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Guilty of Pastoral Malpractice

Thom Rainer posted an article on Lifeway’s Web Site claiming that pastors who did not preach penal substitutionary atonement (he didn’t use the term, he described the doctrine in very strong terms) are guilty of pastoral malpractice. He used the word “treasonous.”

Will, a United Methodist pastor and blogger pleads guilty in that case. I know a few other United Methodist pastors who would join him in that. I was talking to one the other day who regards PSA as a serious heresy that leads in turn to a heretical view of the trinity. Not being as interested as others in just what “heresy” is, I won’t go there.

A commenter on the Lifeway post cheers on Mr. Rainer, and comments on how people are tired of a “watered down gospel.” What I’m wondering is this: Why is it OK to water down God’s love, but it’s somehow “treasonous” to water down his wrath?

I wonder which is more important.

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  1. Funny you should use the “watered down” metaphor today. Earlier I was spot cleaning my carpet with ammonia–works great usually, but in my haste, I failed to dilute it according to the instructions. Seeing my poor results, I took the time to add the proper amount of water, and voila–spots came out like magic. Water has certain properties that strengthen rather than weaken some substances.

    That doesn’t answer your question, however. Theory: Focusing on sin and punishment help us maintain purity markers. Love can’t be so easily contained. It asks us to mix with unclean things.

  2. “What I’m wondering is this: Why is it OK to water down God’s love, but it’s somehow “treasonous” to water down his wrath? I wonder which is more important.”

    I’ve done a lot of reading over the first part of the year on the current debates surrounding Penal Substitutionary Atonement. It was only in reading John Piper’s latest book (the one where he stops just short of calling NT Wright’s salvation into question) that I understood that a key difference between Arminianism and hard-form Calvinism is whether we read God’s wrath through the filter of his love (Arminiansim) or whether we read God’s love through the filter of his holiness (Calvinism). Unfortunately, for a lot of Calvinists ‘God’s holiness’ seems to translate into ‘God’s determination to obliterate his enemies’.

    No Methodist worth their salt would give primacy to God’s wrath over his love. Count me in as a so-called heretic and hurrah for all other Methodist (and other) ‘heretics’ who proclaim the primacy of the Love of God.

    (By the way, I also learned that there isn’t even agreement about the definition of ‘Penal Substitution’ – but that’s a whole different can of worms!)

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