Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Wrath of God and the Gospel

By Bruce Mills

As I said in a previous post, I am teaching through the book of Romans in my Sunday School class. As I have been studying, I am preparing for an upcoming lesson on 1:18-32. Verse 18 is the starting point at which Paul begins to unfold the details of the gospel of which he is not ashamed. It reads: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

As I pondered this verse, I thought how it is that in today’s postmodern, evangelical culture, talking about the wrath of God against sinners isn’t a popular point to start trying to win someone to Christ. These days, we are told that the idea of a wrathful God is passé, and to tell people that they are sinful and corrupt and on their way to hell apart from a saving relationship to Christ is judgmental and intolerant.

In fact, let me read you what Brian McLaren, the leading spokesman of the Emergent Church movement, had to say about the subject of salvation. He states:

“Perhaps our ‘inward-turned, individual-salvation-oriented, un-adapted Christianity’ is a colossal and tragic misunderstanding, and perhaps we need to listen again for the true song of salvation, which is ‘good news to all creation.’ So perhaps it’s best to suspend what, if anything, you ‘know’ about what it means to call Jesus ‘Savior’ and to give the matter of salvation some fresh attention. Let’s start simply. In the Bible, save means ‘rescue’ or ‘heal’. It emphatically does not mean ‘save from hell’ or ‘give eternal life after death,’ as many preachers seem to imply in sermon after sermon. Rather its meaning varies from passage to passage, but in general, in any context, save means ‘get out of trouble.’ The trouble could be sickness, war, political intrigue, oppression, poverty, imprisonment, or any kind of danger or evil.”

So, in other words, people need to quit thinking about being saved from eternal judgment and only think about being saved from temporary problems. That sounds very different from Jesus, who said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

McLaren goes on to say:

Isn’t hell such a grave ‘bottom line’ that it devalues all other values? It so emphasizes the importance of life after death that it can unintentionally trivialize life before death. No wonder many people feel that ‘accepting Jesus as a personal Savior’ could make them a worse person—more self-centered and less concerned about justice on earth because of a preoccupation with forgiveness in heaven.

What he is saying here is that if you believe that you are saved from an eternal hell, you won’t be as concerned about justice and equal treatment for others during this life, because “I’ve got eternal life, so who cares what happens to everyone else!” And he remakes Jesus into a social justice mascot.

Another Emergent Church writer, Alan Jones, goes even further than McLaren. He states: “The Church’s fixation on the death of Jesus as the universal saving act must end, and the place of the cross must be reimagined in Christian faith. Why? Because of the cult of suffering and the vindictive God behind it.”

Let me just go on the record as saying that the Emergent Church movement is nothing more than an attempt to revive dead theological liberalism and disguise it by calling it evangelical. Just as the mainline denominations drifted from the true gospel which deals with eternal judgment, Christ’s substitutionary atonement, the forgiveness of sin, and eternal life, to a false gospel which focuses on the temporary problems of mankind such as social injustice, poverty, and oppression, so too, the Emergent Church is an attempt to redirect evangelicals toward a false gospel.

Beware of their deception. They will use phrasing such as this: “We just want to have a conversation about how to deconstruct and contextualize our understanding of Scripture so that we can reorient the whole Christian community around the missional heart of God and the incarnational ministry of Jesus.”

You may be reading that statement wondering what in the world it means, but I used it in order to bring your attention to certain “buzz” words that characterize the Emergent Church so that when you hear them used, warning bells ought to go off in your mind. They commonly and frequently use words such as “conversation,” “deconstruction,” “contextualize,” “reorient,” “community,” “mission” [and “missional”], and “incarnational” in their writings.

There are several more terms, but that’s just a few of the more common ones. If you have a hard time understanding what they are saying because it sounds like “double-speak,” it is probably post-modern Emergent Church garbage.

If you want to read a great book on the subject, buy Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck’s new book titled Why We Are Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be). It’s published by Moody Publishers and is the best articulation of the problems with the Emergent Church that I’ve read. And Phil Johnson, who is one of the leading voices on the dangers of post-modernism, gave it extremely high marks in his review of the book on his Pyromaniacs blog.

