Dear NoahDavid (and others who will read this letter),
I appreciate you taking the time to write a thoughtful and heartfelt response to the recent events surrounding Hope College. I think you make some fair points and critiques, while showing empathy for the parties involved. It seems clear that your main appeal is for Hope College to make fair decisions that positively affect the trajectory of the school and build trust in its leadership (which is great!), but I am concerned that you also misrepresented God, His word, and His gospel in some of your statements, and thus deserved a response.
The first concern along these lines is with, what seemed to me, a belittlement of sin. You say that God washes all of our sins, and embraces us though we are not—and never will be—sinless. To this I say, “Amen!” However, you don’t talk of the hatred God has toward sin. The wounds, the piercing, and the crushing of God’s beloved Son on the cross testify loudly that God is not indifferent toward sin. Jesus/God is described as the one who, “loved righteousness and hated wickedness,” (Heb. 1:9), and “who feels indignation every day,” (Ps. 7:11). Further, true love is said to, “hate what is evil,” (Rom. 12:9). Remember, it was God’s wrath toward sin that Jesus incurred on the cross, and it is God’s wrath against sin that He saves us from (Rom. 5:9; 1 Thes. 1:10). In all this it is clear that God is not indifferent toward sin, and certainly does not OK or excuse sin in any form.
Also, when Jesus shares of God’s outlandish and astounding grace and forgiveness toward sinners (which is, as you point out, part of the gospel), there is always an element of repentance (turning from sin) on the part of the sinner (see Luke 15, for instance). The ones who are careless about their sins, or even celebrate these sins, however, are condemned (e.g. Luke 18:9-14; John 9:41). And this same theme is repeated throughout the N.T. where we are told that those who persist in sins are not considered part of God’s redeemed (1 Cor. 6:9-10; John 3:6; Gal. 5:19-22; Heb. 10:26-27; etc.). Any gospel that takes lightly the heinousness of sins has forgotten the cross.
This raises a second concern I have in your letter…How do we know what sin is? How do we know what pleases God? You say that Jesus trumped the regulations of Leviticus, and so it is not the written word (like Leviticus) that holds authority, but the living word (Jesus) who is the ultimate authority. Thus, in your reasoning, Jesus (and not the Bible) would reveal what is sin and what pleases the Father. The problem with this reasoning is that Jesus gives absolute authority to the Scriptures, even Leviticus, and sees Himself in perfect union with these Scriptures. He calls Scripture, “God’s word,” (John 10:35), and says that He came to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). To Him, the religious leaders of His day err because they have not understood God’s Scriptures rightly (Matt. 22:29), and don’t take His words serious enough (Matt. 23:24; Mark 7:1-13; John 5:39-40, 46-47). Jesus appeals to the Scriptures as His ultimate authority (e.g. Matt. 4:3-11; 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:16, 42; 22:29, 31; etc.), and teaches His followers to follow this same example (Matt. 28:19-20). He even quotes Leviticus as binding to His disciples when He teaches, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matt. 22:39, quoting from Lev. 19:18)—note, by the way, that He quoted a passage sandwiched between the two Leviticus chapters addressing homosexuality (see Lev. 18:22; 20:13). In all this, it seems clear that Jesus believes the Scriptures to be authoritative and binding (including Leviticus). Thus, according to God’s living Word (Jesus), we know sin by God revealing it through His written word (the Bible).
This means that if we are indifferent, or even celebrate, what Jesus/God has condemned as sin in His word, we should be terrified that we have under-valued Jesus’ torturous crucifixion and have forsaken His offer of reconciliation. As Heb. 10:26-27 says: “If we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”
In saying all of this, I am not belittling God’s grace…on the contrary, I’m trying to esteem God’s grace to its rightfully high position. By God’s costly grace, Jesus received sin’s terrible and devastating punishment on the cross—for me and the homosexual—and the more I see the depth of this sin, the more I am amazed at how much He paid to forgive it. By God’s costly grace I have been given a new and undeserved life, which teaches me to say, “no to ungodliness” (Titus 2:12)—even to sins that used to ensnare me (see Rom. 6-8). And finally, by God’s costly grace, I’m brought to tears of deep gratitude that He forgave the deep sins that resided (and still live) in my heart…as well as tears of agony that my sin pains the Father so much! So I ask, how can anyone who knows such grace be OK with their sin?
I hope the reader will hear my heart on all of this. I don’t write this to “slam” Noahdavid or others who have said similar things, and I don’t write this to take a stance on what Hope should/shouldn’t do. Instead, I write this to help inform on the subject, and, ultimately, I write this in the hope that it may be used to magnify the gospel of Jesus—a gospel, as shown above, that simultaneously hates sin AND offers forgiveness and grace.
Lastly, Noahdavid, if you desire to discuss this more in a private context, feel free to call or email me with the contact info I sent you.
Love in Christ,
Brian Holda (’06 Hope Alum)