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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 Two The Development of a Christian Theology of Divine Wrath: From Early Christian Apologists to the Medieval Theologians 47


Chapter Two The Development of a Christian Theology of Divine Wrath: From Early Christian Apologists to the Medieval Theologians Greek Philosophy and the Early Christian Apologists Early Christian theologians did not draw upon the Hebrew Scriptures, New Testament, and the extra-scriptural Christian writings alone when articulating their formulations of divine wrath, but delved deeply into the wealth of Greek philosophy that was borne throughout their cultural matri- ces. Therein, Christians found the tools by which they began to develop the theology of divine attributes, especially those of God’s love, sanctity, and justice.1 Drawing on the traditions of the Greek philosophical move- ments, while bringing them into conversation with the sacred Scriptures’ accounts of divine wrath, early theologians were able to construct original understandings of an uniquely Christian God. These origins require an examination of the Greek philosophical movements that mattered most to the maturation of Christian theology on divine wrath, the Stoics and the Epicureans. 1 The best overview of this topic is contained within a superb book by Ermin F. Micka, The Problem of Divine Anger in Arnobius and Lactantius. The Catholic University of America Studies in Christian Antiquity, No. 4, edited by Johannes Quasten. (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1943). I am utterly indebted to Micka’s unparalleled analysis of the evolving history of Christian perspec- tives on divine wrath during the Patristic era, and have relied on his basic structure in my analysis of this time period. 48 Chapter Two The Stoics advanced a pantheistic...

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