Driscoll and the God of Hate

October 10, 2011

It was only a few days ago that Roger Olson offered these thoughts on why he could not be a Calvinist:

It seems to me that most 5 point Calvinists I know seem bound and determined to believe anything they think the Bible says regardless of how horrific that may be.  In other words, IF they became convinced that somehow they had been overlooking something in Scripture (as they think I do) and, in fact, God and the devil are actually the same being such that God is evil, they would believe it because the Bible says it.  I, on the other hand, presuppose that God cannot be evil; that goodness and being belong inextricably together or else there is no ground for basic trust.

That’s why we cannot be Calvinists–because IF WE believed what Calvinists believe God would not be good and therefore could not be trusted.  We realize that Calvinists (at least most) do not believe God is a monster, but we are saying if WE believed what they believe we would find it necessary to think of God that way–as indistinguishable from the devil.  I find most (all?) Calvinists simply sweep that aside as unworthy of consideration and fall back on quoting isolated Bible passages that they think prove their view of God and salvation, etc.

As if on cue, Mark Driscoll devoted a good portion of his sermon yesterday to proving Olson’s point. Here’s a sampling [skip to 4:30 if you don’t have the time to watch it all]:

The quote at 4:30 is as follows:

Some of you, God hates you. Some of you, God is sick of you. God is frustrated with you. God is wearied by you. God has suffered long enough with you. He doesn’t think you’re cute. He doesn’t think it’s funny. He doesn’t think your excuse is meritous [sic]. He doesn’t care if you compare yourself to someone worse than you. He hates them too. God hates, right now, personally, objectively hates some of you.

I have a few questions:

1) What about the rest of the Bible?

Driscoll tells us that God hates, not just sin, but sinners themselves. In support of this proposition, Driscoll quotes a few verses from the imprecatory Psalms. This is exactly what Olson was talking about – the idea that we’ve no choice but to adopt a view of God, no matter how repulsive, if there are a few isolated verses that appear to support it. Does Driscoll really think that the best place to look for clear insight on God’s character is in the anguished cries of a psalmist imploring God to punish his enemies?

Why should those verses force us to overlook the many passages that describe God’s attitude toward the wayward as one of love:

Proverbs 3:12 “For the Lord disciplines those he loves, just as a father disciplines the son in whom he delights.”

Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Ephesians 2:4-5 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved!”

Luke 13:34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it!”

The overwhelming message of Scripture is that God’s posture towards the rebellious is one of broken-hearted love, not hate.

2) What is the psychological impact of this view of God?

I worry for the children and young people in this church. What kind of fear-based relationship with the Almighty is engendered by your pastor hollering at you that God is sick of you, that God “personally, objectively” hates you?  If you internalize the message that God hates you, it’s going to be hard to shake those fears no matter how repentant you become. What if I slip up? What if I fall short? Is the terrifying, wrathful God of hate gone for good or is he hiding around the corner, ready to punish me the moment he gets sick of me again?

As Rob Bell has observed, it’s hard to trust a God who can switch between hate and love in an instant.

3) Where is God the Father?

If you’ve listened to Driscoll enough, you’ll know that he frequently draws upon his experience as a father to explain God’s relationship with us. Strangely, we don’t hear any of those analogies here. We don’t hear Pastor Mark explaining how he hates his children when they rebel. He doesn’t mention that his hatred towards his rebellious children is only assuaged by pouring out his wrath on them (or someone in their stead).

Perhaps we don’t hear this from Driscoll because he’s actually a good and decent father. And because the heart of a good father towards a rebellious child is one of love and reconciliation, not hate.

4) How should we feel towards those outside the church?

Let’s be consistent. If God hates sinners, then so should we. I even have a verse from an imprecatory Psalm to prove it:

Psalm 139:21-22 “O Lord, do I not hate those who hate you, and despise those who oppose you? I absolutely hate them, they have become my enemies!”

I guess we have to follow this verse uncritically as well. Seems the Westboro Baptist Church had the right idea all along.

If you believe God hates sinners, it’s going to affect how you treat them.

5) Is Driscoll’s God “good” in any meaningful sense of the word?

Driscoll’s theology makes a monster out of God. He insists that, “God doesn’t just hate what you do. He hates who you are.” In other words, God hates you because of your sinful nature. Remember that thing you were born with? That thing about which you had absolutely no choice? That’s the thing that makes God hate you.

