Depersonalizing God’s Wrath?
From Between Two Worlds:
In recent years it has become popular to sketch the Bible‘s storyline something like this: Ever since the fall, God has been active to reverse the effects of sin. He takes action to limit sin’s damage; he calls out a new nation, the Israelites, to mediate his teaching and his grace to others; he promises that one day he will send the promised Davidic king to overthrow sin and death and all their wretched effects. This is what Jesus does: he conquers death, inaugurates the kingdom of righteousness, and calls his followers to live out that righteousness now in prospect of the consummation still to come.
Much of this description of the Bible’s storyline, of course, is true. Yet it is so painfully reductionistic that it introduces a major distortion. It collapses human rebellion, God’s wrath, and assorted disasters into one construct, namely, the degradation of human life, while depersonalizing the wrath of God. It thus fails to wrestle with the fact that from the beginning, sin is an offense against God.
Carson has applied this criticism to N.T. Wright. For example, in this review of Evil and the Justice of God:
At the end of the day, the central notion of sin in Wright’s thought is that it is somehow anarchic rebellion against shalom, and the triumph at the end is the restoration of shalom. What is lost is the intensely personal dimension of sin: it is rebellion against God, and he is regularly portrayed as the most offended party (cf. Ps 51!). One does not want to ignore the corporate, not to say cosmic, dimensions of sin; certainly one must not downplay the controlling importance of the goal of a new heaven and a new earth. But to lose the profound sense in which sin is personally against God is to lose something important in the storyline itself. Ironically, it is to trivialize sin (although this is certainly not Wright’s intent); ultimately, it is to misunderstand the cross. To put the matter another way: When the biblical writers say that Christ’s death saves us, from what does it save us? We could say it saves us from death, from the consequences of our sin, from our lostness, but centrally it saves us from the wrath to come. Death, the consequences of our sin, and lostness are nothing other than preliminary manifestations of the wrath of God. It is of course true that the Bible depicts God as working to rescue his people from sin. Yet it is no less true that the most central consequence of sin from which they must be rescued is the wrath of God: it is impossible to read the Old Testament narrative without tripping over this theme in countless chapters. This dynamic tension lies at the heart of what the New Testament writers insist that the cross achieves, and Wright misses it almost entirely.
Greg Gilbert has another post looking at this theme among younger evangelicals. Greg keeps on banging this drum–but I think it’s a crucial message we need to hear.
For more, see: