A More Christ-Like God? (Addressing The New Universalism)

February 18, 2017

Summary: Many current, contemporary theologians espouse ancient fringe heresies which undermine foundational issues of the faith. Apologist, Ben Fischer, seeks to interact with modern versions of these extra-biblical doctrines. To receive future articles on these and other important faith issues, simply click here. Thanks for reading! 

The Dangers of Deception

 

In 2010, world famous swimmer, Lewis Gordon Pugh, chronicled a daring expedition. Describing the perils of the Antarctic sea, he related a hair raising account of his swim off Deception Island. In his riveting book, Achieving the Impossible, Pugh wrote the following, heart-stopping statement: “…[my] muscle temperature…stayed at 31 [degrees] for an hour and half after the swim ended…” [1]  

 

Just 5 years prior, Pugh had spoken with an internet news outlet called the Independent. He candidly stated in a recorded interview, “The swim at Deception Island was by far the hardest…I’ve ever done.” [2] Referring to the rough terrain of the harsh Antarctic region, he spoke of it’s icy topography as an “unforgiving environment.” [3] He further added to his bone-chilling account the words: “If you don’t train properly, you’ll die.” [4] 

 

Pugh’s harrowing testimony is a reminder of why “Deception,” among other reasons, is so deadly a place. The island contains a history of being one of the safest ship harbors in the region of Antartica. Yet it also happens to be the sight of an active volcano which utterly destroyed a scientific research station in 1967. Today, “Deception” has been largely abandoned due to it’s sordid history amongst the South Shetland Islands.   

 

Comparatively, in Matthew 24:4, the Bible records the following statement: “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.” (KJV) Scripture further exhorts us to guard and contend for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. (Jd 3) As Jesus himself would later warn his disciples: “…false Christs…shall…seduce, if…possible…the elect.” (Matt 24:22; KJV)  

 

Turning then to the Christian publishing industry, a sizable spate of books has recently flooded our markets. Sensational new titles such as Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” are gradually gaining popularity in our time. Many of these books contain numerous false teachings which undermine the authority of the Word of God. Together, these new author’s are reshaping Christianity, prominent among them—Brad Jersak.   

 

Faulting the Truth

 

In his most recent book, A More Christ Like God, Jersak stretches the deepest meanings of orthodoxy. As Bell did before him, he practically “canonizes” Gandhi, in view of his works, as a “faith-partner” with God. [5] [6] Throughout the book, he redefines the faith, most notably through a conversation with a girl he names “Jess.” Carefully examining his account of that meeting reveals his deeply skewed spiritual leanings.   

 

Jess: Why does Jesus seem so loving and God so mean? 

Brad: God is not mean. He’s exactly like Jesus… 

Jess: Then why does God send people to hell to burn them forever and ever? 

Brad: He doesn’t.…The God…who is like Jesus, would never do that… [7] 

 

Such strange responses are obviously confused. To any sincere Christian, they carry doubt and disbelief. In fact, Jersak’s faith-struggles, related throughout the book, are reminiscent of the earlier tragic tale of author, Robin Parry. In his troubling work, The Evangelical Universalist, Parry describes his gradual fall from the faith. After decisively rejecting his traditional Christian beliefs, he wrote a glowing recommendation for, “A More Christ Like God.” [8] 

 

But how does Jersak go about justifying his theology? How does he condone abolishing such central Christian beliefs? The author in this case has told us himself in a video podcast oddly entitled: “The Problem of Hell.” He comments thus: “…a lot of people…would…follow Jesus, but for the idea of a God who would…torture [people in hell]…” [9] He then notes with a considerable depth of conviction: “I can no longer believe in that kind of a God.” [10]   

 

Of course, such ideas are not new to Christianity. In fact, they have been argued by many, including by philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard. [11] However, such notions of formal universalism have normally been rejected by Christian theologians. Thus, Kierkegaard’s words, “I believe that we will all be saved,” have scarcely been taken seriously by most evangelical scholars. [12] But the tables are turning through the work of men like Jersak who are increasing in ominous notoriety in our time.   

