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David F. Wells, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World

David Wells, senior research professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has previously taken a hard look at the North American Evangelical Church and the effects of contemporary culture and thought upon the church (see the series which began with No Place for Truth). In God in the Whirlwind, Wells starts with the trouble and then lays out the Gospel which confronts and conquers such the contemporary world — not with violence or oppression or power, but by means of God’s holy-love.

He lays out the two-fold trouble we face in chapter one: First, there is the issue of where does one find God? Rather than a God who is outside and before us, a God who declares himself and to which we must give an account, our culture start with the self, the I — and that self has become the ultimate arbitor of true. Wells does not mean the subjective experience of something outside of us, but rather our own self as the measure of meaning and truth:

And out of this has come what Phillip Rieff has called “psychological man.” This is the person who is stripped of all reference points outside of him or herself. There is no moral world, no alternate rights and wrongs, and no one to whom he or she is accountable. This person’s own interior reality is all that counts, and it is untouched by any obligation to community or understanding from the past or even by the intrusions of God from the outside. The basis on which lives are being built is that there is nothing outside the self on which they can be built. And this self wants only to be pleased. It sees no reason to be saved. This is therapeutic deism, whose morals are self focused and self generated. (26).

Perversely this self-focus has only made the subjective experience of life worse (paradoxically, this has come during a time of material prosperity greater than any known in the history of the world).

When God– the external God– dies, then the self immediately moves in to fill the vacuum. But then something strange happens. The self also dies. And with it goes meaning and reality. (31)

The second trouble comes from distraction. The blessed man of Psalm 1 meditates upon the instruction of God day and night. But we live in a culture dead set against even the slightest moment of reflection and quiet. It has even invaded our congregations. It seems that our worship services are built around the terror that a moment may pass without sound.

Only an absolute conviction that we must come to know God will be sufficient to overcome the insistent culture which demands that we pay attention to ourselves.

Wells unpacks the redemptive work of God in Jesus Christ over the next 200 pages. For Christians who have grown accustomed to a gospel presentation which could fit on a tract, 200 pages might seem an overkill — but that is only because our understanding of the Gospel is far too small. Perhaps the reason why our Gospel understanding is too weak to even keep the attention of those who profess it is that we don’t even understand (much less meditate upon) the eternal pageant God’s work. We have a crimped view of God and thus even the Gospel can become boring in comparison to a baseball game.

The story of God’s work is a story of holiness and love, truth & love inseparably combined. Since we have a therpeutic understanding of God and a personal psychological understanding of situation, we look for a God who will show us “love”, that is, give us what we think we need without the intrusion of holiness.

However, the love of God comes only with God’s holiness; it is the holiness of God which makes love possible. This means that rather than applying therapy for our ailments, God works to kill our sins. To use the old-fashioned word, we must “mortify” sin:

Mortification is, of course, the language of the moral world, the world defined by God’s holy – love. Where we often live in our minds, as I have been arguing, is in a world that is psychological. The former is a world where faith is required and with the death of Christ is at the center. The latter is where self-help techniques replace faith. Where we once had redemption, we now have therapy. The one is all about dying to the morally deformed parts of the self. The other is all about finding, cherishing, and realizing the self, even in its deformed parts, if it makes us happy. An age whose temper is therapeutic and self-focused will find this language of mortification quite quaint. More than that, it will sound disagreeable. Indeed, some may even see it as an obscenity, perhaps the only one that now remains. (182).

Wells lays out the holy-love of God both in its theology and in its practice. Indeed, holy-love can only exist in a context of worship and counter-cultural practice. The Church must be the counter-culture to a world built around self, if the Church is to be a culture built around the declaration that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.