This paper by Ralph Keen was presented on June 30 at the recent SSCS conference “Wondrous Fear and Holy Awe” at the University of Notre Dame. SSCS members may contact the blog’s moderator for a copy of the paper. Here is an excerpt:
“If the Scholastic understanding of the process of justification seemed to elevate the human capacity for merit, the early Evangelical challenge to it elevated the working of grace and denied the possibility of meriting salvation. In the theological anthropology of the Reformers, the loss of original righteousness and the inability to gain merit in the eyes of God is met with a divine anger that strikes terror into the believer and sends him or her to the consolation of the gospel. Embracing this consolation does not banish the fear of God’s wrath: it is a protection against being consumed by such fear. The experience of grace is incomplete without such fear.
“In the following discussion I would like to point out some features of divine wrath and the fear of it as they appear in the work of some Reformers, in the hope of clarifying the centrality of this adversarial experience in the Christian life. In recovering what they saw as the Pauline doctrine of justification, the Reformers retrieved a conception of divine wrath crafted during the centuries in which the church was under persecution and the course of history was the divine plan executed through flawed human instruments. As with their Pauline and Patristic predecessors, the Reformers gave material force to the biblical language of a wrathful deity, throwing it into relief as an experience genuinely threatening to the equanimity of the believer.”