The Nature of Love: A Theology [review] #SpeakEasyLove

Process Theology without the Bothersome Worldview

Disclaimer: I received this book free via Mike Morrell. I’m happy to review materials with the only stipulation that I am able to write my own opinions. So I can be bought…but what you buy may not be what you expected! Ha!

This review is pretty academic, so sorry in advance. But in fairness, it’s an academic book, so I have no choice but to respond to it…academically!

The Nature of Love: A Theology [Kindle Edition here] by Thomas Jay Oord makes the claim that love is not the central focus of many constructive theologies and yet every person would make it a central undeniable claim of who God is.  As Charles Wesley’s hymn goes “God’s nature and name is love” [55]. Oord posits this is perhaps because the biblical account of God’s love is ambiguous and contradictory [4]. Regardless, Oord walks through several constructive theologies and critiques them before settling on his own construction. Along the way there are many joys and concerns.

First off, Oord makes many great definitions:

  • Basic Love Definition:  “To  love  is  to  act  intentionally,  in  sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others, to promote overall well-being.” [17]
  • Agape Love:  “acting intentionally, in response to God and others, to promote overall well-being in response to that which produces ill-being” [56]
  • Eros Love:  “acting intentionally, in response to God and others, to promote overall well-being by affrming and/or seeking to enhance value” [83]
  • Philoi Love: “acting  intentionally,  in response to God and others, to promote overall well-being by seeking to establish deeper levels of cooperative friendship” [115]

I like these definitions and will retain them in my own ministry usage, I suspect.

Joys

  • I appreciate how Oord does not equate Love and Self-sacrifice [28].
  • I also appreciate his critique that Agape Love is not the only form of love we are called to [51].
  • I do appreciate his final constructive theology: Essential Kenosis. Essentially, Kenosis refers to “self-emptying love” that Jesus models on earth. It’s not equated to self-sacrifice [which as a voluntary action would be problematic], but rather is essential to Christ in that Christ can do nothing but the highest form of Love which is self-giving. Love is not coercive.
  • The book ends on an uplifted understanding of Christian hope. Are we to hope that God will coerce love on earth as in Revelation?

Concerns

  • Oord makes the claim that in Christian community is the only place where we can experience some forms of God’s love [25]. Really?

    The person not engaged with others in the body of Christ stunts his or her capacity  to  love and  feel  loved. Without being engaged  in  the practices and  liturgies of  the church, some expressions of  love are simply not possible.

    I reject this interpretation. While Christianity is best lived out in community, we do not dictate where and when God’s love is experienced. To do so is arrogant to claim God cannot give God’s love in its fullness whenever God wishes. In my opinion.

  • Oord really lost me in the Open Theology chapter as he doesn’t give a succinct definition of its central claim. Something like “God is on the side of the Oppressed” is the central claim of Cone, “Practice Theory Practice” is Liberation, “Matter is time” is Whitehead, etc. No central claim = lost reviewer.
  • My notes on his chapter on Open Theology go like this: “Open Theology is basically Process Theology, isn’t it? [88]” and a few pages later “Oh, so they are similar but Open Theology is not based on Whitehead’s worldview [90]“. Essentially, I see OT as Process Thought without the non-matter-based worldview. May make it more appealing to more than academics, but removes a lot of Process’s power IMO. I’m surprised he is not more overt about this as Oord is familiar with Process, having co-edited a book on it with my old Evangelism professor Bryan Stone.

In the end, I am not persuaded to move from Process’s understanding of theodicy to Oord’s understanding of theodicy. We both agree that a loving God who can yet does nothing about true evil seems contradictory. Oord’s Essential Kenosis suggests that because God loves perfectly God cannot override the freedom God has given creation, which is itself an act of love. Process makes the same claim but does so in a philosophical system which is not restrained by classical theology. I make the same critique of EK as I did of Open Theology: they are shades of Process Theology without the Whiteheadian worldview that gives PT its power. That doesn’t make them wrong…it just is less enthralling to me.

So, check out the book if you are an academic, but do so comparing it to Process Thoughts’ mainstays (my default book to turn to is Suchocki’s God Christ Church) if you want a full experience.

Thoughts?

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