Book Club Discussion: Love as Orthodoxy

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

When I visited India, I met an amazing woman named Laxmi. Like a lot of HIV-positive widows in the country, Laxmi had unknowingly contracted the disease from her husband and passed it on to two of her children. Laxmi works for a missionary family that runs an orphanage and school in Hyderabad. She is illiterate and poor. She works from sunup to sundown washing dishes and clothes, cooking, and caring for the children. She does it all with gentleness and love, and a devotion to Jesus Christ that is humbling, almost startling. 

She can’t read the Bible on her own. She has no theological training. And yet simply being in her presence made me feel closer to the gospel. At a time when I was questioning a lot of things about Christianity, Laxmi’s love made the gospel make sense again. 

For our last discussion on Peter Rollins’ How (Not) to Speak of God, I’d like to address his comments about love as orthodoxy. 

As we have seen, Rollins’ approach to theology emphasizes the priority of love, “not as something which stands opposed to knowledge of God, or even as simply more important than knowledge of God, but more radically still as knowledge of God.” He believes that “to love is to know God precisely because God is love.” (3)

In Chapter 5, Rollins writes that “the Truth in Christianity is not described but experienced…This is not then the affirmation of some objective description concerning Truth but rather describes a relation with the Truth. In other words, Truth is God and having knowledge of the Truth is evidenced, not in a doctrinal system, but in allowing that Truth to be incarnated in one’s life…To know the Truth is thus to be known and transformed by the Truth.” (56)

This idea is of course supported by the words of 1 John 4: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love…No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

Of this passage, Rollins writes, “[John] claims that those who exhibit a genuine love know God, regardless of their religious system, while those who do not love cannot know God, again regardless of their religious system.” (57) 

Rollins takes applies this approach to both ethics and hermeneutics. I especially liked his idea that we must read the Bible with “the prejudice of love.” 

“The Bible itself teaches us that we must not enter into any situation in a neutral and objective manner, even the reading of scripture, but always with eyes of love.” (Here, he calls to mind the way in which Jesus interacted with the poor, weak, and disenfranchised, interpreting the law to allow for such things as healing on the Sabbath.) “By acknowledging that all our readings are located in a cultural context and have certain prejudices, we understand that engaging with the Bible can never mean that we simply extract meaning from it, but also that we read meaning into it. In being faithful to the text we must move away from the naïve attempt to read it from some neutral, heavenly height and we must attempt to read it as one who has been born of God and thus born of love: for that is the prejudice of God. Here the ideal of scripture reading as a type of scientific objectivity is replaced by an approach that creatively interprets with love.” (60) 

I absolutely love that perspective. No one can claim to approach to the Bible completely objectively. However, we can do our best to read it wearing glasses tainted with love. 

Rollins uses slavery as an example. Although slavery is condoned in the Bible, most American Christians would agree that it is a highly offensive institution that ought to be abolished. This example illustrates a “double hermeneutic which acknowledges that our reading of the Bible (as mediated through our particular tradition) must be re-examined and wrestled with repeatedly as we encounter the situations that present themselves to us.” (62) 

Here, I can’t help but call to mind the issue of homosexuality. Should we perhaps re-visit this issue with the prejudice of love?

Rollins writes that “our interpretations of the Bible must then be understood more as temporary shelters than eternal structures.” (64)

Concerning ethics, he applies Jesus’ “second mile” approach, advocating a view of ethics in which the follower of Christ does not stop at fulfilling responsibility, but, out of love, does more than what is required.  

Rollins concludes that “we are left then with the idea of orthodoxy and orthopraxis as two terms which refer to a loving engagement with the world that is mediated, though not enslaved by, our reading of the Bible.” 

Conservative evangelicalism, with its current emphasis on apologetics and theological systems, has (in my opinion) overstated the importance of “getting the facts right” about God. It’s as though people are saved by what they know, not by Who they know. I think that Rollins’ approach is a  refreshing reminder that we must be wary of overconfidence in claiming that we are the sheep and “those other people” are the goats. What seems to separate us, in the end, is not how well our beliefs line up with the  “truth,” but how well we know the Shepherd and how well we treat the “least of these.” 

Laxmi taught me this better than anyone. 

What do you think? Is such an approach to theology too “touchy-feely” to be considered orthodox?  Does it ring of works-based salvation, or social gospel? What do you think about the idea of reading the Bible with the prejudice of love? 

Let me know what you think!

P.S. I need your suggestions for our next book club selection! Read anything interesting lately?

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