Book Review:

“Ten Things I Learned Wrong from a Conservative Church”

by John Killinger

Second wrong teaching:

God is a Great Moral Judge,

and Therefore Jesus Had to Die for Our Sins

Killinger introduces this chapter by stating: “Conservatives, I have found, live primarily in the Old Testament” (p. 34). His assertion is that the God of the Old Testament cannot be the God of the New Testament. The God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath and judgment, while the God Jesus speaks of is a God of love and mercy. Conservatives emphasize sin and God’s judgment of it, and they must go to the Old Testament to support that thinking. But is that really the case? The New Testament is full of God’s judgment upon sin. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived” (1 Corinthians 6:9). Similarly, Jesus said: “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). The message of the Law can be found in every book of the Bible.

On Jesus’ Sacrifice for all Sin:

His real problem is with sin and God’s prescribed way of dealing with it. Killinger writes: “I grew up with heavy doses of what I later learned to call “penal theology,” or theology emphasizing God’s inviolable sense of justice and the death of Jesus as satisfaction of the legal payment for our sins. ... I know that the theology of atonement appeals to people who carry around a strong sense of personal guilt” (p.35).

Killinger admits that there is a “strain of penal theology in the New Testament” (which he thinks is limited to Romans and Hebrews in the New Testament) but then goes on later to say: “Did God require Jesus to die for the atonement of the world? No, certainly not in any literal sense. ... Some of Jesus’ enthusiastic followers might later add that spin to the meaning of His death. But Jesus really died the way many of his followers have died, standing up for what they believed...” (p. 38-39).

The Scriptural teaching of Christ’s vicarious atonement is an essential part of God’s message of salvation. Without it there is no salvation.

        Isaiah 53:5-6; Matthew 20:28; Romans 3:25; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Galatians 3:13; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 2:24

On Total Depravity:

Killinger also denies the Biblical teaching that all human beings are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).

“To assume, as many conservatives do, that Calvin was right and that even infants are besmirched by sin and must be covered by the blood of Christ for salvation is a terrible thing. It is one thing to speak assuredly of human depravity, as Paul does when he says that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. But it is quite another thing to use those words of his, as conservatives do, to paint human nature in the very worst of terms, as though we were all inwardly cankered and worthless.” - p. 38

The Bible clearly teaches from beginning to end that human beings are inherently sinful.

        Genesis 8:21; 1 Kings 8:46; Psalm 14:2-3; 51:5; John 3:6; Romans 3:22-23; Galatians 3:22

On the Nature of God:

“The God I heard about there was a pain in the ass, if you’ll pardon the expression. He was jealous, imperious, demanding, inflicting, peevish, and resentful. He was powerful, but he was also mean and vengeful, and never really overlooked or forgot one’s sins. Even if he was said to forgive them through the blood of Jesus, there was always the implication that they were written down in a great book somewhere and would be brought out at the most embarrassing moment, like some family skeleton trundled out by a malicious uncle just when the bishop had come to call” (p. 41).

What a sad and one-sided view of God! While God is jealous, demanding and inflicting (Exodus 20) when it comes to sin, this is not because He is mean and vengeful, but because He loves His children. God’s actions are described as that of a loving parent towards a wayward child (Hebrews 12:5-11). Even in His actions of calling for the destruction of nations in the Old Testament His love can be seen as He protects His people and brings about His promise for salvation.

What’s more, God does not use our sins against us as human beings might. There are several passages in Scripture where the final judgment is described as books of our works are opened. “And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (Revelation 20:12). But these and other related passages always contrast believers and unbelievers. Those who know Jesus as the Savior, have turned to Him in repentance, and trust in Him for forgiveness have no need to worry about what is written in those books. Sin does condemn, but forgiveness through Jesus is full and free for those who trust in Him.

        Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 43:25; Jeremiah 31:34; Micah 7:18; Luke 7:48; Hebrews 10:17; 1 John 1:7

On His view of Scripture:

Killinger has a very narrow and biased view of Scripture. He doesn’t like the Old Testament because it is judgmental, harsh and outdated. He feels that the epistles and the Gospel of John are full of lies about the real Jesus, and only the other three Gospels really should be considered as valuable (although they have serious problems as well).

Regarding the necessity of Jesus’ death to remove sin for us, Killinger states: “We can do a lot better than that, and should in a world that has passed through several new cultural periods since then” (p. 48).

Regarding the Gospel of John, he says: “The Fourth Gospel [is] the most fictional and contrived of all the Gospels. The author of this Gospel did not write the life of Jesus; he rewrote it. He took the salient materials of the other Gospels and added a special twist to create a sublime narrative about a God who became man in order that men might become God – or at least live with God. ... Does this mean the Fourth Gospel is untrue? No. Fiction is often truer than life. But does it mean that we are bound to the fictionalism of this Gospel for the facts of our theology? By no means. ... To some extent, the same is true of all the Gospels, and certainly of the rest of the Bible. We read them and hear them read to us. They help to form the environment of our souls, to create an atmosphere in which we live and move and have our beings. But only the conservative mind restricts them to being truthful and factual, and fails to regard them as music by which to dance and revel and live one’s life” (p. 39-40).

        Do the other three Gospel fail to speak of Jesus as God? Hardly. Consider the following verses: Matthew 1:20,23; 14:33; 16:16; 20:28; 26:28; 27:54; Mark 14:24, 61-62; Luke 2:11; 20:41-45; 24:52.

If God is not a moral judge, and if Jesus did not make the full payment for sins, then there is no such thing as sin and we are on our own. Paul offers a nice rebuttal to such false notions: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:23-26).

Note: This study was prepared for the Bible Class at Zion Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville, Georgia by Pastor Nathanael Mayhew.

If you would like more information about this study,
please contact Pastor Mayhew