06 September 2012

Don't Miss the Point

by Frank Turk

For those of you who would rather hear the whole Sunday School lesson as one 47 minute lecture, you can find it at my home church's web site.  FWIW, I commend all the sermons there for your edification.

You’ll remember that we have been talking about the Goodness of God as demonstrated by the Psalmist in Ps 34, having done a quick sprint through the life of David.  We talked about how the Goodness of God is not a childish piece of theology but a core piece of understanding how God Comforts us, and God Counsels us, and Covers us in Christ.  When I taught this stuff live, we demonstrated the goodness of God by getting out of class early.

Now: the reason we got out early, in discussing the Goodness of God, is that we either had to stop where we were, or dive head-long into another hour at least on the principle example of the goodness of God.  Louis Berkhof says this about the Goodness of God:
When the goodness of God is exercised toward his rational creatures, it assumes the higher character of Love, and this Love may again be distinguished according to the objects upon which it terminates.  In distinction from the goodness of God in general, [the love of God] may be defined as that perfection of God by which he is eternally moved to self-communication.  … He does not even withdraw his love completely from the sinner in his present sinful state, though the sinner’s sin is an abomination.  … At the same time, he loves believers with a special love, since he contemplates them as his spiritual children in Christ.  (P 71)
We respect our theologians for their precise language, and we agree with Berkoff’s definitions.  What he says here is utterly true, and completely orthodox.  But consider this:  what if a man approached a young woman and said to her, “I am moved eternally to self-communicate to you, and make you the object of termination from me of any and all of the goodness I have – because you are certainly a rational creature.”  I think it is unlikely that she would be influenced in any positive way toward him – whether she was a good reformed girl or not.  The reason, I think, is because such an expression, falls short of the declaration and command Paul makes in Ephesians,  “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church.”

It is certainly right, in the case of systematic theology, to examine the point that the goodness of God gets serious, and specific, and somehow specialized, when God deals with mankind, and with particular men and women.  But somehow it also seems to miss the point to say that this is only about God expressing Himself.  It is not merely that God is eternally moved to self expression, and terminates his goodness on the rational objects in His created order.  Somehow, we have to get it right, as the apostle John expressed it:
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
The topic today is the Love of God.   It seemed really obvious to me when Paul asked me to teach a little this summer that if I were to cover the Goodness of God, I would also have to cover the Love of God – because, as Berkhof says, it is Goodness’ higher character.  And as we covered last time, it is the ultimate expression of God’s goodness that he loves us somehow, in such a perfect and final way, according to the Psalmist, that it must lead us to the purpose in the work of Christ.

But think about this for a second:  I was able to find over 200 essays on the Providence of God, and over 150 essays on the Sovereignty of God, and 125 essays on the Glory of God – but less than a few dozen on the Love of God.  Most systematic theologies spend less than a full page on the topic, preferring to spell out Justice, Holiness and so on.  These are the grown-up topics of theology – the ones that really engage us and make us feel like we are in big church.

Just as with God’s goodness, we again sort of classify as one of the rudimentary parts of theology and faith.  We make up a child’s prayer to express Gods goodness –“God is Great, God is Good, let us Thank him,” – and we make up preschool songs for the sake of God’s love.  “Jesus loves me, this I know – for the Bible tells me so.  Little ones to Him belong.  They are weak, but He is strong.  Yes: Jesus loves me.  The Bible tells me so.”

There is nothing wrong with making children’s songs up for the rudimentary doctrines of the faith, is there?  Of course not.  I think the danger is in whether or not we assign a doctrine as foundational and necessary as this one only to the children’s catechism and hymnal.  Is this a doctrine that we know all the words for, but somehow they are only words to us?


The Bible Christian said...

They can't be just words to us they have to be lived out in our lives…. Love is a communicable attribute we share with God, Jesus said….

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another."By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:34-35

Then in John 14 "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

Love for the brethren is where it starts as the writer of Hebrews says

How can we share the gospel of Jesus Christ without sharing in this attribute of love with God in how we love each other first.

Then again maybe I completely missed your point.

MTHudson said...

Thank you Frank, I've spent the last fifteen minutes taking your post personally.

I have this ... trouble with love - not with the actuality of love, but with the word 'love'. I'd far rather use another word. I gravitate toward 'charity', 'agape', 'measureless grace' or 'benevolence'. Upon the utterance of such words sagacious middle-aged graybeards can thoughtfully stroke their middle-aged gray beards. Odder still, it's easier for me to say 'love of God' than 'Jesus' love' because the latter even more strongly evokes the days of flannel boards and piping voices belting out "Jyeezis luffs me" through wide open mouths. I delight to see them, but some part of me doesn't want to resemble them. I've exaggerated here, but I don't know how else to express my WASP-y aversion to simple, expressive (overly revealing in my mind) language.