The idea of God hating people because of a nature they were born with (as per Driscoll’s theology) is the moral equivalent of hating people because of the color of their skin. It’s abhorrent.

6) What does vengeance have to do with justice?

In my view, the most telling part of the sermon comes when Driscoll says the following [at 0:55]:

Some of you say, yes, this is the problem with religion. It’s so primitive. It wants things like justice. And might I say, when someone breaks into your home, so do you. [long pause] It’s the wrath of God.

It’s fairly self-evident that the purpose of the pause is to allow Driscoll’s audience of 20-something men to imagine how they’d want to kick the crap out of someone who broke into their house. This is supposed to help them understand why God wants to kick the crap out of them.

Driscoll’s imaginary critic is quite right. That is “primitive”. Because what Driscoll is describing is not justice – it’s vengeance.

As a criminal defence lawyer, I routinely represent people who have broken into other people’s homes (and worse). Most have tragic stories of dysfunctional families, physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, and drug addiction. The prosecutor will often invite the victim to submit a “victim impact statement” to the court. Some victims are just like Driscoll’s notion of God. They want “justice”, by which they mean that they want the offender to be punished. They were hurt and they want to see the offender hurt in return. In short, they want revenge.

The nobler of the victims respond differently. Sure, they recognize the need for consequences. But they are more concerned with seeing the offender rehabilitated. They want consequences that serve a purpose, namely, to see the offender restored to society. Sometimes they even offer forgiveness, unsolicited.

Justice may require consequences, but by no means does it require the hatred or retributive wrath that Driscoll ascribes to God. [For more on this point, see this thoughtful piece by Steve Douglas.]

Like Roger Olson, I am convinced that the “‘goodness’ attributed to God cannot be totally different from every understanding of goodness (and love) we know of.”

If God is perfectly good, then surely he rises above the human instinct to seek revenge. Surely the Heavenly Father does not hate his children for being what they cannot help but be. Surely he is more like the father of the prodigal son, scanning the horizon for any sign of his beloved child returning.


  1. If you hold to the inerrancy of scripture, how do you reconcile a hate-less God with Romans 9:13-18: As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

    It is not unjust for God to hate some, while loving others (who do not deserve it!)

    • Toby, I recently discussed that particular passage in Romans 9 in two blog posts: Part 1 here & Part 2 here.

    • Rom. 11:32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

  2. What kind of spiritual nourishment or transcendence could come from worshipping such a wrathful, petty God? Driscoll’s deity is not one I could worship.

  3. […] via Driscoll and the God of Hate « Cognitive Discopants. […]

  4. It seems to me this a pretty subjective discussion/debate – which is not at all surprising when it centers around a term as ambiguous as “good”. Driscoll thinks retribution=justice=”good”. Others think rehabilitation=justice=”good”. Interestingly enough, these ideas aren’t mutually exclusive. And they both could be wrong.

    Re: the last two paragraphs of the OP… it seems to me that there is NO reason to think that God is “good” in any way that we would define it. If God is “good”, then He is “good” on His own terms, and we have to like it or lump it. If one’s principle objection to God’s “goodness” is that it doesn’t correspond to a personal conception of “good”, then it seems to me that the onus is on the individual to justify why this conception is somehow “better” than that of the (supposedly) omniscient Being.

    But if “good” doesn’t mean what we think it does, the objection then is, as the OP states it: “Is Driscoll’s God ‘good’ in any meaningful sense of the word?” But of course Driscoll could just as subjectively ask: “Is cognitivediscopants’ God ‘good’ in any meaningful sense of the word?” I don’t pretend to have a satisfying answer to this question. I’m tempted to say “no”….

    But it really boils down to 2 points of view (usually this is overly simplistic and I welcome nuancing): we can define God as “good” (based on ontological or moral arguments, scripture, etc.) and interpret everything else accordingly, which may challenge us to change our concept of “God”, or at least His “goodness”. Or, we can assign God the property of “good” based on His actions coinciding with our own values, in which case we would need to explain why we are defining these as “good”, and if that is actually “meaningful”.

