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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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Chapter One The Biblical Accounts Concerning Divine Wrath: The Old Testament, the Inter-Testamental Period, and the New Testament 9


Chapter One The Biblical Accounts Concerning Divine Wrath: The Old Testament, the Inter-Testamental Period, and the New Testament One of the more interesting themes that can be traced through the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, is that of the “wrath of God.” It is a fascinating theme because divine wrath is static neither in its definition nor in its dimensions, but developing throughout the biblical witness. In a Christian reading of the Scriptures as a whole, we af firm that this is indeed one God to whom the Scriptures testify, from Genesis through Revelation. Consequently, to speak of divine wrath as a changing biblical theme is not to attest to a God who vacillates and shifts, but to speak of a relationship that transforms and metamorphoses throughout history. It is an avowal that humankind, the recipients of God’s love and God’s wrath, has moved through the millennia in a cacophonous progression of cultural and reli- gious milieu that is not always constructive, and too often is destructive in its ef fects. It is a confession that our relationship with the one constant in an existence defined by commutations and transitions, God, must itself change in accord with the contexts and environments in which we live and by which we craft a world. Although this book is a work first and foremost in systematic theology and the history of Christian thought concerning divine wrath, it would be remiss not to of fer an introductory exposition on the scriptural...

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