'Love' as theological concept : changing issues in modern theology with particular reference to 'justice'
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How shall we continue to speak of God's love in a world which continues to be flagrantly frustrated by human injustice? The question is not so much concerned with theodicy as with the task of human loving. Loving justly, so that ever wider structures of justice are made possible in history, must be a human endeavour which correlates with a divine precept, mandate, and command. Indeed, Christians are 'commanded' to love, both "one another" and the neighbour as oneself, in correspondence with the love revealed and exemplified by Christ. The 'thesis' developed in this research is given, to the Church and to the world, in Jesus' word to his disciples: As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Dwell in my love. If you heed my commands, you will dwell in my love, as I have heeded my Father's commands and dwell in his love… This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. (John 15:9-12) The task of loving is a problem of authentic correlation. We must first reflect upon the ministry of Jesus, and upon the sort of love or loves which he exemplified among his contemporaries. Then we must discover ways of interpreting the commanded love for our own day, and of putting such a love into practice. The quest for justice parallels and criticizes our quest for love. New Testament scholarship and theological reflection of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have interpreted Christian love in many ways. As a convenient starting point for evaluating interpretations of Christian love, the proposition is suggested that an appropriate practice of love, correlating with the love of Christ, should lead, if ever so subtly, to the creation of justice in contemporary societies of human beings, and provide foundations for greater justice in future societies. A 'symposium' of selected 'speakers' on the characteristics of Christian love is 'convened'. From the nineteenth century we consider the thoughts of Ludwig Feuerbach and Soren Kierkegaard, and briefly, of the 'young Hegel'. These thinkers set the tone for much of the discussion, and in their ideas are distinguished certain dominant themes which will continue to characterize love-talk in the twentieth century. The twentieth century discussion takes the form of a 'debate' between 'neo-orthodox' Protestants, Latin American 'liberation theologians', and North American 'theologians of process'. But the debate is complicated, because the lines of division are not always distinctly drawn. We consider the most germane propositions of Anders Nygren, whose strict division between agape and eros has had a continuing impact upon Christian theology. Briefly we compare the thoughts of Emil Brunner, Reinhold Niebuhr, John Burnaby, and Karl Barth, and their impact upon the discussion of Christian love which began with Nygren's radical definitions. We observe, for example, how Karl Barth moves away from the early 'neo-orthodox' concerns, answering the critics of neo-orthodoxy with a holistic interpretation of love which melts into action, not determined, but sustained, by the covenanted love of God for his creatures. The latter part of this 'symposium' is an attempt to hear, without prejudging, two of the most prominent interpretations of love in contemporary thought. The Latin American theologians of liberation, since the late nineteen-sixties, have projected a view of Christian love which is thoroughly interpolated with the call for justice, on their continent especially, and also throughout the world. Their viewpoints elevate the discussion to a new plane, in which theory and practice are profoundly interdependent. Although Alfred North Whitehead wrote in the early twentieth century, his followers, in the United States specially, have begun to build upon his ideas, so that the 'process theology' of the eighties is intimately related to Whitehead's work in the twenties. Although the literature is massive, a hearing of Whitehead himself seems import if his ideas about love are to be set in relation to the genre which he inspired. Influenced significantly by the synthesizing method of Whitehead, the concluding chapter aims at no definitive conclusion. However, in recognition of the criterion that love should be creative of justice, certain related issues are distinguished which might inform theology’s love-talk for the future. For example, recent textual analysis of the New Testament has demonstrated that the word agape has no consistent usage in the Bible as a word for love superseding all others. The perpetuation of agape as a ‘technical’ word for a definite ‘type’ of love, is not justified by scripture, and may obscure the profound intimacy of love to justice. Similarly, the relationship of faith to Christian love has the capacity to militate against love’s relation to justice. The idea of eros may entail elements of Christian love and justice not normally construed by interpretations of agape. Response to God’s love may be inhibited by exclusive, elite, or essentially egocentric characterizations of Christian love. Other insights pertinent to love’s relation to justice, its affiliation with feeling, and its universal quality, are suggested.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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