    While I understand the desire to make God’s goodness meaningful, it seems to me that the latter approach runs a very obvious risk of constructing God in our own image. While the former approach may be morally unsatisfying (maybe even repugnant), it seems more intellectually honest and more in line with discovering who God is, rather than seeing God through our own rose-colored glasses.

    • JB, I understand your concern about making a God in our own image. I’m not suggesting that we just ignore what the Bible says and insist that God’s character is totally consonant with our ideas of goodness.

      But the difficulty is that the Bible is by no means a univocal book of systematic theology. There is no FAQ section where you can look up the definitive answer to the question, “What is God’s attitude toward sinners?” You will get a very different answer to that question if, like Driscoll, you turn to the imprecatory Psalms, than if you turn to the NT passages I quote above. What I’m contending is that our exegesis can and should be informed by our sense of morality. The answer won’t always be clear. But if your exegesis leads you to conclude that God hates people on account of the condition in which they were born, I think it’s fair to say, “That seems off. Are you sure you didn’t go wrong somewhere in your reading of Scripture?”

      • I totally agree with the uncertain nature of exegesis, and that Driscoll’s (in this case at least) was severely under-informed. I’m not sure I agree, however, that our exegesis *should* be informed by our own subjective sense of morality. (I think we agree that it inevitably will be). Can you elaborate on this imperative?

        If I had to guess, you’re saying that if the message isn’t brutally obvious, to “let your conscience be your guide.” (forgive me if that’s not accurate). But, to me, that’s only a valid approach if we’re operating under the assumption that scripture has no authority. Because even if we accept that scripture isn’t inerrant, but authoritative, one would have to demonstrate the objective authority of their moral sense when in conflict with ideas that *are* brutally obvious in scripture (such as the permissibility of having more than one wife). Otherwise, again, we are simply shaping God’s morality according to our own.

        Further, while we agree Driscoll’s exegesis was… well, ridiculous… it seems to me entirely possible that he *did* inform his exegesis with his own moral sense, and this led to an undesirable (to some) conclusion. So, while you may be able to throw some counter-punches at his (selectively) chose scriptures, in the end if the matter isn’t crystal clear, what one has is simply a difference in moral sense.

        For me, the lesson to be learned is not that we should inform our views of God, exegesis of scripture, etc. according to our moral sense, but that maybe we should be pretty careful about what attributes and attitudes we assign to God.

      • JB,
        I’m not suggesting that moral intuition be front and center in biblical interpretation. I think you have to interpret scripture predominantly according to the tools of sound historical-critical method. What did this author mean in his context? There will inevitably be differing views as to how to answer that question. When deciding among the competing views, I still think the best historical-critical analysis should carry the day. Where our moral intuition can assist is where one of the competing options makes God out to be something other than good, as we understand goodness. That factor should tell strongly against that interpretive option. If the historical-critical approach nonetheless suggests that this unpalatable option is the correct one (eg. God really did want genocide), then we must choose between a God most of us would call evil, or we concede that the author may have been in error. I would lean towards the latter.
        I don’t agree that Driscoll’s view was informed by his own different moral sense. I doubt very much that Driscoll’s moral sense compels him to believe in a hateful, vengeful God. It is his staunchly Calvinistic interpretive approach that forces him down that road. His view is errant, IMHO, precisely because he fails to check the end-product of his interpretive framework against his own moral intuition.

      • I’m still not convinced that using one’s moral sense to help sift competing explanations would ever be helpful. To me, once I acknowledge that God knows more than I do, then all bets are off, morally speaking. But we do agree that generally the best “historical-critical analysis should carry the day”.
        Perhaps it is Driscoll’s Calvinism that is dictating his exegesis. But perhaps it is his moral sense which made Calvinism palatable in the first place?

      • Just for the sake of argument, imagine a passage with two competing interpretations. Both seem equally plausible according to historical-critical analysis. One interpretation suggests that God loves children. The other interpretation suggests that God likes to torture children for fun. Are you still willing to say that all bets are off and you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) rely on your moral intuition to tip the scale in favor of “God loves children”?

