Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Review of A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel by Bradley Jersak

A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel by Bradley Jersak
352 pages, Published April 22nd 2015 by CWR Press

“What is God like? Toxic images abound: God the punishing judge, the deadbeat dad, the genie in a bottle-false gods that need to be challenged. But what if, instead, God truly is completely Christlike? What if His love is more generous, his Cross more powerful, and his gospel more beautiful than we've dared to imagine? What if our clearest image of God is the self-giving, radically forgiving, co-suffering Love revealed on the Cross? What if we had 'A More Christlike God'? – Goodreads description

This book is about atonement theories, but not really. It’s really about what God is like and how beautiful the Gospel really is. The default atonement theory of most conservative evangelical churches in America is the legal/penal-substitution theory. Jersak pushes back against this, arguing for a more ancient, more authentic and more Orthodox view. He refers to it as the healing or therapeutic view, but it is also known as the Christus Victor view of the atonement. Jersak argues that the therapeutic view is more consistent with the picture of God we see revealed in Jesus, who is God incarnate.

The book is divided into three parts. In part one, “What is God? Competing Images of Will and Love”, Jersak addresses the different images we have of God and proposes that our vision of God should be shaped by Jesus and the cross. He begins deconstructing the notion of a wrathful, angry God in this section. He traces the development of this wrathful picture of God from Augustine through John Calvin to Jonathan Edwards, to John Piper. Jersak insists that we must interpret scripture through the lens of Jesus. And when we do, we see a God defined by self-emptying (kenosis), self-sacrificing love.

In part two, “The Cruciform God”, we dive deeper into what this Christlike God looks like, especially in light of the cross. This is his cruciform hermeneutic and view of God: love, as revealed in Jesus on the cross, is God's primary characteristic which defines and constrains every other aspect. He describes "consent" as an essential part of love. God gave us free will and consents to allow us to rebel against him and reject him. He refuses to use power to enforce his will because he values love and consent more than getting his way through force. Instead, the God of love comes in the form of Christ, who goes willingly to the cross where he is crucified. Jersak says “cruciformity and kenosis… describe God’s divine identity—not just what he is like, but who he is” (120).

Part three, “Unwrathing God”, applies this view of God as non-coercive, cruciform, and kenotic, to dive into the problem of “the wrath of God”. Jersak talks about “unwrathing” God, not by ignoring the word, “wrath”, but by understanding better what it means. Jersak explains wrath as metaphor for the natural pain and consequences of sin that follows when we do not consent to God’s will in our lives. Jersak writes,
"the Bible itself takes us on a progressive, cruciform pilgrimage from primitive literal understandings of wrath, where God appears to burn with anger and react violently, to a metaphorical reading of wrath, in which God consents--gives us over--to the self-destructive consequences of our own willful defiance." (185)
Again, Jersak defined wrath not as the vengeance of an angry God, “but as the process of perishing under the curse and decay of sin.” He goes on to say that God “unwrathed us! He freed us from sin's slavery and unwrapped us from death. How? By wrathing Jesus in our place? No! By becoming one of us and, as Jesus, overcoming wrath by his great mercy!" (263)

The last chapter of the book takes a closer look at the "beautiful gospel" and even gives practical tips for sharing it with others. Jersak summarizes a presentation originally called “The Gospel in Chairs” and now titled “The Beautiful Gospel” (Jersak’s presentation of this is available on YouTube as this that by his colleague Brian Zahnd). Two chairs are used to symbolize humanity and God. In one version of the gospel, God turns away from humanity when humanity turns from God. In the “beautiful” version, God never turns away but only awaits the return of human beings. This presentation of the gospel brought tears to my eyes as I was reminded all over again of how beautiful the gospel really and truly is.

I love the way Brad Jersak points us to Jesus over and over again, and I love the gift he has for taking complex theological issues and making them accessible to everyone. And I wish everyone would read this book!

I’ll leave you with a few of the last quotes I tweeted:
"Christ did not come to change the Father, or to appease the wrath of an angry judge, but to reveal the Father."
"Jesus was saving us from Satan, sin and death; not saving us from God."
"The gospel is this: when we turn away, he turns toward us. When we run away, he confronts us with his love. When we murder God, he confronts us with his mercy and forgiveness."
Brad Jersak's website
A More Christlike God website
Buy A More Christlike God on Amazon

(Thank you Netgalley for a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review.)

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