A god without wrath is a god without grace

A billboard for Grace Church Orlando near Interstate 4 and State Road 434 in Longwood, Florida.
A billboard for Grace Church Orlando greets thousands of motorists each day near Interstate 4 and State Road 434 in Longwood, Florida.


“If God’s angry about one thing, he’s angry about that sign,” said R.C. Sproul from the rostrum at St. Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida.

In Europe in the 1960s, there festered debate concerning a Latin phrase that had found its way into the confessions of historic Reformation theology: placata ira dei. Even if you don’t speak Latin, can you already sort of tell what it means? Placata resembles our English word placate, which means to mitigate someone’s anger; ira is the derivative of our words ire and irate, meaning intense anger; and dei is like our word deity, which is who God is. So, placata ira dei literally means to “placate the wrath of God.”

The controversy had to do with the way the church understands Christ’s atonement. Historically, Christian orthodoxy always has taught that one aspect of the atonement was Christ’s sacrifice designed to satisfy the demands of God’s justice and to propitiate his wrath to assuage his anger, or to set it aside. The New Testament speaks of salvation, in terms of what Christ has done for his people as Savior, is that he has saved us from the wrath of God.

In light of the central motif of the wrath of God that we find in Scripture, and how often the Bible speaks of Christ’s accomplishment on the cross as a satisfaction of the wrath of God, it may seem unreasonable for any Christians to object to this phrase “to placate the wrath of God.” But what was behind the controversy was a growing trend in modern theology, with its seeds planted in liberal theology of the 19th century, to deny ascribing any “wrath” to God for any reason.