Is it true to say that ‘God is love’?

It seems to be increasingly common in a range of ethical debates in the public sphere for one protagonist or other to reach for the formula ‘God is love’ as a quick resolution to disagreement. But this is usually done in a particular way, in the form of a progression from God to us and then on to our actions and the impact that they have on others. If God is love, then love is the only valid measure of what we can or should do. And the measure of whether something is loving is whether those affected by the action feel that they are loved as a result of it. Therefore the measure of whether something is a Christian ethical action is whether those affected feel that they are loved by it. There is a serious point to this move, which is to counter the real danger that we can do unloving things in the name of a loving God. But in the form it is often practiced in contemporary discussion, it easily reduces both ethics and the idea of the ‘love of God’ to a banal measure of how I feel. I think this is the concern behind the spoof article on the satirical website Babylon Bee, ‘Progressive Criticizes Jesus For Not Being Very Christlike‘:

After reading several chapters from the gospels over the weekend, local progressive believer Wendy Butler reportedly published a Patheos blog post in which she criticized Jesus of Nazareth for “not being very Christlike.” The blog post took Jesus to task for His “unloving and problematic” teachings.

“He devotes entire sections of His sermons to ranting about archaic religious concepts like hell and the last judgment instead of just coming alongside the marginalized and affirming their sins,” Butler said. “Very little of what He did on earth I would describe as life-giving. Frankly, I do a better job of being Christlike than Christ Himself.”

One way of exploring the phenomenon of reducing ethics to ‘felt love’ would be to look at the structure of how we think about what is right and wrong, as Jonathan Haidt has done in The Righteous Mind (summarised helpfully by Glynn Harrison). But I want to make some observations from the other direction, that of the Scriptural texts about God’s love. I feel enormous trepidation in even beginning to think about this, since it is such a large topic, so many people have written on it, and I am in serious danger of being accused of heresy if I omit something important. Despite that, I am going to stick my neck out and make three main observations; the heresy register is open in the comments section.

My first observation is that God’s love is consistently depicted as self-generating and self-originating. By that I mean that God loves because of who God is, and the love of God is not drawn out of God by the virtue of the thing that is loved. This finds one of its most explicit expressions in Deut 7.7–9, where Moses is rehearsing the narrative of God’s rescue of Israel from the land of Egypt:

The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.

The repeated emphasis here is that God’s people are special and distinct—not by any virtue or merit of their own, but simply because God ‘set his love’ on them in his sovereignty. Election is not a badge of merit, but a sign to the world of God’s sovereign, self-generating love.

This offers both a challenge and an impossibility to the human exercise of love, if it is to be patterned on the love of God. The challenge is that God’s love is offered ‘indifferently’, that is, without regard to the status or merit of the one loved. This is behind the repeated NT claim that God is ‘no respecter of persons’ (Acts 10.34, Rom 2.11, Eph 6.9, Col 3.25, James 2.1, 9, 1 Peter 1.17), which is not only important as an expression of God’s justice, but is the central theological conviction behind the extension of the good news about Jesus from his Jewish people into the Gentile mission. The (in one sense) arbitrary nature of God’s election of Israel ultimately deconstructs itself, and leads to the (theo-)logical conclusion of inclusion of people from every tribe, language, people and nation (Rev 7.9). If we love with the love of God, we too need to love regardless of the merit or virtues of the one loved.

But this leads to the impossibility. As a finite and frail human, my love of the other is almost always dependent on that love being drawn out by the merit of the loved. I love my wife, at least in part, because she is lovely (and in my view, extremely so). The love of spouses for each other in marriage is (in this sense) only a partial model of the love of God for his people. (This is the point for a digression the subject of the analogia entis, the ‘analogy of being’, a debate about the virtue of Thomist theology, and whether what we know about our own lives leads us to understand God, or whether our understanding of God through his self-revelation is the only thing which allows us to understand ourselves…but I will leave that debate to others.)

My second main observation is that God in his love is constantly depicted as seeking out and crossing boundaries. I think that this is more implicit than explicit in most OT narratives, since there is a repeated focus on the holiness of God and the boundaries that must exist around that. But that in itself assumes that God has crossed the most fundamental boundary of all—that between the creator and the creature—in making God’s name known to his people. The presence of God in tabernacle and temple represents a crossing of the boundary between earth and heaven which forms the basis of all theology of God’s presence in the world (across the Scriptures) and finds ultimate expression in the eschatological hope of the NT, that the temple-city-people of the New Jerusalem will come from heaven to earth. The final abolition of boundaries will only come when God’s love has fulfilled its ultimate purpose.

The boundary-crossing nature of God’s love is evident in the ministry of Jesus—though not quite in the way that is often assumed. Jesus’ programmatic saying ‘The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost’ is attached by Luke to Jesus encounter with Zacchaeus in Luke 19.10, but it could easily have been deployed amongst Luke’s collection of the parables of the lost in Luke 15 or in the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ in Luke 10. It is worth noting that Jesus’ use of this latter parable as a commentary on the OT commandment to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ implies that boundary-crossing was always present, even if latent, in the OT understanding of love.

But the parables of the lost themselves contain a curiosity: after the depiction of the boundary-crossing seeking of God as a shepherd pursuing the lost sheep and the woman searching for her lost coin, we have the paradoxical portrayal of the patient father who receives the prodigal son returning home after he has ‘come to himself’—though the father himself neither travels nor mounts an expedition to recover the son or persuade him to return. Rather awkwardly, there appear to be some limits to God’s boundary crossing!

This is reflected in that aspect of Jesus’ ministry which provokes the telling of these parables in the first place. It is often noted that “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15.2), which was seen as fault by the Pharisees but virtue to us. There is no mistaking the radical nature of this boundary-crossing in the context of a culture where eating with another had a symbolic significance that is missing in our days of public restaurants and casual eating. And yet it is usually overlooked that Jesus himself does not host meals for ‘sinners’, and his ‘invitation’ to them consistently takes the form of accept their invitation to eat at their home, as in the case of Zacchaeus himself. The only meal where Jesus is host is the one for his disciples, which anticipates the eschatological meal with the redeemed in the new creation. That is why we cannot easily make the move from Jesus’ table-fellowship to indiscriminate association with others. (Note that, although in some respects Jesus acts as ‘host’ in a ‘meal’ at the feeding of the five thousand, this is not a meal in a home in the usual sense, and so does not constitute this kind of hospitality.)

