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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 Five Divine Wrath in the Twentieth Century: Theological Proponents and Opponents to the Wrath of God 181


Chapter Five Divine Wrath in the Twentieth Century: Theological Proponents and Opponents to the Wrath of God The theologians of the early twentieth century of fered a decisive reaction against the nineteenth-century liberal theology in which they had been trained. In the midst of the First and Second World Wars, they found that liberal theology did not provide answers to the questions and situations that the world at large could not avoid and needed to confront. To speak of God in muted, mythologized rhetoric did not of fer an account of a God to whom people could look when they needed an assurance that the world could be righted despite its current chaos. Instead, the theologians of the twentieth century of fered visions of a God who was not indif ferent in the face of political violence, human suf fering, and social injustice. In conver- sation with the culture of their times, these theologians at first revivified the concept of divine wrath. However, the second half of the twentieth century produced a new generation of theologians for whom, in the face of the civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements, the wrath of God bespoke an aspect of God that was better left to the history of the tradition. Theologians sought new sym- bols of and relationships with the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, and in particular with God the Father. In this chapter, I examine first three important theologians who of fered an important reawakening of divine...

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