Some of the neo-reformed (by which, I mean, younger, Baptistic Calvinists influenced by John Piper and Al Mohler), are in an uproar (and really, when aren’t they?) over the decision made by Presbyterian Church (USA) to not include the contemporary hymn “In Christ Alone” in their new hymnal.
It seems that the Committee in Charge of Selecting the Songs We Put in the New Hymnal (this may or may not be its actual name) objected to a line in the third stanza of the song that reads (sings?): “til on the cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied.” They asked the authors of the song, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend if they could have permission to revise the lyric to read (again, sing?), “til on the cross as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.” This revision is a statement of truth, but the songwriters objected and thus the Committee to Pick the Songs that we Sing out of the Hymnal at Church on Sundays (may or may not be its real name) voted to not include the song in its new hymnal. (Personally, I’m pleasantly surprised it wasn’t the title the committee objected to.)
This, of course, riled up the conservative Calvinists who immediately claimed that the PC (USA)’s rejection of this song was a rejection of the God of the Bible. They rushed to applaud Getty and Townend (a songwriting duo that they hope will finally rid Christendom of the Wesleys and their Arminian nonsense) for standing up for biblical truth and not caving into the “left wing, limp wristed, sissy theology that saturates mainstream ‘Christianity’ these days.” (An actual comment left on Denny Burk’s blog).
First of all, I kinda dig “In Christ Alone.” I do have my own problems with the lyric in question, but the rest of it is OK with me.
Second-of-ly, the PC (USA) can put whatever hymns it wants to put in its hymnal. Getty and Townend can refuse to allow people to modify their song if they want, too.
Thirdly, if the PC (USA) has a problem with this lyric and they can’t modify it, they shouldn’t put it in their hymnal. But it’s not just them who should have a problem with the song; the neo-reformed should, too.
They should for a couple of reasons. First, a line in the second stanza goes like this, “There in the ground His body lay/ Light of the World by darkness slain.” Now, I have no issue with this line, but Calvinists should. They should be INFURIATED by the word “by.”
You see, a good Calvinist believes that, while human agents were involved, Jesus was ultimately killed by God. God decreed from eternity past that he would kill his Son on the cross for the sins of humanity. So, if Jesus was killed by God, he certainly wasn’t killed by “darkness.” Darkness didn’t kill Jesus, according to Calvinism, God did. God is not darkness, therefore, this line is incorrect and Calvinists should be in an uproar over THIS.
The second problem should be with the lyric the PC had a problem with, “the wrath of God was satisfied.” I did an exhaustive study of the phrase “the wrath of God” in the Bible with the use of several concordances, commentaries, and the original Greek and Hebrew (OK fine, I did a five-minute search on biblegateway) and discovered something fascinating…
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. (Romans 1:18-19)
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. (Colossians 3:5-6)
who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone 16 in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last. (1 Thessalonians 2:15-17)
6 Out of the templecame the seven angels with the seven plagues. They were dressed in clean, shining linen and wore golden sashes around their chests. 7 Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever. 8 And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed. (Revelation 15:6-8)
If, as Getty and Townend write, that the wrath of God was satisfied on the cross as Jesus died, then what’s all this then? All of this was written after Jesus died, yet these passages still talk about the coming of God’s wrath!
There is a great episode of The Simpsons in which Homer and Marge go to the Frying Dutchman for all-you-can-eat seafood. At some point, the owner throws Homer out of the restaurant for eating too much, and Homer sues him for fraudulent advertising. At the trial, Lionel Hutz asks Marge what Homer did after he was thrown out of the restaurant. Marge confesses that they drove around until 3 a.m. looking for another all-you-could-eat seafood buffet and when they couldn’t, they went fishing. Hutz then asks “do these sound like the actions of a man who has had all he could eat?”
I read these passages in light of the claim that God’s wrath was satisfied on the cross and ask, “do these sound like the actions of a God who has wrathed all he could wrath?”
In my reading, the wrath of God is always connected to sin. Since there is still sin on this side of Calvary, God still stands in righteous judgment against it. If God’s wrath has, indeed, been satisfied (a belief that would require one to ignore all of the Scripture I just quoted), then one must assume that he is no longer wrathful. If God is no longer wrathful, then sin must no longer be a problem. And, if sin is no longer a problem, then there is no need for–wait for it–hell.
What’s the point of hell if God’s wrath is satisfied? These same conservative Calvinists are so adamant in the view of Eternal Conscious Torment in hell that they will write books, and books, and more books against you if you even question this view, are singing a song in which they confess that God’s wrath is satisfied, implying no need for eternal punishment in hell from a wrathful God. In fact, honest Calvinists will confess that God created people for the specific purposes of exercising his divine attribute of wrath and tormenting them eternally in hell. So how could his wrath be satisfied on the cross? IF God’s wrath was satisfied on the cross, then why is he sending people to suffer in hell and how could his wrath be an attribute of his divine self?
Why are they supporting a song that undermines the need for hell? Didn’t they torch Rob Bell for doing just that? Why isn’t John Piper tweeting “Farewell, Keith Getty?”
To be clear, I do affirm that God has wrath and it burns against sin, In light of the whole counsel of the word of God, I do not believe that it was completely satisfied on the cross of Christ and I do not believe that this was the primary reason for his death.
I believe it is possible to affirm God’s wrath and NOT affirm the line in this song.
Finally, I believe that if you don’t affirm that the crucifixion is primarily an act of God’s love (John 3:16, Romans 5:8), then you are doing it wrong.
The line the Committee to Tinker with Other People’s Songs for Approved Use in Our New Hymnal (may or may not be its real name) wanted to use, “the love of God was magnified”, is, I think, superior to the original. The neo-reformed impulse to elevate their view of God’s wrath and hell and penal substitution to a marker of fidelity to true biblical Christianity is causing them to defend a song that may not even reflect fully what they confess to be true.