In the first chapter, Ord quotes Charles Hartshorne, “Theologians have never taken really seriously the proposition that God is love.” I suppose you can say that I certainly do not take this literally either. I certainly think love is something God chooses and values, but I think it does both love and God a disservice to make them identical. Indeed, I often explain that if we really want to know someone then we need to look at the things they choose and value rather than the things they simply have by nature.
I think this still satisfies the dictate Oord makes, “only when placed at the center can the logic of love explicitly extend to all aspects of Christian theology.” My addition of freedom to this when I say I believe in the God who chose love and freedom over power and control, is really only explaining a essential part of the nature of love as something which requires freedom. That which is forced upon us cannot be love.
Oord mentions the other things which theologians have made the center of their theology: God’s sovereignty, faith, the future kingdom of God, or the church. He complains that an emphasis on God’s sovereignty in particular allows no room for “the kind of creaturely freedom that loving relationships require.” He complains that faith has a tendency to neglect motivations which must be found in the reasons for why we should respond to God. I would complain that the emphasis on the future kingdom of God shifts the love to the superficiality of our expectations, when it seems to me that the more authentic basis for love is based on who they are rather than what they can do for you. And many cannot see much merit in a focus of theology upon the church which is a pale substitute for God Himself.
Oord then considers the answers of Millard Erickson who chooses the magnificence of God as the focus of his theology, Paul Tillich who makes it all about existence and being, and thinks that in Karl Barth freedom trumps love. Despite the existentialist origins of my Christian faith, I have never seen much of value in the ideas of Paul Tillich. I resonate much more with Erickson and Barth. The point of God’s magnificence after all is that God is the most worthy object of our love, and I quite agree with the importance of freedom in anything that can be called love. Oord’s criticisms seem a little contrived to me. I particularly do not really understand the criticism in the case of Barth. I do not much like it when Barth says, “God’s loving is… the essence and nature of God.” It seems crucial to me that God’s love comes from His choice rather than by nature, thus my complaint of Barth would be the opposite, that this explanation follows the usual flaws in Christian theology which diminishes the love of God. However, this may be semantics to some degree, since I would agree that it is God’s nature in the sense that it is a rational choice – for what motivation is left to a perfectly complete infinite being who is and has everything but to give of His abundance to others?
Oord then seeks to understand why it may be difficult for theologians to give love such a central role in theology. He suggests it is because they think love is too sentimental, permissive, incompatible with reason, lacking Biblical consistency, and poorly defined. After all the whole point of theology is employ the tools of reason in understanding, explaining, and perhaps even to some degree justifying our religious beliefs. After dispensing with most of these reasons he focuses on the question of defining love as the most crucial, deciding that the Bible doesn’t provide a definition. This is a claim which myself and the majority of Christians are not only unlikely to agree with, but must even view with some suspicion that it prefaces an attempt to define love as something different that what the Bible describes.
Everything which Oord claims is not a definition, most Christians would say is a definition:
- 1 Jn 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
- Luke 10 where Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan to explain what it means to be a neighbor by way of explaining the commandment that we should love our neighbor as ourself.
- 1 Cor 13:4 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; 5 it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
- To this I would add Jesus explanation of what it takes to be great because I think this is also a definition of love. Matthew 20:26 It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; 28 even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
- And I would add what Jesus says in Matthew 25:31-45 about how God measures how people have treated Him in the way they have taken care of others.
- And I would also add what God says in the first chapter of Isaiah, where God makes it clear that the religious stuff of blood sacrifices, ceremony, and religious meetings is not what God is looking for but only that we “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
In all of this I would say that the Bible does an excellent job of defining love and by this I would judge Oord’s effort to define love himself, which is…
To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others, to promote overall well-being.
My reaction? NOT BAD AT ALL! But let’s test it against the 6 points from the Bible.
- YES! God’s aim is not to just give people a free pass but was indeed to act sympathetically to promote overall well-being.
- YES! Jesus story was not just about how the Good Samaritan concerned himself with the well being of the man robbed and beaten but also with the well being of all in that we help those in need rather than avoiding this as the priest had done.
- Hmmm… I don’t think Oord’s definition manages to capture all of what these words from Paul have to tell us. On the other hand, perhaps Paul’s words may exclude some things also. Love isn’t always perfectly nicey nice. So perhaps we can add what Oord says here as caveat… when these promote overall well-being.
- YES! I don’t think the words of Jesus is about putting on an act of subservience, where one can even be passive aggressive to the detriment of others. So we can say that the authentic servant does what he can to promote overall well-being.
- Yes. The implication is that God cannot be happy when others are unhappy especially for no good reason for it.
- Yes, here again the focus is upon overall well being.
And I think that is a good place to stop for now. Oord’s chapters are a bit long…