By / Sep 20

God is love. Christ demonstrated God’s love by laying down his life for us while we were still his enemies. Theology helps faith become understanding as we explore the details of this life-giving love in the doctrine of the atonement, which, as we study it, helps us be increasingly transformed into a loving people. Let’s consider what a theologically fueled love actually looks like. The combination of the biblical testimony and Christian wisdom seems to point toward a three-directional love—love of God, love of others, and a healthy love of self.

Love of God 

First John 4:19 tells us that the direction of our love for God and God’s love for us has a clear pattern: “We love because he first loved us.” In fact, the Scriptures teach us that God loved us even before the foundation of the world (Rom. 9:11; Eph. 1:4–6). God’s love for us enables our love for God.

What’s more, in the contemplation of how God displayed his love for us, we might find the fuel needed to love God in return. It is the preeminent joy and responsibility of Christians to love God. As the greatest of all the commandments, we set our affections Godward, and our pilgrimage takes us from one degree of love to another for this God who has ransomed our wayward souls. 

Love of others 

In his book The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis depicts the danger of loving another and the vulnerability that comes with it. 

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Lewis is of course correct. To love our neighbor is a dangerous endeavor. Loving our neighbor often involves a necessary inconvenience, as we lay ourselves down for the good of our neighbor. It is often easier to love the idea of “mankind” without bothering to love our actual fellow man. Yet the chorus of “one another” commands in the New Testament—to love one another, look after one another, mourn with one another, bear one another’s burdens, etc.— demands that we actually step into the messy particularities of our neighbors’ lives.

While entering into the joys and burdens of our neighbors might be exhausting work, it is worthy work. Theology can help us. As we set our minds on how the Lord loves us wayward sinners, we find more than enough impetus to get out and love our neighbors. When our mind’s eye catches a gaze at just how great God’s love is for us, love will move us. Love will move Christians to adopt the fatherless, to feed the hungry, to nurse the sick, to pursue the lost, to insist on kindness, and to count our neighbor as more important than ourselves.

Love of self

I have a gravitational pull toward self-criticism and self-hatred. I’ve spent hours in prayer and in counseling rooms to work against the intense inward pull toward critical self-analysis, but it still resides within me. I know I’m not alone in this fight against the flesh. As a pastor, I’ve heard of countless Christians who struggle with self-worth and a healthy sense of self-love.

Of course, in our world it’s easy to take a nuanced and careful understanding of love for oneself and let it devolve into selfishness or self-centeredness. That error of pride is not what we are after here. Instead, there is a place in Christian wisdom for a healthy measure of love for yourself, and theology might be one tool we can use to pursue this form of Christian maturity. 

God created all things and called them “good,” but when God created man and woman, he called them “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Humans are made in the image of God, and by virtue of our Creator, there is something innately good about us. While sin has tarnished all we see and experience, and while our transgressions have taken much from us, our sin cannot take away our status as those who bear the image of our Creator. Moreover, the command to “love our neighbor as ourselves” implies that we have a healthy measure of self-love. Christians can grab hold of theology to gain a right-sized view of who they are—which is one riddled with sin and corruption but also one treasured and redeemed by God. In the tension of life as a sinner and a saint, there is a place for theologically informed love of self. 

Love, the leading virtue 

It was by no mistake that love leads the list of virtues that make up the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Love is central to both the great commandment and the Great Commission. In that one word—love—we see the fulfillment of the law. So then, while theology can lead to all the fruit of the Spirit, we are right to prioritize love. 

In Colossians 3, Paul exhorts us to “put on” compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. However, just one sentence later he writes, “Above all, put on love” (v. 14). Theology expands our minds; may it also enflame our hearts toward love. As Christians who love truth, may the life of the mind make its way into the life of our soul, helping us “put on love” in all we do.

Excerpted with permission from Fruitful Theology by Ronni Kurtz. Copyright 2022, B&H Publishing.

By / Jan 24

Don’t let the title fool you: The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction is not a pedantic self-help book—it is a clarion call to a life of loving God and loving others.

