Love and judgment are not opposites. Love and indifference are opposites. Those ideas are well-known but still worthwhile to state. Connecting love with judgment helped me work through some of the theological obstacles I had when I was a younger Christian (i.e. the “how can a loving God judge people” ones).
Still, there is much more to be dealt with. I am re-reading Broughton Knox’s The Everlasting God. He brings up a slightly different way to help someone understand judgment, connecting it with creation and purpose.
Here is a sampling of quotes from his section on judgment (pgs. 36-41):
“Creation implies purpose. In contrast, impersonal evolution is purposeless – things happening by accident without plan. But creation is a personal activity of an almighty, supreme God. Personal action implies purpose, and this in turns implies assessment. The doctrine of judgment is closely related to that of creation.” (37)
“Thus the gospel that contains judgment, and salvation from judgment, is a gospel that is always relevant to the hearer, no matter what state of civilization he may have attained. Such a gospel does not need to be assimilated to the culture of the people who are hearing it.” (39-40)
“A gospel that minimizes or omits judgment must concentrate on this life and benefits that Christ brings for this life. Most modern preaching, whether liberal or evangelical falls into this mistake. The liberal preacher may emphasize a social gospel, for example, one of alleviation of poverty or political oppression; the evangelical may emphasize a happy life, love, joy and forgiveness.
But the Christian gospel is concerned with the future. It proclaims Jesus who rescues us from the wrath to come. When hearers accept the gospel for the benefits of this life, such as peace and happiness, it is a contradiction to ask them to suffer for the gospel. The whole purpose of their accepting the gospel was for some present benefit which they had been offered by the preacher. This presentation and acceptance of the gospel of Jesus Christ for the benefits it brings here and now may well be the explanation of why it is that although evangelical Christianity is growing, for example, in the United States, Christian influence on society is receding.” (pg 40-41)
A few observations:
- Establishing the story of a people in a purposeful creator/creation relationship, as Two Ways to Live does so well, seems to be the way to assimilate this “no-assimilation-needed” gospel. Are there other ways or variations on the theme that you have found true to the above ideas?
- By connecting creation/purpose with judgment, are we making an unintended statement about God and his ability in creation? (i.e. “God is surely not a very powerful, or good, or able, etc. creator if this world is his handiwork”)
- With that, will the conversation inevitably trace down the road towards predestination and, among other places, Romans 9?
- His observation about preaching the gospel towards this world’s benefits or felt needs is spot on. Just this last week, I’ve heard at least two mature Christians recount talks to non-Christians about the essence of Christianity. Their talks were all about self-fulfillment and inner peace. Those may not always be there. Future judgment will.
- I haven’t heard a better concise explanation of how and why Christianity can grow but have a lessening effect on society.