David F. Wells. God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. 272 pp. $24.99.
There is certainly confusion in postmodern culture on how we relate to God and how He relates to us. The tumultuous climate of postmodern culture demands that we parse this relationship properly.
David Wells has devoted himself to this task. As a historical and systematic theology professor at Gordon-Conwell, Wells has written extensively on postmodernism and is an expert on the relationship of Christianity to culture. Wells offers God in the Whirlwind as the sixth volume in his stout theological engagement with postmodern culture.
This volume, rather than focusing on reading culture, puts greater weight on remedying culture’s misunderstanding of God’s character, which, according to Wells, has created a cultural storm. Wells says in the preface, “This volume reflects on what we have so often lost in our work of framing Christ-and-Culture. It is the holy-love of God.”
Thus, God in the Whirlwind supplies a biblical theology of God’s holy-love. What’s that? Scripted out, one might say, “God’s-holiness-and-God’s-love-in-their-union-with-each-other.” Fundamentally, the sum of God’s character is His love and holiness; the two are inseparable.
In this excellent study you will not just rediscover a vision for God by tracing the story of the gospel in relation to God’s character of holy-love, but you will see how He loves, how He’s holy, and how that interrelationship portrays His glory at the cross. It is a holy-love that comes from without and reaches down from above. The whole gospel narrative of our fallenness and need for restoration is developed through this lens, and then drives our walk with God, our worship, and our service.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
God in the Whirlwind is not a tedious read nor is it challenging to connect to ministry. Throughout this book, you will discover how theology and ministry interrelate with cultural context. This is where Wells excels. In order to demonstrate this, I want to zero in on two examples that present a portrait of the wider work. Through these examples, you will discover the fortitude of Well’s study, which endures the assault of today’s culture and the siege of time as well.
First, let’s look at chapter four. Wells explains God’s love in this chapter. He helps us fathom that it comes from above and descends to us.
This is contrary to the postmodern perspective. This perspective says that love is found within. It becomes an experiential therapeutic benefit rather than self disclosed revelation. Instead of being undone by inner wretchedness and need for love from above, we become inordinately confident in our ability to ascend towards God. We make ourselves acceptable rather than God accepting us. Wells says, “In the one, the self grasps what it wants. The other knows that it can grasp nothing and must, instead be grasped by the divine agape-love.”
Postmodern culture’s influence on the Church dictates that many, though grasping the biblical elements of the former view, find the latter view more appealing. Wells, with this instance and many others, explains that misappropriating truth from postmodern culture deceives us into embracing bankrupt thinking.
Second, let’s look at chapter six. Imbedded in God in the Whirlwind is an emphasis on objectivity. This stands out in chapter six’s discussion on the cross.
Wells doesn’t sheepishly withdraw from postmodern subjectivism, trading it for the warm blanket of objective modernity. Rather, he aggressively cross-examines subjectivism to see if it stands defensible.
Look at how Wells concludes his chapter six discussion on the cross:
“The God who was with us in our history is the God who is for us throughout eternity. Needless to say, what I have been describing collides head-on with the way postmoderns tend to see things. For them and, indeed, for some in evangelical churches, there is no objective reality that we can know.”
He goes on to say that postmoderns look for truth from within where it will not be found. Wells argues convincingly that truth only comes from without and is revealed in the person of Christ. He contrasts this to postmodern culture’s predisposition of finding truth within self. In doing so he pinpoints a major problem with the Church embracing subjective postmodernism.
“Spiritual reality, people believe, is accessed from within themselves, intuitively. That being the case, the biblical redemptive history, this disclosure of God outside of ourselves, in a distant place and a faraway time, strikes many as simply too remote. They cannot relate to it. Besides, it is redundant. They have far more confidence in their innate powers than in their ability to access the meaning of this ancient history.”
The problem becomes apparent. Atonement is no longer necessary. Throw out your Bible, and throw out God’s redemptive story. Fully embracing subjective postmodernism makes the two passing fancies. Spirituality then is practiced without ever knowing “the depth of divine love next to which human loves pale by comparison.”
As you can see, Wells aggressively engages postmodernism in God in the Whirlwind. In the process he equips pastors to effectively communicate a biblical theology that will be both robust and effectual for reaching the deceived, misguided, and lost vagabonds navigating postmodern culture.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
David Wells puts postmodernism to the test in God in the Whirlwind and helps us realign our spirituality with God’s self-disclosed holy-love in Jesus Christ.