What is the central guiding principle in Christianity? If you asked a bunch of people (inside and outside of the Church) what would they say? It’s highly likely that they’d say “Love”. But is love the main feature of the Christian witness? Is love all you need?
Love is vital. The New Testament commands us to love our enemies, love one another, and to love the world. It is an important aspect of what it means to follow and obey God. Nobody should attempt to deny that. But is it the central, controlling feature of New Testament life? Perhaps it is not…
Love isn’t necessarily central. How can love not be the main thing? But love doesn’t necessarily take up that much space in New Testament teaching. Richard B Hays points this out in his volume, The Moral Vision of The New Testament. Love doesn’t feature largely across entire NT. For example, Hebrews, Revelation, and Mark have almost no references to love. Acts has none. This, of course, doesn’t mean its not important but that it isn’t everything. And is what the New Testament means by love always what we mean by it?
It can’t be our kind of love. Danger of making love central is that we’ll replace God’s New Testament type love with our own. Usually a squishy love that overlooks or condones sin. Or a love which does not call us to further discipleship. The ethicist Stanley Hauerwas has said: “The ethics of love is often but a cover for what is fundamentally an assertion of ethical relativism” ** That is, we often use “love” as a cover for excusing sins or for obscuring other moral teachings of Scripture. This is a pretty damning assessment and one that should give us pause in how we think about love.
Love is always conditioned by the Cross of Christ. Love is vital to Christian living. But in order for it to be New Testament love it needs to be from the New Testament and not from our own ideas of love. New Testament love is never a naked love – unclothed from what the rest of God’s word teaches. It is never a blank love – onto which we can project our own assumptions about what it means to love. And in the New Testament, love (both that of Christ and that which is commanded of us) neither excuses the sin of others nor ignores the call to sacrificial discipleship. Love is always defined by the paradigm of the Cross of Christ. The Cross which is God’s condemnation of sin and his salvation from it. The Cross which is a call for sacrificial service. The Cross which is not easy but comes with great cost. And the Cross which we’re called to bear.
Only by seeing Love in light of the entire New Testament and the witness of Jesus can we se what love has got to do with it.
* from The Moral Vision of The New Testament, Richard B Hays, pages 200-204
** from Hauerwas’ Vision and Virtue, as quoted by Hays.