Review: He Loves Me! by Wayne Jacobsen
Title: He Loves Me!
Author: Wayne Jacobsen
Publisher: Windblown Media (Newbury Park, CA; (second edition) 2007)
Category: Christian Living
Review Date: 2/21/11
Overall Rating: 3.0 (0 lowest – 7.0 highest)
Category Ratings (0 lowest – 5 highest)
From start to end Wayne Jacobsen shows his heart in a passionate call for Christians to recognize and proclaim, “He Loves Me!” As a former pastor, not only has Jacobsen seen the detrimental effects of a legalistic approach to Christianity, but he has lived them himself and pastored while a slave to legalism’s mindset. Jacobsen focuses heavily on the idea that Christianity’s purpose is relationship with God, and that relationship means recognizing God loves you, always and infinitely.
While the fanfare he associates with our need to live in God’s love demonstrates the importance and vibrancy of the theme, Jacobsen offers support that at times ranges from confusing to unbiblical. His faulty undergirding undermines his promotion of so grand a theme. He presents three interwoven points (which I will address separately). The first is that God wants relationship…and nothing else. Doctrine is secondary to relationship and, therefore, not an essential element. He promotes secondly the idea that although punishment of sin is involved in the picture of the cross, punishment and appeasement do not provide the full and correct view of what God is doing. Rather than a climax of punishment and appeasement, the purpose of the cross, he declares, was to destroy the power of sin. The third supporting point argues that [the New Covenant replaces the Old Testament’s fear of God, meant to keep the covenant community in line, with love of God, meant to enhance relationship.
Jacobsen fails with his support because through it he denies the necessity for doctrine, twists doctrine, and misunderstands doctrine. His theme already stands on solid, orthodox ground, and his shaky brace only detracts.
Faulty Support #1: Relationship not doctrine is everything,
Early in his book, Jacobsen reveals his theme and his passion for it. Commenting on John 14:20, he tells us, “In these simple words Jesus revealed what God’s desire had been from the first day of creation: to invite men and women into the relationship that God has known with himself for all eternity” (p.40). Some Christians may have trouble with this statement because the exact relationship of the Trinity is hardly something into which we have been invited. But although the wording does not make clear his intention,,I would be willing to give Jacobsen the benefit of the doubt that he probably knows this. He more likely is calling us to the same relationship that Jesus intended in John 14:20—the kind that Jesus in his humanity enjoyed with his Father God. That relationship of ultimate, everlasting love was the purpose for creation in the first place and also became the purpose for redemption following the fall.
Although God’s desire for love relationship with us is evident throughout Scripture, Jacobsen appears to ride God’s intensity for that relationship to fields beyond biblical fences. It is one thing to say that God loves us infinitely. It is quite another to argue from this that God doesn’t care about anything else. But Jacobsen concludes just that in relating the father’s love in the prodigal son story to God: “God feels the same way about you. He’s not interested in your service or sacrifice. He only wants you to know how much you are loved, hoping that you will choose to love him in return. Understand that, and everything else about your life will fall into place; miss that, and nothing else will make any difference” (p. 30).
Again I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Surely Jacobsen, intent on his focal point of recognizing God’s love, presumes we understand that the “service and sacrifice” he disdains is limited to the service and sacrifice we offer in appeasement to God for something we have done wrong. Surely he does not mean to imply that other service and sacrifice, for example our love commitment to the community of believers, is something for which God cares little. It is too preposterous a notion to think that a true child of God would believe so. Although I give him the benefit of the doubt, I wish that Jacobsen had taken a bit more care in his writing to assure us of this understanding without our having to guess,
His development of doctrine, however, takes a nasty turn when describing how this relationship with God develops. Jacobsen says, “To have the relationship God desires with you…you simply have to learn to trust him” (p. 36). This statement is tricky. Had he not added simply, we would pass on with brows unfurrowed. But he did insert simply, and we have to ask why.
The simply cannot imply that we learn trust easily. Jacobsen argues against that idea. Simply seems rather to indicate only—that relationship requires nothing besides trust, But a prerequisite of both trust and love is knowledge. We must know the one we trust and love. Therefore, it is rather naïve to insist that for relationship, we simply or only need a love-based trust. But Jacobsen argues as much in the following paragraph:
“[John] said he wrote his Gospel so that those who read it would ‘believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (John 20:31). We have cheapened this verse with the popular notion that believing Jesus is the Christ is an affirmation of correct doctrine. If one gives mental assent to the fact that Jesus is the Christ then one has his life. That’s not John’s point”….“John was not encouraging people to confess the right creed but inviting them to learn what God started to teach us in the Garden—how to trust him completely. John chose the events he reported [in his Gospel] from Jesus’ life so that we might be stirred to trust who he is and by trusting every day, experience the life of God. We don’t enter into this kingdom by a sinner’s prayer, going forward at a religious gathering, or reciting an orthodox creed, but by learning to trust who he is and by living in that trust no matter what life hurls at us” (pp. 130-131).
