Continuing with Oord’s thoughts about Nygren in chapter 2.
Four parables of Jesus are given as support for Nygren’s idea of agape as spontaneous unmotivated love: the prodigal son, the parable of vineyard laborers, the parable of the sower, and the parable of the unmerciful steward.
Nygren claims the love in the story of the prodigal son has no rational grounds. Oord replied that son’s choice to return is the crucial part of the story and shows that Nygren’s idea that we play no role at all in the restoration of the relationship with God is not supported by this parable. Furthermore it is made clear by the father that the two sons are not equal with regards to inheritance, which further undermines Nygren’s use of the is parable. On the other hand, I would complain that Oord is ignoring the fact that the father is rebuking the faithful son for His preoccupation with what is deserved and the failure to share the Father’s love for the lost son.
Nygren claims the parable of the vineyard laborers shows that God is not concerned with giving equal return for we have given Him. Oord replied that the master nevertheless rewards them for their work and doesn’t have the master giving the same wages to people who have done nothing at all.
Nygren points out in the parable of the sower shows that seeds are sown without concern where they might land. The rational approach would seem to be sowing seeds only where you can expect a good result. Oord replies that Nygren has ignored Jesus’ explanation where He makes it clear that our response to what God gives freely to all is of crucial importance.
Nygren claims the parable of the unmerciful steward shows the standard of agape ethic is one we are expected to imitate. Oord replies that the kind’s final act of handing the steward over to be tortured shows that our response to God’s mercy is important, and thus “God’s love has a responsive element.”
I agree with Oord that these parables shows that we play a role contrary to Nygren’s idea of agape, but I think Oord is showing considerable confusion here between God’s love and salvation – as if salvation depends only upon God’s love for us. I object that the implication of what Oord is pointing out in these parables is more that salvation requires us to play a role and not that God’s love itself is conditional. None of this is to change the fact that salvation is wholly a work of God, for God alone has the knowledge of how salvation is to be accomplished. I only observe that God is not working on inanimate objects and thus our response is a part of it. Changing our heart and actions is a crucial part of what God is seeking to accomplish in our salvation.
Oord suggests Nygren might have done better to use the parables of the coin or the lost sheep since these give no role to the one being found, but Nygren avoids these because both explicitly affirm the worth of that which is searched for. I likewise might complain that Oord might have done better to point out all the parables where God shows anger at those who do not do right such as Matthew 25, since these speak more to God feelings rather than just His success in changing us. The parable of the unmerciful steward is an exception to this however. Oord also points out that Nygren didn’t speak of the parable of the Good Samaritan, all about God desire for us to show a similar agape love for others. This Oord says this is because the love of the Good Samaritan is not unmotivated but a matter of compassion for suffering. But I think Oord’s argument is confusing motivation for love with the love itself.
I nevertheless agree with Oord’s principle argument rejecting Nygren’s idea that God’s love is entirely devoid of motivation. I add to this my own observation that scripture frequently expresses the fact that God is appreciative of the goodness in people… Noah, Abraham, and Job to name a few. Yes I would also speak some caution against going to the opposite extreme of suggesting that the love of God is in any way earned.
Next I will consider Oord’s examination of Paul’s letters and His conclusions about Nygren’s contribution to a theology of love.