Kevin Kinghorn and Stephen Travis. But What About God’s Wrath?: The Compelling Love Story of Divine Anger. IVP Academic, 2019. See here to purchase the book.
Kevin Klinghorn teaches religion and philosophy at Asbury Theological Seminary, and Stephen Travis is a lecturer in New Testament. Both have doctorates from renowned British universities, Klinghorn from Oxford, and Travis from Cambridge.
This book seeks to explain God’s wrath, a prominent theme throughout Scripture. Does God’s wrath contradict God’s love?
Klinghorn and Travis argue in the negative. Essentially, they treat God’s wrath as an expression of God’s love. Not only is God vindicating the victims of unrighteousness, but God is also providing moral education and correction to the unrighteous themselves. God is shaking them out of their complacency.
At first sight, this may look problematic. Often in Scripture, God’s wrath entails killing the unrighteous. How can God’s wrath morally educate them, when they will not be around to improve or benefit from the education? Klinghorn and Travis seem to be sensitive to this question, and their answer appears to be that God may provide people with post-mortem opportunities for salvation; those killed by God’s wrath in this life, in short, will carry the lessons from that experience into the next life, and that will hopefully make them open to God and God’s ways. That seems to be the key to unlocking much of their discussion. Oddly enough, they only make that point once in the book, and in a paragraph.
The book is very theological and philosophical. It addresses such questions, for instance, as whether wrath is an essential or a secondary attribute of God. Scripture is still present in the book, but biblical exegesis is not its focus. Occasionally, though, the authors cite a Scripture that seems to coincide with their point—-that God’s wrath is corrective rather than merely punitive.
The book makes points that resonate with me. Christians who have problems with the evangelical exclusivist idea that people need to say the sinner’s prayer in this life or God will burn them in hell forever and ever, yet who still want to believe in the atonement and the necessity of faith in salvation, may find respite in this book. The book maintains that the people who go to hell are those who decidedly and definitively reject God, and God alone decides when one reaches that point.
I also appreciated the book’s critique of the popular evangelical maxim that “God is love, BUT God is also just, and holy,” as if the attributes contradict each other.
Their discussion of divine attributes also is thought-provoking: what attribute is inherently a part of God, and what flows out of God’s interaction with the world?
In terms of questions, I have a slight problem with their idea that the members of the Trinity are dependent on each other. God is dependent on somebody else? And, although there are passages of Scripture that seem to depict God’s wrath as rehabilitative, that is not always the case. Some people die as a result of God’s wrath, and the notion that they will have a post-mortem opportunity to repent is not explicit in Scripture; people in Old Testament times probably lacked such an advanced notion of the afterlife, for that matter. Perhaps God’s wrath is still educational, however, in that it instructs the descendants of the person punished, or the survivors of God’s wrath.
The book would have been better had it interacted more with Scripture, but, overall, it does present a reasonable picture of God.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.