All You Need Is Love

October 24, 2012 in Theology · 9 comments

One criticism that I’ve heard leveled against progressive (liberal!) Christians is that they have an “all you need is love” theology — that they essentially neglect the Gospel, overlook sin and ignore God in favor of vague platitudes that advocate peace and love at the expense of Christian orthodoxy.

If one understands this position as strictly reductive (i.e. you need nothing other than love), then yes, such a statement is indeed problematic. You need food, you need air and theologically speaking, you need justice and wisdom and truth and faith and grace and patience and determination and on and on. Love alone simply can’t function as a robust systematic theology.

Perhaps some Christians have gone astray by elevating “love” to an inappropriate position. But one should be extraordinarily cautious about proffering such a complaint. The Pharisees voiced similar accusations against Jesus when he repeatedly set aside strict observance of the law in favor of a deeper, truer law. His consistent message was that orthopraxy trumps orthodoxy and that the foundation of orthopraxy is love (Mat. 25.31–46).

Jesus summed up the entire Christian life in terms of love: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Mat 22.37-40). These commands aren’t simply feel-good platitudes, they are a powerful call to embrace a specific and active love. The realities of life challenge love at every turn, and love alone, as a disembodied feeling adrift on the Platonic ether, cannot save us. But love as a practice, love as a way of life, love as an experience of God, love that encompasses the totality of God’s plan — that love can save us. Love requires participation, it requires maintenance, it requires attention: “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4.8).

Love doesn’t obviate other aspects of a Christian life, love holds those aspects together. Love is not a solitary requirement, it is the thread that unifies and empowers all the other requirements. If we don’t have love, nothing else works. If we don’t show love, we can’t expect to receive it. If we don’t love God, how can we hope to love our neighbor? “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6.27–36).

Love is the means by which God relates to us and the means by which we accomplish His plan. “All you need is love” may be inaccurate in a strict sense, but to those who accuse some Christians of putting an inordinate amount of emphasis on love, one must remember that it was Jesus himself who set the precedent. Love, properly enacted and expressed, subsumes the distractions of theology and overpowers our personal tendencies to judge and criticize.

9 comments… read them below or add one

Christine Garrett October 24, 2012 at 9:04 am

This is another quote I focused on today: “Love always finds a way. Selfishness always finds an excuse.” Rick Warren
The last line here is what I’m focusing on as well: “Love, prop­erly enacted and expressed, sub­sumes the dis­trac­tions of the­ol­ogy and over­pow­ers our per­sonal ten­den­cies to judge and criticize.”
Thank you for the wisdom.

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Dan October 24, 2012 at 9:05 am

Thank you for the comment! I’m not a big Rick Warren fan, but I think that quote is spot on…

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Christine Garrett October 24, 2012 at 9:18 am

I know, but I really believe so many truth seekers seek the same unity! Excuse the phrase, but politics get in the way…

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Christine Garrett October 24, 2012 at 9:16 am

I also want to point out that love is friendship, marriage, children, the way we treat others with respect and regard….a decision in how we live, not how we FEEL in a moment. I say this because I know so many who dislike the word “love” or talking about it because they let feelings get in the way.
It is a way of life for me, and I am dissappointed a lot, but God gives me strength to love anyway.

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Dan October 24, 2012 at 9:34 am

Well said. Any definition of love that tries to be comprehensive or that reduces it to just a feeling is going to fall short.

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Richard Lubbers October 24, 2012 at 7:08 pm

It seems to me that Jesus proved that real love, the kind of love it takes to live in the Kingdom of God, is willing to look past a person’s worst moments to see the good. That takes more than a feeling.

Good blog, Dan.

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Anitra Freeman November 13, 2012 at 1:44 am

“Love your neighbor as yourself” is the toughest moral guideline ever laid down. Anyone who doesn’t recognize that has never tried living by it.

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wahchintonka November 13, 2012 at 1:57 am

Love Is a Form of Obedience. Matthew 22:36-39 – The two greatest commands are to love God and love your neighbor. So, if you believe that love is essential to salvation, then you must believe that obedience to commands is essential to salvation, because love is a command that must be obeyed! John 13:34; 15:12 – “This is my commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you.” Love is essential to salvation. But love is a command. Therefore, obeying commands is essential to salvation, for here is one command all agree is essential. The man who says obedience to commands is not necessary, is saying love is not necessary, for love is a command. It is the greatest of all commands. [John 15:13f; 1 John 3:22-24; 4:21; 2 John 5; 1 Tim. 1:5; Jas. 2:8]. Love Requires Us to Obey Other Commands. John 14:15,21-24 – “If ye love me, you will keep my commands.” One who loves Jesus is one who keeps his commands (21 & 23). One who doesn’t love, doesn’t keep His commands (24). Conclusion: The person who says obedience is not essential, is saying (unintentionally) that you can please God and be saved without loving Him! 1 John 5:3; 2 John 6 – “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” [ 1 John 5:2] 1 John 3:18 – “Let us not love in word, neither with the tongue, but in deed and truth.” Love must show itself in our actions. We must obey God’s commands. If we don’t obey, we don’t really love. So obedience is essential to love. But love is essential to salvation. Therefore, obedience is essential to salvation. Instead of proving obedience is not required, the Bible doctrine of love proves the opposite: obedience is required. [Rom. 13:8-10; 1 John 2:5; Rev. 2:4,5; 1 Thess. 1:3; John 15:10; Luke 6:27-36] Without the word of God we have no guiding principle even for understanding what love is. Everyone is therefore free to define it anyway one wants. So we are right back to the antinomian controversy. “All you need is love,” and without any clear point of reference for what love is. We can write any definition we want and advocate almost any behavior we want. In the process, we have done what we ought never to have done. We have cast Scripture aside and allowed ourselves to be driven by other agendas. We have made ourselves judges over God’s Word rather than allow the Word to be judge over us. We have, by slight of hand and intellectual contortions, repeated the old satanic deception and, like the serpent in Genesis 3, we have asked, “Did God really say …?”

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Dan November 13, 2012 at 9:37 am

Love, like faith, can come in different forms and is not merely an abstract concept to be defined or redefined merely to suit our needs. Just as we are justified by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone, so our love also cannot stand alone, but must be lived out. Love without action is not truly love.

You say that “without the word of God we have no guiding principle even for understanding what love is.” Really? Without the Bible we are incapable of loving and showing love? I don’t think even the Bible supports this idea. Rather, it seems to me that, to paraphrase Romans 2:15, love is written on our hearts and and conscience bears witness to that fact. The Bible is certainly NOT our only way to understand love — as Christians we have the Holy Spirit: “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you.” (John 14.26).

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