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God in the Whirlwind

Posted: May 12, 2014 by Joshua Knott

Pastor Knott's review of “God in the Whirlwind” by David Wells *I received a free copy of this book from crossway for the purpose of review

The Book – Dr. Wells states that his goal is to provide the solution to the long-time-coming cultural crises beset upon us post-post-modern moderns.  In a (hyphenated) word, the solution is God’s holy-love.  As far as theses go, Dr. Wells uncovers the roots of the problem with his characteristically helpful cultural insight.  The post-modern man, he says, is Philip Rieff’s “psychological man” who is “stripped of all reference points outside of him or herself.”  Ours is a culture and world of the self where it makes perfect sense that young and old alike are drawn to worship the god of therapeutic moralistic deism.  We don’t want redemption, we want therapy.  We are stuck on the inside, looking inside.  This is the world we inhabit, a world described in detail in Well’s previous books.  It is filled with the self and still hollow.

It is into this world that Wells calls us to believe in, and hold forth, God’s holy-love, and never eliminate the hyphen.  God is objective and holy.  God is love.  We must preach both.  We must be both.  Wells proceeds to methodically survey the scriptures culling evidence to support the claims that God is both holy and love and we must never separate the two.

I appreciated Well’s thoroughness, his marshalling of Biblical data, and his focus on the cross of Christ as the ultimate expression and vindication of God’s holy-love.  What I did not appreciate was how many pages it took to get there.  This was a book whose introduction was enough to prove the point, and whose chapters seemed to assume I had never read the Bible, had no exposure to basic Biblical terms and themes, and who (200 pages on) still might not have “seen” God’s holy-love.  Most readers of Wells will “see” by page 15 of “God in the Whirlwind” and pages 1-2 of the Bible.

Furthermore, this was a book about the “solution” but without a detailed analysis of how to administer it.  I’m thankful he mentions the role of the Word in the local church and points believers to the Word, encouraging a distinct “holy-loving” and “holy-living.”  However, I can save myself a lot of time and get that in two pages of any of Paul’s letters.  On the one hand, then, he falls short of the “teeth” pretty much every new testament letter contains in terms of administering and living out this holy-love.  Where is the whole chapter on expository preaching, impassioned evangelism, the workplace, civil government, marriage, children?  These seem to be merely tacked on by Wells but were prominent in Paul’s letters.  On the other hand, he gives “teeth” to the otherwise soft gums of things like church architecture and instrumentation.  His points were well received, especially since ours is a church that emphasizes both God’s holiness and his love in everything from pulpit design to song choice.  Nevertheless, I’d be hesitant to insinuate that churches “becoming like them to win them” in terms of musical choice or pulpit design are severing the hyphen in God’s holy-love.  It’s in those moments where Well’s lumps in weak preaching and doctrine with plastic pulpits and electric guitars he seems further disconnected from the resurgence of strong preaching and doctrine in churches committed to “whatever means necessary” (to quote Paul) to save some, in holy-love, from behind plastic pulpits and with electric guitars.

This book takes an extraordinarily long time to prove an extraordinarily brief point.  Perhaps it was aimed at Biblically illiterate high school students attending liberal churches,…but which of those would pick up this book?  Not only this but, compared to any of Paul’s New Testament letters, it is disproportionately heavy on surveying the Scriptures about God’s holy-love and light on exactly how to live it out.

The Reader -  I struggled to read this book.  I found myself convicted at times for wanting to breeze through yet another of Well’s surveys of the Scriptures I supposedly treasure, but righteously frustrated that Well’s point was proved in the first few pages and not nearly as fleshed out as Paul’s letters.  At other times I was moved to worship by Well’s clear love for the Lord and his word (and subsequently felt bad for thinking of writing the slightly negative review I knew I had to).  I can commend this book for its exposition of much of God’s word and for its cautions against eliminating the hyphen in God’s holy-love, but I wish that the time I had spent in this book I had invested in reading the Bible instead.  

-Pastor Joshua