And the gospels make clear, in varying degrees, the purpose of Jesus’ welcome of sinners—that they might repentant and be transformed. Mark’s version of Jesus’ saying ‘I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners…’ is left hanging in the air (Mark 2.17), but Luke ends our suspense and completes what his readers must have known was Jesus’ meaning: ‘to call sinners to repentance’ (Luke 5.32), perhaps making this more explicit for the non-Jewish readers in his audience. This is no easy acceptance of others, no simple rejection of Pharisaical concern with holiness (which Jesus appears in principle to accept and set as a benchmark for his followers in Matt 5.20 and Matt 23.3)—and it bears little relation to contemporary ideas of tolerance, inclusion and acceptance. The consistent testimony of the gospels is that Jesus’ message was both good news and a challenge—the invitation both to trust and to repent. He mixed with sinners as a spiritual doctor dealing with the sick who need to be made well, coming to tell them that they are heading in the wrong direction and need to change ‘be converted’ even.

This, then, informs my third observation about the language of God’s love. In the New Testament, it seems that every mention of God’s love is in the context of his forgiveness of sins—the costly self-giving of God that is necessary for the amends-making offering of his son Jesus for our redemption. This is true for the best known (and most misinterpreted) verse in the NT, John 3.16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

(The misinterpretation is in thinking that ‘so’ here indicates degree; it actually primarily indicates manner: ‘This is the way that God loved the world…’) But this unbreakable link between God’s love and the costly redemption of humanity from sin is evident everywhere else. In Ephesians 2.4–5, God’s love is evidenced in his bringing us from the death of sin to the life of obedience:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

It was Paul’s personal experience—God came to meet him even whilst he was the ‘chief of sinners’ because of his persecution of the followers of Jesus (and therefore of Jesus himself since they are his body and presence). This is embedded in his explication of his theology of the gospel in Romans 5.8:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

And this is equally true in the Johannine articulation of God’s love, from which our opening saying ‘God is love’ comes.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4.8–11)

Once again, there is no escaping the ethical imperative here that should mark God’s people distinctively. But most deployment of the phrase ‘God is love’ rips this saying from its context. If we want to read this faithfully, then we need to understand it as expressing God’s costly self-giving which is ‘indifferent’ and boundary-crossing—but which is only fully expressed in the transformed of the ones loved as they respond to the love that is offered and are transformed and redeemed by it. The love of God can never leave the loved one unchanged if it is actually received.

If we see the connection between the love of God as described in the Scriptures and the need of redemption on the part of the sinful, it helps us begin to resolve the tension we feel between the texts of love and the texts of judgement, which are present throughout Scripture but are especially problematic in the NT (as experience by our satirical ‘progressive’ in the Babylon Bee piece). If the love of God is expressed in the offer of rescue from sin and death, then the acceptance of this offer of rescuing love has serious consequences. In our own conversation, we often want to keep the two apart—yet it is striking how often the NT keeps these two ideas in close proximity. Our best-known verse about love in John 3.16 sits cheek by jowl with the language of judgement for precisely this reason: that God’s love intends to save us from the alternative fate of ‘perishing’.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. (John 3.17–19).

In this sense, the love of God is not so much ‘inclusive’ as divisive, since the extent to which we understand God’s love is the extent to which we see the urgency of the need to respond to it in decision. It also implies that the credibility of our claim to express the love of God cannot be separated from the credibility of our case that humanity is in need of this saving love.

All this goes to show that when we (rightly) proclaim that ‘God is love’, whether this is true entirely depends on our understanding of the term ‘love’. Many appear to take this saying, remove it from its context, and pour into it whatever their construal of ‘love’ is—but if we do this, we are emptying the text of its meaning and making it serve our own purposes. If we wish to be shaped by Scripture then this is not an option.

(This article previously published in 2017, when it elicited a really interesting discussion in the comments.)

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70 thoughts on “Is it true to say that ‘God is love’?”

  1. Ian thanks for this (again). I’m absolutely with you on holding the Scripture together and letting Scripture show us what love is, but I’m going to stick my neck out here and plead for some help from those better versed in systematic theology. Here’s my question : might not the doctrine of divine simplicity be helpful here? It’s not God is either love or he is holy; not even that he is both loving and holy – but rather these attributes are one and not divided. His holiness is his love; his love is his holiness. And a few years ago David Wells in ‘God in the whirlwind’ repeatedly talked of him as the God of holy love. Simple and beautiful.

    • Hi Rick,

      I loved what you wrote. I simply cannot see how it is possible to think of God’s love as anything less than a combination of his holiness, justice, mercy and grace. Which one of these could we remove and still have what the Bible depicts to be the love of God? If God did not hate all that was opposed to his nature and delight in all that is consistent with it (holiness) would he be love as the Bible depicts his love? If he acted with ambivalence towards good behaviour instead of rewarding it – or with ambivalence instead of punishing wrongdoing (justice) would he be love as the Bible depicts his love?

      There are various ideologies which I believe put up roadblocks to seeing God’s holiness and justice as love. I believe the cross is the starting point for understanding the character of God – it is therefore the foundational statement of the holiness and justice of God. For the non-Calvinist it shows that God’s justice ALWAYS seeks to create the circumstances under which mercy can be offered. Therefore any other examples of the justice of God we see in scripture should be seen through that lens. So when we read of God’s vengeance in Nahum 1 we must believe that his actions are never inconsistent with his seeking to if possible restore people. And capital punishment in the Old Testament should not be considered an indication of the person’s eternal destiny but instead God’s attempt at the time to bring the maximum number of people to himself. And finally with no information contrary even hell should not be framed inconsistent with restorative justice – we should view it not as eternal punishment for sin but punishment for eternal sin – people in hell go on sinning and therefore go on being punished – the only difference with justice in hell is that people will never repent – God knows they can never be restored.

      Others however don’t see God’s justice as always restorative – consistent with his love. Calvinists – in believing that God has predestined more than half the planet to eternal destruction (“narrow is the road”) must come up with some way of describing the judgement of God inflicted on those predestined to eternal destruction – they call it retributive justice (why not injustice? – in saying this I am not telling God what justice is – only honouring what he tells me throughout scripture to be justice). It’s when you start with ideas such as God predestining people to do evil that it is no longer possible to view God’s justice as restorative and therefore no longer part of his love.

      None of what I say is intended to diminish the holiness of God – so even if a person in hell chose to repent (which won’t happen because it is precisely because they haven’t and never will that people are in hell) that wouldn’t mean that they can stand in the presence of God without the covering of Jesus. But we must be careful not to get the justice and holiness of God confused. God doesn’t punish according to his holiness – he punishes according to his justice.

      A final clarifying point – God’s justice always being not inconsistent with seeking to restore doesn’t mean that God grieves for those in hell. The Bible shows that in the age to come there will be no tears – this means that either the age to come is a state of unreality or God and his people will feel no grief for those being punished eternally. It’s the latter. But why will God and those saved not feel grief? The answer is because it is one thing to be a sinner and another to have contempt for God’s mercy. Saying no to the cross is having contempt for mercy. Committing one’s life to this path is giving oneself over to evil. This is why scripture shows God feeling compassion for some sinners and hatred for other sinners. Psalm 5 shows that God can hate sinners – not because they sin but because they have contempt for mercy.

