Three Charges – The Cross, Hell, and the Word of God
It seems as much as my colleagues at PTM.org and, specifically, I have addressed the issues of the Cross, hell, and the Word of God, we continue to be asked where we stand on these issues.
Those of good faith are truly interested in diving deep into the truth on each of these issues, and for good reason! How we respond to these issues speaks loudly of how we see God, humanity, and the world we live in. They deserve all the attention they’ve received.
Others seem to ask the questions in the edgy tones of an interrogation or accusation, as if we’re being summoned to a heresy trial, despite our public record on these weighty matters.
I believe it’s important for us to give a clear account of the gospel we preach and the hope we have in Jesus Christ while doing our best to avoid defensiveness or counterpoints that mirror our harsher-sounding challengers. In fact, we ought not to assume we know the motives of others or what deeper concerns lay beneath what’s presenting.
For those who sincerely want clear and concise statements about what we actually believe, it may be helpful if I gather some responses by way of (1) a quick summary in a line or two, (2) a blog-length example of our perspective, and (3) a referral to more comprehensive, book-length treatments. This is certainly preferable to reading third-party opinions that are sometimes wildly misrepresentative. Note, for example, that the three charges below were cited verbatim. It might seem pointless to even respond, but since charges quickly become slander, I believe a response is necessary to set earnest minds at rest.
1. The Cross of Christ
Challenge: “Brad believes in a nonviolent view of Christ’s death, so he believes Jesus did not need to die for our sins.”
Response: As a life-long “theologian of the Cross,” both devotionally and professionally, I can’t imagine a more erroneous (and hurtful) charge. Briefly, the Cross of Christ (which, in Paul, includes both the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus) is utterly necessary and the very means of our salvation. At the Cross, we see Jesus’ definitive revelation of God as self-giving, radically forgiving, co-suffering Love, and we witness Jesus’ definitive victory over Satan, sin, and death.
What we do NOT believe is that our redemption was accomplished through the violent punishment of God the Son by God the Father to satisfy his own wrath. Rather, we believe Paul’s assessment that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting our sins against us” (2 Corinthians 5:19). That is, in the death of Christ, God freely forgives our sins rather than needing to punish them through an act of divine violence.
- * Brad Jersak, “Q&R: Why did Jesus die?”
- * Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel
2. The Nature of Hell
Challenge: “Brad is a universalist and hell is not a real place.”
Response: While I firmly believe Jesus’ promise that he “will draw all people to himself” (John 12:32); the Samaritans’ confession that Jesus Christ is Savior of the world (John 4:42); Paul’s prophecy that every knee will bow and tongue confess the Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10), and that God will ultimately be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28), I have repeatedly refused to identify as a “universalist.” Why?
The reality is that so many who now use that label deny the problem of sin, the need for a Redeemer, the efficacy of the Cross, the importance of a faith response, or the reality of a final judgment. I regard all of these as the crucial means by which Christ fulfills these promises.
What we do NOT believe is that hell is a literal lake of fire where God will, for all eternity, supernaturally inflict retributive punishment on those he loves. The judgments of God, according to Malachi 3, 1 Corinthians 3, and Hebrews 12, are restorative… and the divine Judge is the all-merciful Father whose heart is to redeem through Christ all who fell through Adam (1 Corinthians 15:20-22).
- * Brad Jersak, “Q&R: What if you’re wrong about hell?”
- * Brad Jersak, “32 Scriptures that Dare Us to Hope”
- * Bradley Jersak, Her Gates Will Never Be Shut
3. The Word of God
Challenge: “Brad does not believe the Bible is the Word of God. He thinks any verse that doesn’t line up with what you feel in your heart reveals Jesus can be rejected.”
Response: On many occasions, we have affirmed the biblical proclamation that Jesus Christ is the Word of God and that the Scriptures are an inspired witness faithfully pointing to him. Further, any Scripture that claims to reveal God must bow to the living God when he came in the flesh. And yes, Scripture also speaks about the ‘word of God’ in a secondary but related sense: the word of God can refer to the covenant promises of God (i.e., “you have my word”) and, therefore, also, to the gospel of Jesus Christ (“the word of the Lord spread rapidly” – Acts 19:20, 2 Thessalonians 3:1).
While our Scriptures contain many authors, narrators, compilers, and their time- or culture- or theologically-bound perspectives, the eternal and unchanging Word of God (Jesus Christ) enters this great drama of redemption to bring us the final Word (see John 1:18, Hebrews 1:1-4), including corrections, such as, “You have heard it said, but I say to you” (see Matthew 5:17-48).
We don’t reject any Scripture, but we do subordinate their authority to the living Word of God, whose Spirit illuminates the ways they prefigure Christ OR serve as cautionary tales (1 Corinthians 10:1-10). We do NOT believe the Bible is a flat document that can be proof-texted to usurp or negate the authority of Christ. Rather, it must be read “the Emmaus way”— after the resurrection, Jesus taught his disciples to read the whole Bible in light of his Passion.
- * Greg Albrecht, “The Word of God and the word of God”
- * David Hershey, “Review of A More Christlike Word: Reading Scripture the Emmaus Way”
- * Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike Word: Reading Scripture the Emmaus Way
I hope this three-tiered series of responses will suffice to provide readers with short, medium, and long-form answers to these important questions.