Protestant, evangelical view (what do you think?).” Out of Ur posted the same video and asked, “Is one right and the other wrong? Or are they two facets of a greater mystery?” I appreciate the attempts to take an ecumenical stance, however, it is important to recognize the fundamental differences in the two approaches.

This week I spent some time reading and reviewing various gospel presentations because I do not want to misrepresent or create a caricature of the western view. I would like to point out the main points of disagreement that I have with the common presentation of the western evangelical gospel and explain my thoughts on those points.

Sin
Sin is typically presented in a moralistic framework of rule-breaking. The first objective of many gospel presentations is to convince a person of their sinful state, i.e. their inability to perfectly obey the rules.

Alternatively, sin can be defined as self-imposed alienation from God which often results in destructive behaviors. Shame and guilt magnify this alienation and are barriers that must be overcome to approach God. In this view, the primary effort in sharing the good news is to convince a person of God’s love for them and His acceptance of them.

Wrath and Judgment
Contrary to popular opinion, God is not angry or disappointed with you. Unfortunately some misguided pastors preach that He is really angry at you. Last summer a well-known pastor went so far as to say that “God hates you.”  You can google it if you want to see it; I won’t link it here.

The wrath of God is not his anger AGAINST humanity, but rather it is His passion FOR mankind. As a Father, he passionately opposes those things which damage us or cause us to remain lost in darkness.

God’s decisive judgment for sin was and is forgiveness, not punishment. From the beginning His response to the failure of mankind was not punishment or rejection. The idea that God is too holy to look upon sin is simply untrue. God extends unmerited grace to the very depth of our failure.

Transactionalism
If you…, then God… Typically stated, IF you repent of your sins and believe Jesus took the punishment on your behalf, THEN you can be saved.

What God has done in Christ to reconcile the world to Himself is an accomplished reality. It is not a transaction contingent upon your response.  Your response does not in any way affect God’s stance toward you. His gift is unconditional; faith is not the action that makes it a reality.

Repentance is not self-condemnation; it is to turn and to see things in a new way. This will occur when one comes to experience and understand the love of God. Faith, acceptance, and belief are vital to how we grow and experience life with God as we encounter the reality of His kingdom.

Eternal Life
Too often gospel presentations are presented as a choice about the afterlife. If eternal life simply means heaven (or hell), then the gospel has little practical connection to everyday life and discipleship.

To have eternal life is not simply to go to heaven when we die. It is participation in divine life today, learning to live in the present reality of eternal life as we journey daily with God.

The Father, Son, and Spirit
Finally, we must be careful of any presentation of the gospel that pits God against Jesus. The well-known preacher I mentioned earlier went so far as to say God hated Jesus while he was on the cross and had to look away from Him. This is actually a heresy concerning the nature of the trinity. It might seem like an extreme example, but there are subtle tones of such division between the Father and Son in many gospel presentations.

The Father, Son, and Spirit are of one will. Their eternal plan was to rescue mankind through the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.

There is plenty of academic support and evidence in early church teaching of a more grace-based view of salvation, but very little of this doctrine is easily found or accessible at a popular level in mainstream evangelical teaching and belief.

Consider this, it is the strategy of the enemy to perpetuate the myth of alienation by upholding accusation against a person and by falsely portraying the anger of the Father.

My hope is that we come to the place where the most common message of the gospel that is presented is one of God’s love and embrace for humanity and His desire to share life with us.

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11 thoughts on “What’s the Difference?

  1. With you totally on this one Linda.

    The togetherness or Atonement has always been the Divine Mind. In fact outside our space-time reference it has always taken place and therefore not actually needed.

    Most evangelical thought get so caught up in the apparent separation problem that they can’t truly acknowledge the everlasting solution ~ Oneness.

    At least that’s my 50 cents worth!

  2. Yes Dylan, I find it ironic that typically the evangelical presentation of the gospel reinforces alienation. Sadly, I think this is often reflected in a new convert’s experience of God and ongoing attempts to bridge the perceived distance.

    It was especially helpful for me to not see Jesus as plan B to a messed up plan A, but instead as the lamb who was slain before the creation of the world, in order to begin to understand God’s eternal plan for communion with man.

    Thanks for your 50 cents worth. :)

  3. Indeed. On the question of sin, all you really have to do to see the difference is ask a simple question: Is a young child sinful? I recently heard the actions of a preschooler taking a cookie they weren’t supposed to take and then lying about in a naive effort to avoid getting in trouble as evidence of the sinfulness of the child. That clearly flows from a view that perceives sin fundamentally as rule-breaking. The sinfulness of the young child is generally simply assumed in Western views (whether from inherited guilt at birth or from early actions like the above) and the question becomes whether or not God condemns the child — if God holds the child “accountable” in some instances.

    That question arises because most of us know instinctively that if we say God condemns the child we turn God into a monster. After all, we don’t. Those are simply the actions of an immature human being who has not yet learned to model the behavior we expect and who needs to be taught. We often find stories of such innocent misbehavior cute and adorable and enjoy retelling and hearing them.

    I’ve listened and read to many different statements and descriptions from the Eastern perspective and they all fundamentally hold small children guiltless and sinless. We all live in a dangerous and broken world surrounded by human beings in the grip of the powers of sin an death, so the alienation and brokenness that manifest as sin are an inevitable experience if we live and mature. Sin is missing the mark and the target or mark is union with Christ as the true human being.

    I remember once hearing an Orthodox speaker asked why, if they do not believe children are born sinful or guilty, the Orthodox baptize infants. I remember almost a sense of confusion at the question. “Remission of sins” is one of a long list of things conferred in and through baptism. We are joined to Christ in his death and resurrection. We are joined in communion with the church, living and reposed, in a manner that is described as one body. And we are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. We receive God himself into our bodies. The question in return was, “Why would we deny our children God?”

    It’s a question that cuts right to the core of the difference, I think. Salvation is not something that God does or doesn’t do to us. It’s not a state. Salvation is God. Nothing less.

  4. Excellent thoughts Scott. The portrayal of the christian life as an exercise in righteous behavior undermines the transformational impact of union with Christ.

    One aspect of this is a shallow understanding of water baptism as symbolic of a decision for Christ rather than an acknowledgement of our baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ through which sin was once and for all dealt with. The reality of our baptism with Christ and what this signifies seems vastly under-emphasized in evangelical belief.

    Personally, I have come full circle in regard to water baptism. I was sprinkled as an infant and immersed as an adult. Today, I see infant baptism as an acknowledgment and celebration of the inclusion of a child in the life and fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit and the beginning of their life narrative of this as a reality.

  5. “To have eternal life is not simply to go to heaven when we die. It is participation in divine life today, learning to live in the present reality of eternal life as we journey daily with God.”

    I so agree Linda. Eternal life this side of death when one is born of the Spirit. Apart from that spiritual birth a person has nothing that can survive death because they are just flesh and blood.

  6. Yes Bob, I think the practice of living in communion with the Father, Son, and Spirit, sharing in their life in the nitty gritty of our everyday physical lives, gets short-circuited when our only understanding of eternal life is the afterlife.

  7. Coming from an evangelical background I have always been immersed in the legal view of salvation. After watching the video, I am trying to figure out how the many references to the wrath of God in the Bible fit with the orthodox view. I am also trying to figure out the biblical basis for seeing the love of God and the wrath of God as the same.

  8. JG,
    Let me know if my latest post, The Beauty of the Wrath of God, helps or raises more questions. Wrath is passion based in His love and directed at the evil that diminishes us.

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