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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 Three The Development of Protestant Considerations of Divine Wrath: The Era of the Reformations 105


Chapter Three The Development of Protestant Considerations of Divine Wrath: The Era of the Reformations The era of the sixteenth-century Reformations was determinative for the development of Christian theologies concerning divine wrath. The Reformers in continental Europe, England, and Scotland sought to estab- lish new forms of ecclesiastical bodies, reaf firmed the paramount authority of the Scriptures, and lifted up the role of the preacher to unprecedented importance. Further, the Reformers brought these ef forts to bear amidst this complex matrix of burgeoning religious movements, fighting a counter- cultural battle against the established Roman Catholic Church. In these times of tremendous cultural, political, and theological change, emphases on and interpretation of certain doctrines shifted radically, allowing new ways to understand the implicit relationships between a newly construed humankind and a freshly professed God. Given this time of change, it is no surprise that divine wrath was a topic that many Reformers dealt with at length and with considerable care. The wrath of God was invoked both of fensively and defensively, implicated in attacks upon the Roman Catholic Church and of fering succor and aegis against those who did not relish these new Protestant ideologies and practices. The new church structures demanded robust considerations of discipline, understanding God to be actively or passively involved in the formation of faithful individuals and groups to the Christian life. Similarly, a new focus upon the primacy of the Word of God came to the fore in the Protestant ecclesiastical life, turning from the Sacraments...

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