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:
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.
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).
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.
Wait a minute.
1 John 4:8 says “God is love”. Am I suggesting that isn’t true?
No. Not for a second.
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.
Some readers might immediately want to point out that I missed a rather obvious attribute!
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.
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.