In a recent issue, Newsweek magazine took a deprecatory look at “Rambo Christianity”—fiery fundamentalists who call down wrath on sinners in high places. It seems that when a judge or legislator obstructs the kingdom, certain preachers beseech the Lord to cast down these Babylonian functionaries. To Newsweek, the practice is injudicious and outdated at best: “‘Vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord in the Bible, and some preachers even try to help the process along.… This seems inappropriate for Christian clergy today.”

If the issue were simply that Christians should bless rather than curse, Newsweek would have something. But I suspect the real sticking point is not the prayers of the preachers but the wrath of God. If so, Newsweek’s discomfiture should come as no surprise.

What is surprising is that Christians are equally uneasy with God’s wrath. It is hardly mentioned in our churches and our literature, and that fact ought to concern us. God’s wrath is a central piece in the biblical jigsaw puzzle; if we have made the other pieces fit without it, doesn’t that suggest we have forced them into a pattern God never intended?

A God Without Wrath

Fifty years ago, H. Richard Niebuhr accused the social-gospel movement of misrepresenting the Christian message: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” Theologians had reduced and revised the gospel to make it conform to nineteenth-century optimism. One hopes no evangelical would want to be caught doing that same today.

But once we have given up wrath, can sin, judgment, or the Cross be far behind? Without the one, the ...

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