      This is why I believe Calvinism should not be seen as some secondary doctrine over which people can agree to disagree – we shouldn’t merely accept that some are Calvinists instead of seek to bring them to right understanding. The idea that the cross is for more than half the planet nothing more than an announcement of people’s eternal punishment is impossible to link with any character attribute of God – how are we to KNOW God relationally in respect of this belief? Or treat his mercy to “the elect” as mercy in the light of how God is relating to others? Is Christianity to only make sense if I confine my thinking about God only to how he treats me? Calvinism is the start of people living out a faith which they can to a significant degree only think but not experience – how is it possible to both believe that God predestines most people to eternal destruction while embracing Jesus as if he has just walked into the room?

      • This is my view of Predestination:

        We also have to face the fact that while Reprobation is clearly taught in Romans 9:21,22, the universal and sincere offer of the gospel is assuredly taught in Ezekiel 33:11, 2 Peter 3:9 and elsewhere. Kuiper comments in God-Centred Evangelism (page 41) “We may as well admit – in fact it must be admitted- that these teachings cannot be reconciled with each other by human reason. As far as human logic is concerned, they rule one another out. However, the acceptance of either to the exclusion of the other stands condemned as rationalism. Not human reason, but God’s infallible Word, is the norm of truth. That Word contains many paradoxes. The classical example is that of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The two teachings now under consideration also constitute a striking paradox…” Kuiper goes on to quote Calvin’s comment on “Ezekiel 18:23, which parallel’s Ezekiel 33:11”:

        “Besides, it is not surprising that our eyes should be blinded by intense light, so that we cannot certainly judge how God wishes all to be saved, and yet has devoted all the reprobate to eternal destruction, and wishes them to perish. While we look now through a glass darkly, we should be content with the measure of our own intelligence. (1 Corinthians 13:12.) When we shall be like God, and see him face to face, then what is now obscure will then become plain”. This is one of God’s secrets.’
        Phil Almond

        • Hi Phil,

          Thanks for your observations. Yes I believe there is absolutely not getting around the fact that people can fall away and also that God behaves as if everyone is able to repent. Your mentioning 2 Pet 3:9 really hit me – who is God being patient with – is it himself for not getting around to saving people as quickly as he should?

          Typically people have chosen between two options – either that God has incorporated our actions in relation to his plans but not our decisions to follow him – or he has incorporated both. If we are willing to grasp the former I don’t see why intellectually we have any reason to resist the latter. Of course we don’t start with this – we must look at scripture and seek to reconcile all of what it is saying (including that people can fall away having been in the faith – see 2 Pet 2:20). The consequences of Calvinists giving assurance of salvation (I believe our assurance is that remaining in God’s grace is not burdensome as it is to be righteous by our own effort) is our playing no part in our conversion and sanctification the consequences are that people play no part in their eternal damnation. Completely devastating to a coherent picture of the character of God. Initially I thought that non-Calvinist positions on election were a nasty hack (that God elects those who will choose him). But I no longer think that – not since I thought about what those two words “in Christ” mean.

          Eph 1: 3 ESV
          Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ.

          I just realised something extending on from the post of mine you replied to (all of this still relates to what can cause us to recharacterise God’s love) – if as Ian explains God’s character is never influenced by anything external (most importantly no human behaviour) we would expect that each of his character attributes would always be expressed with the same motive. It would therefore mean that there could only be one justice of God – not a mixture of retributive and restorative justice. So which is it? Is God’s justice in all cases retribution? The cross says not. The cross clearly says that God’s justice doesn’t operate inconsistent with his mercy – his desire to restore. What if we attributed what we might consider to be God’s occasional judgement without mercy to God’s holiness? That option would suffer from the same problem – God is unchanging in mercy – he is merciful towards all people and in all events.

          I have therefore proven that:
          – God’s justice is NEVER inconsistent with his desire to if possible restore
          – Calvinism – in requiring God’s justice to have various motivations (due to the predestining of people to eternal punishment) – cannot be reconciled with the unchanging character of God
          – Calvinism therefore cannot be correct.

          When it comes to the love of God the Calvinist believes that God is love until he gets angry – and then – who knows.

          That’s one major re-characterisation of the love of God – and the other is recharacterising the love of God as sentimentalism and tolerance for wrongdoing. These are the two main distortions of the love of God in the first world church.

          I welcome criticism from anyone on these things – especially Calvinists – and no matter how far reaching or fierce the criticism. I hope that it is clear why at least in my mind I am raising these issues.

        • Hi Philip Benjamin
          Thanks for you post. But honesty compels me to note that I don’t think we are in agreement on all points. I also believe the following set out in my answer to Chris Bishop on another (I think) thread.

          Chris Bishop
          I answer your question “is the TULIP definition the one you agree with in this area?” as follows:

          It is clear from the Bible that God has chosen some not all to be eternally saved and that those he has chosen and those only will be saved, as summarised in Article 17 of the 39 Articles. So God’s predestination is unconditional and his grace irresistible and those so chosen will persevere until the end.
          It is also clear from the Bible that since the Fall we all walk according to flesh, minding the things of the flesh, and the mind of the flesh is death and enmity against God, and we all need the grace and Spirit of God to repent, trust in Christ and start to please God. It is also clear from the Bible that the Son has laid down his life for the sheep whom the Father has given him.

          I think that my answer in this post and my view of predestination stated in a previous post are both true.

          Phil Almond

          • I agree that it’s clear from the Bible that God has chosen some not all to be eternally saved – so does every non-Calvinist as far as I know – the issue is whether that choosing incorporates or excludes people’s being free to choose God.
            Therefore the things you say are consequences of believing in predestination – that it is unconditional (it is from God’s perspective but not from ours – if God can see who of us will choose him) and his grace irresistable (I have just laid out an explanation in the comments below the John Piper video at the link below explaining why salvation need not be irresistable for faith to be a gift.

            If grace is irresistable what does it mean when it says that the unsaved DISOBEY the gospel in 2 Thess 1? In what sense do they disobey if they are made incapable of obeying? Why does it not simply say they were damned because their sin stood unforgiven in the eyes of God – or similar?
            I don’t disagree with anything you say from “It is also clear” to the end (because whilst you may be thinking of it differently to me it is possible for a non-Calvinist to believe both that Jesus died for the sheep the father has given him and that he died so that all may repent and come to a knowledge of the truth.
            Not sure how you reconcile your views with the verses you yourself quoted Phil – you mentioned 2 Pet 3:9 – why is God being patient if his saving work overrides us?
            But honestly I’m content to have expressed my ideas – and read yours to this point – I’m not really looking for a to and fro on Calvinism unless as a result of new insight someone gets from my ideas or new insight I get from theirs there is no ground to cover. Have a good night and thanks for the exchange.

