Book Review: "God in the Whirlwind" by David F. Wells

David F. Wells
1300 Crescent Street,
Wheaton, IL 60187 
ISBN: 978-1-4335-3131-6; $24.99; 2014
Reviewed by Rev. Dr. Michael Philliber for Deus Misereatur.

Diagnostic Delivery - 5 stars out of 5

Something is ailing the Christian Church in North America, especially among Evangelicals. One can sense it, feel the “wrongness” vibrating in the chord progressions, and smell it in the faux happiness oozing through the pores of smiling audiences. Since the early 1990s David Wells, Distinguished Senior Research Professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has been tackling the trouble in book after book. But now he has decidedly brought forth a prescription that is remedial and refreshing in his new 272 page hardback, “God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World.”

If the reader has delved into Wells’ previous writings, some of the material will not be new. The author’s cultural and ecclesiastical diagnostic evaluations are clearly evident in this new book. And his analysis soundly pin-points the trouble: the American social consciousness has moved away from a moral world and into a psychological world. Flowing through the bloodstream of the nation is a viral infection that is all consumed with the inner self and the therapeutic antidote. Wells goes further and contends, rightly in my mind, that this viral infection has found its way into the Evangelical Church where it has been festering and replicating itself for decades. This is seen in the greater and greater move away from Biblical preaching to inspirational chats; away from declaring the holiness and righteousness of God to talking exclusively about the non-judgmental “love” of God, a “love” that resonates with the wounded inner selves of “audiences” and “clientele” that need to feel confirmed; away from the classic Protestant model of justification and sanctification (what Calvin called the duplex gratia) to an abbreviated, affirming, aimless pattern that points solely at justification. This shift in the Church, as Wells notes, is evidence that the Evangelical Church is being pressed into the mold of our world, and no longer has anything to offer; “The more churches become like their own culture, the less reason there is to be in a church. What the church offers can be had from the culture far more conveniently and perhaps at less cost” (199).

But unlike his previous works, Wells spends more ink on the corrective in “God in the Whirlwind.” He works his way through nine chapters showing how regaining the holy-love of God is curative and restorative. That the holiness of God reminds us that we are really living in a moral world and that the outside-of-us God has announced to us what is right and wrong. That this holy God is seriously concerned with justice and morality; and that he wants humankind to reflect the ethical character of God. Similarly the love of God is all about what God has done for his people through his sui generis Son, Jesus Christ (justification), and what he is doing in his people by the working presence of his Holy Spirit (sanctification). And Wells goes on showing how the love of God is never devoid or without the holiness of God.

As we recover the holy-love of God, our worlds take on different shapes, altered outlines; “In a psychological world, we want therapy; in a moral world, a world of right and wrong and good and evil, we want redemption. In a psychological world, we want to be happy. In a moral world, we want to be holy. In the one, we want to feel good, but in the other we want to be good” (126). As we once again embrace, and become embraced by, the holy-love of God, we begin to see things in their proper place; “He is not before us to be used by us. He is not there begging to enter our internal world and satisfy our therapeutic needs. We are before him to hear his commandment. And his commandment is that we should be holy, which is a much greater thing than being happy” (127). In recovering what we, classic Protestants, once confessed to be true, it affects our lives in the ways we live, work, worship and serve; “We believe the gospel, not only so that our guilt might be forgiven, but so that henceforth, on a daily basis, we might live for Christ, walking in his ways, living by the power of the Holy Spirit, who leads us into the paths of godliness” (159).

“God in the Whirlwind” is a mildly tough work, in that the twenty to thirty page chapters require sustained concentration. But the reader will reap satisfaction upon completing the book, because it opens the windows of the stuffy rooms of our inner selves and lets in the freeing divine wind. This book would be beneficial for congregational elder boards to read and discuss and reflect upon; but ultimately, it is an essential read for every Evangelical pastor. Fellow Pastors, David Wells has pulled together a work that will help you to discern the unseen pressures that are trying to squeeze you into syrupy sentimentalism. It will encourage you to stay the course as you preach the Gospel of King Jesus. And it will feed your soul as you spend days and weeks reflecting on the holy-love of God. I highly recommend the book!

{You may freely post or publish this review; but as always, please give credit where credit is due. Mike}


Greg Fields said…

I haven't read the book yet, but contrast between morality and psychology/therapy/inner self got me thinking. First, my thoughts may be more specific than what Wells has in mind, so for what it is worth. The counseling program that I am in at a secular university to some degree confirms the contrast. However, I wonder if it may be too broad. I think the therapeutic aspect is problematic because therapies don't tend to hold to an ideal and many focus on symptom relief. In other words, the concept of "the therapeutic" isn't a problem in and of itself, nor is it at odds with redemption. I have been wrestling with the almost total insight-oriented focus of counseling in the church. It is as though all one has to do is change the way one thinks, and this transforms us. I am hearing what I think is a legitimate frustration from Christians in Reformed churches more and more. That is, they understand that the gospel is central but wonder how this changes them. You know, as well as I do, that when you sit across from people who are struggling, words like redemption, justification, and sanctification need to more than illustration and proof-texting (in the best sense of that word). I'm hoping that Wells' constructive project helps with this.
mphilliber said…
Wells uses "therapeutic" in the more "make me feel better" sense and not in the professional sense. His whole point is the move to "inner self" stuff, the "god-in-me" kind of thing. As he says it's more about making my "wounded" self happy than being holy. I don't know if that clarification helps or not.... It's probably a sad misuse of the word, but in popular parlance it's fitting to some extent.
Anonymous said…
Mike, this is good encouragement to read this book. The comments you present seem to fall in line with the sociologist Christian Smith's conclusion that North American Christians have embraced a moralistic, therapeutic, deism. This is also consistent with the research on sermons I did post 9-11. Most sermons focused on making Christians feel better about themselves--they were safe, God's special people, they were the privileged Americans (second Israel) who would always be protected. Discouraging stuff--but a significant call to continue preaching gospel messages and calling people back to Jesus.
Thanks again for the book review.
mphilliber said…
Thanks Mark. Wells does quote Smith's work affirmatively. Mike

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