Pam BG has brought up again an issue which was discussed here several months ago, that some Christians are preaching that “God hates sinners”. She has mentioned this initially, I think, in some comments on John Meunier’s blog, and has also brought it up in a comment on her own blog and in several comments on mine. I will dignify this important issue by giving it a post of its own.
This is what Pam originally wrote on John’s blog:
I’ve recently done some research into atonement theory and there is definitely a divide in the current on-going debates.
It’s a divide between those who say that God’s primary characteristic is love and those who say that God’s primary characteristic is holiness. The former is, in my view, much more biblical.
Those who think that God’s primary characteristic is love believe that God hates sin and loves sinners (e.g. Steve Chalke and Tom Wright). Those who think that God’s primary characteristic is his holiness believe that God hates sin and hates sinners too (e.g. John Piper and books written by various individuals at Oak Hill College in the UK).
Those who think that God’s primary characteristic is love see the Gospel message as ‘The Kingdom of God is coming. God’s justice will reign in his kingdom.’ Those who think that God’s primary characteristic is holiness think that the Gospel message is ‘The sins of individual people are expiated through the propitiating work of Christ.’
I think that these views are almost irreconcilably different. I also think that ‘God loves sinners and hates sin and calls his disciples to a life of justice in the Kingdom’ is both a biblical message and a message that is historically in line with Methodism.
Here is my reply, edited with my later clarification:
Pam, is it possible to believe that both holiness and love are God’s primary characteristics? In fact holiness is certainly primary in the sense of having been revealed first, in the Hebrew Bible, and repeated in the New Testament.
But I certainly believe that God loves sinners. Anyone who denies that is denying John 3:16 and, I would judge, denying an essential point of the Christian faith. So basically I agree with you here – although we may not fully agree on which particular types of activity count as sin, i.e. what God hates.
Pam also made a claim that
Piper and the authors of ‘Pierced for Our Transgressions’ – as examples – do explicitly state that God hates sinners. ‘PFOT’ also states that it is God who damns people and who creates their punishment. These concepts were stated in so many words in their books, but you do have to dig for them!
I questioned, in comments my own blog, whether Piper has in fact stated this explicitly. An anonymous commenter on Pam’s blog took this further:
I have read John Pipers books and he has NEVER said God hates sinners as well as sin.
Has this person in fact read every word Piper has ever written, and listened to every one of his sermons? Clearly not – see below. The only person who could say such a dogmatic “NEVER” is Piper himself. But I think that when Pam actually did the digging she referred to she could not find evidence for her claim, as later she largely withdrew it, on her own blog and on mine, although not as yet on John Meunier’s. On her own blog she wrote:
To be transparent, Piper said that the work of the cross is to change God’s attitude from ‘completely against us’ to ‘completely for us’. On p. 184 [which book, Pam?], Piper writes that the purpose of the atonement is that God, as our Father, might be completely for us and not against us forever.
In reply to this I wrote that, even if Piper may not say “God hates sinners”, his friend Mark Driscoll certainly did, as I discussed here a few months ago. As reported by Alastair Roberts (see also Adrian Warnock’s report of the same sermon), Driscoll said
Here is what propitiation is: GOD HATES SINNERS. You’ve been told that God loves the sinner but hates the sin. No he doesn’t: Ghandi says that, just so you know, he’s on a totally different team than us.
What would Piper say to that, I wonder? Would he still “not have .001 seconds hesitation in having Mark Driscoll come back tomorrow to our church or our conference”?
But in fact if Pam digs a bit deeper she will find what she is looking for. Michael Bräutigam from Germany, commenting on Justin Taylor’s blog, offered this quote from John Piper, which in fact comes from a 1985 sermon on Piper’s own website:
Yes, I think we need to go the full Biblical length and say that God hates unrepentant sinners. If I were to soften it, as we so often do, and say that God hates sin, most of you would immediately translate that to mean: he hates sin but loves the sinner. But Psalm 5:5 says, “The boastful may not stand before thy eyes; thou hatest all evildoers.” And Psalm 11:5 says, “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates him that loves violence.
Michael also quotes Calvin, but finds in him a much more carefully nuanced message:
Before we were reconciled to God, he both hated and loved us.
Maybe that is a better way to say it. But better still, in my opinion, is the way it is put in words misattributed to Gandhi, who apparently did not use the word “love”:
Hate the sin, and love the sinner.
Driscoll may have been unaware of this, but in fact these words apparently come from the great Christian writer Augustine, centuries earlier, who, according to Wikipedia with a citation from Migne’s authoritative Patrilogiae Latinae, wrote:
“Love the sinner and hate the sin” (Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum) (Opera Omnia, vol II. col. 962, letter 211.), literally “With love for mankind and hatred of sins “
Yes, “love the sinner and hate the sin” should be our attitude because it is also God’s attitude as demonstrated to us by Jesus.