p.ost

(how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference)

A handy 17 point summary of the narrative-historical perspective on the wrath of God

Following my previous post on “The wrath of God and the death of Jesus” and some discussion that ensued, here is a reasonably concise 17 point summary of the narrative-historical perspective on the wrath of God—at least as I see it.

1. The phrases “wrath of God” or “day of God’s wrath” refer to the concrete, destructive outworking of God’s anger against either his own people or against the enemy of his people. There is an intrinsic, though not universal, link between the two: God may use a hostile nation to judge his people, but then that nation may also become liable to judgment.

2. The interpretive frame for wrath in scripture is historical and political, not metaphysical and personal. If wrath is directed against an individual, it is because the integrity of the people is threatened.

3. The wrath of God is not arbitrary or capricious. It is a function of the covenant. Israel is subject to wrath when it egregiously or persistently breaks the covenant. Daniel’s prayer of confession on behalf of Israel, reflecting on the desolation of Jerusalem, perfectly expresses the ethical rightness of God’s action: “All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him” (Dan. 9:11).

4. The argument about wrath is also an attempt to account inductively for Israel’s historical experience. It is how Israel reconciled its historic sense of vocation as a “chosen people” with the grim realities of conquest and exile.

5. Generally speaking, the hostile nation becomes subject to wrath either because it has acted violently against Israel or because by its idolatry it constitutes a geo-political affront to the God of Israel, who is God of the whole earth. This is the story of the kingdom of God.

6. In keeping with the Old Testament pattern, the shape of New Testament theology (C) is determined by the two focal points of wrath against Israel (A) and wrath against the Greek-Roman world or against Rome as the supreme manifestation of satanic opposition to God and his Christ (B).

7. Wrath against Israel (A) is conceived in military terms: “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near” (Lk. 21:20). The judgment of Gehenna is not a post-mortem hell but the siege and destruction of Jerusalem.

8. Jesus’ death has to be understood, in the first place, in the context of this narrative about God’s wrath against Israel. Atonement theory should give us a limited theological account of how his “martyrdom”, as a historical event, made possible a new future for the people of God.

9. Wrath against the pagan world and against Rome (B) is conceived differently. It is effected not through military means but through the proclamation of the word of God and the faithful witness of the suffering churches to the lordship of Jesus Christ. The nations of the empire are not defeated or subjugated but converted: they are liberated from the satanic tyranny of blasphemous Rome by confessing Christ rather than Caesar as Lord and Saviour. This is the climax to the biblical story about the kingdom of God.

10. This finally brings to an end the covenant narrative about wrath. The life and witness of the family of Abraham under Christ as Lord is no longer subject to the Law of Moses. Because Jesus died, the church will not be condemned to destruction as a consequence of egregious or persistent sin; rather it is subject to a process of forgiveness and renewal through the power of the Spirit.

11. If neither the people of God nor the “nations” are liable to wrath, then the language of wrath is out of place in our evangelism. Salvation today means to become part of a people that was saved—past tense emphasised—from the wrath of God two thousand years ago by the death of Jesus.

12. Equally, we cannot speak of God’s wrath against the world (eg. in the form of earthquakes or tsunamis). The theological framework that once might have made sense of such statements was dismantled for good when pagan Rome was overthrown.

13. This does not mean that salvation is “cheap” or that repentance is unnecessary. The saved person must still leave behind an old creation and conform to the beliefs, attitudes and practices of a new mode of being in which we serve the living creator God as a priestly-prophetic people.

14. The narrative-historical perspective allows us to foreground the constructive purpose or mission of the people of God. Wrath and atonement were the historical means by which God’s new creation people was set free from the Jewish Law, which in the end could only condemn, to serve God “without fear, in holiness and righteousness” (Lk. 1:74-75) throughout the coming ages.

15. The narrative-historical perspective gives us some distance from an argument about wrath and punishment that as moderns we may find difficult to stomach, but it does not allow us to erase it from the narrative.

