‘God in the Whirlwind’ – A Review by Greg Goswell
Book Review: God in the Whirlwind: How the holy-love of God reorients our world, David F. Wells [Nottingham: IVP, 2014], 272 pages, paperback.
Starting with God in the Wasteland (1994), David Wells has written four influential books exposing and critiquing Evangelicalism’s compromise with modern Western cultural norms and trends. The focus of his new book is not cultural analysis (though it includes that) but the loss of understanding of the character of God and its ‘weight’ in the evangelical church: what Wells calls the ‘holy-love’ of God.
As noted by Wells, one major problem is that our focus on God is made difficult by the current bombardment of distractions through mass media and the internet, so that our mind goes in many different directions at the same time. Another problem in this self-focussed age, is that we want a non-judgmental God and a God found only within self. The result is that the church often echoes modernised society rather than providing a much needed alternative, with a moral framework in which God is the determining centre.
Wells traces salvation history as presented in the Bible, starting with Abraham and culminating in Christ, showing that God-centredness leads to Christ-centredness, with the death of Jesus on the cross the greatest and final revelation of what holy-love means. Wells shows that the way of justification (according to grace, by faith and through Christ) is the same in both Old Testament and New Testament, with Adam, the Exodus and David each ‘types’ of Christ and his work. The Holy Spirit is at work in the Old Testament, but with the coming of Christ, he works in close coordination with Christ and unites believers to Christ.
We think we know what love is, but we don’t until we come to know God’s love in Christ, and Wells provides a profound and moving exposition of this theme.
With the clarity of a master theologian, Wells goes on to explain how the cross atones, insisting on the substitutionary character of Christ’s atoning work: he took our place and bore our punishment. He also insists on the centrality of the doctrine of justification, in the face of the efforts of some evangelicals to dethrone it from its premier position in any faithful presentation of the gospel message. The cross is the brightest display of God’s holy-love: God’s holiness demanded that the debt of sin be paid, and God’s love led to Christ paying that debt on our behalf. This is why it is at the cross that we find the fullest revelation of God’s character.
In the light of confusion among some evangelicals, Wells shows from Scripture that justification (God’s declaration of our right status) and sanctification (God’s work within us progressively making us right) are neither to be equated or separated. In regard to Christian ethics, Wells shows that true love is never morally indifferent, so that, yet again, love and holiness are hand in hand.
Wells writes with an eye on our present situation of information overload and he underlines the necessity of daily seeking God’s face and reading God’s Word, so that our lives have God as the stable centre. He provides a theological analysis of the ‘worship wars’ that have afflicted the church in recent decades, calling for a return to God-focussed worship in churches riddled with individualism and consumerism. He is right in saying that we must start with God and not our needs and tastes (in music), which means that the Bible must shape what happens in church. If this sounds hopelessly old fashioned, it reveals how far many evangelicals have drifted on the tide of postmodernism from their biblical foundations.
Finally, Wells shows that Christian service encompasses our daily work, whatever it might be, which is a holy calling if offered to God and done in a Christian way.
Taken with permission from the Australian online newspaper New Life of 15 March, 2014.