Paul didn’t teach unconditional election. Here’s why.

God’s act of election shows up multiple times in 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Calvinist interpreters tend to read these passages as evidence for their doctrine of unconditional election. In this video, we consider how the larger context of the Thessalonian correspondence makes that interpretation impossible. Instead, these letters highlight Paul’s understanding that election is conditional on faith. Click here to watch it on YouTube. Don’t forget to subscribe for more videos on Arminian Essentials.


Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, and a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice, The Letters to the Thessalonians, and Bless the Nations.

Signs and Wonders: The Power of God in the Gospel of John

I’ve just finished a series of messages focused on the miracles of Jesus that appear in the Gospel of John. The miracles can be tough to preach on. So the series was a big opportunity to grow as preacher. It presented challenges, but it was also a lot of fun.

John calls the miracles “signs.” And my approach throughout the series revolved around the way the miracles should be understood as signs of new creation. We spend a lot time considering how John wants his readers to see the Creator at work in Jesus bringing the world he made from darkness to the light of new creation.

One other thing, this series of sermons was the climax of a year-long program under the John Stott Award for Pastoral Engagement from the Henry Center for Theological Understanding and The John Templeton Foundation. It was a great experience, and I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity. Here’s the full playlist, or you can click over and watch on YouTube.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, and a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice, The Letters to the Thessalonians, and Bless the Nations.

Every Sermon Should Answer “Why?” (#CPTConference)


How do we preach to engage in a digital age? That question was the topic of my talk at 2019 Center for Pastor Theologians Conference. I argue (1) that the pervasive triviality on social media offers an opportunity for preachers to say something substantive that cuts through the drivel, and (2) that “bottom line” preaching is a strong strategy for doing that. And you may have guessed from the title that Simon Sinek gets a hat tip, too. CLICK HERE to watch the talk.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, and a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice, The Letters to the Thessalonians, and Bless the Nations.

Reframing the Wrath of God (@OfficialSeedbed)

The idea of God’s wrath is troubling to many. We’d rather think about God’s love than his anger. But what if we were to consider what scripture says about God’s wrath in light of his love? Would that change anything? This excerpt from my recent book on The Letters to the Thessalonians aims to do just that. The passage under consideration is 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10. Read the whole chapter for free, or check out the book and accompanying videos over at the Seedbed Store.

There’s something we need to admit up front. A lot of people struggle with the Bible’s talk of God’s wrath. We find the idea of an angry deity uncomfortable and off-putting. Who wants to worship a God like that? We’d much rather hear about God’s love than God’s wrath. So, what do we do with passages like this?

What if I told you God’s wrath is necessary because of God’s love? Think about it this way. Love is at the heart of God’s character. God loves the world. He made it; it’s his. And God loves human beings. He made us to embody the beauty of the glory of his image and he has graciously called us to represent him to the world. But there’s an enemy out there. And that enemy is committed to destroying God’s beautiful creation. The enemy is sin. It’s a cancer that corrupts human life. It moves people to vanity, to strive for selfish gain, to manipulate the world, and to use God’s good creation for their own evil ends. Now if God is committed to his creation, and if there’s an enemy bent on destroying that creation, what posture do you think God will take toward that enemy? The answer should be clear: he’ll go after it with everything he’s got; he’ll show that enemy no mercy. And he’ll do it because he loves his world. He’ll do it because he loves us.

That’s what Paul means by the wrath of God. We’re uncomfortable with that language because we’ve all seen or experienced unholy human wrath: an abusive husband or father, a vicious colleague, oppressive dictators, merciless terrorists. When we hear of divine wrath, we take those wicked examples and maximize them by infinite proportion. But that isn’t what Paul means. God’s wrath is not the fury of an angry father or the mad aspirations of a power hungry tyrant. God’s wrath is his opposition to anything that harms his good creation. It’s measured and intentional. It’s right and just—holy and good. And it’s the result of his love. God loves us. That’s why he turns his wrath on sin, because sin attempts to destroy everything God loves.

