SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF A GOOD GOD: Reconciling Divine Judgment and Mercy by David Clotfelter

Book Review
  • Approximate Time Commitment: 8 minutes

This book review was written by Hank Griffith of South Suburban Evangelical Free Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota.

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Resource Description

Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004


A thoughtful Christian friend recently gifted me with SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF A GOOD GOD: Reconciling Divine Judgment and Mercy by David Clotfelter. At the time I knew nothing at all about the author nor the book. The back cover gives some indication of its contents: “Is there an eternal hell? Can a good God send people there? Doesn’t he have the power and the goodness to save everyone? Then why doesn’t he?”

The author, David Clotfelter, who came to personal faith Christ in grad school, has an M.A. in English from Yale University, an M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University. He and wife Lisa have been involved exclusively in pastoral ministry to Chinese congregations for over 30 years. For many years he was the Senior Pastor of the Chinese Christian Alliance Church in Northridge, California. In 2017 he was called to Tunghai University in Taiwan as pastor and professor.

Here’s a testimonial by a reader: “David, I have just finished SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF A GOOD GOD for the second time and want to say how helpful it has been to me. I have battled long with a similar question “Why are some people saved and some not?” and your book in one volume gives the most comprehensive Biblical overview of soteriology I have ever read. Thank you.”

Having just read this 274 page book, I would agree with the above testimonial. I can truthfully say that this is one of the best books on soteriology I’ve ever read, and I’ve read quite a few. I’m impressed with how biblically and thoughtfully the author deals with the issues surrounding God’s plan of salvation.

I will be upfront with you that some of you will have trouble accepting the teachings of this book, though I personally believe they’re rooted in God’s Word. Also, let me remind you that Clotfelter is in good company. Think of past pastor-theologians such as Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, and Spurgeon, as well as modern ones like MacArthur, Piper, Carson, and Keller.

For me, the truths taught in this book are really the only reason I have any hope at all that when I preach the gospel or when I share Christ one-on-one anyone will be saved. If it were up to my ability to convince that individual to believe, my evangelism would be absolutely hopeless!

Now for a couple of quotes to give you a flavor of the book:

Jesus affirms that all who believe in Him will be saved. But many do not believe. Why not? Because they have not chosen to cooperate with God’s grace? That is not Jesus’ line of explanation. Instead, He says in John 6:44 that no one can come to Him unless drawn by the Father. Jesus, in other words, refers salvation not to the exercise of human free will but to the power of God. He expresses the same point even more strongly in verse 65 of the same chapter, where He says, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted to him by the Father.” No one can come – no one is capable of coming (that is the force of the Greek) – unless the power to do so has been given to him by God.

“God gives this power to some, but not all. Those to whom He gives it will certainly believe, ‘All that the Father gives me will come to me.’ Those to whom He does not give the power will not believe. Jesus’ words do not leave room for the possibility that some will come to Him without power being given them by God, nor do they allow that some to whom that power has been given will nevertheless refuse to come.” (p. 144)

On the subject of why God does not save everyone Clotfelter writes: “If all the universe exists for the glory of God, and if God works out all things in conformity with His will and purpose, then hell, too, exists to bring God glory. God glorifies Himself primarily in the joy of the redeemed, but secondarily in the punishment of the loss. This is the kind of doctrine that would make some howl with fury, but I believe it is both rational and biblical and that sooner or later, we must face up to it. God could have saved all people, but He does not choose to. Instead, He chooses to leave some people to the punishment that their deeds deserve, in order that He may more completely express the fullness of His character.” (p. 242)

Whether you agree or not with these extracts I hope and pray that they will cause you to want to dig deeper into what the Scriptures teach on this subject.

I was struck by the way the author ends SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF A GOOD GOD. In the last chapter he speaks to us in a very personal way. He reminds us that “to be a true theologian is not simply to have a head packed with arguments and doctrines, but to be a man or woman who lives in accord with the will of God, who lives with the constant desire to glorify God and who is indwelt by God’s Spirit.

After the last chapter, in the appendix entitled “A Letter to ‘Seekers,” Clotfelter presents some false evidence of being born again and some true evidence of being born again. Then he speaks directly to the unsaved, “You are in very great danger. You are a sinner, and God is angry with you for your sin. God holds you responsible for your violation of His law throughout your life, and He has stated plainly and solemnly that unless your sins are forgiven through Christ, you will pay the penalty for them through an eternity of suffering in hell. God will accept no excuses. …  .” Finally, the author challenges the reader to look to Christ alone for salvation, and he gives a suggested prayer for salvation.


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