The Nature of Love: A Theology – by Thomas Jay Oord

The Nature of Love: A Theology – by Thomas Jay Oord

Thomas Jay Oord has written or contributed to dozens of books on topics like post modernity, the problem of evil, and the meaning of holiness.  Behind all of his work, however, is a passion for the love of God.  This passion get’s a fuller exploration in “The Nature of Love: A Theology.”

On my own bookshelf I have dozens of theological treatises.  With an academic background in the study of my Anabaptist heritage, many of these books start with from Ecclesiology.  Other theologies on my bookshelf begin with Holy Scripture, creation, God’s sovereignty, etc.  What Oord offers us is a theology which emphasizes God’s love, as revealed in Jesus Christ.  That makes this read potentially different than many of these others writings.  Not just in terms of academic content, mind you, but also in terms of the passions of the author revealed on its pages.

The Bible tells us that the very core of God’s nature (God’s DNA if you will) is love (see 1 John 4:16, which contains the statement “God is Love.”)  Throughout the scriptures, this statement is advanced as the true core of God’s being as we are introduced to terms like ghesed (n the Hebrew Bible) and grace (in the New Testament).  Further, throughout the life, teachings, ministry, and work of Jesus Christ, love is arguably the primary topic.  So, with love as the backdrop of all there is to know about God, it seems odd that writings about this subject have been left to the mystics, or been regulated subsections of most other theological works

That said, Oord’s work should come as a welcome addition to anyone theological library.  A well reason, thoughtful love theology” should be a welcome addition to any theological library.  Unfortunately, Oord’s attempt to define his theology more by what he disagrees with in the theologies of others left me a bit dry.  I expected a work of depth and passion, but received, instead, a passionless polemic against the theologies of a select group of theologians.    

In the first two sections, Oord aims to define love.  He explores several words in the Bible that are translated love, exploring what they mean and how they might contribute to an understanding of the “love of God.”   He does this after first offering (p. 17) this definition of love:

To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others, to promote overall well-being. To say this another way, loving acts are influenced by prior acts by God, others, and one’s own actions. Actions we should regard as loving are those purposefully done hoping to encourage, create, or sustain something good.
Oord contends that “love has not been the center of theology” (in his introduction, beginning on page 4).  To prove this he examines theologians Millard Erickson, Paul Tillich, and Karl Barth (a few others are mentioned as well, though none are set aside like these three).  What I find unfortunate is that Oord limits his review to a select few from the twentieth century.  I wonder if his view might have been different if he had explored the theology of some of the churches more ancient theologians, particularly the Cappadocian Fathers. 

Known primarily for their Trinitarian theology, the underlying contention of the Cappadocians was that all members of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Spirit) shared a same basic “nature” that tied them together.  Now if the phrase “God is love” is taken as a foundational statement about God, then Trinitarian theology has a great deal to add to a discussion about LOVE, as it relates to all other issues in theology (creation, the church, soteriolgy, etc.).  Oord does deal somewhat with Trinitarianism in his book.  His treatment is, in my opinion, inadequate. 

In the middle section of his book, Oord does explore in some detail the love theologies of two additional theologians, namely Augustine of Hippo and Anders Nygren.  Nygren is a 2oth century theologian whose understanding of “agape” has wide influence in the modern church.  Augustine was instrumental in laying the foundation for “western theology.”  Augustine work was a reflection more of Greek thinkers (Plato, Plotinus, and the stoic writers).  This material was interesting, but (as in my earlier critique) was more a polemic against their understandings of love, rather than a development of Oord’s love theology.

Finally, in the final section of his work, Oord introduces his love theology as “Essential Kenosis.”  This term describes God’s self-giving nature.  When God gives, it is not something that is giving – but rather the actual giving of God’s self.  This self-giving nature of God, then, becomes the foundation for interpreting everything else there is to know and say about God. 

If I had Oord’s ear for a few moments, I would say:  “Yes! Yes! Yes!  This is what I was looking for in your book.  This is what the church needs.  Expand on this and we can go places.”  Unfortunately, I don’t have Oord’s ear.  Whoever might have must have thought that what we needed was a polemic against failed theologies, rather than an exposition of a genuine love theology.

Perhaps, in another volume, we might get such an offering from Oord.  Till then, I will still to the writings of the Torrance brothers, the later writings of Karl Barth, the works of the Cappadocian Fathers, and most (more contemporary) the writings of C. Baxter Kruger, whose trinintarian theology fills me with an awareness of God’s passionate love.

One Response to “The Nature of Love: A Theology – by Thomas Jay Oord”

  1. Would you be interested in reviewing my new book, The Uncontrolling Love of God? If so, let me know in an email: I’ll respond to your note with more info and an official invite. Thanks for considering this, Tom

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