The Table Video

Thomas Oord, Alan Tjeltveit & Evan Rosa

How Our Faith Informs Love: Distinctly Christian Components of Love

Theologian / Philosopher, Northwest Nazarene University
Professor of Psychology, Muhlenberg College
CCT Director / Editor of The Table / Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, Biola University
June 9, 2017

What is a distinctly Christian definition of love?


So the definition of love that we started with, Tom, your threefold definition of intentionally, working out from oneself in response to others, to act for another’s well being, that doesn’t have any particularly Christian elements, there’s nothing in conflict.

So of course, it’s a it’s a wonderful definition from the perspective of a believer but is there anything specific or distinctive that emerges from scripture, or the Christian tradition, or a contemporary Christian scholarship, that would add something to that definition, and help us to understand, the reality of love any better?

So a good question, I think sort of from the get go I have to acknowledge that I am a Christian, have been largely formed by the Christian tradition, so therefore, any sort of definition I offer is going to be round about at least informed by my background and who I am, but that doesn’t get quite to your question I think. I also think that I believe in a God, who is omnipresent, who is the source and inspiration for love, no matter who the person is, in fact I think it even goes beyond humans, and so therefore whatever love is, wouldn’t just be something Christians could do or Christians could express.

So in that sense, it’s universal, at least the potential is universal. And third, I think that Christians ought to say something like this, the fullest revelation we have, of a God of love is found in Jesus Christ. And the Christian Church has done a more or less, or has tried its best to express what love should be like given Jesus as the revelation of God’s love in the world. That still doesn’t quite say okay, Christians have a definition of love, but Buddhists have another.

And I don’t think that’s the way we ought to go at it, but I do think Christians ought to say, we can agree on the general view of love, but also say that our tradition inclines us, towards certain ways of thinking about it, maybe some practices like participate in the Eucharist that the Buddhist wouldn’t do, but at the end of the day, love is love, no matter who you are or where you are, love as I defined it involves this promotion of well being and response, relationship and intentionality.

Yeah, I’ve a few thoughts. Like Tom, I don’t think that my definitions would be exclusively Christian, but I can’t imagine a Christian understanding of love, that doesn’t allow for the possibility of kind of sacrificial giving. Some people like Freud thought that was really bad, I can give to you, if you’ve already given to me.

But beyond that it’s unhealthy. And I think that the Christian understanding has to be much more proactive, acting to meet the needs of others even if at some cost to ourselves. The second is that, there are approaches to understanding love that say, well love in the family is good or love in my group is good.

And there’s a popular book that just came out called “Moral Tribes” that talks a lot about this where we have our own moral tribes, we look out for people in our tribe, but that other tribe, they don’t get our love. Christianity says, love your enemy, love those people, love the stranger, the alien. So it seems to me that a Christian love has to embrace other people not of our tribe.

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