The problem is that people dig in their heels and refuse to break their alliance with sin. They are committed to the corrupting cancerous power of sin. They don’t want to be free from it. They give themselves to it. And they love it. Paul preached that Jesus died and was raised to set us free from sin. Jesus gave everything to disentangle us from that which seeks to destroy us. God will put everything right. That’s what we’re waiting for.

But waiting doesn’t mean passivity. Paul doesn’t expect believers to hang out and do nothing until God wraps up the project. Waiting for Jesus means actively working to advance his kingdom, engaging in mission, proclaiming the good news, and opposing evil in every form. That’s what Paul calls the Thessalonians to do. That’s what Jesus calls us all to do.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice and The Letters to the Thessalonians.

Everything You Know about Satan Is Wrong (@cenpastheo)

Well…maybe not everything. But certainly a lot of it. It turns out that church history has, not one, but two major traditions about the Devil. The one everyone knows comes to us from Augustine. The lesser known tradition comes to us from Irenaeus. Augustine is such a towering and influential figure, his version became dominant. A big part of the difference comes in the way the conflict is framed. In the Augustinian account, it’s Satan vs. God. In the Irenaean account, it’s Satan vs. Adam and humanity. There’s much more to be said, but I’ll direct you to Episode 47 of the Pastor Theologians Podcast. It’s an interview with my friend and colleague Gerald Hiestand. Gerald did his PhD on the Irenaean account of Satan. Personally, I find it quite compelling. Click here to take a listen and leave a comment to let me know what you think.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice and The Letters to the Thessalonians.

Book Release: The Letters to the Thessalonians @OfficialSeedbed

I’m excited to announce the release of my new book The Letters to the Thessalonians in the OneBook: Daily-Weekly series from Seedbed Publishing. This short volume is designed for small-group studies and is accompanied by video sessions for group gatherings. You can preview the first week’s video above. And while the series is produced for use in groups, this book is also well-suited to be read straight through on its own for personal study or devotional reading.  The discussion of the biblical text is informed by scholarship but still oriented toward transformation and practical application. So pastors will also find it useful for sermon prep. Click here to sample the first chapter.

Here’s the publisher description:

Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians are some of our earliest existing writings in the New Testament. As such, they offer a unique glimpse into some of the most pressing issues as the gospel began to spread across the ancient world. How should believers respond when their faith is a minority perspective and are suffering persecution?

What does genuine holiness look like? Is life after death truly worth believing in, and what does it look like? Will Jesus actually make good on his promise to come back?

These enduring questions and more run throughout these two brief letters, and in this eight-week study, you’ll be introduced to Paul’s inspired response. Discover how the gospel of Jesus will give you the strength you need as you eagerly await his promised return to make our world right again.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice and The Letters to the Thessalonians.

Simplify the Message: Multiply the Impact by @TalbotDavis (@AbingdonPress)

Let me begin this way: Preachers, get this book, read it, and do what it says. If you do, your preaching will go to the next level. Whether you’ve been at it a few weeks or a few decades, there is wisdom here for all whose privilege it is to have preaching as a vocation.

Simplify the Message: Multiply the Impact is a brand new book from my friend, Talbot Davis, pastor of Good Shepherd Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. I don’t recall when our paths first crossed, but in 2014 (and in a new appointment for me) Talbot’s influence led to a major shift in my approach to preaching. I did not change my commitment to serious engagement with the scriptures. I did not change my commitment to preaching the gospel. I did not change my commitment to preaching the holy love of God that empowers people to embody that holy love. What changed was the communicative framework for all of that. I began to pay more attention to the homiletic package, not just the content. I began to give more energy to wordsmithing, not just word-assembling. I began (and here’s the crucial change) to preach the “bottom line.” What does that mean? It means I began organizing my sermons around a single memorable (and hopefully provocative!) sentence that communicated the one point of the text being preached that week. I learned this from Talbot Davis.

