As we are dancing around the question of what healthy theology looks like, I have suggested that if we don’t start with our end in view then we will never get there. And if the ultimate end of the Christian life is to love God and love neighbor, then we have to start by asking, What is theology, and how do we theology, in order to arrive at such love?
So here’s the question: how do we start talking about the Christian narrative, the gospel, so that love of neighbor remains front and center?
Let me sharpen the importance of the question a bit.
In a now infamous sermon, Mark Driscoll went off:
“You need to know who the real God is how the real God feels. Some of you, God hates you. Some of you, God is sick of you. God is frustrated with you. God is wearied by you. God has suffered long enough with you… He doesn’t care if you compare yourself with someone worse than you. God hates them, too. God hates, right now, personally, objectively, hates some of you.”
Wow. How do we make sure we never get there? How do we make sure that we never get to the point where we say, as Driscoll went on to say, “God not only hates sin—he hates sinners!”?
We have to watch how we tell the story.
The way Driscoll tells the story above is more honest, but perhaps not all that categorically different, from typical revivalist preaching. It’s the story that begins with the idea that we are so terrible that God cannot stand to look at us. “God
hates loves you so much that he sent Jesus so he could look at Jesus instead of you!”
Can we tell the story so that we lead with love?
“God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5).
Paul here invites us to lead with love. God looks on the world and he sees people, and a world, that are lovely, lovable, and cosmically beloved, even while recognizing that, yes, we are sinners.
“For God so loved the world that he sent his only son” (John 3).
It is not the death of the son that enables God to love the world. It is the love of God that enables the son to die for the world.
If we are going to create a theology that helps us find our way toward neighbor love, we have to have a theology that begins with the fact that God loves our neighbors. God loves us. We are all the beloved of God. We are all those in whose faces God sees God’s own likeness. We are all those for whom Christ died.
If we cannot figure out a way to tell this story such that we lead with love—and such that people actually hear a story that sounds like the way of love—then we have not yet learned the gospel story that needs to be told.