Are we creating our own version of the “Jefferson Bible”?

In his most recent blog post, Roger Olson asks whether we can dispense of the “wrath of God” from our theology, sermons, and hymns. Remember the dust-up in the PCUSA regarding “In Christ Alone”? Olson, of course, doesn’t believe we can or should but notices that even most evangelicals seem to be doing so. Here, Olson makes a startling but insightful connection between the infamous “Jefferson Bible” and what many contemporary Christians are doing with the concept of God’s wrath.

When was the last time you heard a sermon in a non-fundamentalist context about the wrath of God? I haven’t heard the wrath of God mentioned in church in a very long time. Very few theology books discuss the theme of God’s wrath. I would argue that it is gradually becoming otiose if not dying out completely (outside of fundamentalist circles).

There’s only one problem with that (assuming it is happening): the Bible, which most Christians claim as their main source for faith and life, contains a great deal about the wrath of God. Are we perhaps joining Thomas Jefferson in excising Scripture of all that we find unreasonable or offensive?

That last question should give us pause.

One of Olson’s main points—which I’ve preached many times—is that God’s wrath must be a necessary consequence of God’s love.

I also found these words from Olson about atonement, from the comments section, very helpful. God the Father, to say the least, was not committing “cosmic child abuse” on the cross:

I do not know of any serious historical-theological theory of atonement that says God violently punished Jesus without adding immediately that Jesus was God voluntarily suffering God’s own wrath. Both the satisfaction theory of Anselm and the penal substitution theory of Calvin (as opposed to caricatures of both) emphasize the triunity of God and deity of Christ. He was not just a man picked up by God to be made a victim for us; he was God himself voluntarily suffering the consequence of sin in order justly to forgive us.

6 thoughts on “Are we creating our own version of the “Jefferson Bible”?”

  1. Oprah Winfrey once famously remarked that she could never believe in a God that was “jealous.” But we don’t get to remake God in our fallen image, or according to our “sensibilities.” If we do, we are fatally kidding ourselves and will suffer eternal loss when we face the God who actually is.

    Among my efforts as a scrivener, I once wrote a short book I entitled “The Wrath of God.” (Too bad I have never found anyone interested in publishing any such efforts!) So, I totally agree that God’s wrath is a major aspect of his character and his interaction with sinful men.

  2. The wrath of God will be lost to us until it is recovered as a treasured relic (one to be venerated, but not feared). We have become brazen and vengeful in excising Scripture; Cynthia B. Astle avers we are about to approve same-sex marriage due to “new revelation” (her words). Wow, anything is now possible.

    1. I don’t know who Astle is, but lots of people are making that argument: the Spirit is revealing a “new thing,” even though that thing contradicts what the Spirit has previously revealed in scripture. If that’s the case, then truly anything goes.

  3. It is the height of arrogance and it is trying to usurp God’s place, authority and word to take away from and add to the Holy Scriptures as we choose. We might do well to remember these words near the end of the Bible: “18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” (Rev 22:18,19). Tragically it seems that the Gnostics, with their “superior spiritual knowledge” and “divine revelations” are alive and well. Truly we need to preach and teach the wrath of God, repentance and faith in the crucified and risen Christ, along with the whole counsel of God!

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