An anxious pace 

Author Justin Whitmel Earley begins his narrative by describing an experience exactly like my own in my mid-20s: an overachiever, he was living far beyond his means, sleeping precious little, and enslaved to a chaotic calendar (“busyness functions like an addiction”). Without even feeling anxious or stressed, he experienced a full-blown “anxiety breakdown,” complete with panic attacks and a trip to the emergency room. He owed his body an unpayable debt, and his body finally called his bluff. He writes, 

“When we try to be present everywhere, we end up being present nowhere. When we try to free ourselves from the limitations of our presence, we always become enslaved to absence. . . . My life was an ode of worship to omniscience, omnipresence, and limitlessness. No wonder my body rebelled.”

The shock and severity of the breakdown motivated Earley to reevaluate his life, to exchange his hemorrhaging habits for life-giving ones, for “…habits are the water we swim in. . . . Habits are something we do over and over without thinking about them. They shape our world effortlessly. They form us more than we form them—and that’s why they are so powerful.”

A call to purposeful living 

While I typically bristle at books that propose “rules for living” (boiling down intricate complexities into trite tinctures), Earley’s “common rule” doesn’t feel at all like a prescription, but rather a call to eternally purposeful living. In an age where the loudest voice wins, the smart phone perpetually distracts, and we keep frantically busy to avoid facing our inner turmoil, Earley challenges his readers to practice habits of authentic relationship, resting, praying, and limiting our endless choices: “What if the good life doesn’t come from having the ability to do what we want but from having the ability to do what we were made for? What if true freedom comes from choosing the right limitations, not avoiding all limitations?”

He explains that the good life is a life spent in formation (he cites Romans 12:1-2)—formation that results in our better loving God and loving others. The habits he proposes are not ultimately for our self-preservation or success—they are intended to enlarge our hearts for a Godward life of beauty—because how can we ever hope to love anyone well, or have a vision of what is truly beautiful, when we are perennially stressed, exhausted, and distracted? So Earley suggests practicing four daily habits and four weekly habits to curate a whole, undistracted life of love. 

These eight habits include practicing a weekly Sabbath and a weekly fast; beginning each morning with Scripture-before-phone; sharing a meal in community once a day and an hour-long conversation with a friend each week; as well as limiting social media intake. I found myself nodding and smiling at his rationale behind each habit, thinking of how these same “micro shifts have brought about macro effects” in my own life over the past 10 years (to the extent that I’ve practiced them). 

While each of us may flesh out these habits differently, the principles are universally applicable. For example, I wouldn’t personally recommend a routine fast like Earley’s (at least from my own imperfect understanding of God’s intent for fasting as seen throughout Scripture), but we all desperately need Earley’s encouragement to practice limiting our excess, to regularly deny ourselves in order to live more fully. His call to fasting helped me go to God again and ask, “What do you want to say to me about fasting in this particular season of my life?”

These daily, weekly habits are intended to fix our attention (which is “our precious commodity”) on the things that matter, that endure, that benefit those around us. They are a way of displaying God’s good news to our friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and world. Earley writes of the urgent need for us to spend our time well (especially in the area of media) so that we have an opportunity to love the most vulnerable among us:

“I believe a new problem of my generation is the way that (whether right or left leaning) the ever-outraged and always-offended tone of mainstream news sources is making us numb to the world’s pain. When everything is a crisis, nothing is. We think we’re becoming informed, but actually we’re becoming numb.”

This endless stream of media will drown out the quiet cries of the vulnerable unless we curate specifically in order to hear them, to love them, to close our screens and walk out our doors to where they are.

In an age where the loudest voice wins, the smart phone perpetually distracts, and we keep frantically busy to avoid facing our inner turmoil, Earley challenges his readers to practice habits of authentic relationship, resting, praying, and limiting our endless choices.

I’m so grateful Earley didn’t conclude his book without the epilogue, “On failure and beauty.” In it, he freely confesses his own failed efforts at faithfully practicing these healthy habits and thus loving God and others well. I can relate with his failure. I can also relate with his hopeful words:

“Look at me or at any other human being long enough, and you’ll see nothing but a hypocrite. . . . But if you stand next to me and look where I’m looking, then we’ll both see Jesus. He’s the life we want. He’s the life given for us. And the gold of the resurrection inlays all our fault lines. He is the one who lived the beautiful life. He is the one redeeming ours.”

