Tag Archives: Penal Substitutionary Atonement

A More Christlike God: Thoughts on Brad Jersak’s book

a more christlike god brad jersakI read it twice. Within three months.

This, I might add, is a VERY rare thing for me as I typically only read a book once. And those books which I do re-read, I usually re-read them after a few years. So to say that I read Brad Jersak’s book “A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel” twice within three months is saying a lot.

Granted if I’m being completed honest, I must admit that it was the prospect of meeting Brad in person that prompted me to re-read the book. Brad was scheduled to be my one of my professors at St. Stephen’s University this past October and I wanted to be able to ask him some questions about his book. And yes, the books was required reading by Brad along with N.T. Wright’s “Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters.” (You HAVE to love classes that require you to read the books you would read on your on! No more self-justifications of the cost – instead it is all wrapped up in the “education” bucket of the budget!!) 😀

Before talking about the book itself, it is helpful to know a bit more about Dr. Brad Jersak. As mentioned already, Brad is an adjunct faculty member at St. Stephen’s University in Canada. He also teaches New Testament and Patristics classes at Westminster Theological Centre in the United Kingdom in addition to serving as the senior editor of Plain Truth Ministries. His faith journey includes growing up within the Baptist General Conference before becoming a church planter/pastor within the Conference of Mennonites in BC, Canada. After years hanging out with the Mennonites, Brad shifted gears and joined the Eastern Orthodox Church where he has been chrismated and ordained as a Reader in the Orthodox Church (OCA) for the All Saints Monastery in Dewdney (Canada).

Brad’s Eastern Orthodox connections are very important as his book “A More Christlike God” is packed full of concepts gleaned from our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters. The book was also, as I found out talking to him this past October, was reviewed and approved by several Eastern Orthodox theologians. The book also received endorsements from a surprising wide range of Protestant and Roman Catholic Church authors, ministers, and priests including Father Richard Rohr, Eugene Peterson, Brian McLaren, William Paul Young, Frank Schaeffer, and Brian Zahnd.

The primary focus of the book is fairly simple – mainly that the best picture we have of God is Jesus and, as such, we should allow Jesus to influence the way in which we see God and read the Bible. While this premise sounds simple, the sad reality is that a lot of us have based our view of God on things other than Jesus. Whereas St. Paul says that Jesus is the “the image of the invisible God” [Co 1:15], we tend to split the Triune God up into three parts with a different image for each part. We have the punishing judge Father God, the nice Son (Jesus) and the crazy unknown Spirit…or we have the deadbeat dad God or perhaps the genie in the bottle God who we can influence through doing or praying the right things.

Writing from an Eastern Orthodox viewpoint, Brad challenges these different misconceptions of God while offering a picture of a loving God based upon the person of Jesus. This focus on the cruciform God (i.e. God on the cross) effectually challenges the a lot of the common theological concepts we in the Protestant world take for granted. For example, whereas the Protestant world is focused on the Calvinism/Arminianism debate of sovereignty of God and human participation, Brad offers a uniquely Eastern Orthodox viewpoint in which God consents to freedom but also engages in participation within creation.

Reading – and later talking to Brad – about this alternative to the dualism of the Protestant world was a breath of fresh air for me. A few years ago I came to the conclusion that the Calvinism/Arminianism debate had outlived its usefulness and was no longer helpful. However I was having troubles coming up with a theological alternative that I could fully embrace. And why I’m fine with living in the mystery of not knowing, I knew that my position as a pastor/teacher would require a deeper understanding of the issue so that I could help others walk the path. While I was able to find an alternative in the writings of Greg Boyd (i.e. open theism), I was having a hard time finding anything on the topic from the Eastern Orthodox side of the family (a group with which I have had a longtime love affair). The book “A More Christlike God” filled that vacuum for me – and taught me that I had in fact already been exposed to the Eastern Orthodox view on the matter, I just didn’t recognize the argument as it was buried under implicit language typical of those from the East. 😕

celtic cross sunsetConnected with the sovereignty of God and human participation topic are the issues of the atonement (i.e. what happened on the cross?) and the wrath of God. While anyone of these topics could have been a book within itself, Brad seamlessly weaves all three issues into his book while keeping the focus on Jesus and the cruciform God. I especially liked his selection on the atonement as breaks down the weakness with the penal substitutionary atonement view of most Protestants while highlighting the value of the victory of God over satan, evil, sin and death. But then again I’ve been a proponent of the Christus Victor atonement view for quite some time. 🙂

The part of the book that I have the hardest time with is when Brad seeks to un-wrath God in the both the Old and New Testament. For those who have read the Scriptures know that there are some parts of the Bible (mostly in the Old Testament) that are extremely hard to understand. Why and how could a God who claims to be love (1 John 4:8) command the total genocide of various people groups? It doesn’t make sense… which is why one of the first heresies in the church was the view that the God of the OT is different than Jesus and the God of the NT. However the early church mothers and fathers were quite clear that the God of the OT is the same God of the NT – and this God is seen the most clear in the person of Jesus. Brad puts it this way in his book:

