Gloriavale Christian Community is a small evangelical Christian group based at Haupiri on the West Coast of the South Island in New Zealand. Its population is estimated to be 550–600…Those who leave the community are shunned and denied contact with family members still remaining at Gloriavale.”

Gloriavale is again in the news (for non-NZ readers here, it is pretty regularly in the news). This time, it is for someone being kicked out of the community. John Ready altered his view on God, was kicked out, and his wife and nine children are still inside – and he cannot see them. For those with further interest, any online search will lead you to a number of news stories and videos.

The biggest part of the story is “religious contraband” material that is being smuggled into Gloriavale (by outside Christians) that changed John Ready’s view (there are now further parts as the story continues – including use of taxpayer money, taxation consequences with its religious/charitable status, employment law,…). If you follow Patrick Gower’s story (in the tweet above), you will see the contraband focuses on the booklet The Gospel of Jesus Christ by Paul Washer. I appreciated Patrick Gower’s point that people of goodwill in Gloriavale are better helped by “religion and theology” than by bringing in the police and other authorities. Patrick Gower (as you can see if you follow the link) sees Paul Washer’s Gospel as presenting a more loving and forgiving God.

So, dear reader, I purchased a copy of Paul Washer’s Gospel of Jesus Christ (all for you, dear reader – no: Washer’s Gospel is not free, not even the digital version – in fact the digital version costs more than the printed one!). I purchased this to see how this God might be more loving and forgiving than Gloriavale’s.

The pamphlet follows pretty much what you would expect from “an American Protestant Christian evangelist with a Calvinist theology affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.” It follows a juridical approach to God’s relationship with us. Let me summarise Washer’s “gospel” for you (so you don’t have to buy the booklet). God is righteous; we humans – God’s creation – are morally corrupt. We deserve to be penalised. God requires satisfaction. Christ took the penalty that we deserved. Jesus satisfies the justice that God rightly demands by offering Himself in our place. The cross, Washer’s booklet explains, is the cruelest mechanism of torture ever devised. “The physical suffering and death that Christ endured on the cross were absolutely necessary… On the cross Christ suffered the judgment of God! God’s justice demanded satisfaction for our sins, and His wrath was kindled against us. To satisfy God’s justice and appease His wrath, it was necessary that Christ suffer the judgment we deserved.”

For Washer, “Christ was forsaken by God in our place.” God should have forsaken us. God did forsake us. And now God forsakes Christ instead! “Christ took the cup of God’s wrath that we deserve and drank down every drop until it was completely depleted and the justice of God against us was fully satisfied.” And “The Resurrection is proof that God accepted Christ’s death as full payment for our sins.” We need to repent – including from relying on the good we do – and have “saving faith” which “especially consists of trust that Christ is our saviour”.

There’s no prizes for realising that I don’t think like this for a minute! If this God is more loving and forgiving than Gloriavale’s version – heaven help those in Gloriavale! The God I believe in IS love. The Good News for me is nothing like God dumping all his wrath on Christ so that there’s no wrath left to dump it on us! The juridical model is not the only model. God’s love being so deep that he does NOT forsake us even when we stray would be my image of God, rather than Washer’s opposite one.

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The style of Washer’s booklet is commenting on pasting together Bible verses – a verse from here with another from a completely different genre elsewhere in the biblical literature, with another from a disparate section, with another, and so forth. Washer gives the impression that the Bible is poor at presenting the Gospel coherently – it must be cut up by him into verse-sized pieces, and then he picks up some verses from this shredding and pastes them together into a new message.

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And when it comes, then, to Washer’s “How then shall we live?” he makes no mention of justice, attitudes to money and possessions, care for the environment, care for ourselves,… Baptism is mentioned almost incidentally in the last tenth of the booklet (unlike its centrality in the New Testament). And there is no mention of Holy Communion.

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