I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions, but I do deeply appreciate the opportunity to look again at the habits that are shaping my days, to make course adjustments where needed, and to fix my eyes on the One who has purposed for me a beautiful life of love. The Common Rule has helped me to do just that, which makes it a book I will refer to and recommend for years to come.

By / Jan 7

What is the Wheaton “same God” controversy about?

On December 10, 2015, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, an associate professor of political science at Wheaton College, posted a photo of herself on Facebook wearing a hijab along with a lengthy post in which she said, in part,

I don't love my Muslim neighbor because s/he is American.

I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity.

I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor because we are formed of the same primordial clay, descendants of the same cradle of humankind–a cave in Sterkfontein, South Africa that I had the privilege to descend into to plumb the depths of our common humanity in 2014.

I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.

But as I tell my students, theoretical solidarity is not solidarity at all. Thus, beginning tonight, my solidarity has become embodied solidarity

As part of my Advent Worship, I will wear the hijab to work at Wheaton College, to play in Chi-town, in the airport and on the airplane to my home state that initiated one of the first anti-Sharia laws (read: unconstitutional and Islamophobic), and at church.

On December 15 Hawkins was put on paid administrative leave by Wheaton “in order to give more time to explore significant questions regarding the theological implications of her recent public statements, including but not limited to those indicating the relationship of Christianity to Islam.”

Was Hawkins put on leave because she wore a hijab?

No. According to Wheaton, “Contrary to some media reports, social media activity and subsequent public perception, Dr. Hawkins’ paid administrative leave resulted from theological statements that seem inconsistent with Wheaton College’s doctrinal convictions, which she voluntarily agreed to support and uphold when she entered into an employment agreement with the College, and is in no way related to her race or gender.”

How did Hawkins respond to the questions?

Hawkins sent a letter dated December 17 to the provost Dr. Stanton L. Jones outlining her views. You can read the entire letter here.) As part of her response she wrote:

I am guided by evangelical theologians like Timothy George, John Stackhouse, Scot McKinght, and Miroslav Volf, as well as the post-Vatican II Roman Catholic tradition, as expressed in both encyclical form (e.g. Nostra Aetate 3.1) and Pontifical writings (e.g. John Paul II, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope”). Like them I acknowledge that the statement “we worship the same God” is a simultaneous “yes” and “no” to the question of whether Christians and Muslims (as well as Jews) turn to the same object of worship, namely, the “God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:6).

The College requested further theological discussion and clarification, but Dr. Hawkins reportedly declined to participate in further dialogue about the theological implications of her public statements and her December 17 response.

What was Wheaton’s response to Hawkins’s letter?

On January 4, Provost Jones delivered to President Philip Ryken and to Dr. Larycia Hawkins a Notice of Recommendation to Initiate Termination-for-Cause Proceedings regarding Dr. Hawkins.

Does this mean that Hawkins has been fired?

Not yet. Wheaton says the Notice is not a termination, but merely begins Wheaton College’s established process for employment actions pertaining to tenured faculty members.

How has Hawkins responded to the Notice of Termination?

On January 6 Hawkins held a press conference to give her response to the Wheaton announcement:

I am flummoxed and flabbergasted by the events of the last two weeks . . . Wheaton College cannot intimidate me into cowering in fear of the enemy of the month as defined by real estate moguls, senators from Texas, Christians from this country, bigots, and fundamentalists of all stripes.

See Also: What’s Wrong with Wheaton? by Daniel Darling and Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God? A Response to Francis Beckwith by Andrew Walker

By / Nov 25

The Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony weren't the first Europeans to settle in North America, nor were they the first permanent English colonists. But because of our annual celebration of Thanksgiving, and our hazy images of their 1621 meal with Native Americans, the Pilgrims have become the emblematic colonists in America's national memory. Although modern Thanksgiving has become largely non-religious—focused more on food, family, and football than explicitly thanking God—the Pilgrims' experience reveals a compelling religious aspect of our country's roots.

