October 16, 2014

The love, the whole love, and nothing but the love!

by Lyndon Unger

Last week, I was on holidays and spent 4 days driving with 2 toddlers.  They did astonishingly well, and while people slept I kept my mind going by listening to some sermons and catching up on the various issues of news/scandal in conservative evangelicalism.  On the way to our destination, I was catching up on the Kirk Cameron exposé/witch hunt that was happening, and on the way back I listened to the “Calvinism Exposed” message by Ron Vietti of Valley Bible Fellowship in Bakersfield, CA.  Ron Vietti warned his congregation that everyone would come after him, and people did respond to him (like here and here).  In a picture, this basically sums it up:

Hindenburg

The video is gone from their Youtube page since it was meant to be up for one week (according to their Facebook page), but it’s in their extended archives.  Nothing really disappears on the internet.  There’s also a copy posted here, for those theological masochists out there who want to attempt to stomach it.

It’s not my intention to respond to the video (beyond the above picture), except for one single point.  In the video, there’s the standard Arminian drumbeat of “God is love”.  At around 44:12 in the video, this statement is made:

“God would rather die than to be without us, and that is the most beautiful picture of our God that you could ever paint, and that is the image that I want all of you as believers to have of God.  That  he loves you so much he would rather die so that you could be with him for all eternity. He loves you.  He loves you with an everlasting love. Amen?”

Yup.  That’s the image of God that I find in the Bible.  He’s so lovesick that he’d rather die than be without me.

Yikes.

Now God is definitely not some suicidal teenager stalker, but the “God is love” idea is still in the Bible, right?

I mean, 1 John 4:8 says that “God is love”.  That much is certainly true.

The problem arises when 1 John 4:8 is utilized by Arminians to attempt to suggest that God has one attribute that is his main attribute (love), and it’s almost always used as part of a logical argument to suggest something that is questionable, or simply unbiblical (i.e. goes against the clear teaching of scripture).

1+1 equals potato

The standard example that I encounter is a logical argument that goes something like this:

1.  God is love (1 Jo. 4:8)

2.  God wants all men to be saved (2 Tim. 2:4)

3.  Therefore…God cannot have chosen a particular people for salvation!

 Now I’m not using the previous example to suggest that Ron Vietti (or anyone else) actually said that per se, but I only use that as an example and would like to point out a clear and obvious fact:

God is not Love.

Woah.

Wait a minute.

1 John 4:8 says “God is love”.  Am I suggesting that isn’t true?

No.  Not for a second.

It’s true.

What I mean is that the phrase “God is love” does not mean that “God is only love”, or “God is mainly love”, or “God is ultimately love”.

What I mean is that God has numerous attributes, and love is among them.

Consider what else God “is”:

1.  God is merciful – Deut. 4:31

2.  God is mighty – Job 36:5

3.  God is great – Ps. 70:4

4.  God is righteous – Dan. 9:14

5.  God is true – John 3:33

6. God is Spirit – John 4:24

7.  God is one – Rom. 3:30

8. God is faithful – 1 Cor. 1:9

9. God is light – 1 John 1:5

 That’s not a complete list, but the idea is clear enough.  God isn’t just love, and love isn’t his principal or defining attribute.

But wait!

Some readers might immediately want to point out that I missed a rather obvious attribute!

pee-wee

What about holiness?

Now it is true that if one word were used to describe God, it would be “holy”:

– God repeatedly describes himself as “holy” – Lev. 11:44-45, 19:2, 21:8; Is. 43:3; Hos. 11:9

– Human beings who know him intimately describe him as “holy” – Josh. 24:19; Ps. 99:9; 1 Pet. 1:15

Those who know him best, the cherubim/seraphim that continually surround his throne describe him as “holy, holy, holy” – Rev. 4:8

– God’s not “love, love, love”.  He’s “holy, holy, holy”.  The triple repetition of “holy” is emphatic, meaning basically “among all that are holy, God is holy.  Then, among those holy ones, God is holy among them.”  He’s the holiest one out of the holiest ones out of the holy.

– That’s pretty holy.

 But, holiness isn’t really an attribute in the regular adjectival sense.  It’s actually a categorical qualifier of his other attributes.  To be “holy” means to be “set apart/categorically separate” or “to be in a completely different category”.  So, when we say that “God is love”, we can also say “God is holy in his love”.  This means that God does not possess the attribute of love in the same way that anyone else would possess love.  When it comes to love, God is completely in a league of his own; he’s holy in his love.  Comparing God’s love to the love of anyone else is to compare two things in completely different categories.

Deathviolli

Let me explain a little further.  The Bible says that God is “holy in righteousness” (Is. 5:16), which would be an example of holiness qualifying one of his attributes.  Though men may have some measure of righteousness, God’s righteous is in a completely and utterly separate category.  In other words, there is no real comparison between God’s righteousness and ours.

So God is love, sure, but that’s definitely not all he is.  He possesses all his incomparable attributes in equal measure and doesn’t elevate his love above any of his other attributes…even his justice and wrath.

Lyndon Unger

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Lyndon is a pastor/teacher who’s currently between ministry work and in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Witness Protection program. If you think you saw him somewhere...you didn’t.
  • Mr. Mike

    Mr. Unger, my brother…none of your other postings have ever equaled this one and no future posts will either. So, you can retire now to wherever bloggers who are in the CMBWP retire to. You have scaled the spiritual Everest, flown solo across the Atlantic, and walked on the moon all at the same time. Your image ( well, what we THINK you might look like) is secured on the blogger Mt. Rushmore. It’s a shame that we end up with our faces in the dirt as we come to realize the Holy, Holy, Holiness of God when that’s where we should have started.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks Mr. Mike. You’re not the guy who owns the restaurant, are you?

      http://www.mrmikes.ca/

      Just curious. I was going to commend you on your steaks!

