David F. Wells. God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients our World. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 272 pp. $24.99.
I know generalizations can sometimes be unhelpful and someone can always point out an exception, but I think it’s fair to say that the expression of Christianity in the West in this day and age is often shallow; moralistic therapeutic deism commonly masquerades as the Christian faith, and God is seen as a cosmic Santa Clause and/or “buddy Jesus.” David Wells firmly believes that what has been principally lost in the evangelical Church is a biblical understanding of God’s character – a character that has weight; a character Wells sums up in his latest book as “holy-love.” In five previous interconnected volumes (1. No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?; 2. God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams; 3. Losing Our Virtue: Why The Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision; 4. Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World; 5. The Courage to be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World), Wells answered from a cultural perspective the question of what accounts for the loss of the Church’s theological character. In this new book, God in the Whirlwind, he has shifted his focus to the “Christ” part of the Christ-and-culture issue.
Wells begins in chapter 1 by declaring that “[o]ur destination is the character of God. We are taking a journey into ‘the Father’s heart,’ as A.W. Tozer put it” (15). Our goal in life is to know God, enjoy God, love God, serve God, glorify God. In this book, Wells takes us on a journey into God’s character, which he sums up as holy-love. Then he highlights two challenges to knowing God – culture and distractions. In regards to the first of these challenges, Wells points out that the culture touts a non-interfering god of love who is not judgmental and goes on to show us why moralistic therapeutic deism is so prevalent in our culture.
When postmoderns think about life in a psychological framework, they do so from a center in the self. It is the self that determines what salvation means and what life means. When we think about life within the moral framework that Scripture gives us, then we are thinking of it with God at its center. It is he in his holiness who defines the salvation we need and he in his love who provides what we need in Christ. In a postmodern view, we are at life’s center; in a biblical view, we are not. It is God who is life’s center. If we do not understand these differences, we will be at sea when we start to think about how God has actually revealed himself (34-35).
Wells then spends a bit of time in the first chapter explaining his theme as the holy-love of God – as Wells uses the designation, he means God’s love and holiness in unity and comprising the many aspects of His character of which Scripture speaks. Because of the theme, redemption is the natural place to start. The next two chapters look at how God’s saving purposes unfold throughout the Old Testament and into/through the New. Chapter 2 looks at continuity – what has not changed in regards to justification from the Old Testament into the New. Specifically, these areas of continuity are the cause of our acceptance before God (grace), the instrument of our acceptance before God (faith), and the ground of our acceptance before God (Christ). Chapter 3 looks at discontinuity – things that have changed from the Old Testament to the New. One difference is that our knowledge of Christ is explicit because we look back on when He came; Old Testament saints looked forward in faith to when God would provide a deliverer, seeing only in types and shadows. A second difference lies in the work of the Holy Spirit – since the resurrection and ascension of Christ, the Holy Spirit’s work has been to secure what Christ accomplished on the cross, and to everywhere and always point to Him. These differences allow us to have a deeper knowledge of God than was possible for Old Testament saints.
The next two chapters expound upon God’s holy-love, with chapter 4 looking at God’s love and chapter 5 looking at God’s holiness. Chapter 6 focuses on the atonement, first pointing out the differences between crucifixion and the cross, and then showing how the crucifixion became the cross. Finally, in the final three chapters, which talk about the “practical” issues of sanctification, worship, and service, Wells shows how God’s holy-love is at the center of each of these.
This is a Scripture-soaked and gospel-centered book, and an enjoyable and valuable read. Those who have read Wells’s previous books will no doubt feel like they’ve heard some of this before, but the material is still important and presented in an accessible way that is full of Scripture and Scriptural truth and cuts to the heart. For those who have never read any of David Wells’s books, this is a great introduction.
This isn’t a book about relating to culture with ten neat steps; this is a book with God at the center. While it may not seem practical, I truly believe that a correct vision of God is what truly transforms and that in born-again believers, orthodoxy always leads to orthopraxy. This book provides that robust biblical theology and gospel-soaked exhortation through which life-change will happen.
*I received a free electronic copy from Crossway via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.