Although people often refer to the Pilgrims as "Puritans," they technically were English Separatists, Christians who had decided that the state-sponsored Anglican Church was fatally corrupt, and that they should found their own churches. (The Puritans, who would establish Massachusetts in 1630, believed in reforming the Anglican Church from within.) Establishing independent churches, however, was illegal. Under heavy persecution, some Separatists decided to move to Leiden in the Netherlands around the same time that the Virginia Company founded Jamestown in 1607.

The Netherlands offered the Separatists religious liberty, but the Pilgrims also became concerned about the negative influences of living in such a culturally diverse society. So in 1620, 102 settlers sailed to America on board the Mayflower. Their final Old World port was Plymouth, England, which supplied the name for their new settlement in what became southeastern Massachusetts.

All adult men on board the ship signed the "Mayflower Compact," which many consider the first written constitution in American history. It is a very brief document, but it powerfully articulated the colonists' commitment to God and government by common consent. It reads, in part:

"Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation."

Documents such as the Mayflower Compact leave little doubt that the New England colonies were founded primarily for religious purposes.

The Compact noted Plymouth's legal connection to Virginia (they shared the same charter), but their southern neighbors were less motivated by religion than were the New England colonists. Some today may exaggerate the secular nature of Virginia, however; among the first laws of that colony was a demand that the people honor God, to whom they owed their "highest and supreme duty, our greatest, and all our allegiance to him, from whom all power and authoritie is derived." The recent news that the foundations of the oldest Protestant church in America have been discovered at the site of the Jamestown fort also reminds us of the southern colonists' faith.

Although our records for the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth are sparse, we do know that in 1621 the Pilgrims held a three-day celebration with allied Indians, in observation of a good harvest and in gratitude for God's help in passing through the trials of the first year of settlement (half of the settlers had died in that scourging winter). And yes, they had a "great store of wild turkeys" to eat for the festival.

The American colonies, particularly in New England, continued the tradition of holding thanksgiving days into the Revolutionary era, when the new American nation also picked up the practice. The Continental Congress and American presidents, beginning with George Washington, regularly proclaimed days of thanksgiving. In 1789, the first year of his presidency, Washington declared that the last Thursday of November would be a "day of public thanks-giving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God."

Thanksgiving became an annual holiday in America during the Civil War, and Congress made the fourth Thursday of November an official national holiday in December 1941, shortly after America's entry into World War II.

Thanksgiving historically was about "thanks-giving" directed to God. This is an instructive lesson, not only for better understanding our history, but also for curbing the temptation to make Thanksgiving into a holiday of over-consumption. The Pilgrims remind us that Thanksgiving is not all about turkey and touchdowns.

By / Nov 12

Russell Moore shares thoughts from the Mount of Olives overlooking the Temple Mount

By / Aug 21

In one of his famous dialogues with the Pharisees Jesus skillfully appealed to creation norms to trump the part of the Mosaic Code that permitted men to divorce their wives for frivolous reasons.

Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate. . . . Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery. (Matthew 19:4-6, 8-9)

Here Jesus intertwined the teachings of Genesis 1 and 2 to tie marriage indelibly to the ordering of human beings as male and female, an ordering that was itself indelibly tied to God's purposes for sexuality and procreation. By linking the sexual relationship between male and female introduced in Genesis 1 to the one flesh union introduced in Genesis 2, Jesus pronounced judgment on all legal engineering that would reduce marriage to something else (in the case of Matthew 19, an opportunity for men to treat women like slaves).

It was a powerful argument and one that played no small part in elevating natural law as a fundamental concept in Christian ethics. Calvin used the “hardness of heart” argument to explain numerous parts of the Mosaic Law that he found lacking. The ultimate standard for Christians, he pointed out, is the natural moral law that stems from creation, not the various stipulations of the Torah.

Others have appealed to creation norms to critique slavery, various forms of oppression, sexual immorality and environmental degradation.

Can we appeal to creation to defend same-sex marriage?

And yet here is the rub. Christians have also appealed to nature as justification for racial segregation. Others have used it to defend social patriarchy. Now some are beginning to appeal to creation to defend same-sex marriage.

The question is, how do we determine the moral meaning of creation? How do we determine the content of natural law?

Surely we can rule out a few forms of argument.

1. We should not be gathering ethical norms from the ways in which animals interact. It makes little moral sense to say, “if chimpanzees do it, why can't we?” There are fundamental differences between humans made in the image of God and animals.