16. The final judgment that John describes in Revelation 20:11-15 (D) is not the wrath of God; and the “day of God’s wrath” is not the final judgment. This statement in the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible is, in my view, wrong—a very misleading compression of biblical eschatology:

The wrath of God is delayed until the last times. John the Baptist warned his hearers to escape the eschatological wrath of God (Matt. 3:7 = Luke 3:7). At the end of human history will come the “day of his wrath” (Lam. 1:12; Zeph. 1:18). This may be synonymous with the day of the Lord, which brings darkness and judgment on the rebellious (Joel 1:15).

17. But that is not to say that the creator will not finally hold humanity accountable for its rebellion and wickedness. The lake of fire, the second death, is a symbol for the final eradication of everything that is contrary to the goodness and beauty of God’s creation.

Comments

Andrew,

13. This does not mean that salvation is “cheap” or that repentance is unnecessary. The saved person must still leave behind an old creation and conform to the beliefs, attitudes and practices of a new mode of being in which we serve the living creator God as a priestly-prophetic people.

I have to then ask, “what if I don’t?” I suppose you’ll point to #17, but then the question becomes what of the in-between time? Am I free to say torture and kill women and children with no repercussion (assuming I’m able to out smart the police)?

How about if after 5 years of faithfulness I turn back to my old way of life? Not necessarily becoming an atheist, but just don’t conform to this “new mode of being” as you put it any longer?

Of course I completely disagree with your #16 & #17, as that judgement was the AD 70 judgement, but you already know that. :)

-Rich

Putting this together for myself, I’d say the repercussion is that you will not be raised to life in the new creation. Also, I’m not entirely clear on how the conclusion of the biblical narrative of God’s wrath precludes God responding in wrath beyond the scope of the narrative. That’d be a question I have for Andrew.

Phil,

Putting this together for myself, I’d say the repercussion is that you will not be raised to life in the new creation

I thought (according to the futurist model) one already had life in Christ in the here-and-now, although they argue whether it’s at ones baptism or when they “accept Christ”. If it’s still future, then you’re saying all Christians are still currently dead?

-Rich

Well, I’m not a futurist, but I was responding to this part of your comment:

I have to then ask, “what if I don’t?” I suppose you’ll point to #17, but then the question becomes what of the in-between time? Am I free to say torture and kill women and children with no repercussion (assuming I’m able to out smart the police)?

Phil,

I’m confused. Your very comment “you will not be raised to life in the new creation” is in the future tense. That by definition makes you a futurist.

And are you also saying that you don’t think Christians have life in Christ in the here and now?

-Rich

Ok, I was unaware the thought that God will do anything in the future makes me a futurist. Thanks for the clarification. I thought the fact that I believe 99.99999% of the prophecies in the Bible were fulfilled in the first few centuries of the church made me not a futurist, but it’s helpful to know that any smidgen of thought that God might act in the future actually makes me a futurist, and the only true preterists are functionally deists.

To talk about the matter of whether or not we have “life in Christ” right now, the best I can do is answer questions about specific passages. Some passages are talking about the resurrection of the martyrs. Some passages are talking about the activity of the Spirit. Some passages are talking about our spiritual union with Christ. In my comment, I was talking about a general bodily resurrection that I believe will happen in the future.

Also, I believe that the Mosaic Law no longer applies, so I guess I’m a dispensationalist as well.

Phil,

I would differentiate between God doing anything in the future (post AD 70) and God fulfilling prophecy. Obviously God can work - step in and cure a person’s illness for an example - but that’s a far cry from fulfilling prophecy such as the general Resurrection, elimination of physical death and all sin, the destruction of the physical universe and then some recreation of the physical universe. You consider those a smidgen? Yeah, I would consider you a futurist. That also sounds a bit more than 99.99999%

Not sure how (or why) you would arrive at calling a (full) Preterists a deists? Seems a bit exaggerated and inaccurate don’t you think?

