Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sola Amor, or "Love" Alone: An Emerging Gospel

A common complaint from both inside and outside the church is that the body of Christ is not adequately caring for the poor and downtrodden, that it is not "showing love" to the world. (This post will not deal with the legitimacy of such observations.) What happens when there is a perceived lack of caring and concern for "the least of these" (Mat 25:45, NET) within the church? Three reactions are possible. First, one may react by trying to sensitize the Church to the need for outreach, but without taking away from discipleship and sound, Biblical teaching. A second option is one of apathy, where there is simply little or no reaction. Third, the option that has morphed into an entire movement, is to overcorrect in the other direction, exalting love to a level even to the point of idolatry. Before the fleshing out of this third option, it would behoove critical onlookers to understand that while these perceptions may or may not be valid, a valid conclusion does not always follow from valid observations.

Although this movement might be well intentioned, it terribly misses the Biblical mark regarding love. Frequently, emergers and some who flirt with being rather emerging will cite "God is love" as their rally cry. This is true, as it is Biblical (1 John 4:8). However, many of the aforementioned persuasion will also cringe at the Biblical truth that God is righteous, holy, and just. Rather than embrace these attributes, they then create and live a modified theology of "God is only love", with a verbally silent but no less powerful "only". The word "only" is where the modified theology diverges from Biblical truth. Other equally true attributes of God fade into the background, or even disappear entirely. When this occurs, love as the one and only important attribute is exalted above all else, frequently even above the true God. Love then has become the entire message; it has become an idol.

When we decide that God is "more loving" than any other quality, we are engaging in a-Biblical, speculative theology. Despite its popularity in the postmodern church (and in sympathetic churches), speculative theology is precisely that: speculation. Due to its dependence on the fallible and wavering human mind, it is dangerous, leading us to contrived, false images of God. God as only love is one such contrived perception. The attributes and character of God are revealed to us through Scripture, and that which humans concoct about His character is powerless to affect what truly is.

According to the underlying assumptions of many emerging leaders, the goal of love seems to be to increase immediate happiness and well-being. Young Christians are buying into this mentality with reckless abandon, all the while proclaiming their hatred for the lack of love in "organized religion". Many wonder, "if it makes people happy and sounds good, what's the problem?" The problem lies in the fact that the Christian goal of being loving is far greater than the short-sighted ideal of "spreading happiness". Happiness may occur as a byproduct, but it may not. A pastor who is corrected in his consideration of a dangerous theology or philosophy of ministry by the board of elders is unlikely to "feel happy", yet if it is done in the spirit of loving correction, the elders are only correcting out of love for the pastor and love for the Church. Love is far broader and deeper than merely "providing and spreading happiness". Thus, the popular "emerging" vision of love is vastly incomplete in relationship to Biblical love, and is therefore incorrect.

"Emerging love" is not the "be-all and end-all" of Christianity. Admittedly, not all "emergers" believe this to be true, but the view is nevertheless pervasive. Many even assume that all you need to be an effective evangelist is to be loving. This might sound like a wonderful plan, except when you realize that there are exceptionally loving Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, and the like. Love is significant, certainly, but is not the whole story and cannot on its own determine truth value. The whole story requires the whole truth. In our churches we should not be content to exalt this "love" to idolatrous heights and to leave out the truth of God being simultaneously righteous, holy, and just simply because of how it makes the congregation feel. It is true but often ignored that we do not deserve His grace, and is true that He offers grace because He is also love and is merciful. Without a recognition of our depravity alongside His other qualities, love becomes a meaningless, utopian feeling. Preaching the "love gospel", however common, is doing an immense disservice to the church. When it is adopted, the forces of darkness leap for joy as they watch it render the message spiritually inept and devoid of eternal significance. Are we preaching this renegade and amputated version of "love" or are we telling and accepting the whole story?

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