Two books read lately, both of them, in some shape or form, about “love.” One was written as a popular book and has gotten a ton of press and the other has not, finding itself as something of a niche book on a fascinating-but-a-bit-out-of-the-mainstream corner of theological studies. Both were interesting and provocative reads with some overlapping themes on the nature and extent of God’s love.
Everyone but your grandmother has reviewed Rob Bell’s Love Wins and I am not going to write more than a few thoughts:
- Overall, the book lacked the polished design feel of Bell’s previous books. There are apparently two dust covers, and I got what I would describe as the “ugly plastic one.” The “normal black one” is a bit nicer. Not a huge deal since it’s a book, not a piece of art (though some might contest that).
- I have heard a lot of people defend Rob Bell’s position as harmless because he’s “just asking questions.” There are a lot of questions in this book, but I don’t think you can read the book and think there are any innocent “just asked” questions.” Bell (rather effectively) uses questions as a rhetorical device to push a particular agenda and message. These aren’t “just questions,” but important, weighty, and explosive questions.
- I wish there had been footnotes. This kind of book doesn’t have to get bogged down in scholarship, but there were too many issues thrown around as facts or obvious conclusions without much, if any, support.
- Overall, though, a book worth reading, or at least having a level-headed conversation about. The best and most thorough discussion, by far, is led by Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed.
The other book I read was The Nature of Love: A Theology
by Thomas Jay Oord (Chalice, 2010). Oord is a theologian and professor at Northwest Nazarene University and has written a number of books on various topics including open theism and divine love.
In The Nature of Love, Oord develops an understanding of theology centered on the idea of ‘essential kenosis,’ or the idea that “God’s eternal nature includes God’s essential love for creatures, which means God necessarily gives agency, freedom, value, and relationship to creatures” (124). Kenosis, in Christian theology, is traditionally understood and often explained as the self-emptying of God in the act of incarnation (i.e. Christ “made himself nothing,” Philippians 2:7). Unique to Oord’s work is what he describes as the essential nature of God’s kenosis – that God is involuntarily limited based on the demands of divine love.
Oord explores the problem of evil, historical and systematic theology, and Scriptural witness through the theological lens of love, developing an argument for the primacy of divine love. While I did not find myself ‘convinced’ by all of the book’s arguments, I appreciated the thoughtful and systematic approach to theology it presented.
Along with Bell’s book, The Nature of Love offers a timely presentation of theological work that recognizes and responds to many of the difficult question’s facing the church. Regardless of whether you find yourself in agreement with either book, they each raise good questions and add helpful contributions to questions about how we think about God’s work in our world.
Disclosure of material connection in compliance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I received a copy of this book for review, though the opinions I have expressed are my own.