 

Questioning Inspiration

 

Yet sadly, these problems are only the beginning. In fact, they are a sign of a far more serious issue. For not only does Jersak construe salvation as potentially universal, he also deeply questions the inerrancy of scripture. In the 11th chapter of his book, Jersak poses the following question: “…when the Bible describes God as an angry king, should we…ignore it….Or…extract Divine truth from errant human projections?” [13]   

 

It is a fact of Church history that the earliest Christians spoke only this way about the apocryphal books. Athanasius, for example, the early Coptic father writes, “…the apocryphal works….are the invention of heretics, who write according to their…will…” [14] Yet Jersak accuses scripture as being the work of mere “errant” human beings. In so doing, he rejects the words of Psalm 12 which cry: “The words of the Lord are pure words…purified seven times.” (vs. 6; ESV)  

 

Listen to how Jersak argues consistently for his beliefs against traditional scriptural inerrancy. He writes of God’s commandment to battle with Canaan: “…these texts are…really…toxic and ought to be discarded.” [15] He further suggests that Israel’s general wars with Canaan are an example of how we “…baptize…violence…in the name of God.” [16] In just this way, Jersak turns all of scripture into an all out mishmash of divine and human writings.  

 

It goes without saying that no Christian scholar should ever approach scripture in so careless a way. Person’s can literally risk life and limb by dropping their anchors in such deceptive, chill waters. As Lewis Gordon Pugh warned future would be daredevils, “If you don’t train [for Deception] properly you’ll die.” [17] Christians should likewise be cautious of Jersak’s work, for what follows from these two errors completely undermines the faith.      

    

Subverting Scripture

 

Thus, after denying inerrancy on the Josh Tongol show, Jersak went on to push matters even further. [18] Enfeebling Bible passages which picture God’s anger, he summerly labeled all such images as “un-Christ like.” [19] He further stated: “…God is like Jesus…our scriptures need to bow before [him]…” [20] Frankly, it is sad to find any Bible professor willing to refer in this author’s sense to God’s word as “our scriptures.”    

 

However, nevertheless, laying this issue aside, notice what more Jersak seems to be saying. He appears to be suggesting that God’s anger itself is the proof that the texts in question are not inspired. Therefore, in his book, Jersak flatly rejects the doctrine of hell, whole-cloth, arguing,  “…Christ rules through love rather than through coercion…”—thereby rejecting scripture’s prime ultimatum. [21] 

 

The problem, however, with this kind of reasoning is that Christ himself spoke of hell—often. In fact, John Walvoord, former president of Dallas Theological Seminary, noted: “Jesus…defined [hell] more specifically and in more instances than any New Testament prophet…” [23] Billy Graham also noted the same in his last and final book entitled: Where I Am: Heaven, Life and the After-Life. His son, Franklin, told the Washington Post in late 2015: “One of his concerns was that hell and heaven were being distorted…” [24]      

  

But the most troubling point at issue with this sort of appeal is it’s general rejection of scripture’s most urgent biddings. Since any mention of hell (according to Jersak) may be viewed as “coercive,” the entire prophetic voice and intent of scripture is effectively gutted. No consequence therefore remains for the person who chooses to reject the claims of Jesus. The gospel becomes reduced to utter irrelevance in a world increasingly cold and impervious to Christian truth.  

 

“Unwrathing” God

 

Therefore, in the final analysis, what is left for us to conclude about the precious cross of Jesus perched on Calvary’s holy hill? Returning to Jersak’s crowning popular achievement, the answer is found in the 13th chapter of his book. For upon rejecting scripture’s promise that Christ bore God’s wrath for us, Jersak records the following statement: “To say that Christ’s death appeases an angry God would be heresy—formally.” [25]  

 

Personally, in response, this writer cannot help but be reminded of the very pointed words of 2 Timothy 2:15: “Do your best to present yourself as one approved…rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15; ESV) Truly, few commandments found anywhere in the Bible bear such weighty and colossal importance. Sadly, it is obvious to the reader how Jersak would tend to view such paramount instructions. 

