A Love That’s God

In Christian contexts, we hear that word a lot.  Love.  It’s everywhere in Scripture from the key teaching in Leviticus 19:18 (reiterated by the Lord Jesus in the Gospels) to God’s description of Himself as “love” in 1 John 4:8.  These are important, foundational teachings to the Christian faith and without them we would not be who we are.  We wouldn’t be Jesus people.  We wouldn’t be Bible people.  This is a doctrine that is integral to the fabric of our faith.

However, the problem comes when that’s the only doctrine of our “faith.”  Allowing the doctrines of sovereignty, holiness, righteousness, justice, and wrath to fall by the wayside unquestionably changes the conversation.  This “faith” is no longer Christianity.  This “faith”, to borrow a term from Christian Smith, is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, the basic tenets of which are:

  1. A god exists who created the world and watches over everyone.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, fair, and loving to each other.
  3. The goal of life is to be good to other people, be happy, and feel good about yourself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved except when needed to resolve a problem.

This is the primary “religion” of the people in the United States of America.  This is the “god” in which many of us trust.  This is the “god” that many of us believe our one nation is under.  This god is somewhere out there and isn’t coming home for a while and has left a note for the siblings to play nice and when you do you’ll get a warm feeling inside which means you’re a good, loving person.  This is a false religion preaching a false gospel that many have assumed is historic, orthodox, Biblical Christianity.  And for this we need to repent.

I could end this post here, hopeful that those who have elevated God’s love above all his other attributes would realize their error and seek forgiveness.

But then Mr. Mainline Love-Machine sputters in. “But but but but but but but…that’s not what I’m saying.  I’m not saying that God isn’t sovereign or holy or righteous or just,” he retorts, conveniently leaving one out.  “It’s just that the Bible says, ‘God is love.’  Everything else must flow out of his love, so whatever is loving, that’s what God does.”

And here we have arrived squarely at the issue at hand.  What is love?  Baby, don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me…no more.

I agree with the Mr. Machine.  Whatever is loving is what God does.  The natural deduction would be, then, “If God did it, it must be loving.”  This is where Mr. Machine and I would disagree.  You see, we both open the text of Scripture and see God doing all kinds of crazy things.  My sentiment would be what was stated above.  “Whatever is loving is what God does and if God did it, it must be loving,” meaning that I view God’s destruction of the Egyptians, Canaanites, and all the other -ites as loving in the same way that His rescue of the Israelites from captivity and ready defense of the widow, orphan, and sojourner was loving as well.  I think that Mr. Machine and I would deviate at this point.  I have an inkling he would call majority of what God did in the text of Scripture unloving, if you can get him to even admit that God actually did them and they weren’t “just truth-filled stories.”  The judge of love is no longer God, but our own human fancies.

The fundamental difference is that I look at the text of Scripture where God calls himself “love” and then allow Him to judge and define what love looks like throughout the very same text of Scripture.  Mr. Machine looks at the text of Scripture where God calls himself “love” and rushes to find God in everything that he calls loving.  The breakdown is that, by his definition, Mr. Machine not worshiping a God that’s love.  He’s worshiping a Love that’s god.  You see, when we get to define what love is and demand God and everyone else adhere, our definition has just excluded the Prophets, the Apostles, Jesus, and God Himself.

When we deify Love, or any other attribute of God for that matter, we always (for we must) redefine it and make it into something it never was intended to be.  Love no longer can mean anger, wrath, or justice (an inconsistency which I’ve written about here).  It must mean something else.  And once we stand proudly beside our newly defined “god,” we demand that the one true God meet our own twisted, prideful, fallen, sinful, human qualifications of Love.  And when He doesn’t, He is wrong.  “God wouldn’t say that.  God wouldn’t do that.  God wouldn’t require that.  God wouldn’t prohibit that.  That’s not very loving.”  (*New Definition of Love* Read: That’s not very nice.)

This redefinition problem extends far beyond our deification of Love.  One more example.

We have redefined, and arguably inverted, the definitions of arrogance and humility.  I’m certain that whether in public or private, someone somewhere will think me arrogant for blogging in the way that I do, but maybe a hypothetical situation would be easier.

Situation 1: Pastor Evangelly-goo gets up in front of his congregation and spends the entire 20 minute sermon flattering and cajoling and talking about himself, his story, and his experience.  People, then, walk away and say to themselves, “What a humble, transparent pastor we have.”  Why?  “Because he talked about himself the whole time.”

Situation 2: Pastor John (the Baptist, Chrysostom, Knox, Calvin, Flavel, Owen, Piper, MacArthur…take your pick) gets up in front of his congregation and says, “Thus saith the Lord Almighty, the Lord of Hosts…” and then proclaims the Word of God, a message that would have been true if he, the pastor, had never been born because it comes right out of the text of Scripture.  People, then, walk away and say to say to themselves, “What an arrogant man.”  Why?  “Because he didn’t talk about himself at all.  All he did was talk about God and the authority of the Bible.”

Here’s where the redefinition comes in.  We live in a time when to speak a true word based on what God said is defined as arrogance while to hem and haw and equivocate and offer a shoulder shrug making your own doubts, skepticism, and questions the center of the cosmos is defined as humility.

