The popularity of these heresies springs from the fact the underlying presuppositions on which they are based are so unquestioned in our culture that they have the force of unassailable dogma. These heresies therefore present themselves not as new ideas or novel options, but rather as self-evident truisms. (This in itself presupposes, of course, that one keeps one’s head and reading rigidly riveted to the modern era—as soon as one reads the Christian writing of earlier centuries, one instantly sees how novel these ideas really are.) Among these underlying modern presuppositions are: a conviction in the innate goodness and perfectibility of human nature, the conviction that the opinions of those in the Middle Ages (often derided under the term “medieval”) were barbarous and unworthy, the conviction that feelings of guilt are always unhealthy, the conviction that love is to be equated with tolerance, so that any intolerance is unloving by definition, and the conviction that anger and retaliation are always blameworthy and a sign of insufficient civilization. One could multiply examples expressing and celebrating these convictions, but such documentation is hardly necessary. As it turns out, Facebook and the liberal media are good for something after all.
We see all these underlying presuppositions at play in the new idea gaining ascendency in some Christian circles that God has no wrath, and that consequently all will be saved. Whether in the scholarly and multi-syllabic works of David Bentley Hart, or the more popular works of Rob Bell in his book Love Wins, or the tour-de-force of Brad Jersak with his insistence that the God of the Old Testament must be “unwrathed” to be understood in his A More Christlike God, we find the idea promoted that it is unworthy and inaccurate to declare that God has righteous wrath against sin and sinners. The argumentation is often pretty thin and the exegesis often atrocious, but it succeeds because it is based upon presuppositions which go unquestioned in our culture. Of course a God of love could never have wrath towards any of His creation! The Biblical texts which seem to suggest otherwise must be countered by other Biblical texts and then quietly put to one side. Gaps in the argument can be filled in by knocking down straw men (thoughtfully provided by fundamentalists), and by rhetorical flourishes and grand generalizations.
As soon as one emerges from the cultural cocoon of modern thought one sees that the concept of God’s wrath against sin was not regarded by the ancients as an embarrassment to be overcome and denied, but as something to be emphasized and celebrated. That is because the ancients did not share the modern presuppositions which make writers like Bell and Jersak so popular. The ancients also, perhaps more tellingly, did not share our culture’s loss of a sense of guilt, and our consequent squeamishness about declaring God’s wrath against sin.