Myth #1: Identifying error in the beliefs of another is unloving. “Why do you need to say that I am wrong? Why can’t you be more loving and focus on the good?” We often go wrong here because we have not started with God at the center in matters of belief. Though we may profess faith in God and belief in Scripture, when we cry foul on the grounds of another saying that we are wrong, we have, in that moment, abandoned that profession. If it is unloving to say I am wrong, then I have made myself the standard for belief.
Over the past week evangelicalism has witnessed an intriguing exchange surrounding the LGBTQ issue. Briefly, it began when RNS posted an interview with Jen Hatmaker in which she affirmed the holiness of LGBT relationships, to which Rosaria Butterfield responded, to which RNS responded.
In reading these articles, and others like it, there seems to be a common confusion lining the discussion: What is love? What is unloving? What criteria determines if something is loving or not? Often the unloving penalty flag is (unlovingly) thrown into the mix of these conversations. It’s not possible to dissect all the issues. But briefly, it’s worth pushing pause and examining what we often label “loving” and “unloving.”
Individuals are correct when they insist on the priority of love. “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal. 5:14). All that God commands is summed up in love. But this demands a question: why should the God of the Bible serve as the standard for love, or anything for that matter? After all, while my unregenerate friend agrees that love is priority, he would take issue with the proposition that the God of the Bible is the standard and definer of love. On one hand, the answer involves a study of Bibliology; matters pertaining to the revelation, inspiration, inerrancy, and canonicity of the Bible. This article assumes these things. If needed, one might begin familiarizing themselves on those topics here and here.
With that premise, we can move forward. Consider for a moment what happens if I do not have an objective standard on what is and is not love. Love will be interpreted as whatever feels loving to me or a particular subculture. The problem is that without an objective definition external to myself, I really have no absolute framework for love.
Love becomes a matter of my perception. Which means love is determined by me, whose feet are planted in mid-air. In using my perceptions as love’s adjudicator, I am, in effect, saying, “I am the standard of love. In my being, I am the standard of love. In my thinking, feeling, and practice, I am absolute, pure love.” Thus, I have placed myself as the determiner and judge of what is and is not loving. In so doing, I assume the place of Absolute, which is to say, I am functionally operating as a self-appointed god. In that moment, I have nominated myself as the universe’s Sovereign and ascended to the throne for absolute adjudication. But, we, who are imperfect in love by nature and deed, dare not place ourselves in such a place.
I need to step off the throne. Practically, that will look like letting go of my perceptions, my feelings, and my opinions as the absolute determiner of what is loving. I need an objective standard. Even more, I need the standard from a source who has shown flawless love in word and deed. The only such source is the God of the Bible. “God is love…In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sin” (1 John 4:8, 10). The One who created knows more about love than the one created. Further, the One abused by his enemies in order to redeem and reconcile his enemies; that One is love. So, when this God speaks, as he has in the 66 books of Scripture, his definition of love is love. It is objective; absolute; pure. Thus, it alone is the standard against which ideas of love must be compared.
With that, it’s worth taking a look at some common myths pertaining to love and the lack thereof in evangelicalism (errors which I have committed).