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Book Review

Be ashamed, Jonathan Edwards!

This title of this book, of course, parodies the famous sermon by the eighteenth-century American revivalist, Jonathan Edwards: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. That says it all: the book questions just about everything that Edwards—and hard-line Calvinists of his ilk—stand for. It is: Saints In The Arms Of A Happy God: Recovering the Image of God and Man by Jeff Turner (Sound Of Awakening Ministries, 2014. ISBN: 978-0615897684).

It comes out of the author’s personal journey from struggling with many of the grimmer ingredients of Reformed theology to a place of joy and liberty in seeing God and people very differently.

He questions the picture of God as a sin-allergic, pharisaic deity. He challenges original sin and the penal substitution view of Christ’s work at Calvary. He doubts the existence of hell as traditionally portrayed. And he has no time for an ‘us and them’ mentality, holding that the whole human race has been reconciled to the Father. He believes that ‘good works’ performed by ‘unbelievers’, far from being like make-up on a corpse, are of real value and are pleasing to God.

So he’s not afraid to move foundation stones. For that, some would call him a heretic, but such a verdict isn’t justified. The elements he challenges are currently being reassessed by Christians right across the board, and many are overdue for it. It’s just a question of whether or not, in his reaction to the Christianity he grew up with—and which for years he taught to others—he goes a bit too far.

He writes with warmth, and is constantly sensitive to the fact that he is likely to upset some readers. So he takes extra care to expound key Scripture passages with care and clarity. You must judge for yourself the acceptability of some of his interpretations. I’m inclined to think he is sound on most, if a bit over the top on a few. Certainly I’m comfortable with his insistence that God is primarily Love, and with the implications of that conviction. In fact I was more upset by the huge number of mis-spellings, grammatical errors and typos in the Kindle edition than I was by his theology!

If you’re feeling angry at some of the author’s conclusions as I’ve described them, maybe your anger would be tempered by reading what he has to say about a ‘happy’ rather than ‘angry’ God?

[I read the book in Kindle format, so the numbers are Location, not Page, numbers]

A God who is infinitely kind, merciful and loving, all too often gets miscommunicated as being a moral monster or a disgruntled dictator, who is really only concerned with what we are doing wrong and with how He can punish us accordingly.  He cares little about the pain and hardships we endure, but obsesses over being honored, glorified, worshipped and adored.  He turns a blind eye to the injustices committed by one man against another, but demands eternal torment for all men simply because Adam ate a piece of produce that a talking reptile suggested would make him godlike.  This “god” looks far more like Mt. Olympus than He does Mt. Zion, and is most certainly not one whom we’d be tempted to cozy up to in times of trouble.  (350)

The temptation that the first couple faced was very similar to the temptation we face from modern, Western Christianity – that we can attain true Godliness if we simply learn how to draw clear lines of distinction between good and evil. (416)

Like Saul of Tarsus, we become professionals at hating things, but amateurs at loving the things that really matter.  Our actions soon become evil as, like the Pharisees, our belief in an angry, violent God causes us to become angry and violent towards our fellow man. (614)

This cancerous and diabolical idea that the Father sees us as being mere sinners and that He, by nature, is angry and vengeful, must be ground to powder and carried away by the winds of reformation, for it is the most toxic and damaging thing that can be adopted into a person’s belief system. (726)

Until the incarnation of Christ no man had ever truly seen or known God.  No, not even Moses, David, Elijah, or even Jacob, who claimed to have wrestled with Him and seen His face.  They had caught glimpses of Him here and there, but none of them knew Him nearly or dearly enough to become a proper mouthpiece for declaring His nature. (1053)

Christ paints the Father in the most beautiful of hues!  According to Jesus, He is a God who is delighted at the sight of little children, goes out of His way to converse with the marginalized, turns water into wine to keep the party going, and who brushes aside religious laws in the name of showing mercy to sinners.  He pardons the adulterous without being asked, takes tax collectors as His disciples, and dines with scam artists and traitors.  He places His disciples’ wellbeing above the sacred nature of the Sabbath, brings healing to His nation’s foreign occupiers, and assures us that violence is never the way that God solves His problems. (1332)