          • My responding in a less than corresponding way was due to my misunderstand what reprobation is Phil. Sorry for that. I thought it was the word for being able to fall away. I don’t believe in reprobation – I think that the non-Calvinist arguments for Romans 9 – that it’s contrasting those chosen by natural and spiritual means – the nation of Israel versus those saved by faith – are compelling.
            So when I then saw you talking about 2 Pet 3 I managed to get myself confused.

          • Hi Philip Benjamin
            They disobey because God’s invitation/command to repent and believe the gospel is genuine and sincere. This is part of what Calvin called ‘blinded by intense light’.
            Phil Almond

          • Hi Philip B,

            I think you fall into the trap of believing calvinism is a form of fatalism (as do many contemporary calvinists I would suggest). But you must read calvin on free-will to understand the nuance of his argument. But basically, humans have responsibility and choice but our whole being, including will, is corrupted by the fall and thus our very nature chooses the path contrary to God and so it takes the grace of God to illuminate the path and when we see it, we are not going to say no because we will see it’s glory and goodness. It’s not that we are puppets of a fatalistic life but our will is corrupted by sin and thus contrary to God.

            It is also based on a misunderstanding of issues such as limited atonement – which is pretty much that the atonement of the cross is only effective for the elect. The non-elect do not receive atonement.

  2. A great article on an important subject.

    Search an ESV New Testament for the word love and you will get 231 results.
    Search an ESV New Testament for sin and you will get 388 results.
    But does this mean that God is obsessed with sin and not with love? No – it means that we must see the relationship of sin to love – without the saving work of God in Christ it makes God SHOWING love to us impossible.

    A distinctive of Christian love is therefore that godly love is never separated from concern for someone’s soul. If we wish to love people we must be committed – as God was with us – to ensuring that they see a path by which their sin will no longer separate them from God – or if they already believe – that their relationship with God is deepened. That’s what is so wrong with the Welby gospel which gives entire focus to Christians needing to see things from the perspective of others. It isn’t godly love. And we have preachers such as Nicky Gumbel who talk about human beings as if our greatest problem is that we are unloved – who focus their energies only on affirming people. Affirming people is part of the gospel – there are two parts to the gospel:
    God FEELS love for us because we are his
    God SHOWED love to us despite our behaviour
    but it is to distort the truth to talk only about one or the other and not both – or to give emphasis to one more than the other. We don’t help when we use the word love when talking about God without giving insight into how God’s love is not like our love – leaving the hearer to believe that God loves the way the world defines love – as a combination of feelings and tolerance for wrongdoing.

    The fact that God’s character is independent of us doesn’t mean that God isn’t moved by our pain or pleasure. We see in the gospel of Mark that Jesus feels for people and the Bible calls it love even when separated from action.
    Mark 10:21 ESV
    And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
    As I said above I believe it is a distortion of the gospel to present the love of God as either only feeling or only acting. But the key point is that God doesn’t ACT on the basis of pain or pleasure caused by us – he is independent of us and we must believe and speak as if he is – his independence is fundamental to his being God. And whilst Mark 10 says that Jesus feeling for the man is love the Bible is also clear that when there is a means to express it our love should not remain only as feelings (there may not be a means – consider a person separated by death from their marriage partner – there is only the possibility of feeling then – or wait for feelings – does the man who sees a lady’s pram rolling onto the train tracks wait for feelings?

    I am not theologically trained and only recently learned that God’s not being influenced by our pleasure or pain – is called his impassibility. It is discussed in the Jun 11, 2018 episode of The Credo Podcast and also in the article below.
    In the article the author argues that for God to be impassible he must neither ACT nor FEEL love in response to our pain and suffering – I can’t see why it needs to be the latter – as long as his feeling is considered to be merely an expression of the his pre-existing complete love instead of something that caused God’s love to become greater.

    Since this is the nature of God’s love for people it also must be ours. We feel love for people but when it comes to showing love we do so because God is love – not because we feel it or others expect or hope for us to show it. Another way of saying it is that we must not love people through their eyes – and not through our eyes (which we might be tempted to do because we might think that in our being sinners we should show greater tolerance of the wrongdoing of others – no – instead we must repent of our sin) – but through God’s eyes.

    • Hi Phil

      A quote from your other posting:
      ‘They disobey because God’s invitation/command to repent and believe the gospel is genuine and sincere.’

      Is that not the fundamental problem with your view – how is it really ‘sincere’ if God knows those people will not repent and believe the Gospel? And how does He know? Because He has not chosen them to be able to repent and believe, and they will therefore never be able to do that which He wishes and which He knows would be best for them. But presumably He could chose them to repent and believe (God must be the ultimate free agent), but chooses not to.

      How is that ‘sincere’ on God’s part?


      • Hi Peter
        As I say above “This is part of what Calvin called ‘blinded by intense light’.” It is one of God’s secrets how two truths which cannot both be true judged by human reason and knowledge can both be true for God. See above (perhaps on another link) for quotes from Kuiper in “God-centred Evangelism” including the quote from Calvin. Whatever Calvin wrote elsewhere I believe he hit the nail on the head in his comment on Ezekiel 18:23, which drew my attention to ‘blinded by intense light’ in this matter.

      • If God knows all things from the beginning of time, before the foundations of the world, then I’m nor sure the argument ‘how is it sincere if he already knows” really holds up regardless of free-will or predestination. To resolve that ethical issue, you would have to deny God’s omnipotence.

  3. I have a challenging book on this topic by David Pawson, ‘Is John 3:16 the gospel?’ His answer (spoilers) is no, unless we carry on and start talking about forgiveness. He focuses a lot on (misunderstanding of) the word ‘so’ and points out – as you do – that it’s not about God ‘loving everyone so much’, but God loving in a particular way: sending Jesus to provide new life and a way out of the mess we’re in and.

    One of the most challenging bits of the book for me is when he argues the Bible never says that God loves ‘the world’, except in this sense of sending Jesus to die on the cross. I’m not 100% sure I agree, but certainly God’s love is almost always described as being for his people, not the world. It’s as if God’s love is available to everyone, but only through the cross, repentance and forgiveness.

    I have to say, since reading the book – whether or not I agree with all or it – I have changed the way I present the gospel to non-Christians to be far more in line with what we read in the gospels and Acts than the modern ‘God loves you’ angle.

  4. ‘God is love so he loves everything in my ‘nature’ (undefined term alert)

    is comparable to ‘Tolerance is a chief virtue, because then people will tolerate every activity I indulge in’


    ‘I am always the victim never a responsible adult’.

    In an age of better theology in the pews no-one would fall for these.

