A Gospel for Neighbor Love

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.

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5 thoughts on “A Gospel for Neighbor Love

  1. This is such a can of worms for me!!!! And I’m trying to wrap my head around how to read it differently than I’ve been taught.

    Here’s a bit of my musing : God loved us, created us and a beautiful world. Then he set us up to fail. Then he fixes that by killing his son. Because he loves us. The end. wtf?

    The fact that I believe this, to me, proves that my faith was not something I assented to (decisionism), but was rather given to me (Calvinistically) as a gift.

    No wonder people think Christians are nuts.
    I want to dialogue more about this exact thing, so thanks for the question.
    Are we sinners in need of a savior, or not?
    If not, why the heck did Jesus die?
    If not for propitiation, what was it?
    And why would God set us up to fail in the first place? How is that love?

    1. I think this is where the typical systematic theology breaks down. Which is saying something, because these are very foundational questions.

      The problem is a lot easier to address if you see creation not as a puppet for God, but as a co-op, between God and creation itself. It’s a charge Adam was given and failed at, setting the tone for the rest of humanity up until Christ. If you want to say that God set us up to fail, then you have to talk about it in the same way you might talk about a father who tries to set up his sons and daughters in the family business, giving them all the tools and skills necessary to do so. The kids, of course, takes all the resources belonging to the business, and go partying with it. I think most people would have a hard time saying that the father set his kids up to fail in that scenario.

      In such a metaphor, Christ isn’t marched off to be executed by the father, so much as he is the first son to actually do what he was called to: live a life of fearless sacrifice, ruling over creation not with an iron fist of will and power (as we’ve repeatedly tried to do), but with love, showing the rest of us how it’s done in the process.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think that propitiation and atonement and all those fun christian terms are still…like…a thing. But we put such a strong emphasis on them that we turn the multidimensional story of Christ into a simple algebraic equation, and lose a lot of the meaning in the process.

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