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Reclaiming Divine Wrath

A History of a Christian Doctrine and Its Interpretation

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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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Introduction 1

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Introduction In this book, I argue 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 suf fering two possible outcomes. First, it may suf fer rejection through the conscious avoidance of the narrow misinterpretations of divine wrath that dominate contemporary theology and preaching. Second, it may endure the abuses implicit to the irresponsible applications of divine wrath that 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. While the idea for this book first germinated in 1997, in New Haven, Connecticut, in an exchange that I had with David Kelsey in his seminar on Paul Tillich at Yale Divinity School, this book has been written in the wake of 11 September 2001. I write this not because of any desire to sensationalize the value of what I of fer herein, but as a recognition of the context in which, and after which, it was composed. At the time of the terrorist attacks upon the United States, and upon New York City in par- ticular, I lived and studied as a doctoral student in Manhattan at Union Theological Seminary in New York and served as the associate minister of the Scarsdale Congregational Church in the suburbs outside of the city. I lost friends when...

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