The name David Wells will likely be known to one subset of readers of this blog, and an unknown one to others. This book, though, should be of interest to anyone who reads this blog and/or is interested in issues of God’s character, God’s activity, God’s interaction with humanity, and the different ways that people have talked about it. God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-Love of God Reorients Our World was first published in 2014, but speaks into a number of the big questions being asked and argued about today. For example, for those wondering if there can be any response to David Bentley-Hart’s new book on universalism, this book would be one such response. At it’s heart, though, this book is about a perennial problem, which is still obvious today, the division of God’s holiness and God’s love. This is why Wells coins the phrase ‘holy-love’, in a world where:
“our constant temptation, aided and abetted by our culture, is to shatter the hyphen. We want God’s love without his holiness. We want this because we live in our own private, therapeutic worlds that have no absolute moral norms. God’s holiness, therefore, becomes a jarring and unwarranted intrusion. His love without his holiness, however, is one of those things in life that we simply cannot have. And, indeed, it will become one of our greatest joys to be able to understand how God is both holy and loving“
Whilst God in the Whirlwind is a moderately culturally-anchored book – Wells considers American/Western culture, and particularly some phenomena like a rise in interest in end-of-the-world stories in media (Think The Walking Dead, etc) – this is actually a book for disciples wanting to go deeper with Jesus. Wells challenges us, in contrast to our instant-on, 1 hour delivery world, that “the knowledge of God is, in fact, a lifetime pursuit, not an instantaneous download“. While we may feel out of sorts, and we may think that the church is in a spiralling vortex of complexity and persecution, we are encouraged to remember that “redemption means the same thing whether a person was born millennia before Christ or is yet unborn“. This is a book about God – and so it is a book that is actually deeply comforting, encouraging, and robust.
As someone with a traditional, orthodox evangelical theology around most things, shaped firmly by a Vineyard lens and the ‘big story’ of the Kingdom of God, I found a lot to resonate with in this book. One aspect was the application of serious theological shape to simple concepts, concepts we often think we know. For example, on justification (As individuals): “God’s supernatural deliverance is ‘already’ being experienced, for we are justified and have been reconciled to God, but it has ‘not yet’ run its full course“. As with our individual salvation, so with the bigger picture of the renewal of all things; “This coming triump, already inaugruated but not completed, flows from the cross“. This is a book that has marinated deeply in the whole of the Bible’s grand narrative, and the best of the church’s teaching. One sticking point for some people is the idea of God as wrathful – which, divorced from God’s holiness and love is certainly terrifying. But it is important to remember the simple complexity of God’s character and actions: “His holiness sometimes meets us as goodness, sometimes as righteousness, and sometimes as wrath“. Indeed, Wells argues that “God’s wrath is not an aberration, not some kind of deviation from who he is. It is an expression of his holiness, and that holiness is what God has been like from all eternity. Indeed, the perspective of Scripture is that God’s wrath solves moral dilemmas rather than creating them“. Amen! This book beautifully inter-relates multiple vital but complicated doctrines in a way that illuminates Scripture and should turn the Christian reader to worship.
In a range of chapters, Wells engages with questions about the character of God, and what real love looks like, linking the character of God from all eternity to the practice and mission of the church. He writes “Real love is never morally indifferent because it is always part of the vision of what is right“, noting that “this love is of another ‘age’, but this other ‘age’ is now breaking into our world and is being made redemptively present through Christ’s cross“. This is the complex truth of living as citizens of the Kingdom of God, yet ambassadors of that kingdom in our present world:
“The age in which believers live, however, is already ‘the age to come’. It is totally different from the culture in which they also live. All believers live in both of these worlds. They cannot escape the one to live in the other… They must live in this world and light a fire for it because it is cold and dark. They live in the midst of their culture but, to change the image, they live by the beat of a different Drummer. They must hear the sounds of a different time, an eternal place, listening for the music from a different place“
I love that image – and God in the Whirlwind is real ‘pilgrim theology’, written by a disciple for other disciples. I would warmly recommend this book to pastors, leaders, readers and thinkers interested in grappling with some of the biggest questions of the faith in a way that takes both emotional and theological intelligence seriously.