      It is true: much of the Arminian/Calvinist debate would be sorted out if people stopped anthropomorphizing God and let him tell us what he’s like.

      • Mr. Mike

        No sir, I don’t own a restaurant. But I do own the copyright to “Mr. Mike.” So, I see some free steaks in my future.

  • I had to read all the way to the end to find “justice” and “wrath”. 😉 So many people only believe He has the “nice” attributes but indeed He is a vengeful God as well. That’s typically the difficult ones for non-followers of Christ to swallow. But I do think we should start with all the wonderful attributes first – because if we “get” those, we can then understand that actually the “justice” and “wrath” are wonderful as well…….they have their place in His perfect plan. Thanks Lyndon, as always!

    • Lyndon Unger

      You’re welcome Melissa! I agree that it’s a good idea to discuss the “positive” attributes of God first (mostly because they’re the easiest to stomach), but we definitely should neither ignore his “negative” attributes nor remove them from his “positive” attributes.

      As people of truth, we should want to know God as the fully rounded being that he truly is.

  • Brad

    Great points! As a minister who is on mission, I have noticed that holding love and wrath together in the relationships I have is probably the most difficult part of ministry (both in how I relate to others and how I tell others about God). It is a constant tension! I’m so thankful for the gospel and the spirit and the gifts God’s spirit gives!

    • Lyndon Unger

      Brad, I’m curious as to what you mean by saying “holding love and wrath together in the relationships I have”?

      How does wrath enter into your relationships?

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  • Zachary

    Calvinist/Arminian debate aside, suggesting “God is not love”, no matter supposed context, is false. Love is not separate from any of the divine attributes, it is at the center of them all. Love is the reason for Hell.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Well, I’d love to see an exegetical defense of how “love” is God’s central attribute (say, above his wisdom, patience, longsuffering, jealousy, kindness, etc.). If I’m wrong, I’d love to be put in my place.

      I don’t delight in misunderstanding God.

      I could argue that God’s wrath is the reason for Hell, but I could also argue the same of God’s justice, patience, kindness, wisdom, etc. Every single attribute of God, if properly understood, “is the reason for Hell”.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    Besides being a christian in Hollywood–a death defying act by itself–what’s this Kirk Cameron “expose/witch hunt” you refer to? Sorry to plead ignorance (others gladly do that for me), but my plate is full just trying to keep up with the latest deception and/or obfuscation by this administration. It’s a full time job, but someone has to do it.

    • Lyndon Unger

      It has to do with his new Christmas movie; some folks have gotten worked up about the content of the movie and/or his choices in marketing approaches.

      It’s not really worth seeking out if you don’t know about it, especially if your plate is full. I was only catching up with it to keep from falling asleep while driving for 10+ hours.

      There’s more than enough other non-issues to get worked up about!

  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    After watching that video by Vietti, I find it hard to believe he’s even reading the same Bible.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Yeah. He’s reading the same Bible, but I don’t think he knows how to handle the text of scripture beyond a shallow and surface reading…at least on this issue.

      Guys like Vietti are the reason why so many folks become Calvinists; people are rebellious sinners and don’t like to be told “no touch”. Then, when they go out to see what the fuss is about, they realize that guys like Vietti are either lying or out-to-lunch in rather glaring ways. Then their curiosity is piqued and all of a sudden, people start studying the Bible, overturning abysmal scriptural interpretations they’ve been told to believe their whole lives, and become Calvinists.

      Guys like Vietti don’t seem to understand that they’re the ones throwing gasoline on the fire that they’re trying to put out.

  • MVF

    It was GOD’s love & compassion towards us that drew us to HIM & then HE turns around & commands us to love one another as HIS witnesses. He even tells us 3 things will last forever but the “greatest” out of them will be LOVE which is his very essence.

    John 3:16Amplified Bible (AMP)
    For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten ([a]unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.

    1 John 4:11Amplified Bible (AMP)
    Beloved, if God loved us so [very much], we also ought to love one another.

    John 13:35Amplified Bible (AMP)
    By this shall all [men] know that you are My disciples, if you love one another [if you keep on showing love among yourselves].

    1 Corinthians 13:13Amplified Bible (AMP)
    And so faith, hope, love abide [faith—conviction and belief respecting man’s relation to God and divine things; hope—joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation; love—true affection for God and man, growing out of God’s love for and in us], these three; but the greatest of these is love.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Yup. I agree with everything you said:

      – Nobody is suggesting that God doesn’t possess the attribute of love.

      – Nobody is suggesting that God isn’t motivated to action by his love.

      – Nobody is suggesting that God didn’t love the world in sending Christ.

      – Nobody is suggesting that God’s love is the model of love that Christians should emulate.

      – Nobody is suggesting that Christians shouldn’t be loving.

      – Nobody is suggesting that Love will outlast hope and prophecy.

      Nothing you’ve said establishes the idea that God’s main and defining attribute is love.

      • MVF

        God’s love is qualified by the other attributes you mentioned. GOD’s love is perfect. Gal 5:22-23 It’s Funny the fruit of the spirit start with Love & end in Self-control. I will start with love in my response to your reply by saying “I love you Lyndon Unger with the love of my Lord Jesus Christ. GOD’s love should be enough for each of us. I will end my response to your reply in self-control with this statement

        1 Timothy 6:20Amplified Bible (AMP)
        O Timothy, (((MVF))) guard and keep the deposit entrusted [to you]! Turn away from the irreverent babble and godless chatter, with the vain and empty and worldly phrases, and the subtleties and the contradictions in what is falsely called knowledge and spiritual illumination.

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