2. We should not be slavishly imitating the ways of life of the first human beings. It makes little sense to argue that if Adam and Eve walked everywhere they went, so should we. We can accept the accomplishments of culture and technology.

3. We do not have precisely the same obligations that were given to the first human beings in Genesis 1-2. For example, Genesis says that God rested on the seventh day and declared it to be holy. Deuteronomy 5 presents this as the basis for the sabbath law that was so central to the covenant with Israel. But Paul declares that Christians are no longer bound by a sabbath day (Colossians 2), and even most Christians who believe in a new covenant sabbath emphasize that it no longer falls, as it did at creation, on the seventh day of the week.

4. This last point is very important. Christ has fulfilled the purposes of creation, and it is in him that we now seek our own participation in that fulfillment. Christian ethics does not look backward — as if the goal were to try to get back to creation — but forward, toward the fulfillment of creation in Christ.

Is the natural law relevant?

But does that mean that creation, or the natural law, is no longer relevant?

Jesus' teaching regarding the nature of marriage, like Paul's various appeals to creation, remind us that the order of creation remains, even though it must now be interpreted in light of the work of Christ. So the task at hand, when wrestling with matters like human dignity as grounded in the image of God, the call to be fruitful and multiply, the call to work, the command to exercise dominion, the institution of marriage, and the meaning of gender, is to determine how we fulfill the purposes of creation in light of what Christ has done and is doing.

Yet this can be tricky. For, how do we tell the difference between the sort of fulfillment that entails the transcendence of a certain dimension of the creation order (i.e., the sabbath day) even as it continues to be fulfilled in more meaningful ways (i.e., resting in Christ, worshiping God, etc.), and claims about fulfillment that amount rather to a contradiction or nullification of the creation order?

These latter claims can take various forms, but they invariably embrace dimensions of the fall into sin and integrate those dimensions into a new, corrupted understanding of creation. Is this not what we see in forms of patriarchy that exploit women, defenses of social systems that idolize racial segregation, and visions of cultural progress that run roughshod over the environment?

Christians wrestling with whether or not God is calling us to affirm homosexual relationships within the church need to work through these basic questions.

Does it transcend or distort the created purpose?

It is one thing to say that the work of Christ points us to the fulfillment and transcendence of marriage, procreation, and gender, a logic that leads to a new appreciation for the significance of celibacy within the Christian tradition (1 Corinthians 7). After all, Jesus himself said that in the kingdom there will be no marriage (Luke 20). Those who choose to be celibate therefore anticipate the fulfillment of creation's own purposes. Those who devote themselves to bonds of love that transcend sexuality anticipate the future communion of all in God.

It is another thing entirely to say, as some are saying, that we may therefore do with marriage, sexuality, and gender whatever we desire. To engage in sexual intercourse without a willingness to accept the children God may provide (if our birth control fails, for instance) is to turn a basic purpose of sexuality on its head. Do we not do the same when we seek sexual gratification through practices fundamentally different from what sex actually is and was intended to accomplish according to the design of creation? This is not transcendence or anticipation of future fulfillment, but distortion of created purpose. It does not direct people to the renewal of creation in the coming kingdom of God. It drives them back to the hopelessness of corrupted and fallen creation.

It is true that in Christ there is no male or female, just as there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free (Galatians 3). But this points us to the transcendence of sexuality in the communion of Christ, not to its distortion. Because we still live in that time between the two ages, inhabiting the tension between the already and the not-yet, we can anticipate that communion only by forming bonds of love while abstaining from sexual activity or by entering marriages oriented toward the purposes of the created order that nevertheless reflect the love between Christ and his church.

By / Aug 21

All people are created in the Image of God and that changes everything. It changes how we view and interact with others, as well as the issues that we care about as believers. Every lives matters because every life is created in the image of God.

By / May 26

Where did feminism start? ERLC's Lindsay Swartz sits down with Courtney Reissig to discuss her newest book The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God's Good Design

By / May 6

Dan Darling interviews Joe Rigney about his book "The Things of Earth" and why we should enjoy what God has made.