  5. Systematic theology.
    It is interesting that has been raised. In a recent podcast T Keller acknowledge that he was greatly influenced by UK scholars. They wrote commentaries, w
    whereas at that time Prominent in the USA was Westminster Seminary and Systematic Theology was to the fore. He hoped that some systematics have had some beneficial influence on the UK. I can think also of how big themes, longitudinal Bible Theology hermeneutic, seems to have flowed from outside the UK.
    Would you know, Andrew Wilson is reading Bavink and has recommended Matthew Barrett’s (who has taught at Oak Hill I believe) book “None Greater – the undomesticated attributes of God.”
    This is a long intro. to thanking Ian, setting it in the opening and closing of a three point framework.

  6. “…Many appear to take this saying, remove it from its context, and pour into it whatever their construal of ‘love’ is—but if we do this, we are emptying the text of its meaning and making it serve our own purposes…” Spot on Ian, thanks.

    Of course God is Love & Jesus is God & Love became Flesh & Jesus is the criterion of love.

    I have been musing lately, and preaching it actually, why none of the main creeds and none of the main historic confessional statements of faith mention God is Love. The Catholic Catechism is as good as we seem to get. It is a primary predicate, indeed a presupposition for all God doing.
    I appreciate Barth who begins his description of God in CD 2:1 with the heading “The Being of God as the One who Loves in freedom” – Amen

  7. On your third point, Ian, I seem to recall Richard B. Hays in ‘The Moral Vision of the New Testament’ deciding to use ‘Cross’ rather than ‘Love’ as one of his key focal images precisely because (and I admit I’ve just looked it up!):

    ‘What the New Testament means by “love” is embodied concretely in the cross… The content of the word “love” is given fully and exclusively in the death of Jesus on the cross; apart from this specific narrative image, the term has no meaning.’
    [T&T Clark, 1996, p202]

  8. “…Many appear to take this saying, remove it from its context, and pour into it whatever their construal of ‘love’ is—but if we do this, we are emptying the text of its meaning and making it serve our own purposes…”

    Once again a reminder of what some of the early church fathers taught: when it comes to talking about what God is like, words are helpful for us rather than being descriptive of God.

    There is a touch of the self righteous about all of this that is extremely unappealing. I’m reminded of that satirical song by Genesis – Jesus he knows me

    Cos Jesus he knows me
    and he knows I’m right
    I’ve been talking to Jesus all my life
    oh yes he knows me
    and he knows I’m right
    and he’s been telling me
    everything is alright

    • Surely the particular problem with the word ‘love’ in English is that it has such an extraordinarily wide semantic range as to be virtually useless. I love Jesus, my wife, my sister, my wider family, my friends, my country and Jaffa cakes, and I try to love my neighbours and others. The nature of these loves is really significantly different.

      • And so we do what we always do when this is the case – we distinguish what we mean from alternative meanings which we don’t intend to communicate.

        Andrew on the other hand thinks that the Bible is not the word of God because among a range of reasons there is no way to reliably talk about God – or to know for example what God’s love is like. He says “words are helpful for us rather than being descriptive of God”. But words wouldn’t be helpful for us unless they were somewhat able to describe God. But then someone might say they don’t get close enough. But people who speak this way are confused about what we are seeking to describe about God. There are three different aspects of God someone may wish to describe:
        – the thinking of his mind – or at least the amount of it he has given us any insight into – science
        – the magnitude of aspects of his character – e.g. the depth of his love
        – the NATURE of his character.
        We will always struggle to find words to describe the first two – but words are PERFECTLY adequate to do the third. In respect of his character God is no less capable of being described than human beings.

        • “ He says “words are helpful for us rather than being descriptive of God”.

          That’s what some of the early Church fathers said, not me. Have you never heard of the apophatic tradition?

          • It doesn’t matter who said the words. The point of my post to Andrew is to show that we are perfectly able to use words to describe the nature of God, his commands, and his plans.

          • That’s what some of the early Church fathers said, not me

            You quoted it approvingly, as if you think they were right. Do you think they were right?

            It’s a bit off to contribute to a debate, ‘I think you’ll find that X said Y’ and then when challenged on Y, respond ‘I didn’t say Y! X said X!’.

            If you think Y, then you should be prepared to defend it. If you don’t think Y, then why did you bring it up?

            Because otherwise it looks suspiciously like you want to have your cake and eat it: to put forward your view, but then wriggle out of having to defend it.

          • Of course I’m quoting it as evidence. Why wouldn’t I be? I think the early church fathers were very wise to say that. And I think apophatic theology has a great deal to be said for it. It doesn’t sound like Philip had heard of it.

          • Of course I’m quoting it as evidence. Why wouldn’t I be? I think the early church fathers were very wise to say that. And I think apophatic theology has a great deal to be said for it. It doesn’t sound like Philip had heard of it.

            It sounds to me like he’s heard of it and thinks it is rubbish, as do I. How about you actually try answering his points, or do you not have any answers?

          • I don’t see any questions – just vague statements and a great deal of very general anthropomorphising. Nothing more to be said.

          • I don’t see any questions – just vague statements

            That’ll be because he didn’t ask questions, he made points — points I might add a lot less vague than apophatic theology, which as a doctrine makes a virtue of vagueness.

            And points to which you clearly have no answer, as expected, which is why you tried to take refuge in appeal to authority and ad hominem instead.

          • Points don’t necessarily require answers. I’ve stated my position. Philip has stated his. They are different positions. Like chalk and cheese. They are positions we are both entitled to hold. Any argument would be futile. I stand by my view that all I can see in his view is anthropomorphising. Which is what usually happens when people try to describe God. God was not called ineffable for no good reason. When you try to eff God, and think you’ve got it, there lies danger.

          • S doesn’t believe in mysticism. And now we see that they are anathematising all the great Christian theologians who espouse apophaticism.
            Vast theological riches of the Christian tradition cast like pearls before swine.

          • Points don’t necessarily require answers. I’ve stated my position. Philip has stated his. They are different positions. Like chalk and cheese. They are positions we are both entitled to hold. Any argument would be futile.

            So you’re basically admitting that you haven’t got any counter-argument, then?

          • S doesn’t believe in mysticism. And now we see that they are anathematising all the great Christian theologians who espouse apophaticism

            Yes; I can spot when an emperor is in the altogether.

          • Um no. I am saying (have already said but clearly you didn’t read it) that all I have seen on his view is anthropomorphising. Which isn’t describing God at all. It’s a basic problem with religious language. Sixth Form stuff. Nothing else needs saying.

          • As I said, S, pearls before swine.

            Although, I must say, dissing many of the world’s greatest theologians, including, arguably the greatest, Aquinas, is a tad …..obtuse.

          • The Bible announces in its first chapter that we are made in the image of God and therefore in respect of character and our relational capacity we are capable of knowing him and he us (Genesis 1:27). It’s as if God knew that people would wonder about this so it is clarified from the outset.