And yet -

It is absolutely the love of God (Jesus' love!) that keeps me from going off the rails on a daily basis. Attacks on my worth (which usually come from me) are fended off with "I am the beloved of the Lord God Almighty, maker of all things." The desire to despise or degrade anyone else is met with the question "Who am I to call worthless that which God loves?" - whether that love is salvific or benevolent makes no difference to the question. It is Jesus' love that not only reached out to draw me to him, but transforms the way I interact with the world on a daily basis. Divine love and its implications is the guardrail of my daily dealings with every man.

But I still have this WASP-y thing going on in the corner of my mind. Thank God He's given me the grace to be convicted over it.

FX Turk said...

If you're convicted now, wait until you read the rest of this series.

David A. Carlson said...

Sola Amare - By Love Alone

This has been an idea running around my head for a while now.

The Five Solas - all true, all fundamental, in the end, are not enough - not enough because they do not tell us how to live as Christians. Yet, so often, it is all the reformed focus on. They have lasered in on the five solas, and missed the big picture - they see the tree, but not the forest.

The Big Picture - how shall we live as Christians? We shall live by love.

22:34 Now when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together. 22:35 And one of them, an expert in religious law, asked him a question to test him: 22:36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 22:37 Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul,and with all your mind.’ 22:38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 22:39 The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 22:40 All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Mathew 22:34-40, NET Bible)

Over and over - the commandment is two fold - Love God, and Love your Neighbor.

Sola Amare

Pam said...

"Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so" Thanks for starting my morning off with my favorite song. I use this to teach my grandchildren the sufficiency of the Scriptures. we do not know God's love because we "feel it in our hearts" but because He told us in His Word. It may appear to be a preschool song but it should not be now. what a blessed, comforting thought...Jeus loves me, even me, with all my sin. Thanks, Frank.

James Scott Bell said...

I don't doubt the paucity of essays. It's hardly a town secret that the Reformed tradition has difficulty explicating a full-throated doctrine of the love of God. Systemic imperatives make that a challenge. On the other side, of course, you have the way of a Rob Bell, where love "wins" even over human responsibility. Looking forward to seeing where the full throat of Turk takes us.

DJP said...

The five solas absolutely are sufficient, and they absolutely are the forest, and they absolutely do succeed where quoting Dean Martin songs cannot. The only way I know how important love is, and what it means, is Sola Scriptura; and the way that love connects with me is Sola Gratia, Solo Fide, and Solo Christo. Seen and received that way (and that way alone), love results in Soli Deo Gloria.


Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Healing of backslidings: "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely" (Hosea 14:4), without reluctance or hesitation. "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it" (Song 8:7). Such is God's love to His people--invincible, unquenchable. Not only is there no possibility of its expiring, but also the black waters of backsliding cannot extinguish it, nor the floods of unbelief put it out."

A quote from Pink's The Attributes of God. Love this series, Frank.

Greg Howard said...

It seems to me that people who identify as Reformed do so in part because they feel that the less cuddly attributes of God (justice, sovereignty, what have you) have been neglected elsewhere. That's certainly one of the things that commends the Reformed viewpoint to me. The trouble, of course, is that the love of God properly understood far transcends mere warm fuzziness; but to get past that you have to bring in these other, harsher-sounding notes.

That said, I think MTHudson (and Cent in the original post) are on target. It's easy to fall off the horse on the other side, taking pride in one's theological astuteness at the expense of living out that most basic commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.

Thanks for the post. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

Ted Bigelow said...

Could we with ink the ocean fill,

And were the skies of parchment made,

Were every stalk on earth a quill,

And every man a scribe by trade,

To write the love of God above,

Would drain the ocean dry.

Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

Though stretched from sky to sky.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

@ Greg Howard:

The world prefers its version of God’s love. God is all-inclusive and will not hold anyone responsible for disparaging His holiness. Yet, how do these people expect God to vindicate His holiness? It is far easier for us to explain a supreme being, who is rapturously in love with totally depraved human beings, than it is to explain a wrathful God who demands His holiness be vindicated.

Kerry James Allen said...

Great stuff Frank.

"For breadth the love of Jesus is immensity, for length it is eternity, for depth it is immeasurability, and for height it is infinity." CHS

Jeremiah Greenwell said...

I've been asking similar questions recently, so I'm especially looking forward to the series.

Chris said...

You can not spend time in Scripture and not see God's love.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Redemption is the demonstration of love. I think I put Holiness as the primary attribute of God. But Christ's death is a demonstration of His love for us. If not for the love of God for us we never are able as finite, sinful creatures to begin to understand Sovereignty, Providence or the Glory of God.