By / Apr 13

If you know anything about the TV show Parks & Rec, you know that Ron Swanson loves bacon. In a brief clip, he attempts to order all the bacon and eggs at a diner. Concerned the server will misunderstand him, he says “Wait, I’m worried what you just heard was, ‘Give me a lot of bacon and eggs.’ What I said was, ‘give me all the bacon and eggs you have.’ Do you understand?”

Ron Swanson’s concern that his order would be misunderstood reminds me of a similar concern I have about evangelical approaches to Israel’s conquest of Canaan. There’s a danger that we reinterpret God’s call to Israel to “completely destroy” the Canaanites in Deuteronomy 13 and 20 as hyperbole for simply defeating their enemies.

In his order at the diner, Ron Swanson wanted to be clear that he demanded all the bacon and eggs. In his call for Israel to war against the Canaanites, God wanted to be clear that he demanded the life of all of them. If anyone had a heartbeat, whether soldier or man or woman or child or livestock, it had to be stopped.

Why is it that evangelicals often seem to misunderstand God’s command to “show no mercy” to the Canaanites as simply an instruction to “kill a lot of bad guys?” Could it be that the reason we often sanitize the violence of the Old Testament is because we don’t understand why it is necessary to the biblical storyline?

When we understand the four reasons God commands violence in the Old Testament, it frees us to rightly understand Israel’s conquest of Canaan.

1. The violence of the Old Testament preserves the messianic bloodline. The seed of the woman; the offspring of Abraham; the prophet like Moses; the greater Joshua; the son of David: in all these ways, God promises to maintain a lineage that would bring forth a messiah. The violent scenes of the Old Testament show us the way that God preserves the promise of messianic deliverance that drives the Old Testament.

In other words, if the enemies of God ultimately defeat the people of God, then the promise of God will fail. If God doesn’t protect his people from their enemies, then the line of Jesus is cut off, and there is no salvation. If not for the violence of the Old Testament, then, you and I are headed toward hell right now.

2. The violence of the Old Testament purifies the people of God. A primary reason that God calls his people to defeat his enemies is so that the surrounding nations do not lead Israel astray through idolatry and sin. God knows that his people will join others in sin if they do not beat them first.

This call to purity is precisely why we see a pattern emerge in the violence of the Old Testament. While God fights for his people in their faithful obedience, he fights against his unfaithful people in their sinful rebellion. Victory for the pure; defeat for the impure. Exodus for the faithful; exile for the unfaithful. It’s not until the perfect life of Christ that a new Israel comes as the only faithful One of God and achieves the ultimate crown of victory.

3. The violence of the Old Testament prophesies the judgment of God. As God’s people conquer God’s enemies in victory, it declares to the surrounding nations that Yahweh is the rightful ruler of the universe. And when God’s enemies conquer God’s people in defeat, it declares to Israel that rebellion, even by God’s people, is worthy of judgment.

The violence of the Old Testament signals a real-time foretaste of an end times reality for everyone: those who reject the King will receive his wrath. The Old Testament enemies of God received the military judgment of God in conquest. All those who are outside of Christ will receive the spiritual judgment of God in hell.

4. The violence of the Old Testament patterns the atonement of Christ. In the cross and resurrection, we see the convergence of the Old Testament’s holy war pattern. Jesus is the conquering messiah who God fights for in victory because of his faithful obedience. But Jesus is also the substitutionary wrath-bearer who God fights against in judgment because he takes on our sinful rebellion.

At salvation, we are united to Christ so that he grants us the victory we don’t deserve and bears the penalty we owe. Covered by the righteousness of his shed blood, God sees Christians as his faithful people who he enables to find lasting victory in spiritual warfare by the power of the Spirit.

Ron Swanson had a reason to be concerned the server at the diner would misunderstand his order for all the bacon and eggs: it seems unnecessary and even outrageous that anyone would demand that much food. There’s the same risk that we will misunderstand the violence of the Old Testament: it seems unnecessary and even outrageous that God would demand that much conquest.

But if we understand the violence of the Old Testament in light of the unfolding kingdom central to the biblical narrative, it will allow us to recognize how this bloodshed preserves God’s messiah, purifies God’s people, prophesies God’s judgment and patterns Christ’s atonement—providing us with the hope we all desperately long for.