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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 Six Reclaiming Divine Wrath: An Apologetics for Contemporary Christian Theology and Preaching 253


Chapter Six Reclaiming Divine Wrath: An Apologetics for Contemporary Christian Theology and Preaching As I first considered the topic of this book, I grappled with the idea of labeling divine wrath as a “lost doctrine.” Throughout the course of the history of the Christian traditions, certain ideas about God have ebbed and f lowed, risen and seceded, waxed and waned. In this sense, I appreciate Paul Tillich’s ideas of symbols, that they have a lifespan in which they are born, develop, f lourish, wither, atrophy, and eventually die. In a certain sense, my fear is that contemporary Christian proclamation has lost faith in an aspect of God, and is giving up naively on the wrath of God. My concern is that this loss of faith appears not only through the proclamation present in the academic work of the systematic theology done in service to the ecclesia, but also in the proclamation of fered from the pulpits of the congregations that are knit together in the body of Christ. It is my conviction that the wrath of God is something that believing Christians must neither reject, nor set aside in neglect. It is the very thesis of this book that we should reclaim divine wrath for Christian theology and preaching. Divine wrath should not, must not, become a “lost doctrine.” There are those who have rejected this representation of God, who find the idea of the wrath of God to be abhorrent and incompatible with the idea of the loving God...

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