Brad Jersak

the interview

Brad Jersak On Why Christians Are Being Led Astray By An Inaccurate View Of God

Jul 03, 2017 by Will Maule

Brad Jersak is a Canadian author and teacher. Through his books and seminars, Brad seeks to share the good news that God is love, perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ. In his book A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel, Jersak argues against the view that God is literally wrathful and compelled to punish. He instead suggests that the gracious and loving character of Jesus Christ demonstrates to us that God is, in fact, all-loving, ever-forgiving and in relentless pursuit of us all with holy love.

HelloChristian.com caught up with Brad to ask him some questions about his contentious theological assertions. 

So, Brad, how did this book first come about? Why is it so important?

Brad: "The book distills years of research, and I wanted to boil that down to something accessible that any thoughtful people could read. You don't have to be a scholar to understand it," he says.


"I feel the book needed to be written for two main audiences. First, it is for Christians who are abandoning their faith because they hold toxic images of God in their minds, and now they are rejecting that God." 

"But I'm saying, ‘You don’t need to reject God because he’s not like what you think!

"Second, this book is for people who don't know God yet—for people who say, 'I don't want to know God because he is so angry, exclusive and violent—like the Christians who represent him.'" 

"He's not like that!" Jersak again highlights. "The God is revealed in and by Jesus Christ is perfect love. Jesus showed us exactly what God is like."

So why do people have such a different view of God than the one you are suggesting?

 

Brad: "We all have different views of God. Some streams of the Christian Church have moved towards a more violent God because they need Him to be violent to justify their own violence."

Jersak's book, however, details the view of God as held by the East Orthodox Church. "This book was reviewed by Orthodox Theologians to make sure it was in the alignment of their vision of God," he says.


Obviously, there are many who do not share Jersak's view, but "there are 350 million Orthodox that do," Jersak quips.  

"But I want to share that in both the West and the East, historic Christianity has not always believed that God is violent, wrathful and exclusive."

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"Beyond the historical considerations, we also all have personal reasons to hold a particular image of God. Sometimes these are projections of our own fear or anger."

"We must understand that Christ is our exquisite guide to understanding the true character of God." 

What are some of the other central themes you explore in your book?

 

Brad: "The book is about the way Jesus Christ alone perfectly reveals the nature of God, as infinite love."

"As we narrow down our image of God through the lens of Jesus Christ, we see that image come into clearest focus on the cross. On the cross, Jesus Christ unveils the nature of God as 1. Self-giving 2. Radically-forgiving 3. Co-suffering love ."

"When we begin to see God that way, that informs our whole lives; the way we read the Bible, the way we do ethics in the world, what it is to walk as followers of Jesus."

So, if God is divinely revealed through Jesus Christ on the cross, it raises other questions. "What is God's wrath about?" asks Jersak, asserting that many have dwelt on this one characteristic of God. "The historic Church knows God only as love," he says. "As Hebrews 12 teaches, we ought never think of the judgements of God as anything other than the corrections of a loving Father." 

Isn't the wrath of God a bit more than that?

Brad: "Biblical wrath not only represents the fierce love of our heavenly Father for us. It is also a metaphor for those consequences that occur in the shadow I create when I turn from the light of God’s love,” argues Brad.

"When I turn away from God, he doesn't turn away from me. I create a shadow, and whatever happens in that shadow, the consequences of my actions, are sometimes called ‘the wrath of God.’ It is not that God is literally harming the sinner—judgement is intrinsic to the sin. For example, God does not kill the addict who dies of an overdose. It’s the abuse of the drugs that is fatal. God’s part is to warn and to save.”

And what about all the Old Testament examples of God's wrath?

 

"We'd need a bit more time to get into that," Brad chuckles. Nevertheless, he gives it a go.

"We are not welcome into the Old Testament without Jesus as our Rabbi," Jersak declares. "When we read the Old Testament, as Dr. Peter Enns says, we need to understand that God let his children tell the story. But then he sends his own Son to show us the fullness of who God is, and to correct misunderstandings.

“As John 1 says, 'No one has seen God at any time, but God the only Son, who was in the bosom of the Father—he has made him known.’ "

Brad references the story of James and John asking Jesus if they can call down fire on the cities that are not welcoming their ministry. "Jesus rebukes them," says Brad. "He says, "you don't know what spirit you're of!"

"Jesus questions what spirit they are calling on to invoke violence and destruction. That's one example of when Jesus challenges the way we read the Old Testament." 

Jersak also cites John 10:10, and says that Jesus is crystal clear in identifying the source of destruction. It is the thief who comes to "steal and destroy,” not God. Jesus (God incarnate) came to give and restore life, and that abundantly.


"So, when you see stealing, killing or destroying, that's the thief—it's not Jesus. And it’s not his Father: Jesus is our perfect revelation of the Father."

So, because Jesus would not have committed the violence seen in the Old Testament, must we assume it did not really happen?

Brad points out that we can never separate God into the angry Father and kindly Son. We are still, after all, monotheists. Any time we separate God's character from the person of Jesus, we've entered "formal heresy in terms of the historic Christian Church who defined what heresy is."

"We only have one God, and the Bible says that one God has been revealed in Jesus Christ."

"If you say the Father is the angry one and the Son is the kind one, we don't have one God anymore!"

"Jesus says that he and the Father share that one divine identity: love." 

So, what does this mean for the cross of Christ? Didn't God pour out his wrath on the Son of God, so that we might be spared? 


