For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:12-13
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:16-17
Derek will take your questions now:
Once in a while I like to respond to questions and comments from readers. I won’t waste anyone’s time trying to argue against negativity, or indulge people who “troll” in order to stir something up, but I do value constructive exchange, and especially questions and comments that seek clarification, or people looking for encouragement in their own spiritual journey.
Hence the following email from a reader in the Pacific Northwest:
Dear Derek – I’ve never heard the phrase, “Gospel of Love” before; but I have to say that it rings true. I’m not really a believer – not quite – more of a “could-go-either-way questioner.” I (along with my wife) am tired of obnoxious public religion. But your words speak to my heart. What exactly do you mean?
My correspondent is not alone. According to figures released by the Pew Research Center (discussed by Rachel Zoll in today’s AP article in the N&O), “Americans who don’t affiliate with a religion have become the second largest group in total numbers behind evangelicals, comprising nearly 23 percent of U.S. adults. Within that group, dubbed nones, a growing share describe themselves as atheist or agnostic, making the country less religious overall.”
Even among those who claim to be “religiously affiliated,” only six of ten say they attend worship “at least once or twice a month,” although nearly all report that they do believe in God.
DISTORTED MESSAGE: One of the reasons so many people are distancing themselves from an active life of faith is – I believe – the gross distortion of the gospel message by religious groups more vested in the social-political culture than the generous, invitational, grace and mercy of God’s love.
This presentation of Christianity is deceiving people at both extremes of the spectrum. Fundamentalism – with its attendant nationalism, chauvinism, materialism, exclusivism, and legalism – is responsible for the most damaging and far-reaching distortions, but all of us in the church are culpable when it comes to misrepresenting the essential and transformational fact of God’s initiative of love in Jesus.
This is why I use the phrase, “Gospel of Love,” so often. I believe at the core of my being that God sent Jesus to make a way for our relationship with God to be restored – a new and living way. God did this because God loves us; Jesus is the personification of God’s love for us. Jesus said that love is the antidote to fear. Jesus pointed out that the most compelling evidence of our commitment to follow him is our love for one-another. Love, Jesus argued time and again, trumps law – every single time.
LOVE ENDURES: Paul wrote that the greatest and most enduring truth – even beyond faith and hope – is love. The gospel is the good news, and – according to the disciple John’s telling of the Jesus story – the good news is that God loves us so much that he sent his only son, so that we don’t have to be separated from our Creator any more. Fact is, God didn’t send Jesus to condemn anyone, but so we could all receive, and live into, God’s saving mercy, and grace, and promise (John 3:16-17).
I refer to the gospel as “The Gospel of Love” so much because I want people to understand the simple, uncomplicated, heart of the good news!
The Gospel of Love phrase reminds us how far from God’s word so much of the “witness” of The Church (God help us) has strayed. When dogma, and doctrine, and prejudice, and condemnation, and “I’m right, you’re wrong,” and politics, and “what we’re against” define us more than love, then it’s not the gospel any more.
When dogma, and doctrine, and prejudice, and condemnation, and “I’m right, you’re wrong,” and politics, and “what we’re against” define us more than love, then it’s not the gospel any more.
The Gospel of Love is the good news that, because God loves us so very much, Jesus loved enough to open the way back to God. Anything that dilutes that truth, or adds conditions, requirements, and exclusions of our own, is a kind of deception.
In love, and because of love – DEREK