Where I disagree with Dawkins is with his labeling of the Penal Substitution theory of atonement as “the central doctrine of Christianity”.  It is actually just one view among many, and is most certainly not the most original, nor, in my opinion, is it the most scriptural.  (1494)

Nowhere in the Genesis account of the fall do we catch a glimpse of an angry God requiring satisfaction for wrongs done against Him.  Nowhere is there a hint of the judicial juggernaut that so many worship and sing praises to.  On the contrary, we see a loving Father who, in His divine mercy and love, escorted man from Eden to keep him from making his situation worse.  He was still looking out for the wellbeing of His children even after having been wronged by them. (1836)

The Old and New Testament scriptures testify to the fact that God is more interested in the hearts of His people than He is animal blood.  The pagan gods demanded blood, gore and violence, but the God of the scriptures is relational, and is interested in the condition of our hearts. (2041)

The medieval rabbi and Torah exponent, Moses Maimonides, believed and taught that the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were nothing more than a throwback to the pagan religions of Egypt and elsewhere.  It was his belief that God allowed man to continue on in the manner with which he was accustomed when it came to religious matters.  His contention was that such things were never the desire of God, but the desire of man, and that God, being gracious, allowed man to worship with the methods our fallen minds had grown accustomed to. (2060)

In the Gospel, sin and death are the aggressors, and God is the hero Who steps in to rescue us from them.  In the “gospel” of sacrificial appeasement, however, God becomes the aggressor, and death the means He uses to punish those who would dare to transgress His commandments.  The heroic and loving nature of God revealed in the Gospel is lost in such a narrative, as God is somehow playing the part of both the villain and the hero, which, in the end, simply doesn’t make sense. (2303)

Our presentation of the Cross in a judicial light has not caused love to erupt from within the human spirit the way that God intended.  The idea of God needing to crush a sacrificial victim beneath the weight of His wrath and vengeance has not caused men to stand back and marvel at the love of the Father.  It has caused them to be impressed with the love and selflessness of Christ, but has had the terrible side effect of causing us to see the Father in a dismal light.  We’ve developed a soft spot for and an attachment to the suffering Jesus, but not for His Father, for He is presented as a justice demanding Jupiter, from whose sight Christ hides us. (2481)

I had built my life, and a good chunk of my ministry, on the penal substitution view of the atonement, and having to suddenly come to grips with the fact that there was very little scriptural support for the idea was a bit unsettling. (2577)

Time and again, the apostles are careful to note that it was not God who killed Jesus, but human beings.  The Cross was not God releasing His fury upon Jesus in our place, but a manifestation of men’s rejection of Him as their Messiah.  The Father, on the other hand, is always represented as the One Who gave Christ back His life through resurrection. (2767)

The Eastern Orthodox tradition (arguably the oldest of all Christian traditions) has never viewed the atonement as dealing with the wrath of God against man, but have always viewed it as a healing work in which man is restored to spiritual health and wholeness through Christ. (3223)

[Re Romans 1] We are told specifically that God gave them over to 1.) sinful desires, 2.) shameful lusts, and 3.) a depraved mind.  Undoubtedly, this is the wrath spoken of in verse 18, which he states was being revealed from Heaven.  In this case, God’s wrath looked less like lightning bolts or fiery furnaces, and more like Him allowing men to go their own way while sin ran its course in their lives.  Wrath, according to Paul, looked like a lifestyle that men lived in response to God allowing them to go their own way. (3271)

How degraded must nonbelievers feel when those claiming to be “God’s people” look right past their hurts, broken dreams, and struggles, and instead slap a label on them like “object of wrath”? (3344)

It is my firm conviction that a great deal of New Testament passages that speak of God’s wrath are specifically referring to the then imminent fall of Jerusalem. (3766)