But don’t think this aversion to proclaiming a gospel that includes man’s sinful condition and condemnation is limited to the liberals and heretics. Much contemporary evangelism speaks only of the abundant life one can have in Christ, the joy and blessings of salvation, and the peace with God that faith in Christ brings. All of those benefits do result from true faith, but they are not the whole picture of God’s plan of salvation.

Just to show what I mean, I went to, a website of Global Media Outreach, which provides the Four Spiritual Laws in 144 different languages and dialects. I read only the English version, since that’s the only language I can read fluently, and the thing I noticed about it, is that nowhere in the Four Spiritual Laws presentation of the gospel will you find the words “eternal judgment” or “hell” used. It does mention sin, which it states results in broken fellowship and “spiritual separation from God,” but it never states that God’s righteous holiness demands punishment for sin or that spiritual separation means an eternal hell.

Now, someone might try to excuse the incompleteness of the gospel presentation of the Four Spiritual Laws by saying, “But it has been so greatly used by God to bring people to faith in Christ.” But it does not answer the questions, “Why should I accept Christ?” and, “What am I being saved from?” If you are going to answer those questions—which you must—you must talk about man’s sin offending a holy God and that, as a result, God condemns him to eternal punishment in hell unless he comes to Christ in repentance and saving faith. So then, the corollary truth of God’s judgment against sin and those who participate in it must also be included in our presentation of the gospel.

That’s how Paul starts his presentation of the gospel—by explaining that the wrath of God abides on all mankind because of mankind’s rejection of God’s revelation of Himself.

For Paul, fear of eternal condemnation was the first motivation he offered for coming to Christ, the first pressure he applied to evil men. He was determined that they understand the reality of being under God’s wrath before he offered them the way of escape from it.

That approach makes both logical and theological sense to me. An individual cannot appreciate the incredible wonder of God’s grace until he understands the perfect demands of God’s law, and he cannot appreciate the infinite fullness of God’s love for him until he understands something about the infinite fierceness of God’s anger against his sinful failure to perfectly obey that law. No one can appreciate God’s forgiveness until he understands that his sin requires a penalty be paid and that unless they are forgiven, there is the consequence of an eternal hell.

Like the apostle Paul, we must not leave out these essential parts of the gospel when we present it to people. It is what makes the gospel “good news.”


Robert said...

I'm not really understanding this part of Alan Jones' quote, "...Because of the cult of suffering and the vindictive God behind it."

Is he saying that we believe God is vindictively causing suffering for people in this world? Is suffering the social injustices and natural disasters?

On another note, God has been recently teaching me more about His holiness. The more I think about it, the more I see how essential it is for us to understand (well, at least as much as a human can understand the infinite holiness of God) and to include this doctrine in the gospel. A proper understanding of God's holiness results in a proper understanding of His hatred of sin. These result in a proper understanding of the importance of the doctrine of hell and God's wrath against sinners.

Unknown said...

I recently picked up a copy of the book you've been referencing, and I must say that it is quite entertaining (in a very informative way, though). Some of the tongue-in-cheek comments, though true, are so comical. I love the part where they talk about an Emergent book with black and white photos of really hip looking guys, with obligatory black rimmed glasses, and overly demonstrative gestures. None of this over-shadows the value of understanding the point of the book though - that Emergent "theology" is not new #1, and #2, it's just plain sloppy at best, and perhaps heretical at its worst. ut, we're just in a "conversation", right? (Pretend I'm sitting in a deeply reflective pose right now, wearing a cordouroy jacket, and slippers, as I sip on a skinny-latte, over-looking a serene lake.)

Bruce Mills said...

Josh, I think you've got the whole "Emergent" thing down, as indicated in your last parenthetical statement.

Mike Skinner said...

Hi, Bruce:

I read your post because it referenced my organization. I don't necessarily speak for the group, but felt led to take the opportunity offered by your "comment" link to respond.