Certainly we do not enter into the kingdom by mindlessly reciting a prayer or creed. But Jacobsen misunderstands mental assent. Giving mental assent involves the mind. If I give mental assent that Jesus is my Lord and my God, I am not mindlessly reciting a creed. My mental assent means that I believe in mind, heart, and soul. Doctrine is not dried up formulaic sayings confined to a heartless liturgy of ancient dead churches. Our Christian doctrine is what we believe is true about God—necessary knowledge to trust and relationship. To argue against that and instead say that “life in his name” is dependent on a learning process of experiential trust and love is nothing short of a works-based salvation. Biblical salvation comes from God’s revelation and our faithful soul response of “Yes!” to his enlightenment. As we then live in covenant relationship, that relationship grows through our increasing knowledge of him. That is how we learn to trust, to love, and to rest secure in his love.
It appears that Jacobsen is so consumed with considering the judgment of God, he believes our motivation for any pursuit of knowledge (doctrine) must be fear of God’s judgment. While that is true for some, its correction is not the abandonment of doctrine that Jacobsen seems intent on urging for all.
Faulty Support #2: Sin Destroyed at the Cross Apart from Punishment and Appeasement
I suppose Wayne Jacobsen would underline the first half of Romans 9:13 for emphasis, but draw his line right through the last half in rejection. The verse states: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Jacobsen attempts to convince his readers that God loves everyone and hates only sin. He tells us that God’s “wrath against sin was not his rejection of us in anger, but only a reflection of the depth of his love that cannot look away unconcerned as sin destroys us” (p. 21). In this, Jacobsen personifies sin, perhaps mixing the notion of sin and of Satan. He insists that God loves and will ever love the person in the clutches of sin—that hateful villain who drags God’s child of love off to hell while God can only look on with breaking heart.
By promoting such an idea, Jacobsen never recognizes the responsibility of the person who by nature (through Adam) is in rebellion against God. In Jacobsen’s world, it is always sin that is at fault. And the nastiness of sin, according to Jacobsen, is in making people lose proper hold on the knowledge that God still loves them in their sin. Jacobsen believes that sin creates a shame barrier in the sinner that God longs to remove. Jacobsen writes, “Adam and Eve’s failure had profound consequences in the creation and in their relationship to their Creator. He could no longer be the Friend who walked with them in the Garden because their own sense of shame would cause them to cower whenever he approached” (p. 98).
His statement reveals that Jacobsen does not understand the oneness of God’s essence and existence. God does not just act good, act justly, act in mercy, and act righteously. Rather, God is goodness; God is justice; God is mercy, righteousness, and love. God is unique in that both his existence (what he does) and his essence (who he is) are the same. We love because we are loved (1 John 4:19), but he loves because he is love. Therefore the heinousness of sin is its rebellion and violence to God’s very essence. And God’s very essence of righteousness cannot ignore or look past sin, simply hoping the sinner will stop feeling shame and be embraced by a god who thinks nothing of the sinner’s attack against goodness itself.
Jacobsen rejects the idea of the holiness and purity of God’s essence with his bumper-sticker theology: “God is powerful enough to look at sin and be untainted by it” (p.114). His statement discloses his confusion in mixing the existence and essence of God. Certainly God is powerful enough to look at sin without desiring sin or being influenced to commit sin. But accepting evil by embracing the evildoer without punishment violates the purity of God’s essence—his foundational goodness and righteousness. God even explains in Romans 3:25 that his former overlooking of sin was not an acceptance of it, but done in anticipation of Christ’s payment for it. Payment had to occur.
God placed a curse—the punishment of death—on the doer of evil (Genesis 3:19). But Jacobsen will have none of it. He argues, “’The soul who sins is the one who will die’ is a proclamation of mercy, not anger” (p.98).
Jacobsen takes this reasoning (or failed reasoning) to the cross. He wonders, “What kind of Father satisfies his need for justice by the death of his own Son? Couldn’t he have just forgiven us without taking it out on an innocent victim? If someone wronged me and the only way I could satisfy my anger was to punish someone else as the means to forgive them, what would that say about me? If the cross served God’s need to be appeased by a human sacrifice, especially that of his own Son, we are left with a host of disturbing questions….the unanswerable questions should invite us to reconsider our distorted view of the cross” (p. 96). Perhaps Jacobsen needs to understand that it is his own view of holiness, justice, and punishment rather than the biblical view of the cross that is distorted. Since God is unique in his oneness of essence and existence, Jacobsen cannot possibly come to an understanding about the violation of God’s holiness by projecting his own faulty feelings and sense of righteousness into God’s consideration for response.
Rebellion against God is rebellion against righteousness, justice, love, mercy, and goodness. God is righteous in magnifying himself because by doing so he magnifies righteousness, justice, love, mercy, and goodness. Not to magnify himself would be a disregard of righteousness, et al. And just so, to accept without punishment intentional attack against righteousness and the rest would be acceptance of evil and would cause utter destruction to God’s essence. God cannot ignore evil without losing his essence. God cannot ignore evil and remain God. Jacobsen does not seem to realize this. Jacobsen can forgive someone for a wrong because his essence is not at stake. But he lacks understanding of God by projecting his essence into the soul of God, wondering why God cannot forgive just as he does.
