QUICK HIT: In A More Christlike God, Bradley Jersak seeks to eliminate the violent imagery of the atonement and replace it with other metaphors and analogies found in Scripture. While he does well in reacting to some of the abuses of penal substitutionary atonment, he reacts to one extreme of interpretation with another, ignoring his own arguments and advice in the process.
This is a heady book. I spent about a week reading through it, digesting it, arguing with it, rejoicing over it, and disagreeing with it. Overall, I like the argument that Jersak brings forth and am in complete agreement with his overall structure. But unfortunately, he reacts to the toxic imagery of God in another extreme, whizzing past a balanced view and in the process ignoring his own arguments.
Let me explain. The first part of the book is some of the most brilliant writing on the Christian concept of God that I’ve ever read. His chapter “Freedom or Love? Competing Values in Western Culture” is a magnum opus on the problem of treating freedom as the highest value.
He writes: “While Christians once saw true freedom as a blessed byproduct of living according to virtues revealed by God, we now frequently see freedom as living the values we create without hindrance. (p. 54)”
Jersak encapsulates the issue perfectly and goes on to highlight how viewing God as a God of freedom (over love) messes with our concept of God.
Part two sets up his “Christlike God,” or what he terms a “Cruciform God.” Again, Jersak is completely on point, writing about the cross as divine consent and participation and even offering an anti-theodicy of the Cross. It’s a strong argument for a loving God that builds upon the introduction of part 1.
But part 3, titled “Unwrathing God” is where Jersak tips too far in the other direction. In the two chapters entitled “Unwrathing the Cross,” Jersak discusses various theories of atonement and makes the case that each of these are stories or metaphors that apply on some level to the concept of salvation.
However, due to his desire to unwrath God, he goes too far and essentially denies the courtroom imagery of justification seen throughout Scripture. He spends the entirety of part three in an attempt to unwrath God, ignoring verses throughout Scripture that speak directly of God’s justified wrath. In other words, he acknowledges all the metaphors for salvation that the Bible offers save the one that is used and abused the most.
Is God a God of wrath or isn’t he? Jersak appears to answer with a definitive no. But Scripture has a different story. Scripturally, God’s wrath is a necessary result of his holiness. Paul writes that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness (Rom. 1:18). Because he is holy, God must feel strongly about sin. He cannot overlook sin forever, it must be punished.
Jesus Christ, on the cross, took the punishment that you and I deserved. That’s a strong metaphor for salvation. And it holds up. This doesn’t mean God is angry or petulant or violent. This doesn’t give us a fire-and-brimstone God who gleefully damns people to hell. This portrays a God who sacrifices himself for his beloved.
And Jersak misses this because he is too busy overreacting to the violence in the imagery. Let me state things this way. We as Christians can get to a point where we seem to revel in the violence. That should never be the case. But the violence and the goriness of it all should shock us into a realization of the cost of salvation.
Overall, I would still give this book a solid four stars. Even in the areas where I disagree with him, Jersak argues his case well and I do understand his rationale.