      • I think in this scenario we would move down the line of different filters for explanation, such as textual criticism or traditional interpretations. Assuming all else is still equal, I would like to think that I wouldn’t simply go with my preferred reading and assume it’s what God says. In most instances, i think an agnostic approach would be best.
        In your specific example, however, we may be a little better off. After all, if there has ever been anything close to a universal moral consensus, it is that torturing children for fun is wrong. Thus, *if* we grant that God has had some role to play in shaping our consciences, then it would seem much safer in this instance to conclude that the less morally repugnant choice is correct.
        Note here that I am not appealing to *my* moral sense, however, but that of an overhwelming consensus. I think the matter becomes decidedly less clear when there is no consensus, such as in matters of women in ordained ministry or homosexuality. In these cases, of course everyone will still do what they feel is right (or what they feel God thinks is right), but I’d like to think that I wouldn’t read that subjective sensibility back into the text or attribute it to God.

      • It seems you’re willing to make the same move I am, namely, “God can’t be like this because that would make God evil.” It’s just a question of how confident we have to be in the correctness of our moral intuition before we make that move. I think my threshold is a little lower than “overwhelming consensus”.

  5. […] via Driscoll and the God of Hate « Cognitive Discopants. […]

  6. Given the qualifiers I mention above, yes I am willing to make that move. However, I am also open to the idea of God being amoral and/or being limited in His ability (not omnipotent in the traditional sense), so those are other avenues of thought. And while I think the threshold could probably be set lower than “overwhelming consensus”, I think it needs to be much higher than “my personal moral stance”.

  7. I really enjoyed this post and the comments. I am tempted to show some of my Calvinist friends and see what they think about it. I wouldn’t classify myself as a Calvinist personally, but I do think that *some* of the basic points of reformed theology are legit. I just can’t come to terms with the “cognitive dissonance” that people have free will, yet absolutely none at all. And that God decided to predestine people to go to hell – is it not then immoral (this is by human morals) to create them with this terrible fate already intended? I’m by no means an expert, or even very knowledgeable, on reformed theology.

    As far as God hating people – some of my Calvinist friends recently brought this up with me and now I’m thinking it’s probably because they were listening to this sermon by Driscoll. I just have one question: why would God save anyone, and thus receive them in heaven, if he hates them? Surely he cannot bring them to heaven until he saves them, before when, in their prior sin, they were hated. Now, if God loves them once they are saved, although hated them before that time (for the record I’ll recite “it’s hard to trust a God who can switch between hate and love in an instant.”) why not save everyone? Why not bring all his creation to be with him in heaven? To me this belief about God makes him seem irrational. On the other hand, believing that he is loving and “good” by both his standards and ours, it puts the problem into the hands of our own flesh and the devil (which he obviously permits).

    Any comments?

    • Hey Garrett. I could muddle my way though some thoughts, but I’d rather turn the floor over to Roger Olson. Grab yourself a coffee and sit down to listen to this brief talk of his, “Arminianism as God-centered Theology” He really puts his finger on the problem with supposedly “God-centered” neo-reformed theology. It too would make for some good discussion with your Calvinist friends 🙂

  8. I can not help but get an overwhelming urge to vomit whenever i hear or hear of Mark Driscoll. Within the small community where my family and I reside the name is often praised. I detest it. The wickedness I see in his influence is so destructive that I feel it is beyond repair. It saddens me to see individuals take on the gospel of Driscoll all the while wounding the heart of the other.

  9. Strict 5-point Calvinism is not only illogical, it’s obscene.

    • Hi Steve,

      I do think there is obscenity in some teachings of Calvinists, but I think one point of Calvinism is rather murky, and that is the L (Limited Atonement). I personally don’t like the L because it’s a negative statement that can be misconstrued. However, I do believe in an effectual atonement. That is, I believe that Christ didn’t die to merely make salvation possible. He died to save, pure and simple. “You shall call His name Jesus, for He *shall* save His people from their sins.” So, there is no mistaking that Christ had intent and He did not fail in that intent. It was a subtitutionary atonement. He died in the place of His people so that they would not die. There is no such thing as Christ paying the penalty for sin and then His people having to pay the penalty for their sins as well. That would be injustice and double jeopardy.