Nowhere in Paul’s, or any of the other apostle’s writings, are we told that Christ’s death saved us from the wrath of God. (3847)

There is a widespread, almost ubiquitous idea that has embedded itself into the very fabric of all things Evangelical, and it is the thought that sin brought separation between man and God. (4142)

Is it really any wonder that the world is repulsed by the “gospel” that we present them with?  Is it any wonder that they despise the Jesus we preach to them, when our message, essentially, tells them that an all knowing God created them with the foreknowledge that they would sin, but separated Himself from them once they lived up to His expectations, and then damns them to an eternity in hell for merely following the script? (4373)

[Re Habakkuk 1:13] The main point of Habakkuk’s statement is not that God is too pure to look upon evil in the sense that He must hide His face in disgust.  The point is that God is just too pure and noble to look upon evil without jumping into the middle of the situation and rectifying it. (4417)

‘The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:5). Isaiah states that Christ underwent a punishment in order that we might receive peace.  This was not a punishment that was intended for us, but was instead absorbed by Christ.  Isaiah is simply stating that God used the punishment and death that Christ experienced unjustly and at the hands of men, to accomplish a healing work within us. (4696)

[Re Matthew 27:46] Through His suffering, Jesus came to know by experience what it was to have His spiritual vision blurred and distorted by sin’s presence, and therefore knew what it was to try to behold His Father’s face while looking through the cataract laced eyes of Eden. It was because of His willingness to fully identify with our condition that Christ felt the same imagined abandonment that we felt.  He brought Himself beneath our burden, and truly felt as though God had left Him in His greatest moment of need. (5035)

There is absolutely no record of the apostles ever preaching hell to their hearers in order to frighten them to Christ. (5436)

Christ’s primary concern was not for us to go into the world and warn them of a burning hell, but for us to take Good News, coupled with hope and healing, to a harassed and helpless humanity.  The backbone of our message is not fear and terror, but freedom, hope, and healing. (5641)

Conversion is not about clinging onto the life raft of Jesus in order to escape the waves of God’s wrath.  It is about being baptized, immersed and included in a family structure.  It is about the whole earth being filled with the Glory of the “Holy, Holy, Holy”! (7753)

Once upon a time I would have looked upon selfless acts performed by the “unsaved” as being little more than make up on a corpse.  It was meaningless, and really did nothing to improve their status.  They were dead, rotting, and a stench in the nostrils of God.  However, as my understanding of my own pure heart and of God’s heart of love for mankind grew, it became increasingly clear to me that such views were simply not true. (7919)

While I absolutely believe that faith in Christ is essential, and that there is a difference in the sense of who has received the truth of the Gospel and who hasn’t, the difference is not that one side is separated from the presence of God and void of anything good, while the other is accepted, ushered in, and can do no wrong.  The difference is that one group has received and understood the truth of what Christ has accomplished, and the other hasn’t. (7969)

‘God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean’ (Acts 15:28). Peter spoke these words before ever having preached the Gospel to his Gentile audience.  They were still unbelievers, and yet God saw them as clean and acceptable in Messiah.  Yes, Peter went on to preach the Gospel to them in order that they might subjectively (experientially) receive what was already objectively true of them, but God declared them to be clean even before they had believed or responded. (8383)

The problem that arises when we begin to view certain segments of humanity as being unclean, and separated from God, is that our message becomes one in which humanity has no value until God gives them value by dying for them.  In stark contrast to this idea, the scriptures paint a picture of God as seeing the inherent worth and value of the human race, and purchasing them back from the power of sin and death, precisely because of their value, worth, and beautiful design.  In other words, He did not save us because we lacked worth, but because we had worth. (8616)

Strangely, in a “religion” whose sacred text’s most oft repeated command is to “fear not”, Christianity has come to rely almost wholly upon fear in order to keep the pews warm and the faithful, well…faithful. (8953)

I’ve seen many of the Godliest people I know labeled, written off, and thrown to the scrap heap, and all because they dared to preach about a God who looks like Jesus and not like Jupiter. (9129)

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