An Open Letter to the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection

Note: Adam has replied to this letter in the comments below.

Adam Hamilton is the pastor of Church of the Resurrection — one of the largest churches in America and perhaps the largest church in the Kansas City area. He wrote the book, Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White. In 2007 I had to dive into this book, and I want to pull out a representative quote that should cause his supporters and his congregation great alarm.

Adam writes:

How could the God of the parable of the Prodigal Son, who cries from the cross, “Father forgive them,” be the same God who says in Deuteronomy 32:41b-42 (NIV), “I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me. I will make my arrows drunk with blood, while my sword devours flesh”? Did God change, or did humanity grow a deeper and clearer understanding of God? The later is possible if we reject the idea that every word of Scripture was chosen by God and is “totally true and trustworthy” — Pastor Adam Hamilton, Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White, page 70-71 footnote 7.

Hamilton pits an Old Testament view of God against a supposedly different New Testament view (i.e., his view of Deuteronomy vs. his view of the Gospel Prodigal). But these two records of God are not two contrary views — where one is to be preferred over the other. Deuteronomy and the Gospels represent the one True God, not two gods. But Adam has it that humanity grew or evolved in an understanding of what God is like, and this development can be traced in scripture. The Bible, in this way of thinking, is not God’s Word to man, but is man’s reflections on who or what God is. And so Adam is able to embrace it is as a growing document that corrects itself and improves with time.

Adam says that we can reconcile what he sees as a problem if we jettison the idea that the Bible is “totally true and trustworthy” — then we can get to the kind of God that fits the right way to think about God. That is, the loving God of the Prodigal Son can be found in the Bible, and the non-loving God can be seen for what he was: the invention of fallible men (so goes Adam’s basic argument).

The true solution lies elsewhere. Instead of pitting the Old Testament against the New Testament, we are better to accept that God’s Word is totally true and trustworthy, and then explore why it is that Adam (and maybe others like him) have a problem with that true and trustworthy revelation. Adam’s solution is no solution at all. He ends up without a Bible from God, and when he does that, he erases his original problem. By attributing the hard parts of the Bible to human error, he rejects what God has really revealed about himself. It may satisfy him that he doesn’t have to struggle with what God is like, but it means he chiseled God into a mold that better matches his image and expectations.

Whatever it is that is troubling Adam about Deuteronomy, the problem is not with revelation itself. The problem is the way Adam is coming to it. In his pride he rejects the revelation. That is, he exalts himself above God’s Word and calls it mistaken. Adam must abandon this way of thinking and his own solution. Adam is in the same boat as the rest of us. We all must accept the Bible. Therein we discover from the Word of God itself that God is ultimate — he indeed creates people that are the objects of his wrath (see Romans 9:19-26). But Adam says “not so” and he wants to ask, “How has mankind grown up and bettered their view of God?” But the Bible does not represent mankind’s evolving view of God. That is Adam’s first mistake. The Bible represents God as God (it is totally trustworthy and true)! The Bible is an accurate telling of who God is and why.

Adam has made himself a priest of what is revelation. He seems to know which parts of the Bible are not representing God and has exalted himself as the one who can tell the rest of us which parts are about God (accurately) and which are not trustworthy. Adam is like a new Adam or a new Moses.

The reason Adam can’t see through to a better solution is because he has adopted the ideas of so-called “higher criticism” (which he articulates and defends in Chapter 8 of his book). These ideas are nothing more than a renewing of the early heresy of Marcion. Of course Adam is not in all ways like Marcion, they do different things with their error, but the essence of their error is the same. The church identified teachers of this system as heretics.

How can it be that one of the largest churches in America accepts Adam as their teacher (even after he has clearly published his views)? When I have brought this to the attention of people who attend his church, they defend him. This is stunning. They have replaced affection for truth with affection for a man. They seem to protect their idea of a particular community and the significance of that organization (a place where they themselves are plugged-in, accepted and loved) more than fundamental convictions about God.

I conclude that some people would rather stay under a false teacher (and promote his work) than embrace the clear teachings of Scripture. I want to address those people. I am not writing to Adam. He has made up his mind. To them I say: Look at Jesus. Observe how he left his glorious position from above and came among us to live the life of a slave. If Jesus can divest himself of all his privileges, then we can abandon the meaningful relationships of a group that is under a teacher of heresy.

Dear Church of the Resurrection, I beg of you, reject the heresy of Adam Hamilton and embrace that the Bible is totally true and trustworthy. Call him to repent. If he will not correct his writings, and you stay and support him, then you participate in his guilt. You have a holy responsability in this. You will be held responsible for enabling the publication of this falsehood. False teachers are enabled by you when you overlook their error because of their love and virtues. You can have an orthodox pastor and continue your ministry. You are not in an either-or position. Call Adam to repentance, or find a repentant pastor. Then call all of your leaders to repentance for overlooking this book. Adam will be blessed if you call him to this repentance. If you love your pastor, then help him! If you love your church, then help her. It is worth your energy to get this right and to help your leaders. If your church will not listen, and if Adam will not repent, then don’t be surprised. Adam rejects the clear teaching of Deuteronomy about God, why would he listen to you? If he is too proud to bend to the Bible, then he will be too proud to bend to you. But the Holy Spirit uses people just like you to help people just like him. So mobilize around this, go to him, help him, you can do it. And you all can make it and overcome this.