      What Calvinists get hung up on is the thought of how many Christ died for. And they get hung up on this because of an obsession with eternal torment. Now, there seems to be evidence for some perishing, being separated from God’s presence. But I don’t see anything in Scripture that speaks to us having the right to start declaring reprobation on certain individuals. Is it possible that Christ effectually died for everyone? Certainly in a post AD 70 era, yes, it is possible. And I like to hope for the best. Are there troubling passages? Yes. Does Romans 9 perplex me? In a way, yes only because it does seem to indicate some act of reprobation. But it seems to be a little more covenantally restricted rather than applying to a post AD 70 era. So, with all that said, I am a potential believer in effectual universal redemption. I am not sold on it quite yet, but then again, I am not sold on the idea that the majority of people burn in a literal lake of fire. In fact, I don’t believe in a literal lake of fire. But one thing I cannot uphold and that is the doctrine that Christ died in vain. When He died his love was filled with absolute and unfailing intent. None will perish for whom Christ died. And my hope is that Christ died for everyone. So, if that is the case, then that form of 5 point-ism is wonderful, provided we take the L and change it. Total depravity? Can’t deny that one. Unconditional election? Let’s just say that I know for a fact Christ didn’t die for me based upon any condition in me nor did He choose me based upon any foreseen condition. If He did, then He is partial, because I am no better than anyone else. Irresistible grace? “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power.” Yeah, I think God’s grace is that amazing and that powerful and that loving…that it is so powerful it changes our will. I like that kind of grace, because quite honestly, I wasn’t seeking God nor would I have unless His immense love changed my will. And of course Perseverance of the saints. Yep, no one shall snatch us out of His hand.

      You see, Calvinists are typically very mean. And they present these “doctrines of grace” without grace. So they come across as despicable doctrines. But when God’s grace is really presented as grace, I think it makes us more gracious.

  10. This is terrible. A poor excuse for justifying God to be an eternal hypocrite.


  11. Am I the only one who finds Driscoll’s comment that ‘God is frustrated with you.’ bizarrely amusing? How CAN God be frustrated with what I do if, according to Driscoll’s Calvinism, it is EXACTLY what God has ordained?

  12. From the pen of one of a great theologians-
    “And then Christ will say to us, ‘you too come forth. Come forth, you drunkards, come forth, you weak ones, come forth you children of shame!’ … And He will say to us, ‘you are swine, made in the image of the beast and with his mark; but come yet also.’ And the wise ones and those of understanding will say, ‘Lord, why dost Thou receive these men?’ And He will say, ‘This is why I reeive these O ye wise; this is why I receive them, O ye of understanding, that not one of them believed them to be worthy of this.’ And He will hold out His hands to us and we shall fall down before Him… and we shall understand all things… Lord, Thy Kingdom come!”
    Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky

  13. I have to suggest a question that seems to be left lying out in the open. Namely, why should we take the kinder, gentler verses to be inspired anyway? Maybe God wants genocide and loves to hate? Why should we be inclined. At. All. To believe the nice verses describe God. Isnt this purely projection? Dont get me wrong. Driscoll is preaching hate, and its distasteful and unfortunate and dangerous. But he seems every bit as philosophically justified as you are in coming to opposite conclusions.

  14. Um…. you totally missed his point. The reason Christ is so beautiful is BECAUSE of God’s hatred for SINNERS. As far as children being scarred for life by this, you seem to think coddling them means your loving them. Telling a child that Fire will burn them isn’t being mean; its truth. God’s hatred isn’t an earthly emotional hatred like your shallow understanding of hatred is. God is a consuming fire. Fire KILLS anything weaker than itself. It has no emotional concerns about what it is killing. If we are not saved then we are under the Wrath of God and His holy hatred will Kill us. Those who trust Christ believe God killed Christ instead of us. Christ loves the elect and His command to the elect is to Love our enemies and do good to them, as He did good to His enemies (us) by taking our place under God’s wrath (Hatred).

    Too much panzy-footing with the Word will find you guilty of leading souls astray….not a good thing

    • The God you describe is some sort of terrifying Platonic ideal, not the God of the Bible, nor the God revealed through Jesus Christ. Would a father have “no emotional concerns” about killing his own children? Even I am a better father than the God of Calvinism. It was Christ himself who taught us to understand God as our “Abba”. When our theological constructs don’t do justice to that portrayal of God, we need to reexamine them.

    • If Christ loves only the ‘elect’ as you claim, what difference will it make what we say or how we treat the reprobate if they have no chance of repentance any way? Calvinism’s god is a hideous parody of the God revealed in Jesus.

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