Father Freeman sets the tone of his post by beginning with this Scripture passage:
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them.
(Father Freeman's quotation of this verse includes the phrase "and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of", which is included in the ESV only as a textual variant in a footnote. For the purpose of this post, I will grant Father Freeman that his citation is correct)
He goes on to juxtapose this passage with another one:
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming
Now Father Freeman says, "A legitimate question has to be: has the Spirit “of which we are” changed between Luke 9 and Colossians 3? Or is there a deeper understanding at work?" He then argues that the revelation of Christ in the Gospels must be the definitive revelation of God, not the Old Testament or even the Epistles.
Let me just stop here and make one comment. Even if this were so (and I'm not saying it is or it isn't), this seems a bit simplistic to me. Surely the Old Testament must be interpreted in light of the New, but why shouldn't we allow there to be some interplay between the Gospels and Epistles? Part of the reason the Orthodox interpret the Resurrection of Christ in the way that they do is because of Paul's teaching on it. The only thing the Gospels tell us explicitly is that Jesus was dead and then he was alive again. The interpretation of those events is in large measure left up to Paul and others.
Moving on, Father Freeman responds to a potential objection, saying, "Of course my citation of Luke 9 is often countered with, “What about the moneychangers in the Temple?” To which I can only say that He “drove them out with a whip” which is not the same thing as saying that Christ beat them, nor did He call down fire from heaven to consume them."
This seems to miss the point. The discussion is not about specific instances of judgement or types of punishment, it's about (speaking anthropomorphically) an emotive stance or attitude of God toward sin. Was Jesus angered by what the moneychangers were doing? Did he drive them out by force? Was he whistling and smiling as he did it? This is an important matter that the Father dismisses too quickly.
Father Freeman continues:
For various reasons, some people are determined to make the economy of salvation to be linked with the Wrath of God. If you do not repent, then God will do thus and such… I have always considered this representation of the gospel to be coercive and contrary to the love of God. I have heard convoluted ways in which this wrath is interpreted to be “the loving thing to do” but I do not buy it.
At this point, and for the remaining few paragraphs of the article, Father Freeman, in my opinion, totally side-steps the issue in favor of a discussion of God's love and how we present the gospel to others. Whether or not we can make the gospel sound "coersive" is not the issue. What the Bible actually says about the wrath of God is the issue. Of course, dispensing wrath upon sin is not so much the "loving" thing to do as it is the just thing to do, but Father Freeman neither engages with nor argues against either of these positions, so I can't respond to him on that point.
Of the use of "wrath" in the Bible, Father Freeman says, "The common witness within Orthodox Tradition is that the wrath of God is a theological term which describes not God Himself, but a state of being in which are opposed to God." I have never understood the argument that the phrase "wrath of God" is not referring to God's wrath, nor have I seen convincing arguments that clear instances of judgement in Scripture are not really judgement. But again, Father Freeman provides no Scripture passages or arguments here.
So let's engage Father Freeman's original question. Has the Spirit “of which we are” changed between Luke 9 and Colossians 3? What is this Spirit?
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."
Here I think we see a clear example of what Father Freeman might have in mind. We are not to be, as the Apostles in Luke 9 were, seeking after vengence. We could say that we ought not have a vengeful spirit. But why? In this passage, Paul tells us why. Because vengence belongs to God. This is extremely important. Paul here not only tells us not to be vengeful or wrathful, but he grounds that command in the fact that God is the one who is wrathful and vengeful. God alone can execute judgement perfectly against the wicked, so we should not attempt to do so. Far from being some kind of horrid doctrine that is "not worthy of the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (in Father Freeman's words), the doctrine of the retributive wrath of God is used by Paul to ground a very "Christ-like" attitude of charity and forgiveness toward others (the very attitude that Father Freeman assumes will be threatened by such a doctrine).
It is also important to note that the phrase "wrath of God" here is explicitly connected with vengence and the Lord's active "repayment" for wickedness. There can be no doubt here of what "wrath" Paul is speaking of.
Father Freeman concludes:
It is very difficult in our culture, where the wrathful God has been such an important part of the gospel story, to turn away from such portrayals - and yet it is necessary - both for faithfulness to the Scripture, the Fathers, and the revelation of God in Christ.
On the contrary, it is becoming increasingly more rare to hear any Christian preacher in America (at least among Evangelicals) even mention the wrath of God, let alone consider it an important part of the gospel story. Not only does the Emergent movement show us this, but the flight among evangelical youth to Eastern Orthodoxy does as well. "Postmodern" America is not the sort of culture that looks kindly upon a perfectly Holy and Just God who follows through on His promises to punish sin by His wrath. That is why it is so important to stand firm on the teachings of the Bible, and not be swayed by the opinions of men.