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Thursday, March 6, 2014

"God in the Whirlwind" (David F. Wells)

TITLE: God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World
AUTHOR: David F. Wells
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013, (272 pages).

The holy love of God frames a perspective of Christ and the culture at large, otherwise, we, even the Church, will remain lost in this world. We are already lost and aimless in this world in at least two ways. First, in the heady atmosphere of Church doctrines and theological perspectives, we find it hard to relate to the culture around us. Second, in the whirlwind of cultural phenomena and philosophical fads, the biggest challenge is to let Scripture shape us and not let the culture around us mold us. Put it simply, the dual challenge is to say "yes" to God and "no" to cultural norms, that damage our walk with God. While every age has their challenges, according to David Wells, Professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, ours in this modern era is non other than the "affliction of distraction."  It affects how we think of God, which in turn distracts us from the true God. Is God a "hands-on" or "hands-off" God? Is God a therapist or a non-judgmental moralist? Does God really care about mankind? Wells targets the "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" that God while is a creator, he does not demand much of us and simply wants to make us feel good. As a result, people tend to see God more as "only loving," with man self-serving, living in a narcissistic and individualistic generation; turning God into a subjective "God is love" without the corresponding "God is holy."

Wells sees the gospel as attempts to be counter cultural, dishing up various paradoxes" serving Christ is not loss but gain; powerlessness is in fact a privilege in Christ; joy amid hostility; worldly gain and spiritual loss. As one dwells and embrace fully the gospel of Christ, one takes a new perspective of what it means to live holy love. One that is love (not selfish), willing to die (martyrdom), no self-calculation, pursues holiness, eager to do what is right. Rather than focusing on the attributes of God, Wells decides to hone in on the character of God. He prepares readers with two important challenges. Firstly, Scripture is the source of all we need to know of God. Secondly, readers need to see God without the distractions around us. Both needs us to remember that it is not God who conforms to us, but we conforming to God.

On how the Bible reveals God's character, Wells brings us on a tour of the Old and New Testaments, pointing out the God-centeredness and Christ-centeredness of the Bible. He argues that the whole Bible portrays the same God and the same message in at least three ways. First, the great cause of history has not changed: grace. Second, the instrument of accepting grace is via faith. Third, the ground of our acceptance is Christ. Wells uses three examples to prove that: Adam, the exodus, and David as "types" of Christ, where a "type" is essentially an event or person involved in redemptive history.

I appreciate how Wells distinguish the modern understanding of love with the biblical understanding of God's love. Modern society tends to be highly subjective, inward looking, and flows out of an empty self. Out of such a context comes a human definition of love that gets superimposed on the perception of God's love. The point is, God's love is tightly linked with God's holiness. Far too often, people begin with how they "feel" about God's love instead of what love actually means from the eyes of God, a love that comes down to us. That is why Wells coins it "holy love." He looks at holiness at two levels: "Majestic otherness" and "Moral otherness." The former describes how the calling of Isaiah and the prophets is rooted in the majestic vision of God.  God calls them. God also sustains them. Unfortunately, the world continues to dumb down the majesty of God by seeing God as a Distant Being. The latter talks about how we can connect to this truth via an active experience of God. Key to the understanding of holy love is in the responses. For example, biblical teaching about wrath reveals that God's wrath is motivated not out of vengeance or judgment, but of hope and restorative justice. Key to the reading of the narratives of the gospels is how the people sensed the presence of God. We need to do the same if we are to become people of God living in holy love. How do we know if we are on this trajectory? Answer: When we felt led to bow down and worship God. Out of worship, we are led to serve. Out of service we become more like Christ.

So What?

This book is a polemic against one of our modern culture's most ingrained philosophies: "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." Such a philosophy is increasingly being trumpeted by society, even unsuspecting evangelicals. In letting the individualistic and materialistic culture inform one's perception of God, one tends to see God as a distant God. One sees the lack of moralistic judgment as they ponder about the massive amounts of injustice and societal gaps. One sees the presence of religion more as to meet one's needs for therapy. One treats God according to man's standards rather than for man to conform to God's standards. Wells makes many good observations about the decaying society that is increasingly empty. I agree. Worse, it is a society that is becoming more and more arrogant in trying to paint God into man's image. That is why a book like this is necessary to stem the tidal waves of false teachings affecting society as well as the Church. The title of the book is intriguing but for me, it presents an image of hope. That even as we continues to live under the whirlwind of chaos and uncertain future, the presence of God through it all is most assuring. This is where holiness and love comes together. In the presence of God, just like so many biblical characters of both old and new.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Crossway Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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