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Reclaiming Divine Wrath

A History of a Christian Doctrine and Its Interpretation


Stephen Butler Murray

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, there was prolific misuse and abuse of the concept of divine wrath in church pulpits. In pursuit of a faithful understanding of what he calls a «lost doctrine,» the author of this study investigates the substantial history of how «the wrath of God» has been interpreted in Christian theology and preaching. Starting with the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and moving historically through Christianity’s most important theologians and societal changes, several models of divine wrath are identified. The author argues for the reclamation of a theological paradigm of divine wrath that approaches God’s love and God’s wrath as intrinsically enjoined in a dynamic tension. Without such a commitment to this paradigm, this important biblical aspect of God is in danger of suffering two possible outcomes. Firstly, it may suffer rejection, through conscious avoidance of the narrow misinterpretations of divine wrath that dominate contemporary theology and preaching. Secondly, irresponsible applications of divine wrath may occur when we neglect to engage and understand the wrath of God as inseparable from God’s justice and love in Christian theology and proclamation.


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Acknowledgements ix


Acknowledgements It is a happy moment at the conclusion of a long project when an author is able to look back and thank those who helped to bring him to this point. In the case of this book, which began as a doctoral dissertation at Union Theological Seminary in New York, it is easy to begin with one’s commit- tee, those who have of fered long hours of assistance and guidance in the course of my writing this monograph. Delores S. Williams, my disserta- tion chair and indeed my invaluable advisor since I first walked through the doors at Broadway and 121st Street into Union Theological Seminary, has been not merely a friend to the writing of this dissertation. She has been a friend in teaching me by her graceful example, in truly mentoring a budding theologian while of fering the most sacrosanct of wisdom along the way. Christopher L. Morse inspired me to pursue my doctoral studies at Union Theological Seminary. It was in my first class with him at Yale Divinity School that I realized, perhaps more than anywhere else, the vital importance of examining the continuing relevance of the doctrines of the Christian traditions in light of the contemporary challenges of church and society. David L. Bartlett has been my dean, my professor, and my collabo- rator, and it always is an honor to hear his unsurpassed sermons, just as it was to learn by his example, from his classes, and through his counsel at Yale University...

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