Certain ideas and phrases make their way around evangelical circles that are both so innocent, and I believe so harmful to the health of the church. This theology of love, I have heard it put that people are "John 3.16 Christians". What is a "John 3.16 Christian"? When I hear this explained it is usually a rebuttal to Calvinistic election with the phrase "For God so loved the world..." This is their plea. "God loves the whole wide world, so you're wrong Mr. Calvinist man!" This seems to be what a "John 3.16 Christian" is.
While I could use this for a chance to say how, as a Calvinist I am a "John 3.16 AND the rest of the bible Christian", the point of this blog is about this weird fixation with what people do with this idea that God loves us. Let me say this right now. As a Calvinist, I believe God loves everyone, and I ALSO believe God died for everyone. This does not negate the fact that I believe God especially loves his children, and that God particularly died for his children. Now I will get to a few problems I have with this John 3.16 theology of love.
People take the gospel, a gospel where God indeed did love sinners bent on hell and death enough to condescend to become like us, take on our infirmities and sin upon Himself. While we were sinners and hated God as the world does (for we were in the world before he called us out of the world), he chose to die in our stead and conquered death by rising from the grave. He did this all in order to redeem us and give us life we could never earn and do not deserve. Christ himself said this sacrifice is the greatest love. I have seen many people, and sadly many pastors, translate this to "God loves you, and you are valuable to God so he came to die for you in order to save you from your sin." They usually don't neglect sin, they just emphasize God did everything he could to save you, and suddenly this great and life changing gospel of the glory of God slowly starts to become an encouraging message about how awesome you are and how much you are loved.
This was verified today when I heard the explanation of why God hates sin. At work today I heard about a friend's pastor that demonstrated that God hates sin because it hurts us using the analogy of a parent hating the things that hurt their children because they don't want their children to get hurt. This is true, to a degree. The church is the bride of Christ, and by right through adoption heirs to the kingdom of our Father. Our great Father does love us, and he doesn't want us to be hurt through sin. He actually died that we may not feel the sting of death and the weight of our guilt. It is not untrue to use the analogy provided by my friend's pastor, but it is incomplete and not the focus of the scriptures. The Psalmist again and again offers the argument that our sin's are forgiven and that he guides and protects us for the glory, the very name, of God. The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel also share the same focus with the dealings of God on behalf of man, and the great pastor of love also says the same in his epistle. The scriptures are filled with the idea that all of creation, and the great act of redemption, is about the business of the glory of God.
We are very prone to make the story of God about ourselves. We are so prone, as was the case in the fall from paradise, to put ourselves in the place of God. We are a creation that loves ourselves. We are obsessed with ourselves. From Joel Osteen to Rick Warren, this gospel message is about us and how we can have a better life, in fact, a purpose driven life. It doesn't just end with the best selling celebrity pastors. This human focused love permeates almost every facet of Evangelicalism in various forms. Everything from our self esteem and encouragement to the pragmatic self help in every aspect of our personal and spiritual lives fill our Christian bookstores. You may not find anything about the supremacy, majesty, holiness, glory, transcendence, or any other quality or attribute of God, but there's a plethora available of emotional pick me ups and self esteem placebos. Why don't I believe in self-esteem? Well, for starters, nothing about us is inclined toward good, we are sinners and enemies of God. This is our condition, and it is in spite of this that Christ died. In fact, we are commanded to love our enemies without cause precisely because God does. Our value on this earth is only the value Christ has bestowed upon us it is Christ's value and not our own. Having an honest, realistic, view of ourselves is quite depressing. This is precisely why the gospel being about the great and marvelous work of God for his own glory and because of his amazing love is so valuable. The focus being on God and not ourselves is precisely what makes the gospel good news!
This John 3.16 mentality annoys me for another reason. I wonder how many of these "John 3.16 Christians" would be so happy to claim to be a John 6.36 Christian? How about a John 6.56 Christian? What about a John 15.14 Christian? John 15.18 Christian? Let's take it to another gospel and try Matt 16.24 Christian? What about a Matt 19.21 Christian? Why people must actually claim to be a single verse Christian when, giving them the benefit of the doubt, they don't mean what they say is beyond me. The scriptures are vast and have many ideas, concepts, principles, and commands. The scriptures cannot be dissected and taken piece by piece at the neglect of others. No one should claim to be defined by a single verse, nor any part of the bible for that matter. We are defined by Jesus Christ himself. We should be defined by Christ and known by love. We should have our eyes fixed upon the cross and not ourselves. We should be sharing the gospel of the glory of God, and not the gospel of the preciousness of us. Evangelicals, I believe, don't have anything but the best of intentions in trying to relate to people but it's about time they realize that it is not our craftiness, or even our compassion and sympathy, that change hearts. Hearts are changed and lives transformed by the power of the gospel and God himself. But I guess it's so much more comforting when it's all about us...