At that time, Talbot had not written a book on his approach to preaching. I learned the approach over time through observation and interaction. Now that Simplify the Message: Multiply the Impact has been published, things will be much easier for you. You can simply read the book and do what it says. And if you do, more people will remember more of your sermons. And the transformative power of your sermons will be enhanced and felt more deeply by your hearers.

Here’s what to expect. Talbot will lead you on a journey from clutter to clarity. This has largely to do with the movement from numerous points to a single point. You will learn strategies for crafting that single point that will make it more memorable. You will learn an approach to scripture that makes it feel more like an adventure than a lecture. There’s help on how to creatively apply what you find in scripture to what you find in the world and in your congregation. Talbot will teach you how to write sermons that help people listen better, that amplify the gospel. And all of that comes with example after example from sermons Talbot has preached to show you how the strategy pays off in the pulpit.

The book is brief and imminently readable. It’s funny and eye-opening. Most importantly, it will make you a better preacher. As I was reading, I thought how I’d like my preaching students to read this book, not only once during the semester, but two or even three times. I’ve already ordered extra copies to read with the folks on my preaching team. And it will likely be a book we revisit frequently. Since I began preaching the “bottom line” of the text, I’ve often thought how we need a handbook on the method. We have that now, which means we are all without excuse.

PS: Check out the accompanying website with extra resources – simplifythemessage.com

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice and The Letters to the Thessalonians.

Book Notice: T&T Clark Social Identity Commentary on the New Testament (@TandTClark, @JBrianTucker)

As a pastor I’m always looking for approaches to the Bible that shed light on the dynamics of the early Christian communities. Understanding those dynamics helps me relate the text of scripture to present-day Christian communities (including the one I pastor!). That’s why I’m excited to see the publication of the T&T Clark Social Identity Commentary on the New Testament edited by Brian Tucker and Aaron Kuecker. It’s a one-volume commentary with chapters on each book of the New Testament. Each chapter draws on insights from the field of social identity theory (SIT) with the goal of illumining aspects of the text that may not have been apparent before. SIT is all about how individuals come together to form groups, how they think of themselves as sharing certain traits that define them as a group, and how they distinguish themselves as a group from other groups. Personally, I’ve found SIT to be one of the most useful tools available for thinking about how I appropriate the biblical text as a leader in a 21st century church. It’s aided me in strategy sessions, conflict resolutions, personal leadership style, and more. And considering how those dynamics are at play in the New Testament has deeply shaped my approach to pastoral leadership. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to write the chapters on 1 and 2 Thessalonians for this one-volume commentary. That research and writing was rich preparation for the series of sermons I just wrapped-up on 1 Thessalonians called “People of the Day” (check out the playlist below). This one-volume commentary is a companion to the T&T Clark Handbook to Social Identity in the New Testament, which will take interested folks even further into the theory and how it can benefit our readings of the scriptures. The commentary is a bit pricey, but that is because it’s quite long. If the cost is prohibitive, wait till the paperback copy comes out.

Here’s my sermon series on 1 Thessalonians:

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice (SBL Press).

Penal Substitution as Trinitarian Love: A Response to Frederick W. Schmidt

Rublev’s famous icon depicts the other-oriented love of the God who is triune.

Is God a violent monster? If you think Jesus embraced the penalty of your sin on your behalf, then the Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. believes you must “believe in a Monster-God whose both character and motives are at odds the Christian tradition.” At least that what he claims in a recent article called “The Monster-God of Penal Substitution.” Schmidt is no insignificant critic. He is the author or editor of numerous books and holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, all of which are reasons we might expect him to levy an argument that is not marked by fallacy. But, alas, we expect too much.

Steel Man, not a Straw Man

The chief fallacy Schmidt commits is that of arguing against a straw man. That is to say, he marshals an argument against the weakest form of penal substitution and fails to even acknowledge that there might be more robust articulations of the doctrine. Schmidt paints penal substitution as a fundamentalist doctrine that pits an angry God the Father against the “innocent victim” of God the Son. In this way of thinking, substitution is branded as a dangerous teaching characterized by what might be considered divine child abuse. How could anyone love a God like that? How could such a monster be worthy of our worship? Well, I’ve got good news for Schmidt and any who share his concerns. Serious proponents of penal substitution don’t actually believe in that sort of God either.