You used one of our sites,, as an example of an incomplete Gospel presentation... then you went on to admit that it includes sin, broken fellowship and spiritual separation from God. It also mentions stubbornness, self-will, rebellion and indifference, that the penalty for sin is death, that Jesus died in our place to pay that penalty, and that we must turn to God from self, or repent, and trust Christ for forgiveness, and that that's the ONLY way one can come to God.

Out of 881 words which were used to present the Gospel, no less than 60 deal with sin and its consequences.

When you look at the New Testament and how the Gospel is presented in narrative... (Examples include John 3:3-21; 4:10-26, Acts 2:14-40; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 7:2-56; 8:32-37; 10:34-43; 13:16-41; 16:31; 17:2-3, 22-32; 22:3-21; 26:2-23; 28:20-24).

...the message is the facts of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and the appeal is "repentance towards God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 19:21)

The question is--what did we leave out?

By comparison, the great passage you named your blog after (Acts 17:6-7) follows this presentation of the Gospel by Paul:

“And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” (Acts 17:2, 3).

I can understand a condemnation of certain types of presentations which say things like we don't "always do what's right" or that man's basic problem is his lack of self-esteem, that we need to ask God to "be our friend." But we try to stay as far away from that as we can. I would no more want to be associated with that approach than you would with the "Emergent Church," which our ministry has somehow now been associated with in your blog post.

I can also understand that there is value in dealing with the rebellious extensively with God's Law and the wrath we deserve, as is Ray Comfort's way. We just have to recognize it wasn't Jesus' ONLY way, and it wasn't the Apostles' only way.

You should know also that when someone responds to one of our evangelistic websites like CL in Ohio just did as I'm writing this (we get over 1700 such responses daily), they receive a response from one of our hundreds of volunteers. Here's mine to CL:

Dear CL:

Hello, and thanks for visiting our site. I'm Mike, it's great to hear from you. You indicated you prayed to receive Christ....that's exciting to hear. I'd like to talk to you and help. Hebrews 6:1-2 says that the basics of our faith are the following:

1) Teachings about Christ (Who He is)
2) Repentance from dead works
3) Faith toward God
4) Instruction about baptisms
5) Laying on of hands
6) The resurrection of the dead
7) Eternal judgment

First, let's talk about Who Jesus is, because Biblical faith is TRUST, which is only as secure as WHAT you're trusting in. Jesus is the one true and living God, not a created being. (See John 1:3; Colossians 1:14; Isaiah 44) He became a man (John 1:14), so that He, as a man, could be judged for the sins of man. (Mine. Yours.)

Although God's final revelation of Himself is in the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Son, "Jesus" is the only name we're saved by. (Acts 4:12) Please see our Who is Jesus - Really? site for more detail. Do you have any questions about who Jesus is?

You can't save yourself and God won't accept you on your terms. We're as good as dead while still in our sin. (Ephesians 2:1, 2:5) And our good works are unacceptable to Him. (Isaiah 64:6) Repentance begins there, at the point of spiritual poverty, when you realize with sorrow that you have offended the Lord who bought you. (2 Corinthians 7:10; Romans 2:4) What prompted you to come to our site? I'd love to hear your story, if you wouldn't mind spending a few minutes to write it down.

Faith toward God is not only a belief that He exists, but a trust in His goodness, mercy and power....that He can and will save us as He promised. (Hebrews 7:25) He has promised that whoever will call upon His name will be saved. (Romans 10:9-13) A model prayer was written out at our site, the page you visited, but of course real response to God comes from your own sincere heart.

Spirit baptism, which occurred when you received Jesus, and water baptism, are the "baptisms" Hebrews 6:2 mentions. According to the Bible, we are baptized by this One Spirit into one Body, the universal Body of Christ, (See 1 Corinthians 12:13), united with believers in heaven and on earth. He has promised to save all who believe on Jesus, (Acts 16:31), and that all who are His have the Holy Spirit. (Romans 8:9) Does that make sense?

