Pastors Protecting People from the Real God? (Lovelace)

This section of Richard Lovelace’s The Dynamics of Spiritual Life caught my eye this morning. The following quote comes right after Lovelace’s mention of the Protestant Reformation and its emphasis on Scripture’s teaching about the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and man’s need for justification by faith, not works.

Subsequent generations, however, gradually moved away from the Reformation in these areas. Rationalist religion, reacting against exaggerated and overexplicit portrayals of human wickedness and divine wrath among many Puritans, began to stress the goodness of man and the benevolence of the Deity. By the time of the Second Awakening, many leaders of the revival were adjusting to this critique by presenting an increasingly kindly, fatherly and thoroughly comprehensible God. In the late nineteenth century, D.L. Moody determined to center his message around the truth that ‘God is Love’ and to tone down the mention of hell and the wrath of God to the point of inaudibility. But this was only one example of the sentimentalizing of God in every sector of the church, among evangelicals and the rising Liberal movement alike.

The whole church was drifting quietly toward Marcionism, avoiding the biblical portrait of the sovereign and holy God who is angry with the wicked every day and whose anger remains upon those who will not receive his Son. Walling off this image into an unvisited corner of its consciousness, the church substituted a new god who was the projection of grandmotherly kindness mixed with the gentleness and winsomeness of a Jesus who hardly needed to die for our sins. Many American congregations were in effect paying their ministers to protect them from the real God. The decay of spirituality resulting from this deception can already be traced in the latter half of the nineteenth century. It is partially responsible not only for the general spiritual collapse of the church in this century but also for a great deal of apologetic weakness; for in a world in which the sovereign and holy God regularly employs plagues, famines, wars, disease and death as instruments to punish sin and bring mankind to repentance, the idolatrous image of God as pure benevolence cannot really be believed, let alone feared and worshipped in the manner prescribed by both the Old and New Testaments.

Richard Lovelace, The Dynamics of Spiritual Life, p. 83-84.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015