Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Pittsburg Gym Shooter's Theology

What I'm about to do is unfair. No doubt about it. But I'm going to do it anyway, because it's something that I've said for a very long time - for years, actually. I have long claimed that proclaiming a view of the atonement which says that Jesus died for each and every sin of every single person is destructive. Now, I have proof, plain as day.

Earlier this week, George Sodini fulfilled a year-long plan by shooting up an aerobics class and killing 4 women, plus himself. This was a horrible event. One disturbing aspect is the blogs that he left behind, detailing his mental state and even his plan of what he was going to do. The blog is a disturbing read because it is seemingly that of a rational (at least seemingly) man who lived a purposeless existence and knew it. Throughout his writings, one finds many of his self-justifying reasons for what he is about to do. At one point early on, he mentions that at his church they teach that God will forgive any and all sins - even mass-murder. A few months later, days before carrying out this despicable act, Sodini writes the following:
Maybe soon, I will see God and Jesus. At least that is what I was told. Eternal life does NOT depend on works. If it did, we will all be in hell. Christ paid for EVERY sin, so how can I or you be judged BY GOD for a sin when the penalty was ALREADY paid. People judge but that does not matter. I was reading the Bible and The Integrity of God beginning yesterday, because soon I will see them.
I would say that the problem is that he never had the lordship of Jesus Christ preached to him, but he may have. The important part, which he latched onto was the proclaimation which he repeatedly received that Jesus died for all of his sins. When you tell people that all of their sins are forgiven, when you tell them that Jesus died for their sins, and you evangelize them based on the fact that Jesus died for their sins and that person decides not to respond to the message of the gospel, you stand a chance of them remembering someday that Jesus already died for their sins. The proclamation that Jesus covers your sins before they even respond to the gospel is, in my opinion, dangerous. Now, it's not the fault of the Hypothetical Universalists that George Sodini was a psychopath, I just found it profoundly interesting that he remembered Jesus' universal atoning sacrifice days before killing 5 people and then taking comfort in that. Let the hate-mail begin.


  1. Remember what Peter preached in Acts 2. By your sins, you have crucified the Lord Jesus Christ. Repent of your sins and be baptized in His cleansing blood and be forgiven of all unrighteousness.

    It is like Paul clearly states in Romans 6. If you think you can sin all the more because Christ forgives all of your sins, you are not a Christian.

    The tragedy is that he will stand proudly and boldly before the God and Lord and King of the universe and He will be boldly declare, "It says that you will forgive all of my sins."

    Christ's response, "Only if you were mine."

  2. I thought many of the same things as I was reading his comments about Christ yesterday. So sad that he thought he could trust in Christ. 1 Corinthians 6 may have given him pause, had he read it. Thanks for the post.

  3. Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?

  4. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Our theology has practical implications. Thankfully not all the implications of false teaching are as tragic and as graphic as this man's appears to be.

  5. I'm not so sure "hypothetical universalism" has anything to with it. It's not that the killer got the atonement wrong so much as (to put it systematically) the relationship of sanctification to salvation. To this guy's mind, Jesus' death was not only a propitiation but an expiation. That's not what "hypothetical universalists" believe…

    Nor does a hypothetical universalist evangelize on the basis of God's forgiveness of an individual's sins. He recognizes that God, through Christ, was appeased in his wrath against a rebellious cosmos (1 Jn. 2:2), which has enabled, as it were, the very proclamation of the gospel. And of course the proclaimer has no clue who God will call out of darkness into his marvelous light, thereby expiating his sin and rendering the atonement finally and fully efficient for that individual of the ekklesia.

    But even for them, while they were yet sinners, Christ died…, etc.

  6. Chris,

    Can you spell out for me what you mean by "appeased in his wrath against a rebellious cosmos?" What do you mean by appeased? Who or what is the cosmos? Did this really happen or is it only hypothetical?

  7. Sure. Propitiation, biblically speaking (not like the fickle gods of pagan culture), has to do with the appeasement of a holy God's wrath. It is about God accepting the sin offering of his son, Jesus, sufficiently for all people, without distinction. It is about God and what he has done for the sake of the universal call and the eventual restoration of his creation. Expiation, on the other hand, is more about the sending/clearing away of another's sins (do you think this is an unnecessary bifurcation?).

