I’ve signed my fair share of doctrinal statements through the years. I’ve recited many creeds. I’ve defended my orthodoxy by insisting that I believe Jesus is the Son of God, that he was born of the Virgin Mary, that he died and rose again, and that he is coming again. I’ve tried to take all the right positions on all the right issues—salvation by faith, the inspiration of Scripture, the Holy Three-In-One.
But no one has ever asked me to promise to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength or to love my neighbor as myself.
I’ve been called a heretic for believing that God will show mercy to the un-evangelized, a “cotton-candy Christian” for being an Arminian, a liberal for accepting evolutionary theory, and a “danger” for having questions about biblical inerrancy.
But no one’s ever questioned my commitment to my faith based on my tendency to gossip, to judge, or withhold from the poor.
When I started this blog, one of my goals was to re-examine the fundamentals of my faith in the context of a changing culture and my emerging doubts about Christianity. This has led us to deconstruct and reconstruct our theologies together—sometimes debating, sometimes agreeing, sometimes not knowing exactly what to think.
So it almost surprised me the other day when something was said about the “fundamentals of the Christian faith,” and I thought to myself—“I think I know what those are.”
It seems so simple and so obvious, but it took me three years of serious doubt, two years of study, an ongoing sense of skepticism, a trip to India, a blog, and a book to really figure this out for myself. I guess when you live in a town famous for “fundamentalism,” you have to sort through a lot of so-called “fundamentals” before you get to what’s most important.
When Jesus was asked about the fundamental elements of the faith, he replied with uncharacteristic directness. Referring to the celebrated Shema of Deuteronomy 6, Jesus said, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depends the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22)
When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, a story that carries extra significance when considering the fact that the Jews hated the Samaritans for their mixed Gentile blood and alternative worship style. Surely Jesus foresaw the irony of “Samaritan” becoming synonymous with kindness!
The first disciples clearly treated Christ-like love as the most fundamental part of being people of faith.
As John famously wrote:
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love…No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. “ (I John 4:7,8,12)
In the days of the early church, what made someone a “true Christian” was his or her reputation for love.
Both Paul and Peter wrote that above all, we are to love (Colossians 3:14; 1 Peter 4:8). Paul said that without love, no amount of eloquence, wisdom, knowledge, prophecy, faith, charity, or sacrifice can compensate for the fact that we are little more than noisy, clanging symbols. (I Corinthians 13:1-13.) Paul encourages his readers to abide in faith, hope, and love, and adds that “the greatest of these is love.” James wrote that “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)
Love is fundamental. It’s more important than being right. It’s more important than having all our theological ducks in a row. It’s more important than any commitment to absolute truth or a particular hermeneutic or a “high view” (read: “my view”) of sovereignty or the Bible or faith or the Church.
Writes Greg Boyd, “For the church to lack love is for the church to lack everything. No heresy could conceivably be worse! Until the culture at large instinctively identifies us as loving, humble servants, and until the tax collectors and prostitutes of our day are beating down our doors to hang out with us as they did with Jesus, we have every reason to accept our culture’s judgment of us as correct. We are indeed more pharisaic than we are Christlike.” (The Myth of a Christian Nation, p. 134-135)
What’s wrong with the church when folks like Shane Claiborne who have reputations for loving their enemies, giving without expecting anything in return, and withholding judgment can’t get speaking gigs because of their “questionable” theological positions? What’s wrong with evangelicals when surveys show that people perceive us as gay-hating, judgmental, hypocritical, and closed minded? What’s wrong when people can get kicked out of churches for getting pregnant or being gay, but not for being unloving or prejudiced? What’s wrong when folks in theological societies scream and yell at each other over a disagreement about divine foreknowledge?
We’ve labeled all kinds of things fundamental…but we’ve left out love, which is why I think it’s time for a new kind of fundamentalism.
This, of course, raises some important questions: How does love as fundamental work itself out practically? How do we call out violations of love within the church without defeating the purpose and becoming judgmental with one another? How can we hold the church accountable? What does love as fundamental look like in day-to-day life? How important are statements of faith and creeds? How do we foster unity where there is so much division? What does it look like to really imitate Christ in this culture, during these wars, amidst all of this wealth and privilege, despite all of our past failures? Can I hold love as fundamental and still stay mad at John Piper? (I know the answer to that.)
I’ve been doing a lot of deconstructing over the past few years, but now that I’ve got a new foundation, I think it’s time to start the reconstruction process.
Will you help me?
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