For a personal note...
I especially know God's love when I read how He describes his relationship with Israel and Judah through His prophets (like Hosea).

I read where Israel and Judah are unfaithful and He still loves them. Where He calls them out for what they are and calls them back to Him. And I can substitute my name for Israel and Judah. I am still overwhelmed with my unfaithfulness and God's faithfulness.

Aaron Snell said...


Are you poking your finger in the eye of reformed systematics? You are a menace, and must be stopped.

FX Turk said...

Aaron Snell:

The worst part about me is that I am a volunteer. No on can accuse me of making any money at all on this stuff, so it can only be a handful of other motives. "Glutton for Punishment" may legitimately be one of them.

Where this Sunday School lesson goes, btw, is someplace which pokes a finger in the eye of anyone who misses the real weight of the issue that God loves them. What it means for God to love you or me is sort of an unthinkable juggernaut of conviction when we start thinking about the real scope of God's love.

Aaron Snell said...

Poke on, Frank. Poke on.

Sonja said...

I witness God's goodness every day, most pointedly through my 89 y/o mom. She was an enemy of God for almost all of those years -- confessed Christ 2 years ago. She's not interested in Scripture let alone theology. Yet she knows who God is. She tells me she never feels "good" with the aches and pains of age, she's on oxygen. She's failing. Yet she watches me studying and asks me to read some Scripture to her. The other day I read to her Ps. 71. How good of Him to give her those words.

She told me once that she wanted to go to hell to be with her husband, my father. She understands now that she would be alone. In His goodness He taught her that by giving her understanding. Mom knows the goodness of the Lord now.

It's incredibly humbling to witness not only her salvation but her submission and trust.

God is good.

Thank you Frank, this series is piercing.

Anonymous said...

Even better than essays are the songs of contemporary Christian muscicians who weave in the reform theology in their tributes. These can be deeply moving and explain what God has done for mankind in adult terms while filling out the breadth of His love in case by case examples. Stuart Townend "In Christ Alone",or "The Power of the Cross", as an example. There are so many that my hours on the treadmill are filled with joy and I know I am a grinning idiot to those watching.


Linda said...

I love that God's love is unfailing. God's love is a purifying love not a pacifying love~

when God allows various adversities in my life and everything falls apart around me, if I just think of the one attribute that "God is love" I'd misunderstand HIM. When babies die or when people get cancer it's not enough to just know God loves us. If so, he has a funny way of showing it.

I look to the attribute that God is always good and that God ALONE is good! This helps me put God's love in it's right perspective. (Any) goodness in my life is from God. the fact that God (alone)is good tells me the essential truth that God's love in my life is for my good -it is shown at the cross.. I grasp onto the reality that God really (does)care and love me infinitely more than I can possibly imagine
This helps me to surrender to whatever HE chooses to bring into my life because God is love and God is always good so his love is unfailing

David A. Carlson said...


Yet why does Jesus stake his claim on love if the other five sola's are sufficient? Why does Paul?

Love is the basis, the underpinning for all else. The other sola's are built upon that framework, not the other way around

At least that is the clear, non-ambiguous teaching of Jesus. And I did not even need any chicken bones to figure that out.

DJP said...

Prove you've ever read a word of this blog, DAC, and answer your own question.

David A. Carlson said...


Why the always the personal attack?

DJP said...

Fifteen words. My comment to you is fifteen words long. Yet you find a way to try to derail to another subject.

Your act has outlived its shelf-life, DAC. Answer the question.

Nonna said...

"For You are a good God and you love mankind."

This truth penetrates my heart in every Divine Liturgy. Glory to Jesus Christ!

R.C. said...

Fundamentalists make the Song of Solomon an allegory because they are uncomfortable with sex. Reformed folk decide it's really about sex because we are uncomfortable with God's love for us.

David A. Carlson said...

Since you insist

How about the time Phil called me an "astute reader"? When he was fooled by someone who created a blog who's entire purpose to mock Phil's fav whipping boy, those nefarious "emerg***ts", which he saw as an actual blog by emergents.

There was the time I called shenanigans on Chantry's hit piece on McDondald's church, where at about comment 80 Phil agreed that I was right and TC basically hosed the entire post by making completely unwarranted conclusions based on a completely bogus analysis?

Ooops - I guess I didn't read your post - that was two, wasn't it? If you like there have even been a time or two where you admitted my comment was good.

DJP said...

DAC, if you honestly think that in any way is responsive to what I wrote, then I am wondering, without intending any sarcasm, whether English is your second language, of whether there's a reading comprehension issue.

What I said was, "answer your own question." What question had you asked? If you've paid the least attention to what we've written, again and again and again, you can answer it.

Answer your own question.