As far as life in Christ goes, you’re being evasive now. How about this? Do you, as a Christian, consider yourself to have any kind of “life” (soteriological of some form) now, this very minute? If there only exist, for the Christian, in the future some biological bodily resurrection, then you must consider yourself to have “spiritual” (of some form) life in Christ now? Yes? And, if so, either one can then die again (loose that life – must not have been eternal), since I asked if 5 years later I returned to my old way of life which you said I wouldn’t then participate in the resurrection to life. If one doesn’t have some spiritual life in Christ now, then this future resurrection (of yours) must be more than a bodily resurrection. However I don’t find that in Scripture anywhere. Can you show me? Just trying to understand this model you guys have.

Well, according to you, the only kind of preterist is a full preterist. Not sure why you put that in parentheses. All the other kinds of preterists are futurists. I think that view is at least as exaggerated and inaccurate as saying preterists are deists. i don’t believe in the physical destruction and re-creation of the universe, but I do believe immersion is an acceptable mode of baptism, so I guess I must be a Baptist.

I’m not attempting to be evasive. You are asking an abstract question about an already abstract systematics formulation. My response is that I’ll be happy to share with you my exegesis of Scripture. My fear is that you (meaning you in general, not you in specific) can invest these abstractions with various meanings.

Like when I talked about the general resurrection, any sane person would realize I was talking about a physical resurrection of the dead. You, on the other hand, brought in some weird spirit/body dichotomy objection that I didn’t and still don’t understand. So, I’m offering to tell you what I think the Bible says in areas you feel will address your question. If this seems evasive to you, I’m sorry - it seems a lot less evasive than arguing over whether or not we have “life in Christ.”

Phil,

ok, I’m done. You obviously don’t want to discuss this. You’ve twisted everything I’ve said while at the same time deny the very things you’ve stated in previous post. Have a good day.

-Rich

The question seems to me to presuppose a salvationist model, as though the only thing that matters is whether a person is saved, stays saved, can lose his or her salvation, or whatever.

I would argue that salvation is simply the means through which people choose or are chosen to participate actively, constructively, responsibly in a holy people, a new creation people, whose purpose is to serve the living God.

If you don’t want to play golf, don’t join the golf club—and you shouldn’t complain if you get kicked out for not playing by the rules (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1-5).

Andrew,

Yes, a salvationist model was lying behind the question. Even in your model (point #17 below) there is accountability for continued life, so isn’t that a salvationist model of some sort?

17. But that is not to say that the creator will not finally hold humanity accountable for its rebellion and wickedness.

Every person will die someday or at this final accountability (according to your model), and that person will either carry on alive or not. So, there has to be somebody (God) making the decision (judgement) whether one continues on or not. That decision also has to be based upon something. If it’s based upon their “rebellion and wickedness” then isn’t that works oriented? If so, then what level of rebellion and/or wickedness? There has to be a line since nobody is perfect!

I would argue that salvation is simply the means through which people choose or are chosen to participate actively, constructively, responsibly in a holy people, a new creation people, whose purpose is to serve the living God.

“choose or are chosen”?? Is that some of that old school systematic theology that’s still argued between the Calvinist and Arminianist? Now comes all the questions such as “if chosen, does it matter how I act?”

“participate actively, constructively, responsibly”. Ok, again, to what degree? Is there a certain level of participation one must reach? How do I know if I’ve reached the accepted level?

This is all starting to sound like it’s based on self works with no defined goal line. Are we moving away from faith in Christ?

Just trying to understand the ramifications and mechanics of your system which I might not be getting at all.

-Rich

Do you think that inductive process is also behind the martyrdom theology? This would answer my sacrifice question from before. Israel is inductively making sense of the death of their martyrs.

Yes. I would stress that “biblical theology” is not deductive—it’s not given prior to experience. It’s a reflection on and interpretation of experience. Admittedly, though, any reflection or interpretation becomes a new starting point so that subsequent experiences are viewed in light of what has already been understood. The point is that biblical theology remains engaged with the concrete, changing circumstances of the people. It cannot simply be abstracted, systematized, and believed.