We live in a time when speaking the truth about God’s detest for, restrictions on, and punishment of sin is defined as unloving while calling the very things God did in the text of Scripture unloving and simultaneously demanding He rise to our new definition of Love is defined, somehow, as loving.

There’s only one word that can be said for people like us.  It’s no wonder it was Jesus’ first public message in the Gospel accounts (Mt. 4:17; Mk. 1:15) and the first sermon of the Church of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:37-38).


Jesus as a Gateway Drug

There is a difference between a principle and a method.  A principle is the thing that never changes regardless of the time, people, place, culture, or setting.  A method, on the other hand, is a time-bound cultural expressions of a principle.  Someone wise once said, “Principles never change.  Methods always do.”  Our methods constantly need updating because our method communicates our principle.  Our methods not only communicate our message, but often times they are our message.

The unchanging message of the Church is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And the point of that Gospel is that people are justified before a holy God so that they can become more like Jesus.

It is long past time for the modern Evangelical Church in America to seriously look at some of the methods we are utilizing and ask ourselves how congruent those methods are with our message.  Because not only do our methods communicate our message, our methods are our message meaning that we should gladly get rid of any method that is counterproductive to the unchanging message of the Church of Jesus Christ for the past 2,000 years.

Having gone to school with a number of people who are currently in ministry, my Facebook wall has kept me up to datewith the current methods of the day.  And I have become increasingly convinced that though our spoken and written desires align with that of the message of the Church, our methods do everything but.  (I write to you admitting my own culpability in this area, so you won’t see me calling the “Leg Warehouse” trying to order something to stand on.)


I have no doubt that many of the youth groups around the country preach and teach about the surpassing greatness of Jesus Christ and the good news of His Gospel…but they lure teenagers in to the youth room by appealing to their idols (food, video games, prizes, the opposite gender, music, movies, etc.).  And while we proclaim with our mouths that we desire to see the Gospel change hearts and minds and lives, we have unwittingly made Jesus a gateway drug.  Jesus just becomes a way for me to get what I really want which, as it turns out, isn’t Jesus at all.  I wanted to go on a trip and miss school.  I wanted to find a girlfriend.  I wanted free pizza.  So, sure, I’ll listen to the faux hawked guy in the skinny jeans ramble on about Jesus…if it means I get what I want.

In the same way, I have no doubt that many pastors across the country preach the Biblical message of dying to self…but they cater to people’s preferences when it comes to music style, carpet color, or age demographics.  They advertise their church as a place for families and what they really mean is when a family walks in the door, each member is pulled in a different direction and they aren’t a “family” again until they walk back out the door.  Don’t want to strain to hear the pastor’s sermon over a crying baby?  Don’t want to teach your first grader how to sit still and be quiet?  Don’t want to take personal responsibility for the spiritual life of your teenager?  You won’t ever need to! We have a program for that with a specifically designated “pastor” for the job.

Similarly, I have no doubt that there are many churches in America that preach about the necessity of the faith community…but they don’t emphasize the reason Jesus told us to live that way.  We have life groups/community groups/cell groups…for the purpose of having life groups/community groups/cell groups.

The list goes on and on.  Bible quiz?  “Sword drills?”  By the way, I am almost positive that speed at which someone finds the book of Habakkuk isn’t any indicator whatsoever of their understanding or acceptance of the Gospel or their progressive transformation to look more like Jesus.

What I’m advocating for is a serious processing of the question, “Why?”  Why are we doing what we do?  Let me suggest that if the answer isn’t, “To make people look more like Jesus,” then stop it!

In our entertainment and consumer driven culture, not only should the message of the Church stand in stark contrast to what the world ‘preaches,’ but so should our methods.  Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.”  Posited differently, the medium (or methods) through which we communicate holds equal, if not greater, value than the message itself.  The medium (or method) through which the principle is presented plays a vital role in the way in which it is perceived.  This alone should make all of us seriously consider the methods we use to communicate our principles.

However, in an effort to sell our “product,” many pastors, churches, and youth groups attempt to “win” people with great marketing campaigns, a slick website, and lots of hype.  But, ultimately, what we win people with, we win them to.  Jesus isn’t a brand name, but the more we try to sell Him like one, the more our medium will become our message and our methods will overtake our principles.

“What you win them with is likely what you’ll win them to. If you win them with the Gospel, you’ll win them to the Gospel. If you win them with technique, programs, entertainment, and personal charisma, you might end up winning them to yourself and your methods…”

– Mark Dever, The Deliberate Church

Wednesday’s Mini-Blog – On Republican “Truces”

A timely response from Doug Wilson to the chicanery and shenaniganry currently oozing out of the Republican party.

“This is happening in lots of different areas, so I don’t want to pick on Rand Paul. But for the sake of convenience, let us start with him. He recently called for a “truce” within the Republican Party on “social issues,” but what such a truce would actually amount to is total capitulation on the part of social conservatives.

To agree to a truce on such issues is to acknowledge in some fundamental way that the issue is not what you have been claiming for it all these years. Principled incrementalism would never use the word truce. Face-saving surrenders do. If abortion is murder, you don’t go halvsies on it. If you had been fighting the Nazi genocide for years, and they suddenly offered you a truce, wherein they agreed to stop killing the Feingolds and so on through the end of the alphabet, and you agreed to such a deal, would this not reveal that you had no earthly clue what position you had actually been advocating?”

Read the rest here.