In the classes I teach, I always encourage my students to represent their opponents as well and as accurately as possible. I remind them that misrepresenting those whith whom they disagree undermines their credibility and makes their arguments easily refutable. The opponent can simply note that the critique is offered against a view they don’t hold. Some put it this way: be sure to argue against a steel man, not a straw man. That is to say, argue against the best version of whatever you are criticizing. It’s easy to knock over a scarecrow. A statue forged of metal takes a bit more work and, when it is toppled, is cause for rather more respect.

A Trinitarian Approach

So, what is the more robust version of penal substitution that critics of the doctrine need to take seriously? It is a version that accounts for the trinitarian nature of God. The problem with the “Monster-God” construal of substitution is that it emphasizes the personal distinction between God the Father and God the Son and neglects the unity of being between God the Father and God the Son. The trinitarian doctrine of God says both that God is three distinct persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and that Father, Son, and Spirit are one in deity, glory, power, eternity, and being. (If it helps, remember that “persons” is the word we use to talk about trinitarian distinction, and “being” is the word we use to talk about trinitarian oneness or unity.) We run into trouble (1) when we emphasize the distinction between persons to the neglect of their union and (2) when we emphasize the union of the Godhead to the neglect of their distinction. Balance must be maintained.

What happens to penal substitution when we approach it with the essential unity between God the Father and God the Son in mind? Consider this. In the person of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity took upon himself the penalty that the one triune God requires for transgressions of the law that the one triune God has issued. In Jesus, God takes the penalty of human sin on God’s self. It’s worth noting also that Jesus is no passive victim. To the contrary, he is the judge who doles out the penalty. Consider that in the canonical gospels it’s not God the Father who is portrayed as the judge before whom all must one day stand. Jesus insists that role belongs to him (Matt 7:21-24). It is the Son of Man who separates the sheep from the goats (Matt 25:31-40). Jesus is the Lawgiver and the Judge who steps down from the bench to take upon himself the penalty he himself requires. And when the triune God, in his eternal counsel, determined that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23), the one God knew the day would come when he would take on flesh and feel the horrible weight of those wages for the sake of the rebel creatures he loves. In this way, Jesus embodies and reveals the perfect, self-giving love that characterizes the eternal unity of the Trinitarian persons. If we want a robust account of penal substitution, it requires a balanced account of trinitarian love. This is what Schmidt fails to offer. That is why his argument is flawed and unconvincing.

Resist the Caricature

Let me add before concluding that I would offer the same argument against any who might actually hold the view Schmidt critiques. Against those who promote a caricature of penal substitution as an angry or unhinged monster-God furiously abusing an innocent victim, I would say they’ve failed to reckon with the trinitarian love of the one God, and they need to rethink their account of substitution.

What then shall we say? Is penal substitution the only way to talk about what God has done in Christ to redeem us? Certainly not. Dr. Schmidt helpfully reminds us of other ways to talk about the atonement (e.g., recapitulation). But is penal substitution one of the central ways that God reveals his trinitarian love? It certainly is. And when we miss that, we miss out an expression of God’s perfect love that is not only good and true but beautiful as well.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice (SBL Press).

For more from Matt on understanding the Trinity, watch this video. Then subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel.

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

Leighton Flowers Live Review of “Why Calvinism Gets Romans 9-11 Wrong”

Dr. Leighton Flowers recently offered a live review of my video “Why Calvinism Gets Romans 9-11 Wrong (Election and Mission).  The review is posted on his Soteriology 101 YouTube Channel. It includes the original video with Dr. Flowers’ comments interspersed along the way. He had some very helpful points to make, and I learned a few things listening to his reflections. I’m very grateful for this honor and hope you’ll take a look at the video and subscribe to his YouTube Channel. And if you haven’t subscribed to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, be sure to click over and check it out.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice (SBL Press).

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.