Sincerely,

Steve Rives
Eastside Church of the Cross
Lousiburg, Kansas

This article was published under False Doctrine, Marcionism.

2 Responses to An Open Letter to the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection

  1. Adam Hamilton says:

    Dear Steve,

    I would invite your readers to read the entire chapter in Seeing Gray that you are referring to and not simply the quote you’ve included here.

    I stand by what I wrote there – it attempts to capture both God’s inspiration of scripture and the humanity of the authors who heard God’s word and understood God’s purposes in the light of their own times and theological framework. I believe that Jesus is the definitive Word from God – unmitigated – and that all other words about God must be judged in the light of the revelation of God that came to us in Christ. I would reject Marcion’s claims – and find it interesting that you would seek to associate me with his views.

    I hope your readers will take the time to read the chapter and come to their own conclusions.

    Most mainline pastors and theologians, many moderates in your own denomination, and an increasing number of evangelicals recognize that inspiration does not preclude the human authors of scripture from seeing and understanding the promptings of the Spirit in the light of the prevailing understanding of God in their time.

    In Seeing Gray I raised the question many thinking people ask when reading the Bible: How do we reconcile the character of God revealed in Jesus Christ with those handful of pictures of God in the Old Testament in which God appears cruel, unjust and unmerciful?

    Your readers might appreciate reading Dennis Bratcher’s article on the inerrancy debate. A couple of helpful books written by evangelical scholars include The Biblical Canon by Lee Martin McDonald published by Hendrickson and Craig Allert’s A High View of Scripture? published by Baker Academic.

    One last word – you noted in your response to Woody that you wrote your column out of love for me. I might suggest that another way of expressing that love might have been to actually seek to share your concerns with me personally, rather than writing an open letter to the church I serve.

    Blessings in your work at Eastside.

    Adam Hamilton

    P.S. I will not be monitoring the continuing discussion on your blog – I only noticed that you had tagged me in Facebook and clicked on your link out of curiosity. I mention this in the event that you wish to have an ongoing dialogue with me you’ll need to drop me a note.

  2. (Also being emailed to Adam as his views are public and published)

    Dear Adam,

    You wrote:

    “I believe that Jesus is the definitive Word from God – unmitigated – and that all other words about God must be judged in the light of the revelation of God that came to us in Christ.”

    You are mistaken to believe that we must judge the Old Testament (which is included in your phrase, “all other words about God…”) in the light of Jesus. We read the Old Testament in the light of Jesus, we do not judge it. By proposing that we use Jesus to judge the Old Testament, you have it that there are parts of the OT that we can now recognize as not Christ-like. You make Jesus judge over the rest of revelation. You pit text-revelation (the Bible) against Flesh-Revelation (Jesus). But Jesus is not the judge over God’s Word. Jesus is the judge of the world (and he will come in wrath and glory) but he is not our paradigm as judge over the written Word. We are under the Bible, not over it (not even in the name of Christ are we over it).

    Contrary to your suggestion, God’s inscripturated Word is as equally unmitigated as his incarnated Word. That’s why Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matt 5:17). Jesus never reflected your sentiment, but really the opposite. He said, “If you believed Moses you would believe me; for he wrote about me” (John 5:45). Jesus never gave the sense of correcting the Old Testament as one who reveals the standard by which to discover the false parts (as where you said he appears, “cruel, unjust and unmerciful”), but he points to himself as embodying and fulfilling the Old Testament. Jesus is the very God who is exactly like the verse you reject in your book: Deuteronomy 32:41b-42 (see Revelation 14:19-20).

    You cannot reject parts of Moses’ books (even if you reject them in the name of Christ) and still have Christ, for Jesus said, “But if you don’t believe his writings, how will you believe my words” (John 5:46).

    You have not given textual evidence why you reject parts of the Old Testament, just theological argumentation. You have not refuted that you are Marcion, but only denied it. You did not defend your position, but affirmed it and pointed to others who you claim to be like you (which is not a defense).

    Your church has a holy obligation to deal with your persistent lack of repentance. This is not a private matter between you and me, this is a matter of your public writings. May God have mercy on you and bring you to the great joy of seeing that Scripture is “Yes and Amen” in Jesus. As it stands, you are arguing on the side of Satan who is the first to have uttered these words, “Has God Really Said…” (Gen 3:1).

    You are in a fearful position, you and all those who are afraid to oppose you. But God is good, merciful and ready to forgive. You can repent, and he will enjoy your change of mind! Those around you can be bold and bring this to a good resolution, but do not delay, for we are not to treat God’s patience presumptuously.

    I say this even as I find myself repenting of my own sins,

    Pastor Steve Rives
    Eastside Church of the Cross