UPDATE 4th July 2007: I am now withdrawing these charges against Cunningham with my apologies. See this post for an explanation.
I interrupt my normal programme to bring you this shocking quote. Yes, the news is going round that Richard Cunningham, director of UCCF, said
God never forgives – he punishes.
Apparently he said this during a talk at the recent Word Alive conference, the same one which is separating from Spring Harvest.
These words were originally reported by Cat, with the astonishing comment (for someone who calls herself “a bible reading, disciple of Christ”) “wow…let that digest”. The quote was picked up The Bluefish and then by Dave Warnock.
Now I might have hoped that this quote was either inaccurate or was taken seriously out of context. But apparently not, for in a comment on Cat’s post étrangère, alias UCCF staff worker Rosemary, seems to affirm the statement. But she tries to explain it as really meaning
“It’s because sin is either punished on Christ or on us in hell, isn’t it?” God offers forgiveness for sin – but only through trusting in the death of his Son because that’s where sin was punished. This contrasts with the idea that God is “in a permanent attitude of forgiveness” whereby we just need to recognise that.
Well, I have to accept that this modified form of the statement is not as bad as the original form, and makes sense within the framework of theology which these people have built up around themselves. Cunningham has it seems simply brought out the implication of this theology, that sins are never actually forgiven, but someone is always punished for them.
But by bringing out this implication he has also demonstrated clearly how anti-Christian this theology actually is. For it flies directly in the face of the teaching of Jesus – Jesus who taught that he himself had authority from God to forgive sins (Mark 2:10) and that
people will be forgiven all their sins (Mark 3:28, TNIV),
Jesus who taught his disciples to pray for their sins to be forgiven (Matthew 6:12) and that
if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (Matthew 6:14, TNIV)
As Christians we are expected to forgive others unconditionally, without demanding any kind of satisfaction. And we are taught to ask God to forgive us in the same way (hōs “as”, Matthew 6:12).
This is not just Jesus’ teaching, but also Paul’s. He taught the Ephesians:
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32, TNIV)
If the way God forgave us was by making his Son endure the punishment we deserved, and we are to forgive in the same way (kathōs “just as”), does that mean that we are to forgive others by punishing our own children for the wrongs which others do to us? Surely not! That would be not “cosmic child abuse” but real child abuse! No, what this means is that God forgave unconditionally and we are to do the same.
Yes, the Bible does teach that
without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22, TNIV)
But Cunningham’s teaching seems to imply that even the shedding of Jesus’ blood does not bring forgiveness, but is simply the execution of deserved punishment.
For more on this, see my post on Maltese theology.
I am sad that UCCF, for which I used to have great respect, has been led astray into teaching what looks like an anti-Christian false gospel. I am glad that Spring Harvest has at last been able to break its partnership with people who are propagating false teaching which can only do more harm than good.