Brad: "I used to believe that. At one time, I was a 5-point Calvinist," highlights Jersak. "The New Testament itself unraveled that for me. I saw how we had to twist the scriptures to make them fit our system. I was not comfortable with that anymore."

"Again, if you have the Father pouring out wrath on the Son, you've entered the heretical realm. The Son becomes something that the Father is not. If we imagine the Father cannot look upon his Son without pouring his wrath on Him, we've severed the Trinity."

"We have to go back and remember we worship one God in three indivisible  persons."

"That one God is not accountable to a higher God called righteousness, justice or wrath. He is accountable to his own essential nature which is love."

Jersak believes that the common misconception lies in a misinterpretation of Jesus' cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Was the Father literally turning His back on Jesus?

"Christ was quoting Psalm 22," argues Jersak. "The whole Psalm prophesies his crucifixion and resurrection. It includes 'they pierced my hands and my feet' and 'they divided my garments among them. Christ, in crying out this song, reveals that he is experience the full depths of the human condition."

Brad says you must read on in Psalm 22 to the point where the “afflicted one” testifies that God “has not turned his face from him” (vs. 24).

"It cannot be more clear than that!" he exclaims.

So, are millions of believers completely misunderstanding the crucifixion of Jesus?

 

"I think so. It's tragic."

Brad thinks that the idea God "has to punish" is to say that "God can't forgive until he is paid off." 

"No," says Brad. "He's not being paid off so he can forgive. He is free to forgive." 

"He pardons our sin. He forgives our sin. If he has to be 'paid' then it is not forgiveness."

Jersak believes that the "need to punish" comes from us. "We need to punish, God doesn't need to," he asserts. 

 

So, it wasn't God that murdered Jesus, but it was us?

 

"Yeah. Where is God on Good Friday? God is on the cross!

Zechariah 12 tells us that Yahweh says, "They will look on ME, the One they have pierced." Jesus is God. We must keep remembering that. Somehow we've made Jesus less than God when we imagine only his humanity on the cross. Jesus never ceased to be God."

Then what is God's response to the crime of murder?

 

"Forgiveness," says Brad. "Christ prays, 'Father forgive them,' and the Father answers through the Son, "It is finished...accomplished." 

These are big theological revelations for you to have in your walk with Christ. How does this affect your daily life?

Brad: "We will always become like the God we worship. If we need a God who punishes, we will bepeople who need to punish."

"When I look at the cross, it says no to vengeance. It says no to violence. I see empathy and compassion and it transforms me."

"My best testimony to that would be watching my own children. As we raised them with this model, I see the mercy of Christ in the very foundations of who they are. I see them show mercy, turn the other cheek and they are quick to forgive. That stands out in their lives and character. Their friends notice it." 

"That's the fruit of this."

In his book, Brad also discusses the whole idea of reconciliation with God in our everyday lives. Many hold the view that if we turn towards God, he will turn towards us (James 4:8), and others think that if we turn away from him, he may neglect or even punish us for that. 

But Brad fundamentally disagrees with this understanding. 

Brad: "What I used to believe is that if I turned from God he would turn away from me. And if I turned towards God he turned toward me. So, I'm completely in control of the relationship and God is only reacting. I'm actually directing God’s every movement at that point." 

"I've come to believe that whether you turn towards God or away from God, He's always turning towards you in love. He is forever pursuing you." 

Jersak quotes St. Anthony to illustrate his point, "When someone sins, you don't turn off the love of God any more than when you're blind you don't turn off the sun," he says. "Closing your eyes to the love of God doesn't turn off the light of his love."

"Whether we are faithful or unfaithful, he is ALWAYS faithful—faithful to the covenant of unfailing love that he established forever on the Cross.”  

So, what does Brad think will happen to the future of the Church and the Christian community if they keep believing in a God who poured out his wrath on Jesus at the cross? 


"We will continue to empty the Church and create atheists," declares Jersak. 

Why?

"Because both Christians and non-Christians are now at a place in history where they have come to hate that God or to think it's just silly and unbelievable. In either case, they reject him," says Brad.

"The evidence for this is in America. Some estimate that 85 million people have left the Church since the year 2000. Why? Because they either can't believe in that God anymore, or they do believe but they hate him."

Brad believes that in previous generations you could 'scare' people into the Church by talking about the wrath of God. "Now, people will just walk away in anger, or walk away laughing. But they will walk away. And they are walking away." 

 

But isn't Brad just creating a God that he feels comfortable worshipping?

 

"No, first of all, my problem is not that God is too wrathful for my comfort. What's scandalous to me is that God is not more wrathful! I have a long list of tyrants and evil-doers I'd like him to destroy. But then again, who among us would escape such a God. But more importantly, if we do our theological homework on this," he asserts, "we don't simply compose a God of our own desires. We arrive at this vision of God as perfect, cruciform love and scandalous grace by looking at the person of Jesus in the G ospels. Christ, not our sentiments, provides the perfect image of God."

So, why aren't millions of fellow Christians coming to the same conclusion?

"They are! But still, the toxic images are ingrained in people’s hearts,” argues Brad. He says that when he preaches this message, “people’s faces often contort in discomfort at first, but then something breaks and sometimes tears start shooting out of their eyes. The tears,” he says, “confirm that the good news of God’s love has penetrated their hearts.”

"Yet, as in the days of Christ, others reject grace. I think the gospel, in that sense, is divisive. Religion hates the gospel."

"I don't have an agenda to split churches, or even convert Churches that don't want this message. I just want to register this message, and if it resonates with you, then I'm happy to share it." 

You can get hold of Brad's book, A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel here.

 

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