            The whole story of the Bible is about a God who seeks to know human beings – enough for him to become human – to enter his own story. It was as if the concern that Andrew has – that knowing him would not be authoritative – drove the design of his whole plan to reach out to us. And yet despite all of this Andrew concludes that this is the greatest weakness of Christianity?

            Can God be God if whilst wishing for this he is defeated in respect of his plans? There is nothing left if he does not succeed. He isn’t merely silent now and authoritative in the age to come – he isn’t God at all.

          • “And yet despite all of this Andrew concludes that this is the greatest weakness of Christianity?”

            Where do I conclude that? I say. I such thing.
            I simply say that you ascribe human qualities to the divine. You make God in your own image. That’s the error.

            Do look at apophatic and mystic theology. Lots to be gained there.

          • Is he not extraordinary – that he should become man – enabling us to know him? And since he came to earth he hasn’t left – he in dwells the church so the church can be God to the world. That’s amazing. He left because he wanted to dwell in our flesh instead of his own – to give us the joy of exercising authority over creation in communion with him. He’s is the dream leader – even though he could do things much better than we can he says “Your turn – but I am with you” and then delights as we succeed. He shows what men are supposed to do with power (it isn’t an accident that he is Father and Son not Mother and Daughter or Sister and Brother) – use it only to lead others to the best place and then step into the background. Is he not extremely likeable? You couldn’t make up a less authoritarian God.

            He makes it difficult to fall into error or remain in error because the Holy Spirit testifies in the most sensitive ways to our spirits – so we end up able to discern truth from error. We have more than the words of scripture – we have God as teacher leading us to understand what the words mean.

    • There is a touch of the self righteous about all of this

      Now that’s an incredibly hypocritical ad hominem for someone living in such a fragile glass house to throw around, isn’t it.

    • And why do you cite it Andrew? Trite beyond parody; Monty Pythonesque.
      What a jolly jape.
      No one chosen without merit has any sense of self-righteousness, nothing of merit in me: in fact the opposite, almost an incomprehensibility.
      I’ve done some self -directed study over 18 months or more, a wrestling more like, and while taken in isolation one of the TULIP acronyms may seem problematic, taken together they hold together like the digits of one hand, taken in this order, (1) T (total depravity), (2) I . (Irresistible grace); (3) L. Limited atonement (4) U. (unconditional election) (5)P. Perseverance of the saints. Of course there is a need to look into what is meant by those terms
      And while this may not comply with any strict tenets, my conclusion, after conversion, that in retrospect I did not do the choosing, and but was chosen before the foundation of the earth. In effect, I desired no Other but God Himself. That it true of all who believe.
      While my desire is for Him, part of that is a life that will not dishonour Him as revealed in scripture.

      Main sources, were Grudem, Storms, Piper, Berkhof, AW Pink, Carson, RT Kendall, RC Sproul (not in order of priority or influence) It was not all one sided, with points and counterpoints.

      I embarked on the study from an Arminian position, while “on trial” and in training as a Methodist Local Preacher. Having come to a conclusion, I couldn’t in all conscience proceed to vow in a licencing service not to preach/teach against the teaching of the Methodist church.

  9. I am not a ‘Sola Scriptura’ person – believing that human reason is also a gift of God. However, I am firmly of the conviction that, as we are reminded in Scripture: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Exclusion of people from the Church because of their perceived ‘difference’ in nature must surely be an offence against ‘the great love of God as revealed in the Son’.

    • For your conclusion to apply, you would have to properly understand what John meant by ‘love’. He said this in the context of God showing his love by the sacrificial death of his Son.

      How does that relate to the acceptance or rejection of certain sexual behaviours?

      • Well, perhaps we need to try to understand what one of the world’s outstanding Christian Leaders has to say about this aspect of God’s ministry to us, in Christ. This discipline requires us to exercise the kind of Love that God has for ALL people:

        SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2021

        “Let us always pray for everything and for everyone, even for our enemies… Let us pray for our dear ones, but also for those we do not know… Let us pray above all for unhappy people, for those who weep in solitude and give up hope that there might still be someone who loves them…The Lord is — let us not forget — the Lord of compassion, of nearness, of tenderness: three words never to be forgotten. Because this is the Lord’s style: compassion, nearness, tenderness.”
        Pope Francis

      • Sexual behaviours have nothing at all to do with it.
        On the single occasion that the phrase “God is love” appears is indeed the 1 John letter and the word means caring love – it has no sexual behaviour connotations whatsoever.

        The academic who suggested that all 4 words for love in koine greek (arguably 7 words) was stated for PC reasons and made without evidence, and repeated for PC reasons, still without evidence. The very idea that a language of a mere 8000 words (compared to the in excess of a million words we have now) can magically afford the luxury of having 4 or 7 words for love which all mean the same thing is stupidly trying to make koine Greek the same as English when there are not other examples of MULTIPLE words all meaning the same thing in koine Greek. Nor is this even the first time that academics have made an idea, and sustained it for several years, contrary to all of the evidence (the dating of John’s gospel is a good example).

        The word for love in 1 John is agape and means caring love and has no connotations at all about sexual behaviour.

  10. Conservative evangelicals also believe human reason and observations of the world around us each have value in seeking to interpret scripture – but they don’t believe that they should be used to contradict it. Would Ron like to clarify what he believes to be the relationship of these things and the words of scripture?

    Did he come to the conclusion he has that homosexual sexual activity is love from scripture or by importing his own reasoning?

    How do his ideas fit with this passage? Or does he simply override it?
    1 Cor 6:9-10 ESV
    Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

    • Hi Phil

      Re the 1 Cor quote, how does that fit with your understanding of Christ’s righteousness being ‘imputed’ to believers? Is it not true that because of Jesus, God ‘sees’ the righteousness of His Son, not their sin?



      • Hi Peter,

        My purpose in using 1 Cor 6:9-10 here and in my initial long post on Ian’s recent quoted section of Andrew Wilson article on sex differences is not to attribute a particular weight to the sin of homosexuality sexual activity. It’s only to point out that there must be something fundamental to being Christian about our recognition of the sexes for Paul to list it as a sign of not being born again.

        I think it’s very helpful that you bring this up in case there was any doubt about this. We shouldn’t be using the Bible to show people that they stand condemned unless we do so because if we did not people would never see the only means by which they can be set free and know real joy. Nor should we be pretending that we can determine the gravity of people’s sin without having any wider understanding of them.

        We know and God knows that what we offer him can be big in his eyes yet small in the eyes of others. And the opposite.

        • So, do you, Philip, believe in the efficacy and the morality of what is known to people in the business of psychological manipulation as ‘Conversion Therapy’ for LGBT+ people? Because, is you do, you are going against the wisdom of the leaders of the medical profession, who understand – perhaops more fully than you – the dangers of coercive manipulation in areas of gender and sexuality.