“[T]he Bible itself takes us on a progressive, cruciform pilgrimage from primitive literal understandings of wrath, where God appears to burn with anger and react violently, to a metaphorical reading of wrath, in which God consents – gives us over – to the self-destructive consequences of our own willful defiance. The cruciform God will not and cannot, by love’s nature, coerce us to obey. God grants us the dignity (and discomfort) of ‘finding our own bottom’ (to use 12-step recovery terminology), the end of which is willing surrender to the arms of grace. In the Bible, the shorthand for this process is ‘wrath.’” [page 185]

I must admit I’m still pondering about the full ramification of this definition of wrath as the concept has some very powerful consequences in how we read the Scriptures, see God and live life. Yet I think it is an issue we need to think about as we live in an age of war, fear and revenge. Regardless of the consequences, the one thing I do know is that if we are going to error in how we see God, let us let us error on the side of Jesus and love.

“I [Jesus] say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” –Luke 6:27-31

My Life Through The Three Movements of the Holy Spirit: Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Third Wave

azuzs streetEd Stetzer, the President of LifeWay Research and great missiologist, has recently embarked on a series of blog posts about the Pentecostal / Charismatic / Third Wave Movements. The first post starts off by defining the “continualist movement” (i.e. Christians who believe that the spiritual gifts are still active today) as opposed to the cessastionists who believing that such gifts have stopped. From there, Stetzer gives a good history overview of the beginning of Pentecostalism before summarizing their doctrine/theology.

In the second post, Stetzer tackles the Charismatic movement – with a great history on how that movement got started in in the early 1960s. This was, to me, the most interesting article of the series as I didn’t know very much about how the Charismatic movement got started. (Spoiler: God used Dennis Bennett at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in Van Nuys, CA to spark the movement).

The next post was about the Third Wave, which moved through the USA in the 1980’s. This wave was different from both the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements in both doctrine and practice. Pentecostalism was rooted in the Holiness Revival of the 1800’s and hold to a doctrine of subsequence (meaning that a believer is fill with the Holy Spirit in a second, or subsequence, event after conversion). The Charismatic movement pick up this doctrine of subsequence and brought it into the mainline churches (i.e. Anglican, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Lutherans, Orthodox, and Reformed).

Third Wavers, a term coined by C. Peter Wagner Professor of Church Growth at Fuller, disagreed with this doctrine. They believe that a follower of Jesus is baptized with the Holy Spirit at the time of conversion and that one could be filled with the Spirit without speaking in tongues (something the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches would disagree with). Stetzer lists John Wimber of the Vineyard and Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel as proponents of this view.

Wild Goose Chase Computer imageAs I write this overview of Ed Stetzer’s articles, I can’t help but smile as I’ve personally been shaped by all three movements. My paternal great-grandmother, paternal great-granduncle, paternal great-uncle, maternal grandfather, mother, step-father, maternal aunt, and maternal uncle all have been licensed and/or ordinated pastors within Pentecostalism (mostly with the Independent Assemblies, who broke off from the Assemblies of God in 1967). Growing up, I remember attending Buddy Harrison’s Faith Christian Fellowship in Tulsa, Ok, before my family sifted over to some Charismatic churches in Tyler, TX. College found me deeply rooted in a local Church On The Rock church, a network of Charismatic churches in Texas started by Larry Lea. After college I moved to Idaho where I fell headlong into the Third Wave through Tri Robinson and the Vineyard Movement.

Looking back, I can see where these three movements have shaped my worldview and theology. My Pentecostal roots taught me to look at the world through spiritual eyes, seeing the spiritual battle waging around us every day. It also introduced me to spiritual gifts, miracles, and the Christus victor atonement model, among other things. My journey within the Charismatic movement tampered my typically emotional self and introduced me to the Reform/Calvinist approach to spiritual gifts as well as the penal substitutionary atonement model. Charismatic and Evangelical college professors also opened my eyes up biblical studies, giving me a taste of the joy that comes with studying the Scriptures.

Life within the Third Wave over the last ten years have transformed me once again – opening my eyes up the center-set beauty of enacted inaugurated eschatology Kingdom Theology. Big words describing a worldview deeply rooted in the Kingship of Jesus who transformed history and all of creation with his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. Gone is guilt of not having enough faith when praying for the sick, or anything else matter; gone is the doctrine of subsequence (granted, I was introduced to the Holy-Spirit-at-conversion concept at the Charismatic leaning Church On The Rock); gone is the strict holiness club mind set of Pentecostalism…

It has been an interesting journey full of twists and turns (like any good journey). Three unique movements with different histories and doctrines with some overlapping theology and practices…three movements that have left their stamp on global church and my life. Three movements all chasing after the Holy Spirit with a belief that God is still working in the world today and is calling His people to step out in faith and do the impossible.

Fun times. Let’s go.