    So, in 1 Jn. 2:2 (cf., Jn. 1:29; 1 Jn. 4:14), for example, we see that, universally speaking, God's wrath against a fallen and rebellious world ("world" in John never means what Boettner, et al., want it to) has been appeased. Yet of course the efficacious benefits of this appeasement (i.e., expiation) have not been unless or until a person comes to faith in the resurrected Lord (John discounts this universalistic notion in the very same epistle, 5:11–13). How else has God decided to postpone the final judgment, instead mercifully calling all to repentance? He has instead staid his hand (through the propitiation of the Messiah) in this time between the times, "for the Lord does not count slowness…," etc. So, today, God's appeasement via Christ is potential (i.e., sufficient and without distinction for all people) but on the final day it will be clearly revealed who the Lord knows (i.e., to whom its effectiveness has been granted through faith in Christ).

    This thread might elucidate further what I'm getting at.

    But all this is really beside the point of this post: the Pit-murderer's false hope stems more from the easy-believism of American Christianity than any sense of "hypothetical universalism."

  8. Chris,

    I am still unclear what you mean by "the appeasement of a holy God's wrath." Let me ask a few questions that will help me understand where you are coming from. What does appeasement mean? What is the result or outcome of this appeasement? What was/is God's goal or purpose for this appeasement?

    Also, I agree with your final point, but I do think a false view of the atonement can (and perhaps does) lead to this "easy-believism."

  9. Well, it's much easier to say what it doesn't mean, Josh (i.e., not universally efficaceous). What it does mean is indeed a little harder to flesh out (and the 1 Jn passage hardly gives us a clue). That said, I'd prefer living with the tension than eradicating it for the sake of neatly wrapping up a particular system of thought (which potentially does violence to the text).

    Regarding your questions above, (1) appeasement in this context (1 Jn 2:2) has to do with God accepting the death of the Messiah as a sin-offering potentially for the entire (evil) world, without distinction; the result of which is (2), in this time between the times, the staying of God's hand of judgment upon the world, thereby enabling the universal proclamation of the gospel; and thus his goal (3) is to pave the way for the reconciliation of all things to himself (Col 1:20)—and those who have faith in the risen Christ along with that.

    Paul basically says the same thing in Rom 5:18. The apostle's "universalism" is the kind that holds out Christ as the way for all. The righteous act of the cross of Christ 2,000 years ago paves the way for the final judgment. What was accomplished on the cross will be shown to have been effective on the final day (i.e., all "hypotheticals," "potentialities," etc., will be wrapped up once for all).

    Certainly a false view of the atonement can inform if not lead to easy-believism. But hypothetical universalism is not a false view (even if I'm not fully convinced of it, scholastic pedantry that it appears to be); it's couched well within the Reformed tradition, as Muller points out. ;-)

  10. Much clearer this time. Thank you. You are a very clear writer which make correspondence with you very easy. But you have left me with a few new questions. What is the object of God's wrath that is stayed? How long is this "staying" for? Does God have wrath of the sins of people? If so, where and when is the wrath for the elect's sins dealt with?

  11. In order to demonstrate a causal relationship you will have to make the necessary correlations far more significant that what you have here done. I happen to know that many people who commit horrendous crimes are known in their community as "quiet and unassuming," hard to believe that such and such "could have done such a thing". These comments are often said of pedophiles. Using your logic then it is sufficient for me only to establish a correlation such that all "quiet and unassuming" folk are pedophiles. The absurdity, of course, is obvious. So is this point you are making.

  12. Macoman,

    Thanks for posting. Could you please post your real name for us? We do not allow anonymous posting. Once you do that we would love to respond to the substance of your comment.

  13. Just to be clear, I never said Hypothetical Universalism was the cause of this man's actions:

    "Now, it's not the fault of the Hypothetical Universalists that George Sodini was a psychopath, I just found it profoundly interesting that he remembered Jesus' universal atoning sacrifice days before killing 5 people and then taking comfort in that."

    Chris, I think your point that "easy-believism" was the real culprit here is right. At least theologically. I mean, the man was truly a psychopath, so his deranged mind was the main reason why this happened.

  14. LOL! Josh, you probably just called out R.C. Sproul or something! LOL


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