Love Fights Back: 3 Stories to Save the World

by Patrick Johnson (Grantham, UK: Stanborough Press, 2022).

Laszlo Gallusz, PhD, is a senior lecturer in New Testament studies, Newbold College of Higher Education, Binfield; Bracknell, Berkshire, United Kingdom.

Some of the major challenges pastors may face are misconceptions about God in the minds of those to whom they minister. These misconceptions are often fueled by a misinterpretation of biblical texts that picture God in terms of an arbitrary despot who imposes His divine will and punishes those who do not comply. Picturing God as punitive rather than loving results in fear-based obedience, often producing rebellious characters.

In Love Fights Back, Patrick Johnson, Ministerial Association director at the Trans-European Division of Seventh-day Adventists, explores the everlasting gospel of Revelation 14:6–13—typically thought to contain the most frightening warnings in the Bible—and suggests that it is not a threat from a harsh, merciless dictator but an appeal from a loving heavenly Father.

The author confesses an underlying unease that marked years of pastoral ministry. A radical shift in his perception of the character of God transformed not only his relationship with God but also his approach to pastoral ministry.

The author convincingly argues that a genuine understanding of the three angels’ messages necessitates a healthy understanding of God’s character. Otherwise, the second (v. 8) and third messages (vv. 9–11) will seem not only complex but also condemning and arbitrary. Both of these traits make Christianity unappealing to a contemporary generation unattracted to a divine version of Nebuchadnezzar, who exerts arbitrary power and eliminates those who oppose him.

A healthy understanding of God’s character necessitates reading the book of Revelation, including the three angels’ messages, within the framework of a cosmic conflict. Salvation history recognizes the heart of the conflict as a diabolical campaign against God and His reputation, a deceptive attack against the trustworthiness of His character.

The three angels’ messages are intended to unmask the deceptive work of the archenemy, who manipulates those who live on the earth to subscribe to misconceptions about God, the world, and their human life. Johnson argues that in the three angels’ messages, divine love fights back. The first message demonstrates that judgment is not an arbitrary decision but good news. The second message unmasks the character of Babylonic human structures as broken because they operate through force. The third message points out that God allows human beings to have the freedom to reject Him, despite His decisive warning: “Choose wisely!”

The author argues that misleading presentations of doctrines that picture God in an arbitrary light need to be rethought, particularly since our age is characterized by a crisis of trust. By focusing on God’s character, the author demonstrates that the three angels’ messages present an attractive gospel about an attractive God who is attractive to serve. The doctrines of law, salvation, and judgment are explored within this framework.

Some readers might take issue with a lack of attention to the prophetic significance of Revelation 14:6–13. This book is not an exegetical, scholarly study of the Apocalypse or some other interpretive issues. Such discussions might miss the point. Rather, the book is a creative, pastoral attempt to demonstrate to a generation of contemporary readers, growing up in an age of distrust, the relevance of the three angels’ messages and the essence of the gospel: God is not a God to be afraid of—He is a God to be a friend of. He is not a dictator who operates on fear. He is an attractive character who treats human beings with dignity, not oppression. He can be fully trusted. This perspective is a much-needed corrective for curing an unhealthy fear of God, which is ingrained in the minds of many pastors and church members. I recommend this book to all who are ready to rethink and grow.

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Laszlo Gallusz, PhD, is a senior lecturer in New Testament studies, Newbold College of Higher Education, Binfield; Bracknell, Berkshire, United Kingdom.

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