          There are records of many people who have conscientiously tried to be free from what they orginally were advised was the ‘sinfulness’ of their condition; who have suffered severe reactions when they discover that, despite their best efforts to change, they remained is their orginal ‘state of sin’. This can only lead a Christian to doubt their faith in the God who, seemingly, did not answer their prayers. Thank God, the Church has moved on from this travesty.

          • I have only seen Ron’s submission now. I’m glad to be asked.

            I believe that same sex attraction is no different to any number of matters in respect of a particular principle – “talking it all out” – invasive investigative discussions and activities – don’t necessarily do any good and can lead to harm.

            The only thing that helps me live out my walk with God is his authoritative voice speaking to me and his power coming to my places of weakness (which is basically all of me!). This doesn’t mean that the only way in which God’s authoritative voice and healing hand exists is when we hear him directly – not via another person. It means that only when what we hear/receive is grace – when God brings new resources into a situation instead of when people act as if such resources already exist – does good happen.

            The question therefore becomes – is there anything I can do to more fully access the fullness of grace? Galatians 3:2 makes it clear that there is no “work” which can make the Holy Spirit land upon me in greater power. However that doesn’t mean there is nothing I can do. Repentance is not a work – it is a decision. Whilst we aren’t able to make decisions to turn to God without grace our making decisions is not a work. My deciding that I will go to the gym twice a week (there are cheaper ways to get fit people!) is not a work until the day that I first go. To see how I see repentance fitting into the Christian life (specifically that I see it as something we do in response TO GOD’S HOLINESS AND JUSTICE ALONE) please read my comment below the video at the link below – starting at the paragraph that begins “In order to be born again…”. I know my comment is long and it may seem as if it’s going to be like things you have heard – but in some respects I predict that it will not be – please read!

            My primary concern for myself and for others is therefore:
            – that I accept the terms of being a disciple – that I have no rights except that I might view God and myself as he tells me I am able
            – that I behave as someone who believes that the answer for all my problems is that I be spiritual – not that I solve X problem in me – so I focus on what it means to be wholly God’s. A key part of that is to grasp what it means not only for Christ to die for me but for me to die with him. Why does this matter? Because sin and its consequences have never let go of someone who is still alive – and sin has never held on to someone who is dead. That is the mystery of the gospel – that there is a way to die – and therefore be freed of the power and penalty that sin has over me – while remaining alive. So that’s my hope – the answer of Christianity is not that I seek to redeem something irreversibly destined for death (me) but that I die and rise to new life.

            Nobody whose preaching does less than damn us has the slightest interest in helping us find new life.

            As will be seen in my comments at the video I linked to I believe that the thing which is missing from our understanding of the gospel is either that we see it as an invitation or we imagine that in accepting it we are left with any rights. We have none. I can only encourage people who are scared of the humiliation of authentic faith – to remember Jesus – who Philippians says SCORNED the shame of the cross. He treated the shame as if it was of little import compared with the joy of being united with his father. Everyone will one day be on their knees before God – “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow” – and for many their being brought to their knees will happen a lot sooner than they might imagine. The question then becomes when we plan to get to our knees – in advance or only after being pushed to our knees? It’s the easier path to choose to be naked instead of be stripped naked – to choose to get to one’s knees instead of be pushed to one’s knees.

    • My response to you, Philip, is that of actual experienceof the love of God in my own life; the love of God I receive from my own wife and family (who know my situation); and the Love of God I receive from my Church Family, and God’s Love in the sacraments of The Church.

      There is a hymn from the English Hymnal – by Father Faber- that states my situation and that of most believing Christians who are aware that ‘ALL are sinners’ who fall short of the glory of God, but are loved by God, nevertheless: (Hymn 461)

      “There’s a widenss in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea;
      There’s a kindness in his justice which is more than liberty.

      “There is no place where earth’s sorrow are more felt than up in heaven;
      There is no place where earth’s failings have such kindly judgement given.

      ” For the love of God is broader that the measure of man’s mind;
      And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.

      ” But we make his love more narrow by false limits of our own;
      And we magnify his strictness with a zeal he will not own.

      “There is plentiful redemption in the blood that has been shed;
      There is joy for ALL the members in the sorrows of the Head.

      “There is grace anough for thousands of new worlds as great as this;
      There is room for fresh creations in that upper world of bliss.

      “If our love were but more simple, we should take him at his word;
      And our liveswould be all gladness in the joy of Christ our Lord.

      (The words of Jesus: “Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone!”)

      • I am certainly in need of God’s mercy in every single area and in every single minute of my life. I think the words written here describe that mercy. My problem is with quoting them as part of justifying our being entitled to maintain an identity which amounts to something other than “loved child of God”.

        I believe that Christians have few rights except the right to believe what God says about himself and them. I don’t consider my sexuality part of my identity – or the chance to express it a right – and I don’t understand why anyone -same or opposite sex attracted – does so.

        We could just as easily be talking about something other than sexuality – I don’t for example think that Christians have rights in respect of work/career – so much so that I believe it’s wrong to say that Christians have careers. We should be asking God not “Where do you want me to earn?” but “What do you want me to do?” The closest that a Christian comes to having a career is when God directs them in such a way that an outsider accidentally describes it as a career.

        It should be clear then that the way in which I think about the Christian life puts me at odds with many who profess a faith.

        Another key issue for me is I don’t believe people should pretend Christianity can ever be inconsistent with what is revealed in scripture – if people believe that Biblical Christianity is immoral – inconsistent – they shouldn’t be a Christian. I don’t have automatic disrespect for those who act on same sex attraction but I do think that people pretending that a bible passage saying X is in fact saying Y are acting in a way that affects how I view them.

        Behind these views – and feelings that build in association with them – there is someone who wishes to be united with ANYONE who has set their life to be a somebody in the eyes of God – and who therefore is able to experience God’s goodness with me. That wish grows greater with every passing day. It should be clear that by virtue of the limits I place on what should be our identity I exclude no-one – I couldn’t for example give a flying fig who people are attracted to! I only care about whether people’s identity arises solely out of God and who he is – or who are yet to finalise their position in respect of that.

  11. Dear Rev’d Paul

    Is it possible that your preceding column about the Book of Revelation suffered a glitch? I wrote a comment beneath it but it was not posted and I notice that no comments appear to have been made on it. Given the average number of comments beneath other posts on this blog I find that implausible unless something electronic went wrong.

    • Funny. I wrote something at that time but deleted it before submitt8ng it. Perhaps i was hogging the queue and preventing your comment.

