Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Is Love Really the Theme?

In 1913, Albert C. Fisher wrote a gospel song that became a favorite for many believers. Its title was “Love Is the Theme.” I’ve been thinking about that song recently as I have gone through one of my occasional reality checks. I often find that when something seems to be playing an increasingly important role in my thinking, I benefit by stepping back and asking myself, “Is this the whole truth?” I’m in one of those reflective times today as I step back and review my “Making Disciples” Chart.

Whether or not you have seen my chart, if you have been following my blog, you know that love is a central element in my conceptualization of what being a disciple involves. I have focused on love as one of the six central needs in people’s lives. With an emphasis on a grace that reflects God’s love for us, my entire focus on how we enter into the family of God and how we discover that we are children of God has been deeply founded on love. My entire conception of how we are to respond to God’s grace has drawn from Jesus’ answer to the question about the greatest commandment. His summary was to love God and love neighbor. The questions for the moment are these: Is love really the most important and central issue in the Christian faith? Where in the task of making disciples have you reflected things like God’s justice, righteousness, holiness, and wrath? Yesterday’s post about my experience in making a profession of faith seemed rather critical of the evangelist’s approach to S-I-N, but have my own perspectives ignored the seriousness of sin by focusing so exclusively on love? Is love really the theme, or is this one of those theologically liberal smokescreens that doesn’t want to deal fully with the whole Bible and some of its fundamental truths? Love is a strong Johannine emphasis in the New Testament, but is it a universal emphasis?

My internal critic’s voice says, “Major portions of the Bible say nothing about love.” (Actually “love” or “loved” is used in 58 of the 66 books. It absence from Ruth, 2 Kings, Esther, Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Haggai would not seem significant; though the absence in Acts might be.) “There’s nothing in the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, or the Lord’s Prayer about love.” (Actually, Exodus 20:6 speaks of God’s love; love is a significant part of the Sermon on the Mount to which the Beatitudes are the introduction; and the Lord’s Prayer is immediately followed by a call to forgiving others because God has forgiven you—an expression of love.) “The gospel is both gift and demand—you’ve over-emphasized the gift and ignored the demand.” (Actually, I haven’t. I just think that fully recognizing the gift should precede the demand. The demands arise in column 4 and are strengthened in columns 5 and 6 of the “Making Disciples” Chart.)

I confess to some continuing discomfort about the harsher elements of the biblical message. I think we should take God’s holiness seriously, even to the point of avoiding such loose and vain expressions as “OMG.” With my own sense of “wrath” about many things I see happening in our society and our world, I have no doubt that God’s wrath is real and even greater than my own. Maybe I am not as consciously focused on the sin in my life as I should be, and maybe repentance is not a regular enough expression of my sense of inadequacies as it should be; but I sense that God is more interested in my improvement than in my reproof.

Maybe I am oversimplifying, but I think Jesus offered grace to the sinners and judgment to the self-righteous. The latter were so incensed that Jesus did not condemn the sinners and commend the “righteous” that they excluded themselves from hearing his offer of grace. If my identification of the basic human needs (column 1 of the “Making Disciples” Chart) is correct, salvation involves discovering your identity in the family of God and as a child of God. Being loved means discovering that God created you, chose you, and acted through Christ to redeem you because you matter to God. Those are the beginning points of making disciples, I think. We are invited to a new understanding of ourselves as the objects of God’s love and grace. We don’t need to be torn down, convicted of our sinfulness and inadequacies, and scared into the kingdom by the impending certainty of judgment. We really just need love—pure, sincere, selfless, forgiving, inviting, blessing, embracing love. I guess love really is the theme, the eternal theme.

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