In his outstanding book, Sinners in the Hands of a Good God, David Clotfelter carefully distinguishes between the god of sentimental western moralism and the holy God who reveals Himself in Scripture. The author presents George MacDonald, the great 19th century writer as representative of the former while Jonathan Edwards as representative of the later. The book helpfully distinguishes between these two competing visions of God and effectively defends Edwards as being most faithful to the biblical witness.
The title of the book is in no way meant to belittle Jonathan Edward’s famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Rather it defends the truth that God’s wrath toward sinners in no way diminishes His goodness. MacDonald firmly dismissed the clear teachings of Scripture concerning God’s judgment of the wicked as being inconsistent with His being a loving Father. MacDonald wrote angrily against any notion that God would punish anyone in hell for eternity. MacDonald reasoned that in hell, “God is triumphantly defeated, I say, throughout the hell of His vengeance. Although against evil, it is but the vain and wasted cruelty of a tyrant.”
Commenting on the theology of George MacDonald which is incarnated in much of contemporary evangelicalism, David Clotfelter writes:
“I would like very much to think that God views all people as His children. I would like to believe that the only punishment any person will receive is that which is tailored to promote his or her repentance. I would like to believe that all finally will be saved. I find, however, that the Bible keeps getting in the way.
“The fundamental problem with MacDonald’s theology is his insistence that the analogy of fatherhood provides a sufficient basis for understanding God’s relationship with human beings: ‘Men cannot, or will not, or dare not see that nothing but His being our Father gives Him any right over us – that nothing but that could give Him a perfect right.’ Scripture does not back him up at this point. While God is acknowledged to be the creator of all (Isa. 45:12) and the judge of all (Gen. 18:25), the analogy of the parent-child relationship is almost always restricted in the Bible to God's relationship with with Jesus, His relationship with Israel, and His relationship with the individual Christian believer…To say that God treats all people as His children goes far beyond the actual assertions of the Bible and undermines Scripture’s teaching about the spiritual status and privileges of believers.”
As he goes on, Clotfelter helpfully comments on the difference between our sentimental notions of God and what the Bible actually declares. In the church today it is common for preachers and laity alike to speak copiously on their own feelings and opinions about God. What is lacking is faithful understanding of and submission to God’s Word.
“The truth, I believe, is that we can rightly understand God only if we forswear the temptation to draw our own extended conclusions from the analogies He gives us, and stick as close as possible to what He has actually said…We may not always find it easy to reconcile the various truths of the Bible. Nevertheless, we must humbly keep in check both our desire for logical consistency and our outrage at truths we do not like…We may be quite sure that all that God does is, in fact, logical and self-consistent. But we should not presume to reject that which we have not had the patience or humility to accept on God’s own terms.”