  12. Sorry Simon,
    Just seen this.
    That really is the toughest one. But it’s probably best looked at as Definite Atonement.
    While I can’t articulate it in a comments section, taking the points as a whole, I’d say that on the balance of probabilities, more likely than not; yes.
    Probably the greatest influence was charismatic Baptist Dr Sam Storms, from his web site, a number of years ago. He drew together the arguements for and against, though it was necessary to look around his site such as in Order of Salvation. I could delve into his present site, but I think Ian is quite rightly wary in his moderation of links. While Grudem, Systematic Theology does also seek to balance some pros and cons, I didn’t find it so full in its argumentation. I don’t know how Grudem’s new version covers it.
    Sometime, subsequent to my self directed study a multi-authored book was published- From Heaven He Came and Sought Her.
    I haven’t read it, though a from a review by Andrew Wilson he wasn’t convinced.
    I think that what Storms helped with was separating the scripture from what has been identified as hyper-calvinism and double pre-destination.
    As it happens, I knew little of Calvin and his teaching, and still don’t.
    A few years ago the church had a visiting Welsh preacher, from a charismatic church. He was supportive of Martyn Lloyd Jones. Afterwards he joked with me he was a 4.5 Calvinist!
    It’s probably needless to say, at that time, no – one I knew wanted to touch the topic with a barge pole.
    I recall preaching at a large professional Methodist church, when at the end, with goodbye handshakes, someone appreciatively said they never thought they’d hear what I’d said, in Methodist Church and I wasn’t then sure what they were getting at! It was on cleansing the temple. But I do recall using an illustration from Baptist?Steven Olford, (an influencer on Billy Graham, I understand).
    In fact, only 2 or so years ago, while listening to RC Sproul, he emphasised that the topic should not be central.
    A localish, independent non charismatic Reformed Church who subscribe to the doctrines preach Christ, marvelously.
    I don’t know if they have teaching sessions on the topics, though maybe not, as I was asked by a member I knew, if I’d go through them with him. We had weekly 2 hour sessions at his home, over about 18 months.
    Some of the church we had both been part of had made known their belief that the teaching was satanic. It was only near the time of the minister’s retirement that he avknowledge that he’d been raised with the Westminster Confession of Faith in Northern Ireland . It was n’t really apparent in his charismatic persuasions. Most of the church members had migrated from Methodist Churches.
    Far too much , I know, Simon.

  13. A love that trembles.
    For all those who trash with a throwaway, Conservative label, be astonished, put up this week.
    Even as this risks a lengthy moderation by Ian, the link is posted as Dr Michael Reeves, Anglican, is interviewed (he has a new book).
    For those who are aware of John Wimber and Toronto and Brownsville and even the ministry of Whitefield, there may be unintended consequences – theological, scripture support for trembling fear, awe, love of the Lord.
    Nearer the end it takes us back to the start, the first point Ian made in the article above – the Trinity.
    Enjoy. Enjoy God!

  14. a) I think we leave judgement out of our definition of God’s love at great peril.

    In child protection services it’s well known that a parent may say to a child ‘I love you’ and demonstrate that affection in many ways, but if that child has disclosed to that parent that it’s being abused by a third party yet the parent doesn’t act to bring justice and safety the child is often left with a severe feeling of abandonment known as ‘failure to protect’. The child may well feel more lifelong animosity to the person who ‘failed to protect’ than the one who actually perpetrated the acts.

    Similarly with other authority figures, when they commit or even allow to go unchallenged various injustices the victims feel an even greater sense of betrayal.

    Hence the inherent conflict in people’s arguments – on the one hand they want a ‘hands off’ God so they can do what ever they like but still enjoy his love and benefits but on the other hand are angry with him when other people or ‘life’ (often others at one step removed) are unfair, somehow they still feel the ‘failure to protect’. Hence deep down the need to know that there will be ultimate justice.


    b) I find it very powerful that in Exodus 34 when God has that particular opportunity to say what ever he likes about himself and this is the definitive chance to describe himself as he wants to be seen he talks about being compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and overflowing in love in the loving-kindness sense. He also punishes and blesses. Punishment only lasts a few generations (the length of time the epigenetic effects consequences last?) Blessing goes on and on and on. I feel this is all so clearly reflected in the life of Jesus. And the 1 Cor 13 summary. Love is patient and kind …

    I think the fudge over the NT translation love is a serious error. I think “loving-kindness” for agape reflecting the OT word and concept could help.

    I also think we need to be taking the hell-fear and judgmentalism approach out of preaching and church life, which both basically take God himself out of the equation making frightened-ness about suffering and fearing of human ostracism the primary motors of the pressure we put on people to convert and behave.

    c) As for the “banal measure of how I feel”, I do basically agree in theory. The problem, and a very major one, is that the discussion does not come in a vacuum. I think that as Evangelicals we have been pretty heavy handed, handing out condemnation and rigidity when even a modicum of loving-kindness would have gone a very long way. I’m afraid I’ve known too many people who were put off God because of us. If you look at why people are still leaving church despite still having faith it’s very telling. Some may balk at the idea of calling bullying rigid sermons, thoughtless judgemental patronising pastoral advice, or isolating excluding cliquish congregational behaviour as ‘spiritual abuse’ but it seems to have that effect on it’s victims just as much as any other emotional abuse or coercive control. It makes me think of the bullying sheep in Ezekiel, also the sheep-looking wolves in Acts.

    I feel the church needs to overbalance in the opposite direction for while just to right the wrongs of previous generations. We need to exercise our ‘compassion muscles’ much more than our self justification ones, even if the desire for right doctrine, soundness and respect for the Bible were in themselves a counter swing against the excesses of liberalism etc.

    I do understand that the previous over-leaning the other way meant for example, a very soggy self contented church that needed the counterbalance of Finney et al However in view of the damage I’ve seen from our over zealous evangelicalism and the balance I feel exists in Bible – (I desire love not sacrifice etc etc) I think that it’s impossible to over emphasise that God is love/loving-kindness.

    I get very moved reading the first letter of John. More important than which John wrote it, is to me, the way it’s written. This isn’t literary analysis of course but it’s impassioned pleas make me think of an elderly apostle who, of all the complex and amazing things he’s shared is reduced to just repeating over and over that for all your right-ness, saying you love God, it’s rubbish if you don’t loving-kindness your brother. Like Paul’s frustration with the Corinthians’ rightness giving dissonant resonances.

    Of course this reaction has a personal element underlying it. What would I and so many others I’ve encountered along this de-churched road have given for a few words of kindness, a little thought beyond perceived right-ness. You recently published a post that I can’t just find by the ex Shaftesbury guy who looked into where his old congregation went. He echoed the findings of STEVE AISTHORPE who looked for his old fellow congregants when he returned from mission in Nepal. We have to listen carefully and prayerfully to these voices otherwise we just go round repeating the same errors and undermine the very church we say we’re trying to build. Yes, God is love can be a trite reply to important theological concerns but I don’t think replying yes God is love but … is the best reply. I feel we need a good deal of pride swallowing to compensate for the Pharisaical damage we’ve done to the gospel first. Once we outdo them in love maybe then we can take them to court.


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