 

It therefore seems we are fully justified in rejecting such teaching as twisted and deceived. It represents a clear and plain departure from the faithful teaching of the truth. For to refer, as Jersak does, to Christ’s offering as “pagan” simply because it appeases God’s anger, is to misguidedly trade truth for deception, driven by the false aim of “unwrathing God.” [26]  

 

Turning to one of Martin Luther’s historic treatises, the bold faced Reformer seems to offer a relevant rebuttal. Commenting on the growing danger of false teaching in his own day, he rigorously denounced the innovative preaching of the heretical sects. “[Even] if they cry with the voice of all angels…” he wrote, “…The genuine Christ is not with them…” [27] Such is the danger of Jersak’s work. It makes Christ, as Luther warned, “…worthless in the same breath with which He is most highly extolled.” [28] 

 

Hence, affirming universalism, rejecting the doctrine of hell, refusing the inerrancy of scripture, as well as fearlessly repealing the gospel message that Jesus bore God’s wrath for us (along with a large number of other false teachings which this author mentions) is surely an attempt to create a new gospel, different from the one preached by Christ and the apostles. Though it is doubtful Jersak's newest book will appear on the shelves of a Lifeway Christian Bookstore, it is nevertheless likely that this blend of teaching has already made it’s way to a church near you. 

 

Therefore, at all times, we must remain vigilant in our guarding of the message of the truth, even when it comes to us in the form of an appeal to more adequately appreciate God’s wonderful grace. By God’s tender keeping, may we be preserved from the enemy’s trickery in this harrowing hour. And may we stand always for the true grace of God, convinced that by it we have our soul’s salvation. 

 

Conclusion

 

In conclusion, the greatest gift humanity has ever received is the unmerited favor and grace of Almighty God. As a recompense for no intrinsic goodness or purity of our own, Christ bravely died to set a captive people free. Yet the worst of all end-time deceptions is not the return to legalism and works. Rather, it is, as the apostles warned, the perversion of the free gift of the grace of God. (see 2 Pe 2:19; 3:16; Ju 4) ⧉  

 

——————

 

End Notes:

 

[1]. Achieving the Impossible; Lewis Gordon Pugh; Simon and Schuster; Great Britain, 2010. 

[2]. The 5-Minute Interview: Lewis Gordon Pugh, Independent, 22 December 2005. 

[3]. ibid. 

[4]. ibid. 

[5]. A More Christ-Like God, Brad Jersak, Plain Truth Ministries, Pasadena CA, 2015, pg. 159-160.

[6]. Love Wins Video Promo, Rob Bell; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQlDOP49J7Y.

[7]. A More Christ-Like God, Brad Jersak, Plain Truth Ministries, Pasadena CA, 2015, pg. 16.

[8]. see book recommendations for A More Christ-Like God.

[9]. The Problem of Hell, Brad Jersak; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDxWVd5ZBe8.

[10]. ibid.

[11]. Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, S. Kierkegaard, trans, and ed. H. V. Hong and E. H. Hong (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1978) 6:557. 

[12]. ibid. 

[13]. A More Christ-Like God; Brad Jersak; Plain Truth Ministries, Pasadena CA, 2015, pg. 214.

[14]. The Canon of Scripture; F.F. Bruce; InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois. 1988. pg. 209. 

[15]. A More Christ-Like God; Brad Jersak; Plain Truth Ministries, Pasadena CA, 2015, pg. 214. 

[16]. ibid. 

[17]. The 5-Minute Interview: Lewis Gordon Pugh, Independent, 22 December 2005.

[18]. Brad Jersak: The Toughest Questions About God and Jesus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQmS_PdBfRU.

[19]. ibid. 

[20]. ibid.

[21]. A More Christ-Like God; Brad Jersak; Plain Truth Ministries, Pasadena CA, 2015, pg. 122.

[21]. A More Christ-Like God; Brad Jersak; Plain Truth Ministries, Pasadena CA, 2015, pg. 125.

[22]. A More Christ-Like God; Brad Jersak; Plain Truth Ministries, Pasadena CA, 2015, pg. 119-120.

[23]. Four Views on Hell; Walvoord; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992, pg. 19-20.

[24]. Washington Post; “Billy Graham warns of fire and brimstone in ‘final’ book”; Adelle M. Banks; October 2nd, 2015. 

[25]. A More Christ-Like God; Brad Jersak; Plain Truth Ministries, Pasadena CA, 2015, pg. 262

[26]. ibid. 

[27]. The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel; C.F.W. Walther; Concordia Publishing House; Saint Louis MO; 1928, pg. 122.

[28]. ibid. pg. 121. 

 

 

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