New Faculty Publication Explores Difficult Doctrine

Vessels of Wrath

Sept. 11, 2023

Richard M. Blaylock, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies, recently published a two-volume series on the doctrine of divine reprobating activity, Vessels of Wrath, Vols. 1 and 2 (Pickwick). In a recent interview, he shared how he came to write on this topic and why addressing difficult doctrines is important for the church:

Can you briefly summarize what these books are about?
The books are a biblical-theological examination of the concept of divine reprobating activity (DRA), which refers to the activity of God whereby he influences individuals or groups towards wicked behavior for the purpose of condemning them. In the book, I argue that the theme of DRA is presented by the biblical authors as both significant and complex. Its significance is made evident by the prevalence of the theme across the canon and by the ways in which the theme is used by the biblical authors. Its complexity is seen in the varied, yet complementary, ways in which the biblical authors are willing to speak about DRA.

Many Christians would rather not think about topics like this. Why is it important that we develop a biblical understanding of this thorny subject?
While I am not trying to argue that the theme of DRA is among the Bible's most important themes, I believe I make a compelling case that the biblical authors speak repeatedly about this form of divine agency, and they do so in ways that showcase its relative significance. If this is so, then it would be important to attend to this topic because everything God chose to reveal to us in his Word is for our good and for his glory.

Why did you choose this area of study for your PhD dissertation?
Well, after discussing several possibilities with my doctoral supervisor, I first decided to write a biblical-theological defense of the doctrine of reprobation. However, as I did my research, I realized that there was a distinction between the doctrine of reprobation and the form of divine agency that I call DRA. I decided to pursue a biblical-theological examination of the latter because (1) there is very little that has been written on the subject and (2) I believe Christians need help to honestly wrestle with the texts that attest to DRA.

Is there a danger in pastors and teachers avoiding difficult doctrines? 
I do think that there is a danger in pastors and teachers avoiding the subject of DRA because doing so implicitly communicates to our students and our church members that they can ignore the parts of Scripture that they find distasteful. Moreover, to ignore the subject of DRA would be to rob Christians of the opportunity to grow in their understanding of God's sovereignty, wisdom, justice, and grace through wrestling with the difficult, but glorious texts that attest to this awesome, mysterious work of God.

What is a common misconception the church has about God’s wrath?
Many within the church deny that God ever expresses wrath or that wrath is even attributable to him. Sadly, this perception leads many to misunderstand or caricature the nature and character of God.

What would you say to those who believe the idea of a loving God is incompatible with a God of wrath?
I would say that they need to let the biblical authors reshape their understanding of what love is. The biblical authors believed that God expresses wrath precisely because he is love! And we should believe the same today.

How can a biblical understanding of this topic be a blessing to the church today?
A biblical understanding of the subject of DRA would be a blessing to the church because it would help us (1) become better readers of the Bible as a whole, (2) recognize the wisdom and sovereignty of the God who orchestrates salvation history in part through the exercise of DRA for his glory and for the good of his people, (3) gain a greater sense of wonder at the absolute supremacy of God over all things, and (4) deepen our appreciation of his grace towards us in Christ Jesus.