See, CL, becoming a Christian is "easy" -- it's free. (Romans 3:24) It's simple, (2 Corinthians 11:3). But it is NOT cheap. (2 Corinthians 9:15; 1 Peter 1:18-19) and He wants our full submission in return. (2 Corinthians 5:15) That's not to say that after you've received Christ you are perfect, or that you aren't still prone to "go your own way" from time to time. Just that at the moment of the new birth, complete surrender to Him is required.

But when you truly give yourself over in trust in Him, several things happen:
- Christ comes into your life (Revelation 3:20)
- You become a child of God (John 1:12)
- You receive the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:15), and are baptized by
Him into the Body of Christ! (1 Corinthians 12:13)
- ALL your sins are forgiven (Col 1:14, Hebrews 10:12)
- You will presently have the gift of eternal life, (1 John
)--and God doesn't take His gifts back! (Romans 11:29)

These statements are essentials for salvation as well as promises from God. What do they mean to you, CL?

Now, when we talk about the next couple of things, we are talking about ordinances, commandments that *do not have a role in saving you* but are earnest responses from a grateful heart. These are steps requiring participation in a local church body.

Water baptism is part of Jesus' main charge to His disciples, (Matthew 28:18-20), so this is why it's important to tell any new Christian to be baptized. Do not neglect this step! It's is an outward testimony to what God has ALREADY done in your life, signifying that your sins have been judged at the Cross on Jesus. (See Romans 6:3-11 and 2 Corinthians 5:17) And that Spiritual baptism we discussed which has already taken place when you receive Christ.

The laying on of hands signifies empowerment and authorization for service in the context of a local church. You were given spiritual gift(s) for this purpose when you received Christ:
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10 “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;” (Ephesians 4:12)

This is why we are commanded to join together in church with other Christians. (Hebrews 10:25) A genuine, Bible-believing church is where baptism and the Lord's Supper are regularly observed, where you learn to obey all of Jesus' teachings, and become accountable to others to contribute to the health of His body. Do you attend such a church, or do you need help finding one?

The resurrection speaks of our existance after our death. Our resurrection is assured and modeled in Christ's own resurrection from the dead (See 1 Corinthians 6:14, 2 Corinthians 4:14)

And the concept of eternal judgment...that others are currently objects of God's justified wrath as we once were (Ephesians 2:3)...makes us recognize our responsibility to those who need Jesus. We have been given the assignment of offering God's reconciliation to them, been made ambassadors for Jesus, as though God urged them, through us, to be drawn to God in Jesus Christ. (See 2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

Is this what happened to you, CL...did you trust Christ in this way? Do you have any questions about what you did or what really happened?

If you can say "yes, this is what happened to me," do you understand that you can have complete assurance that your eternal destiny is in heaven with God?

CL, I hope this all makes sense and is helpful. Please contact me again--It's important that we not lose contact, and that you receive all the guidance and encouragement you need on an ongoing basis. That's what I'm here for. I'd love to help you with a better explanation or with anything else.

Check out for interactive Bible study lessons, help in prayer and finding a church. I'd like to especially point out, crucial and exciting information for a new Christian. Walking in the fulness of God's Spirit is a preview (called the "down-payment" in Ephesians 1:14) of our intimacy with Him in Heaven, our key to overcoming temptation and experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised, and our identification with Jesus in His crucifixion and resurrection. (Romans 6:1-14) At that same site, you can also sign up for a weekly interactive small-group Bible study over chat. We'd love to have you join us.

Again, congratulations! Jesus said that there is JOY among and in the presence of the angels of God over your repentance! (Luke 15:10, Amplified Bible) Please e-mail me anytime with questions -- or let me know how I can pray for you.


Bruce, I hope you understand the spirit in which this is intended! I believe we're largely on the same page, judging by the remainder of your article, and I strongly believe the state of affairs in the world today requires Christians who are set on proclaiming the hope to the world which so desperately needs it to be constructive in our remarks, to aim our rifles outward, as it were, and not inward. May the Lord's counsel and strength keep us sharp and harmless (Matthew 10:16)

With love in Christ
Mike Skinner
"One Day Closer" (Romans 13:11)