All of Jacobsen’s subsequent points in building his understanding of the cross as a non-punishment, non-appeasement exercise against the impersonal power of evil, have no foundation because he does not understand the holy essence of God. The punishment for the responsible doer of sin is death. Death means separation from God. Death is required because God is holy and must separate that which is evil from himself.
The wondrous and glorious act of love performed by Christ was in taking upon himself our guilt and then receiving the necessary punishment for it. The cross was no mere endurance contest, ultimately demonstrating Christ’s strength over the power of evil, as Jacobsen would have us think: “[Sin] could not prevail over God’s power, and by breaking its power, he opened the door for all who want to be set free of it and live in the life of the Father” (p. 116). “Notice how God’s perspective doesn’t focus on our sins as much as it focuses on the power of sin itself. This is critical. For the cross was not just an act of punishment for sin…. Punishment alone doesn’t break the power of sin” (p .116). Though Jacobsen denies that God required punishment at the cross, the Bible, from Garden to Gethsemane, argues otherwise. Death is punishment. Death is what God required. Jacobsen calls for some other destruction over the power of sin, but never explains what that is. He just maintains that it is so: “No, the cross was not primarily about exacting punishment; it was about prevailing over sin’s power. In the Son, God didn’t just punish sin, he served up the antidote that Christ was able to endure until sin itself was destroyed” (p. 116).
What is the power that sin had over me? Its power was its ability to separate me eternally from God (eternal death). Sin no longer has that power over me. Why? Because Jesus died for me. He paid the penalty—death. He took my punishment—the punishment established in the Garden—by dying. His death—his taking the punishment—is what broke the power of sin for me. I still sin in this life, but the power of sin is broken in that guilt for sin is no longer placed on my shoulders: “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2). What is the law of sin and death? Exactly what we have been talking about—I sin; I die. My sin causes the punishment of death. But that law is no longer in effect because Christ satisfied that law by taking on the guilt of my sin and being punished in death. I now am free in the Spirit of life!
Faulty Support #3: Fear of God has no Place in New Covenant Living
Jacobsen continues his focus on the judgment of God to the exclusion of all else when speaking of the fear of the Lord. Despite numerous passages in both Old and New Testaments, Jacobsen assigns fear of God to a peculiarity of Old Testament piety: “In a fallen world, fear is the only way to hold society in check. Caring for nothing more than our own self-interests, the fear of hurtful consequences is the foundation of all laws and authority. Before Jesus died on the cross, there was nothing else. Even God used fear to help keep sin in check among his people. ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,’ wrote the psalmist” (pp. 70-71). And then concerning 1 John 4:18, he writes, “John paints fear and love as polar opposites. Before the coming of Jesus, God used fear to hold our passions in check, but it never made anyone holy. In Christ, God wanted to win our affection with his own. Thus he needs our fear no longer, knowing we will never love that which we fear” (p. 79).
Of course, to make such blanket statements concerning God’s rejection of fear for New Covenant Christians, Jacobsen must ignore passages that seem to teach the opposite. After Paul’s conversion, the church in Judea multiplied precisely by “walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:31b). Paul himself urges, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). And, Paul tells us it is not the Christians, but the unrighteous who have “no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).
It is not that Jacobsen has misunderstood John, for when John says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18), he certainly is talking about fear of God’s judgment. Jacobsen’s error comes when he applies the “fear of God” only to God’s judgment in other passages. Moses teaches us that fear of God can mean more than one thing when he tells the children of Israel, who quaked before the thundering, smoking, and trumpeting Mt. Sinai, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:20). Unless we want to accuse Moses of double-talk in saying, “Do not fear God because God wants you to fear him,” we have to recognize that there is more than one kind of fear of God. And so we cannot simply say that God wanted us to fear in the Old Testament, but not in the New. We must be careful to distinguish what we are talking about.
As we attempt to understand this, we need to define terms. Love is generally thought of in a couple ways in Scripture. Jesus tells us in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” The idea here of love is the desire to give of yourself for the benefit of another. But Scripture also speaks of love in the more common sense of desiring something or embracing something. We see it in a negative context in 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” Second Timothy 4:8 gives us a positive context in the promise of a crown of righteousness “to all who have loved his appearing.” So we must understand love in certain passages to speak of the desire for or embrace of something.
Fear must also be defined. We usually confuse fear with the cause or our response to it. The child who fears at nighttime being eaten by the monster under the bed may scream and run to her parents. But the screaming and running is not the fear. The fear is not even the monster. The fear is the worry and concern over what might happen to her.
Jacobsen (and John in 1John 4:18) does not want us to have fear (worry or concern) over the judgment of God. But when we get to Romans 3:18 or 2 Corinthians 7:1, Paul is not speaking of the judgment of God. He is speaking of God’s essence—who God is. This we should be concerned about so as not to treat him lightly or irreverently (Hebrews 12:28).
The theme is commendatory. Jacobsen urges us to be aware of God’s love for us and to live in that love without fear of judgment or a lessening of God’s infinite, immutable love. That is good. But Jacobsen’s support of this message leaves quite a bit to be desired. By focusing so intently on his one message, he distorts other doctrines that should be kept in focus to support growth through knowledge—and therefore love—of our great God.